Amritsar


Day 150





Had a refreshing night's sleep in a nice cool room in bunk beds with little individual fans and a curtain round each bed - we felt ready to take on Amritsar and our stomachs were feeling strong again… stepped out of our hostel and were met with intense heat and humidity, noise, rubbish, tuk tuk drivers shouting at us and an impossible roundabout which took us about 10 minutes to work out how to cross - we felt like we were back on the streets of Delhi and longed for the lovely peaceful mountains we’d just come from! We hailed down a tuk tuk and asked him to take us to Kesar da dhaba which is a very famous restaurant in Amritsar, known for its traditional punjabi food. The tuk tuk took us as close as he could and then directed us down the street, and everyone along the street insisted on pointing us in the right direction too (we’re still not sure if people are just being nice or want money from us!). We had parathas with various veggie curries - our waiter crushed each paratha with his hands before serving them and we could see the butter dripping off them as he did it. Each of our veggie curries was also covered in a thick layer of butter (ghee) - this is typical of Punjabi cooking but a bit much for us! Delicious, but we felt like big balls of grease after. We also ordered lassi’s and when they arrived we were a bit freaked out by all the big lumps, which we tried to stir in and avoided eating. 





Afterwards we went to visit the Golden Temple which is the main reason people come to Amritsar - it’s the biggest Sikh temple in the world and it’s pretty impressive, jutting out into a massive pool of water and surrounded by white marble buildings. We walked around and then went to go inside the temple, but Chris was wearing shorts so we weren’t allowed in (as told by the man at the door with the massive spear!), so we had started heading to the exit when a man approached us and chatted to us, saying that he’d like to improve his english. We obliged in conversation and he insisted we get some of the food offered to everyone - some sort of sweet buttery mush scooped out by hand and pressed into our hands… more butter was the last thing we wanted but we politely ate it and then made our excuses to leave, but the man quite presumptuously said ‘we’ll meet again tomorrow. Give me your number’ and we were a bit shocked so we did! He was called Amrit and we agreed to meet at 8 am at the temple, we have no idea why.





We bought a couple of super strength kingfisher beers (7.2%) from the ‘English beer and wine shop’ and drank them on the rooftop of our hostel, and watched the sky turn from murky grey to murky purple, and watched homemade kites being flown from rooftops. Then Chris said ‘I could murder a pizza’ so we went to the more upmarket part of town on a rickety tuk tuk to a restaurant that was packed on a friday night with Indians enjoying american style fast food. We had an amazingly meaty vegetarian burger, the recipe of which is still bamboozling me (or maybe it secretly contained meat?), and a veggie pizza which definitely satisfied Chris’s pizza cravings. Then we tuk-tuked back to the hostel, via the golden temple again to see it light up at night (and to be harrassed by more Indians wanting to practice their english and have photos with us), and back to bed, feeling slightly overwhelmed by Amritsar and wondering how we’ll manage two more days!









Day 151





Woke early to get the temple to meet Amrit, who didn’t show up and didn’t message us - phew! We went to the museum in the temple which housed loads of paintings depicting famous Sikhs and scenes from their history - mainly really gory ones with Sikhs being tortured by Muslims who want to convert them. This is why carrying a knife at all times is an important part of the Sikh attire!





It was way busier today (Saturday) and we queued for about 45 minutes to shuffle into the temple - we only spent about 5 minutes inside as they keep everyone moving pretty quickly. There was a massive pile of money in the centre from donations and there were huge sparkly chandeliers and gold everything, but no photos of course so you’ll have to use your imagination! When we came out we tried to avoid eating the sweet buttery mush again, but some old guy insisted and we felt rude to turn it down. 





It was way busier today (Saturday) and we queued for about 45 minutes to shuffle into the temple - we only spent about 5 minutes inside as they keep everyone moving pretty quickly. There was a massive pile of money in the centre from donations and there were huge sparkly chandeliers and gold everything, but no photos of course so you’ll have to use your imagination! When we came out we tried to avoid eating the sweet buttery mush again, but some old guy insisted and we felt rude to turn it down. 





We went back to the hostel and signed up for a food tour - we were the only two so had the guide, Sajan, to ourselves to ask him all our burning questions - like ‘why were there loads of people sleeping on the marble stone outside the temple last night?’ He explained that a lot of  people travel from villages where they are used to sleeping on the floor and can’t afford accommodation, so they bed down outside the temple that they’ve come to visit. Sajan took us to a famous ‘Kulcha’ shop - Kulcha is another type of indian stuffed flat bread, and this place only served four types with some chickpea curry and nothing else. The breads are served with MORE BUTTER slabbed on top which you spread over with a spoon, then break off pieces and scoop up the curry. We admitted we never know when to use our hands or cutlery - Sajan reassured us it didn’t really matter, as long as we were enjoying the food! We questioned the ridiculous amount of butter used and Sajan said that the locals just love butter and believe its good for them, some women even use it on their skin and hair. And getting a big belly from butter is no problem either - big bellies are a sign of health and wealth! Which is just as well because our next stop was the Jalebi stand - Jalebis are sweets made from batter deep-fried and covered in sugar syrup, absolutely delicious! Then we went to another stall selling scrambled paneer, served with a white sliced bread and tomato and mint sauces - another fattening revelation! Then we cooled down with a Lassi, where Sanjan explained that the lumps we found in ours yesterday were supposed to be there - they are lumps of butter (of course) and you can ask for your lassi with or without - and you should eat the butter with a spoon! Afterwards we tried another type of Kulcha from a cart in the road - a flat bread made with white flour and Amritsar water (apparently this is the only water that can be used and has a distinct flavour, eek), which was light and fluffy like a thick pancake and we dipped it in a spicy sauce. Sajan told us more about Sikh life - he is actually a Hindu himself but likes hanging out at the temple and getting his three meals a day for free! Our last stop was at a traditional tea shop where the old man served milky sweet tea from a boiling vat, as he has done every day for the past 40 years. 





