Amritsar – Punjab

by Saturday, June 4, 2016

Amritsar, Punjab, India

26 Feb – 29 Feb 2016

I’ve always wanted to visit Punjab. And many years ago I was unable to attend a friend’s wedding in Chandigarh, always regretted it. So this year when my friend Kamaljeet decided to have her wedding in Amritsar, there was no way I was going to miss her big day.

So to get straight to the point – I LOVE PUNJAB. 🙂

Best part – it’s so green and open everywhere you look.

And of course, Punjabis are warm, welcoming, full of laughter and cheer, and nothing can ever beat their khaatirdari. I mean, if you’re their guest, you will be MADE TO have a good time. And you can’t escape it even if you try. And really, why would you want to?

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So I landed in Amritsar one day before the wedding functions began, and after settling in at the hotel (view from my window here)..

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…I went straight to the Wagah border to catch the flag lowering ceremony that happens everyday at 5pm. It was one of the things on my bucket list that just needed to be seen/done once in life, and so there I was. Accompanied by some of the most FUN over-50 people I have ever come across, I had an absolute blast! The company was great and the experience was certainly one that’s going to always stay in my memory.

The 1 hour drive there showed us the true punjab….khulley khet everywhere, completely green…patches of yellow flowers here and there… yes, it IS just like in the movies 🙂

The Wagah Border Ceremony –

1. You must carry your passport with you at all times.

2. Do not carry a bag, just your phone and your passport (and wallet for men) should be enough.

3. They do not allow battery packs through so leave those behind as well, and remember to charge your phone fully before getting there so you won’t need the extra power pack.

4. Carry water, it is allowed. You can also buy it on the way while you’re walking to the check post.

5. Its a 1km walk to the ceremony point so make sure you’re wearing comfy shoes and clothes.

6. Be prepared for multiple security checks.

7. Bring on the India cheer.

We got there an hour before the ceremony began because we had been misinformed that it starts at 4pm. It actually starts at 5pm. You should aim to reach there by 4 so you have 30-40 minutes to cover the walk from the parking lot to the ceremony ground, and be seated 15-20 minutes before it all begins.

The ceremony itself is bordering on aggressive in nature. With both sides shouting “Zindabad!” for their country along with other patriotic slogans, it’s quite a bit to take in 30 minutes. But the army/BSF itself, hats off to them for organising such a big crowd so well, and that too on a daily basis. It’s a ceremony you will never forget once you’re done with it. That’s for sure.

Where the walking begins.. 

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My super awesome company..

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If there’s a dog around, I WILL take a picture of it.

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Border Security Force officer, camera shy

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Another doggie, I heart.

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There it is.. the gate.

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Taking a seat..

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In the NRI/Foreigners stand. The crowd growing..

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Walking away at sunset, at the end of the ceremony..Pakistan behind me.

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On our way back to the hotel we stopped at this dhaba/restaurant/coffee shop on the way called SARHAD (which means Border).

Super Graffiti on the walls, and a really nicely done up place. Almost had a chic bistro vibe to it, definitely a good place for a pit stop and that awesome cuppa chai.

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Important note – in Punjab, as SOON as the sun starts setting, you can see the mist/fog settling down. It gets chilly almost suddenly and foggy as soon as the sun is down. So you might wanna carry something warm with you at all times, and women, don’t even bother with blowdrying your hair because after sundown, the humidity WILL get to you my friend.

So back at the hotel, and there’s a welcome party for all the wedding guests. This was a lot of fun, catching up with old friends and new, and of course, finally spending some time with the bride.

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Finally see the bride and groom!
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Day 2 would be wedding functions galore but I still had some sight seeing things to get done. So I got myself a good night rest.

Day 2 –

Wake up real early, have the best Choley Puri I’ve Ever Had In My Life for breakfast. I mean, seriously, I will always dream about this.

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Once my soul was happy and fully satisfied after stuffing myself to capacity, I hired a car and headed out to the Golden Temple.

A few things to note about this –

1. Wear modest clothes and carry a scarf/shawl so you can cover your head before entering.

2. Wear comfy shoes to walk in because you will have to walk to the temple as it’s in a very crowded market place and it makes no sense to take your car in there.

3. You must wash your feet before you enter.

4. Smile:) This place really has the most positive energy.

So I went in and while it’s very difficult to put down into words how calm and peaceful I felt while there, all I will say is, when there is a place where all are welcome with open arms, and all are looked after and cared for, no bias whatsoever, then you know you’re in a true spiritual place. And I believe that energy is everything, the energy here is so uplifting and calming, it really goes beyond what words could ever describe. It has to be experienced for yourself. 🙂

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Quick Tip – there is usually a 2-2.5 hour wait to go inside the temple, and if you want to avoid that, you can always wake up real early and be there by 4am.

Alright, so after the Golden Temple, the next thing on my bucket list was the Jalianwala Bagh. This may not be a place with good memories or good energies, and I was initially in two minds about going there… but after my very rejuvenating stop at the Golden Temple, I felt like I must. Not everything from the past is pleasant but in the present, if reflected upon, can be the source of something positive. So the short 2 minute walk that it was from the Golden Temple, I decided to head there.

