travel


How to spend 48 hours in Amritsar

Amritsar, historically also known as Rāmdāspur and colloquially as Ambarsar, is a city in north-western India in the Indian state of Punjab. It is situated near Pakistan and the Wagah border. Being the home of the picturesque Golden Temple, It is a popular religious and spiritual destination. It is also very well known for its local food and subsequently various food trails that tourists can cover to get a glimpse into Amritsari food. Amritsar has been witness to some of the most historical events around Partition and houses the Jallianwala bagh too. It is also the birth place of eminent personalities like guru Tegh Bahadur, the 9th Guru of Sikhs and of course contemporary celebrities like Kapil Sharma, Chef Vikas Khanna to name a few. 🙂
 
A lot of people indulge in shopping in Amritsar for local handwoven Phulkari (embroidery technique from Punjab) dupattas and suits or Punjabi Vadi, Paapad & Achar. Hence Amritsar in short – combines all the attractions of a tourist destination. Spiritualism, Diplomacy between two countries, History, Food, Shopping – what more can one ask for.

So when Vistara Airlines offered to fly me down to Amritsar for an all expense paid trip , I was quite excited. I was to spend 48 hours in Amritsar and cover all possible things that can be done in Amritsar in 2 days. Amritsar is well equipped with world class hotels. Vistara Airlines had made arrangements for our stay at Taj Swarna – a brand new property, not too far from the airport. After a welcome ceremony & quick hi-tea, we rested for a bit in our nice well equipped rooms. In the evening we had a diya lighting ritual. After dinner where the entire group interacted with each other, we awaited the Amritsar itinerary to follow in the next 2 days.

Here are a few things you can do in Amritsar in 48 hours.

Visit the Golden Temple

The main attraction of Amritsar, the magnificent, soothing and calming Golden Temple, is always full of tourists at all times. You can visit it any time but the best times to visit are early morning and late night. Both offer different glimpses of the temple – one of the day and one of the night. The road leading to Golden temple has now become pedestrian only and that area looks pretty much like that in a world class city! Cobble stone paths, fancy lamposts, with flower baskets! Uniform colours, patterns and name plates on all shops .. and VERY clean. Before visiting the Golden temple, keep in mind the fact that your head has to be covered at all times. So one needs to carry a scarf/stole or handkerchief with one. It is also mandatory to take off shoes AND socks both, dip your feet in a pool of water and then walk in to the Golden temple. 

Golden Temple

Golden temple

Once in, you can get into the queue to visit the sanctum sanctorum. If you reach early enough, you may even get a spot to SIT inside for as long as you wish. People can be usually seen meditating there or just reveling in the very tangible calming effect of the place . I did the darshan through the VIP line, thanks to arrangements made by Vistara Airlines.  On exiting one can have Kada Prasad. If you carry an extra box with you, you can get some extra helpings. It is worth the effort.

Over a 100,000 visitors are fed every day at the Golden temple. You can be one of them, or you can help in one of the tasks involved with serving food to such visitors.

Volunteers making rotis for visitors

Volunteers making rotis for visitors

Visit the Jalianwala Bagh

Right outside the Golden temple are various places of interest. One of them is the Jalianwala Bagh which witnessed one of the most horrific massacres that human kind has seen. It is now a memorial with a garden. One can see bullet holes in walls there as well as the well in to which many people jumped to escape firing. A solemn place but one worth visiting.
 
Memorial at Jalianwala Bagh

Memorial at Jalianwala Bagh

 
 

Walk along Heritage Street

This is the same road that leads to both Jalianwla Bagh as well as the Golden temple. It also has some other smaller temples as well. The place houses various shops for Phulkari, footwear, eatables as well sumptuous street food.
 