We went back to the hostel and signed up for a food tour - we were the only two so had the guide, Sajan, to ourselves to ask him all our burning questions - like ‘why were there loads of people sleeping on the marble stone outside the temple last night?’ He explained that a lot of  people travel from villages where they are used to sleeping on the floor and can’t afford accommodation, so they bed down outside the temple that they’ve come to visit. Sajan took us to a famous ‘Kulcha’ shop - Kulcha is another type of indian stuffed flat bread, and this place only served four types with some chickpea curry and nothing else. The breads are served with MORE BUTTER slabbed on top which you spread over with a spoon, then break off pieces and scoop up the curry. We admitted we never know when to use our hands or cutlery - Sajan reassured us it didn’t really matter, as long as we were enjoying the food! We questioned the ridiculous amount of butter used and Sajan said that the locals just love butter and believe its good for them, some women even use it on their skin and hair. And getting a big belly from butter is no problem either - big bellies are a sign of health and wealth! Which is just as well because our next stop was the Jalebi stand - Jalebis are sweets made from batter deep-fried and covered in sugar syrup, absolutely delicious! Then we went to another stall selling scrambled paneer, served with a white sliced bread and tomato and mint sauces - another fattening revelation! Then we cooled down with a Lassi, where Sanjan explained that the lumps we found in ours yesterday were supposed to be there - they are lumps of butter (ofcourse) and you can ask for your lassi with or without - and you should eat the butter with a spoon! Afterwards we tried another type of Kulcha from a cart in the road - a flat bread made with white flour and Amritsar water (apparently this is the only water that can be used and has a distinct flavour, eek), which was light and fluffy like a thick pancake and we dipped it in a spicy sauce. Sajan told us more about Sikh life - he is actually a Hindu himself but likes hanging out at the temple and getting his three meals a day for free! Our last stop was at a traditional tea shop where the old man served milky sweet tea from a boiling vat, as he has done every day for the past 40 years. 





We still got hassled by lots of people, even though we were with a local, with one fella selling head scarves using the direct selling approach by only saying ‘Give me money!’ - his straightforward technique almost got us reaching for our wallets! Even though we got hassled we’ve felt very safe here, the people are really friendly and after the third or fourth ‘No thank you’ they generally stop trying!





Sajan offered to take us to Kesar’s again for lunch (!!!) but we politely declined and went back to the hostel to rest our bellies and keep out the midday heat.





Later we emerged for more food - some amazing samosas from the roadside with a sweet/sour sauce, which we took back to the hostel and had with beers. Chris desperately tried to find the Wolves V Chelsea on his phone and was delighted when he realised someone had put it on the projector! Unfortunately they were a Chelsea fan… and we won’t say anything more about that game! Meanwhile, I was chatting to three Indians at once - quite literally at once, as they talk very fast and loudly over the top of each other (they themselves confessed this was characteristic of Indians!), but by the end we knew where to stay, eat and party in Mumbai, and had their contact numbers and promises to meet up and show us around when we get there!









Day 152





Gave ourselves a lie in and then got a tuk tuk to a famous breakfast place called ‘Kanha sweets’ where they serve one thing - huge Puris (puffed up breads) with chickpea curry, mango chutney and pickle. We had to queue it was so popular (with locals, we haven’t seen another white person in days), but well worth the wait, plus they top up your dish with more of everything (until you beg them to stop!) so it was very filling and super cheap of course! 





We came back to the hostel to do some travel admin and then headed to the Wagah border - this is a famous border point between India and Pakistan where every day the two sets of guards have what can only be described as a ‘dance off’, watched by thousands cheering either side. It’s a tradition that has been going on for decades and has become more of a spectacle over time, especially on the Indian side where they have built a huge arena with massive screens, and were serving popcorn and ice cream to the huge crowds who were waving national flags. There was a lot of shouting, singing, dancing and silly walking… then a very tense lowering of both countries flags, as neither side wants their flag to reach the bottom first… but it was a perfectly timed draw of course, and hands were shaken between the two sides before the border closed again. One of our hostel staff members told us he goes to watch this every single day! We travelled back into town for yet more Indian food in another well known local restaurant - our taxi driver even gave us his 20% off voucher when we told him where we were going! And we don’t think he even knew anyone who worked there!









Day 153





Feeling like we’ve really nailed Amritsar (by finding the perfect balance of food, food and more food, some culture, and plenty of resting beneath aircon) we headed out for our final Punjabi meal - back to the first stop of the food tour for some delicious stuffed Kulchas and then for some sweet tea from a stand. We also visited a memorial in the centre which marked the spot were many peaceful protestors were massacred by the British army… where we felt the least we could do was pose for some photos with anyone who asked. 





Then it was time to chill out at the hostel before we head to the airport for our flight to Jaipur. Overall we’ve grown to really like Amritsar, from our initial dread upon the sensory overload of the first morning we’ve learned how to deal with the roads, the people and have enjoyed some amazing food and architecture and learned lots! And I don’t think we got ripped off anywhere!





We arrived in Jaipur late in the evening and ubered to our guest house, which has clearly not operated as a guest house for a while and was very…. Rustic.






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