Now this is a place where many innocent lives were taken when the British General opened fire on a peaceful gathering of men, women and children. Not exactly a place one wants to take lots of photographs in. But I am glad I went there. Because having lived outside of India for almost my entire life I have only heard the stories and read about the freedom struggle in textbooks in school. To be standing on the very ground where the shooting happened….to be walking through the corridor from where the soldiers marched in… to be standing at the point from where the soldiers shot the people… and to be looking down into the well where people drowned trying to escape the firing… it was all a very hard and strong reminder that SO MANY PEOPLE DIED so that we could call ourselves a free people and a free nation. Our collective karma as a nation went higher because of lives like theirs that were sacrificed. I thought it would be depressing to go there, but it actually wasn’t. The park just stands there now, with a memorial in the center, serving as a gentle reminder to us all… don’t take the freedom you have today for granted. Be grateful.

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From there, I had to rush back to the hotel, freshen up, and get set for the first function – mehndi by the poolside.

Bring on the Mehndi!

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Lots of Muscat peeps, lots of family friends, lots of food, lots of mehndi, lots of poojas and mini ceremonies, and a gorgeous bride smiling through it all. Such Happy Times 🙂 🙂

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The gorgeous bride!

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At night, the sangeet and of course, Punjab took over and HOW. I cannot even begin to describe how happy it made me to have BHANGRA music on all night. And a special mention to Kamal’s cousin Luvleen who like she said “main akele hi kaafi hoon”….she totally killed it on stage with her performance, which was unrehearsed by the way! Punjabis always killin’ it 😉

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Some clips from Kamal’s side of the performers!

This bhangra troupe had us entertained all night! Amazing energy!

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Day 3 and it’s all about the wedding!

Wake up early, get ready, stuff myself with breakfast once again and head to bridesmaid duty. So the hairdresser at the hotel’s salon had done my hair the previous evening. And he and I had bonded over music, so when I went back there to get Kamal ready, I was messing around with my maang teeka coz I kept feeling like it would fall off. So he says to me “come I’ll fix it for you, aap Punjab aaye ho, mehmaan ho, aapka kuch bhi nahin girney denge hum” hahahahaha. Cracked me up. But yes, he fixed my maang teeka, he fixed my hair and he didn’t let me pay. That’s punjab for you. 🙂

So we got the bride ready for the Gurudwara ceremony. Beautiful beautiful beautiful. The bride and the entire ceremony. And the entire experience. We just had so much fun. And it was the first time I got to tie the Kalire for someone, and it was extra special because it was Kamal and she’s like a sister 🙂

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After that, back at the hotel, some mini ceremonies in the garden and then take the bride back up to her room to get ready for the Gujju wedding. Once that was done, sit by the mandap in case she needs something. Being a bridesmaid is tough man! I was starving but you gotta do what you gotta do. Haha.

A bride that eats in between ceremonies, is a happy bride 🙂

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Alright ready for Round 2!

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And then, 2 wedding ceremonies down, officially married, sealed and approved by all 🙂

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After this, it was time for the vidaai or send-off. It was purely ceremonial as the car took a round and eventually just came back to the same hotel. But it was touching to watch… the bride crying and saying bye to every family member. I really cannot watch anyone’s parents in tears so I had to look away many times. But it was beautiful. This is why I love weddings. Just happy, loving energies all around you.

And now – evening. There was no reception in Amritsar so we had the entire evening free – AMRITSAR SIGHTSEEING. More like shopping. LOL.

An hour of rest and I headed to Kamal’s room. The bride and groom were resting and 2 of Kamal’s sisters were there getting some things when I walked in. Kamal knew I wanted to go shopping and sightseeing and dhaba-seeing, so she got a car and driver organised for me, and her 2 cousin sisters became my super guides for the day! I HAD SO MUCH FUN. And I had no idea I could shop THAT much in a short span of just two hours in a market. I kid you not, I went a little crazy.

Tips –

1. Buy your indian clothes in Punjab. Well priced, amazing quality, and nothing beats the handwork phulkari from this region.

2. Juttis. That’s it. Just go nuts. You will not find more gorgeous juttis anywhere else, and at the kind of reasonable prices here.

3. The dhabas. Definitely stop at least 2-3 of the famous dhabas. We made a pit-stop at Brothers da dhaba and another one whose name I can’t remember. Amazing. And try the choley everywhere you go. Or maybe, that’s just my personal thing haha.

4. Lawrence road. You know, there really is something to this whole gedi maaroing business! It’s FUN! Haha.

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Funny thing happened – there were a bunch of guys standing by our car and Luvleen asked the driver to get the car out on the road before we could get in. When I asked her why, she said if you go there they will chhedo you. And I was like in Punjabi? She said yes! And I said, I want to see how that works! Hahahaha. Ok I may be a little whack but it would have been interesting. By the way, I picked up some words while I was there – Ghaint being my favourite. LOL.

So that ended my 3 days in Punjab. I had an early morning flight back to Dubai the next day so just enough time to stuff myself with more choley-puri over breakfast!

To sum it up – I can’t wait to go back to Punjab someday! And everybody said if you love Amritsar so much, you must visit Chandigarh someday, it is BEAUTIFUL. I guess I will. Added to bucket list.

Thanks Kamal, thanks Amritsar, that’s a whole lot of amazing memories, and a whole lot of things ticked off my bucket list.

In one word – Awesome. 🙂

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