Walk along heritage street

Walk along heritage street

 
 

Shopping at Amritsar

You can visit markets like Hall Gate and Katra Jaimal Singh for punjabi juttis and stunning phulkari dupattas.
Phulkari

Phulkari

 

Eating out at Amritsar

Amritsar is one of India’s top most food destinations! One must visit the iconic Bharawan da Dhaba, opposite Town Hall, Makhan Fish and Chicken Corner (Basant Nagar, 21 A, Near Madaan Hospital, Majitha Road). Also try Pal da Dhaba (Hathi Gate) near Golden temple or Kesar da Dhaba. The heritage street outside Golden temple also houses a number of eateries to give you a taste of the local cuisine right after the temple visit. You can also visit Surjit Food Plaza which is popular with celebrities from all over the world. Kachoris, Samosas, Matthi, Firni, Kheer, Jalebi, Amritsari fish tikka, Amritsari kulcha, chur chur naan, sarson da saag, makki di roti, various kinds of lassi to top everything up, and a whole lot more can be indulged in.
Jalebis

Jalebis

witness the Beating Retreat at the Attari–Wagah border

 Leave for the Wagah border well in time to reach there by 3:30pm to get good seats. There is a long walk after a point where vehicles are not allowed any further. You can not carry any bags to the border. Anything you carry has to be in your hands. After security check, you can grab seats at a vantage point to get a good glimpse of the fanfare and the ceremony. I had access to VIP seats thanks to my hosts – Taj Swarna & Vistara Airlines. The parade is held with much fanfare on both sides of the border. Patriotic songs are played interspersed by slogans like “Bharat mata kee jai“, “Jai Hind” and “Vande Mataram on our side of course. BSF soldiers from India & their counterparts on the other side, put on a display that tries to show them outdoing each other at every step. However beyond the ceremony, the same people are amiable and exchange sweets on important festivals. Thanks to my hosts, I got access to a part of the border where I could stand within a few inches of the border! A Pakistani ranger and an Indian counterpart stand within 3 feet of each other guarding their respective sections. Beyond this spot, only green fields can be seen, reminding one that borders are ONLY man made. I was jealous of the birds flying across both countries and even stray dogs crossing borders casually throughout the time I was there! It was quite amusing to see how humans have imposed these restrictions on themselves.
 
Dog crossing from India to Pakistan

Dog crossing from India to Pakistan

Beating the retreat at Wagah border

Beating the retreat at Wagah border

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beating the retreat at Wagah border

Beating the retreat at Wagah border

Beating the retreat

Beating the retreat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Places to Stay in Amritsar

There are a lot of world class hotels that provide comfortable accommodation in Amritsar, not too far off from all the attractions. I stayed at Taj Swarna since they were my hosts for this trip. My stay was very comfortable and the staff very amiable.

The lovely Taj Swarna

The lovely Taj Swarna

 Now that you know what all can be done in Amritsar in 48 hours, what are you waiting for? Book a flight & your stay at a hotel and get going!

 

 

 


Where to travel on long weekends of 2017 2

There are 14 long weekends in 2017, so it’s more than one long weekend every month! Even though one long weekend is already gone , there are still many others in 2017 to plan your travel for.

1. Republic Day – 26 jan weekend

Even though this long weekend has already gone, one can still visit relevant destinations that are enjoyable this time of the year. For eg. Dubai. Shop to your heart’s delight, try the grub, admire the man made islands, take a desert safari or just check out the souks.

 

2. Mahashivratri : Fri, 24 Feb

MahaShivratri is a holiday in most of India. Add to it the weekend of Sat, 25 Feb and Sun, 26 Feb and you have a long weekend. One can visit Agra (Taj Mahotsav) , Andaman Islands, Goa (Goa carnival) , Landsowne , Ooty. Wildlife sanctuaries in Rajasthan – check out  Jodhpur or Udaipur or Jaisalmer or Pushkar or Alwar for the lovely weather.

Udaipur : By: ivosandoval/flickr.com used under Creative Commons License BY-SA

 

3. Holi weekend: 11-13 Mar

11th and 12th are the weekend and Monday, 13th March is Holi. Celebrate Holi in Mathura, Visit Coorg to catch the white coffee flowers in bloom or again cities in Rajasthan (Jaipur , Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Pushkar, Alwar) before summer kicks in.

Jaisalmer : By: zedzap/flickr.com used under Creative Commons License BY-SA

 

4. Gudi Padwa : 28th Mar

25th, 26th is the weekend, Take leave on Monday, 27 March and add Gudi Padwa holiday on 28th – you get 4 days! You can visit Rishikesh for white water rafting or Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangkok.

Bangkok : By: stuckincustoms/flickr.com used under Creative Commons License BY-SA

 

5. Ram Navami : 4th Apr

The weekend is on 1st and 2nd April. Take leave on Monday, 3 Apr. Ram Navami is on 4th April. With 4 days, you can visit Cappadocia, Turkey for hot-air ballooning, Tokyo for cherry blossoms, Srinagar for tulips, or Hong Kong for family fun time in Disneyland.

