April 23, 2018

Amritsar: 7 Must Visit Places in the Holy Land



The city of Amritsar has evolved over the years around the Golden temple and its large pond. The city derives its name from the pond surrounding the shrine (Amritsar- Pool of nectar). Located close to Pakistan border and just 50 Kms from Lahore, Amitsar has over the years witnessed attacks by various invaders such as Mughals and Afghans apart from the fights between the Sikhs. The city was also marred by the Jallianwala bagh massacre during independence struggle, the partition and Blue star operation in 1984. However, the divine city has overcome all the scars and is a popular place among travellers and the Golden temple is supposedly one of the most visited monuments in the country. The city is also known for its shopping avenues and a host of eateries.

1. Harmandir Sahib

Though often referred as Golden temple, Harmandir Sahib is the official name of this shrine which is also popularly known as Sri Darbar Sahib. The tank was built by Guru Ram Dass, the fourth Sikh guru in 1577 CE and the gurudwara was built after that by the fifth Sikh guru, Guru Arjan in late 16th century. This is the most revered place of worship in Sikhism and the shrine was given a gold plating in the 19th century by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.  As you walk across the marble steps, the shrine surrounded by the divine lake showcases itself gorgeously bathed in gold. Though it remains crowded all through the day, a walk along the periphery of the lake listening to the hymns is an ideal way to soak in the ambience of this divine place. A causeway leads to the shrine which houses Adi Granth, the holy book of Sikhism. The complex also houses other shrines, Alkal Takht (the Eternal Throne), a museum and a community hall which also has the largest free community kitchen in the world. Anyone who visits here should definitely experience the langaar (free food provided by the kitchen). It is well recommended to visit Harmandir Sahib twice, once during the day and at night. The shrine is at its glorious best during the night when it is lit up all across.








2. Jallianwala Bagh

Jallianwala bagh is presently a well laid out garden with two memorials and a gallery. During the British rule in 1919 CE, this place was filled with massacred bodies of more than three hundred Indians. General Dyer closed the only entrance to the ground and then opened fire here against an unarmed Indian crowd who had gathered to listen to nationalist speeches.  Apart from the three hundred who died which included women and children, more than a thousand people were injured. Many jumped into a well nearby to save themselves. Presently, the garden with its memorials and walls with bullet marks informs visitors with stories from the pre-independence times.  





3. Old City

A walk through the old city takes you through its many gates, crowded bazaars, eateries serving delicious cuisines and shops selling a wide range of items from curios, jewellery, kitchenware and consecrated weaponry. Rambagh garden located in the middle of the old town is an ideal place to relax and spend the evenings. Apart from the tank at Harmandir Sahib, the city has a few other tanks such as Santokhsar, Bibeksar, Ramsar and Kaulsar.


4. Partition museum

When India became India and Pakistan in 1947 CE, people who lived in Amritsar and along the border had to undergo torrid times as the place was battered with many losing their families and identities. Partition museum has an extensive collection of stories, documents and photographs from the times of independence and partition. The museum is a tribute to the martyrs and the people who had to undergo those excruciating experiences. The museum is closed on Mondays and photography isn't allowed inside.


5. Durgiana temple

Modeled on Harmandir Sahib, this shrine is dedicated to Durga and is a prominent temple in the city. With a gold plating and located in the middle of a tank, architecture of the temple resembles that of the golden temple in many ways. The temple is also known for its lovely silver doors with exquisite carvings. Located next to it are two other temples dedicated to Hanuman and Shitla devi.



6. Gobindgarh Fort

Located in the middle of the city, Gobindgarh fort was built in 18th century and later renovated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The fort houses many structures, museums, canons, numerous gates and a large garden. The museums have a lovely display of coins and warfare, and have been well maintained. With a large stage that has frequent live performances, food stalls and shops selling various artefacts, the fort is an ideal place for a day picnic with family.