Hongkong : By: sprengben/flickr.com used under Creative Commons License BY-SA

 

6. Baisakhi/Good Friday/Easter weekend

Thu, 13 Apr: Baisakhi
Fri, 14 Apr: Dr Ambedkar Jayanti, Good Friday
Sat, 15 Apr : weekend
Sun, 16 Apr: Easter weekend

IF you can take leave on Mon, Tues, Wed (10,11,12 apr) then it becomes a REALLY long weekend for international travel.
You can visit Amritsar for Baisakhi, for the food, Wagah border change of guard ceremony ; Phuket for the Phuket Bike Week (11–16 Apr) and Bangkok for Songkran Festival (13–17 Apr)

Bangkok : By: michaelsarver/flickr.com used under Creative Commons License BY-SA

 

7. Labour day : 1 May

29 Apr & 30 Apr is the weekend. Monday, 1 May is May Day or Labour day. Travel to the north east to get relief from the heat. You can visit Shillong, Mashobra or Landour to beat the heat; Tadoba or Ranthambore to spot wildlife; or take a quick break Colombo in Sri Lanka.

Colombo : By: nazly/flickr.com used under Creative Commons License BY-SA

 

8. Eid Weekend : 26 Jun

24th and 25th June is the weekend and Eid is on 26th Jun

Travel to Hyderabad/Lucknow/Delhi for Ramzan Eid; Munnar for the monsoon; Dharamshala for camping/trekking. Try a different kind of Goa in monsoon. It is very cheap and also very lovely. Or Visit Srinagar for the cool climate.

Srinagar : By: gulfu/flickr.com used under Creative Commons License BY-SA

9. Janmashtami/Independence Day weekend : 14 Aug/15 Aug

12 Aug, 13 Aug are the weekend, 14 Aug is Janmashtami, 15 Aug is Independence day, Take leave on 16 Aug & 18 Aug, 17 Aug is Parsi New year, and 19, 20 Aug is again the weekend. Now this is the LONGEST weekend ever for travel!

Travel to Ladakh for picturesque views, Uttarakhand for Valley of Flowers; Salzurg, Austria for the Salzburg Festival (21 Jul–30 Aug); Tanzania for the great migration.

Salzburg : By: beuel_sued/flickr.com used under Creative Commons License BY-SA

10. Ganesh Chaturthi : 25 Aug

Take the Ganesh Chaturthi holiday on a friday and add the weekend to it. Visit Pune or Bombay for Ganesh Chaturthi or Bali for a beach break or Cherrapunji to watch water falls!

Guwahati : By: rao_anirudh/flickr.com used under Creative Commons License BY-SA

11. Gandhi Jayanti : 2 OCt

Weekend + Gandhi Jayanti . One can have a quick visit to Munich for Oktoberfest (16 Sep–3 Oct); Bhutan for the Thimphu Tshechu festival (30 Sep–2 Oct); Bandhavgarh for wildlife season; Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh for the pleasant weather, Gangtok for clear views of the Kanchenjunga

Bhutan : By: jmhullot/flickr.com used under Creative Commons License BY-SA

12. Diwali holidays

14, 15 Oct are the weekend. 16 Oct is Dhanteras, 17 and 18 Oct are Chhoti and Badee Diwali, Take leave on 19 Oct, 20 Oct is Bhaiduj and 21, 22 Oct is again the weekend! 9 days are long enough to visit exotic locations far away!

Visit Sydney/Melbourne for summer on the beach; Vancouver/New York for fall, Bhutan for the perfect season.

Sydney : By: pedrosz/flickr.com used under Creative Commons License BY-SA

13. Eid Weekend  : 1 Dec

Along with Eid-e-Milad, you get the weekend of 2/3 Dec. Travel to Nagaland for Hornbill Festival or Bharatpur for spotting migratory birds.

Dimapur : By: abrinsky/flickr.com used under Creative Commons License BY-SA

14. Christmas Weekend : 25 Dec

This is the Holiday season! 23, 24 Dec are the weekend and 25 Dec is Xmas. If you can use all your remaining leaves of the year then you get Holidays till 1st Jan! One can travel to Maldives/Australia/Singapore/Goa for New year festivities or  Manali for the snow or Pondicherry for a winter break.