 


7. Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museum

The summer palace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the Rambagh gardens is converted into a museum showcasing paintings, manuscripts, coins and a collection of armoury. It gives a detailed insight into the life of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The museum is the pride of Punjabi culture and displays stories related to the king and important incidents during his rule. It is closed on Mondays.





Navigator:

Amritsar is 230 Kms from Chandigarh and connected to other major cities by flights. There are regular trains connecting Amritsar with other parts of the country and frequent buses between Chandigarh and Amritsar.

Food and Accommodation:

The city is known for its wide range of restaurants and dhabas which serve delicious Punjabi cuisine. Being a large city, there are numerous hotels to stay in Amritsar. I stayed at Jugaadus hostel.

April 13, 2018

A Frame from Across the Border


A scene from Wagah, which is a border town in Lahore, Pakistan. 
The frame was captured from Attari, the town on the Indian side while witnessing the popular Beating Retreat ceremony which happens everyday in the evening on both sides of the border.

April 6, 2018

A Food Trail through Amritsar

As much as it is well known for its culture, music and bhangra, Punjabi cuisine too is popular world over. The holy land of Amritsar is undoubtedly the best place to dip into the delicious Punjabi flavours. A walk through its colourful and vibrant streets would take you to some of the best restaurants, dhabas and lassi shops which are nestled amidst the bazaars. From kulcha to lassi to jalebi to amritsari fish, the city is a gastronomical delight, making it tough for the food lovers to choose from a wide range of dishes offered at the numerous eateries in the city. It is not without a reason that Amritsar is often referred as the food capital of Punjab. Here is a list of must visit places in Amritsar to satiate the taste buds of the ever hungry souls.

Kulwant Singh Kulchian Wale:

Located on a narrow street near the Golden temple, the place offers one of the best Kulchas (flat bread) in the city. With a huge dollop of butter and chole (white chickpeas) to go with it, the Kulchas are absolutely mouth watering. An ideal place for breakfast and lunch, they offer a range of Kulchas such as Alu Kulcha, Gobi Kulcha, Paneer Kulcha and a few more.



Gurdasram Jalebiwala:

Whether you have a sweet tooth or not, a visit to the Gurdasram Jalebiwala would be a sheer delight. While jalebis are crispy, the gulab jamuns are yum and are sure to leave you with a sweet tooth if you don’t have one as yet. Made from pure ghee, these are the only two dishes that are prepared at this popular sweet shop.  This is located near Jallianwala bagh and Golden temple.




Kesar Da Dhaba:

When you are extremely hungry after strolling through the lanes and attractions of Amritsar, do head to Kesar Da Dhaba. Located in the old part of the city, the dhaba is quite a popular place and has been running for more than 100 years. Do not underestimate the place due to its location in a narrow alley. Kesar Da Dhaba serves awesome vegetarian fare and is known for its rich delicious thalis and desserts.


Gian Di Lassi:

This iconic place located near Hathi gate offers one of the best Lassis (sweet yogurt) in Amritsar. A sweet drink, Lassi can be had anytime during the day and most people in Amritsar begin their day with a glass of Lassi. Gian Di Lassi offers large glasses of Lassi topped with sufficient amount of malai (cream). One has to literally scoop and have the lassi rather than drink it.



Brothers Dhaba:

Quite a popular place on GT Road and not far from Golden temple, Brothers Dhaba serves a variety of North Indian dishes apart from South Indian cuisine.  Though the restaurant is popular for Sarson ka Saag and Makke di Roti, their Kulchas, Bhaturas and Paranthas are also well recommended.  


Beera Chicken House:

For meat lovers, Beera Chicken house on Majitha road is the place to relish some chicken dishes. The place is a favourite with chicken lovers and their specialties such as Tandoori chicken, and Roasted chicken are lip smacking delicious. These can be had with Nans or as an entrée. The fish fry too is well recommended.



A-One Kulfa:

While we have all heard and had Kulfi, Kulfa is a dessert which you might not have got your hands on if you haven’t been to Amritsar. A blend of Rabri, Falooda, Kulfi, Phirni, cream and lot more, Kulfa is a delightful mix of many desserts. A-One Kulfa, a small store on Queens’s road call themselves an expert in Kulfa and they are undoubtedly right. The dessert is delicious and quite filling that one could easily have a plate or two as a meal.


Giani Tea Stall:

Fairly big for a tea stall, the place is popular for its tea, masala tea and pakoras. They definitely serve one of the best masala chai in Amritsar. Located on Cooper road, the stall has been functional for more than 60 years.


Guru Ka Langar:

When in Amritsar it is recommended to have langar at least once at the Golden temple. Free food is provided to everyone throughout the day which are prepared and served by volunteers. Though it is a simple one with roti, dal and a sweet, the meal is unlimited and is followed by a glass of tea. The experience of having a meal from the world’s largest free kitchen is definitely a memorable one.


Amritsar does have quite a lot of eateries and few more of the popular ones are Kanha sweets, Makhan da Dhaba and Ahuja’s milk bhandar.

April 4, 2018

Jugaadus Hostel, Amritsar- Review



The first thing that catches the attention of this hostel is its name. I was referred this place by a hostel mate (a foreign national) in Mcleodganj and when he pronounced it as ‘JAGGADAS’, I was a bit bemused. It was only when I searched for it on the web did I understand that it is called JUGAADUS (JU as in July and DU as in Do). Jugaad loosely translates to ‘a hack’ or ‘an innovative solution to a problem with minimal resources’.

Located in one of the many busy streets of Amritsar, the hostel is an absolute delight to stay. With friendly caretakers/ managers, a vibrant ambience and wall arts, Jugaadus eco hostel is probably one of the best backpacker hostels in the city of Amritsar. Its central location is a major advantage as many of the attractions are close and a walk away.  The hostel also uses various methods to remain eco friendly. They also organize many local tours which include visits to Wagah border, Amritsar food walk, Heritage walk, Golden temple tour at night etc. Apart from the dormitories which are 6 and 8 bed mixed ones, they also have a private room. The rates for the dormitories start from INR 500.




What I loved:

Ambience: The colourful walls with art and writings give the place a vibrant feel.

Tariff: If you book a dorm bed for 3 nights, the 4th night is free. How cool is that?

Breakfast: The hostel provides a limitless spread of cornflakes, bananas and tea for the inmates and you can pay them whatever you feel appropriate when you check out, which too is optional.

Staff: The staff is extremely friendly and always ready to help. You can learn a few Bangra steps from Jagroop who would be glad to help you shake a leg.


What I did not like:

Dormitories:  The dormitories did seem a bit shabby which may be due to the constant check-ins and check outs. However, the beds were comfortable.



Address:

Plot No. 193, First Floor, Above Salon 16, Ajit Nagar main Road, Sultanwind Rd, Ajit Nagar, Amritsar, Punjab 143001
Phone: 085688 00020


P.S.: This is not a sponsored post.

March 26, 2018

Places to Visit in McLeodganj


Nestled amidst the snow capped Dauladhar range in Kangra, McLeodganj and its twin town Dharamshala have been spiritual abodes for years and also home to the Dalai Lama. However, in the last couple of decades, McLeodganj has grown into a popular backpacker destination with travellers and adventure enthusiasts rubbing shoulders with the red robbed monks in the alleyways of this hill station. There is an eclectic vibe of cultures, cuisines, shops, cafes and music across the town as the place offers myriad things to every kind of visitor. Also referred as Little Lhasa, McLeodganj was a British outpost in mid 19th century when they shifted from Kangra. However, a devastating earthquake in early 20th century made the British shift and it was after the Dalai Lama made this his home that McLeodganj began to flourish again with a huge Tibetan contingent. Further, it has now become a sort of hippie town with visitors and travellers from all walks of life heading to this hill station. 