Sydney : By: clintsharp/flickr.com used under Creative Commons License BY-SA

So what are you waiting for? Get out your travel boots on and travel away!


 


 


Sky watch 9

When I came to Finland, the land of the midnight sun, 4 months back (yeah time sure flows by), all I could see was days and days on end, hardly ever night. The sun would be gleaming bright in our eyes beyond 10:30pm in the “night” and we would be sporting goggles. The “night” or rather a period of almost complete dimming of light (which never really resulted in a black night); in other words twilight, was barely 2 hours long from 1-3 am or so. Sleeping was a pain. Thick curtains was the only way out. Midnight in LaplandStill being the light sleeper that I am, I would wake up at 4am, 5am etc. only to discover that it was still “night”. The scientific term for this would be “white night“. It took me about a month and a half to see the nightsky at all. Civil twilight is supposed to last throughout summer in regions outside Arctic circle but above 60 degrees North. As a result, the nights are never dark and black. Whereas in India, immediately after sunset, the night takes over instantly, since the length of the twilight is heavily influenced by the lattitude. I had almost started to forget what stars in the night twinkled like. The first time I spotted a star here, which then appeared to be something bright perched on the top of a tree, it was *so* bright and twinkling, that I actually thought there was a sparking going on up there. I would regularly go out for late night walks all the time. At 12am I would set out and get a glimpse of the gradually darkening sky with its various hues. Something like that is unimaginable back home in India. Both geographically and socially. But then I had to be out. After all it was twilight.
It took me another couple of weeks, before I saw the moon out here. Again, the first time I saw it, I didn’t realise what I was looking at. It seemed to merge with the bright street lights at first. Suddenly I realised that this light had a slightly different shape and colour than the regular streetlight.By the moon and the stars and the sky Now I know why they call it a pie in the sky. The moon is BIG and with just that crescent which makes it appear as if someone has hung it out there. I could see why fairy tales depict the sun and the moon in the same frame, as if they coexist! I saw that it is exactly that way here…the sunset doesn’t exactly vanish into the black, inky darkness when the moon is already out with bright little stars. The whole sky seems to be divided into two – one having the aftereffects of a sunset, the other having a black night with a moonrise and twinkling stars.
The sun and the moon both, appear to follow slightly different paths than what we are used to (in India). The sun is never overhead. It cuts a low arc and is mostly near the horizon. Near the North pole, in fact, it is supposed to go around in a circle and never set actually (in the summers). Because of it being so close to the horizon, it’s *really* dazzling, though we are quite used to (in India), the sun being a pinkish-orange ball when it’s that close to the horizon. Again, the moon seems to oscillate up and down in the sky at least back home but not so here. It lies pretty low in the sky and never have I observed so far, the pronounced up and down oscillation (akin to a person nodding his head) in these parts of the world.
AnotherAurora Borealis phenomenon quite common around the Arctic circle is the Aurora Borealis or the Northern lights. So far, I have not been lucky enough to get a glimpse, though I have been monitoring solar activity on and off. Hopefully I shall see something when I go to the Arctic circle soon.
With time, of course the days started getting shorter (technically after the midsummer eve). About a month or so back, they reached normalcy (according to what I have been used to in India). Though, I noticed that the days were receding *quite* fast. Each day, the sunrise is about 3 minutes later and sunset, 3 minutes earlier. That would mean that on an average we are losing 6 minutes per day. That means that in a month, we would be short by 3 hours! It’s already quite weird to have a sunrise at 8:15am or so. Soon it would be as dark as night at 9am. *shudder*. I am used to seeing a bright moon in the sky at 5pm in the evening courtesy my stint in Japan, but am not used to it being dark in the mornings also. If one outstretches ones thumb and index finger to the maximum and takes them to be the length of the day and then joins them together gradually, it would depict the way the days are getting shorter and the nights are gaining in. Eventually, there would be no “day” left at the point where the thumb meets the index finger. Technically this would happen completely at the Arctic circle, not Helsinki. It seems there’re a lot of seasonal depression related ailments that happen in Scandinavian countries due to the “no light” factor. I hope to be out before the thumb meets the index finger!