Here is a list of must visit places while in McLeodganj.

Temple Complex (Tsug Lha Khang):

Probably the most popular place to visit in McLeodganj, the temple complex is the heart of the town with Dalai Lama’s residence and Buddhist temples. The main shrine has a gilded Buddha statue with statues of Padmasambhava and Avalokiteshwara next to it. It also houses numerous Kagyurs and Tangyurs which are teachings of Buddha and interpretations of the teachings respectively. The other temple known as Kalachakra is quite a colourful one with gorgeous mural art adorning its interiors. The complex is home to a huge contingent of Buddhist monks and if you are lucky you could catch them during a session of discussion on their learning which is an interesting watch. The complex also houses a Tibetan war memorial and a Tibetan museum which has displays of Tibetan history, photographs and numerous stories of their hardship during the invasion by China.





St. John in the Wilderness

Located amidst the tall deodhar trees is the Church of St. John in the wilderness which was built in 1852 CE. The stone church is known for its beautiful stained glass windows and is one of the oldest structures in McLeodganj. The church has a gothic character to it and is one of the oldest cathedrals in North India. The premise also has a cemetery which has graves of Englishmen including that of former British Viceroy, Lord Elgin.




Bhagsunag Waterfalls

A short distance away from the centre of McLeodganj, Bhagsunag has a popular Shiva temple. Further ahead of the temple is the waterfall that goes by the same name. It is a nice short hike away to the falls from the temple. Though the falls isn’t a big one, the surroundings are beautiful and the views are lovely. There are a few tea shop en-route and near the falls.


Dal Lake

Engulfed by cedar trees, the oval shaped Dal lake is a sacred one and there is a fair that is held here every year. The lake offers boating facilities and has a Shiva shrine nearby. This small lake is 2 Kms from McLeodganj and it is a lovely walk all the way.



Alleyways

The alleys of McLeodganj are an absolute delight to stroll through. Lined with numerous shops selling myriad items, cafes offering a wide range of cuisines and a vibrant ambience, the heart of this hill station lies in its alleyways.  From hippies to Buddhist monks, they are all spotted on these narrow streets that are ideal for a languorous walk in the evenings.




Dharamkot

Dharamkot is an alternative base to Mcleodganj and is a couple of kilometers further up from the centre. With beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, the place is ideal if you would like to stay away from the crowds of McLeodganj. The place also has its own cafes and guest houses apart from a meditation centre. Dharamkot is popular with trekkers as this is the base for the trek to Triund and further ahead to snowline.

Triund

The trek to Triund is the most popular adventure activity in McLeodganj and it is a lovely hike all the way with gorgeous views of the mountains and valleys.  Engulfing mist, mountain dogs and fellow trekkers are what you encounter on this trek along with numerous tea stalls. Though the trek can be completed in a day, one can also camp atop the summit as there are a few tent providers. The trek further ahead to snowline is also quite a favourite with trekkers.


Norbulingka Institute

Located in Dharamshala, which is 9 Kms away from McLeodganj, the institute presents the rich Tibetan culture through its workshops where many craftsmen work on their skills. The institute also has a temple which has a Buddha statue along with Buddhist scripts and paintings on display. A major attraction at the institute is the Losel Doll museum, which displays the cultural, religious and theatrical costumes of Tibet through a huge collection of dolls.







Gyuto Monastery

The monastery is near Norbulingka institute and is also referred as Karmapa monastery as Karmapa, the third in line after Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama resides here. The main shrine houses a large statue of Buddha. The monastery follows Kagyu sect of Buddhism and practices Tantric studies.




Navigator:

Mcleodganj is located 9 Kms from Dharamshala in the state of Himachal Pradesh. The closest airport is at Gaggal (22 Kms away) and the nearest rail head is at Chakki Bank (91 Kms away). There are frequent buses between Dharamshala and McLeodganj. There are buses plying from Delhi, Chandigarh, Manali and Shimla to McLeodganj.

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