"Glory lies in the attempt to reach one's goal and not in reaching it. " ~ Mahatma Gandhi


Amritsar: Cacophony of Tranquility

Manohar V. Rakhe lives in the U.K. and delights in sharing his travel experiences during visits home to India. A keen enthusiast of the Indian Railways, his travelogues are interspersed with his love of the railways. Here he shares memories of visits to the heart of Punjab, Amritsar.

It is very difficult for me to say exactly when I fell in love with Amritsar. I had read about the Golden Temple and the Jalianwalla Bagh as a schoolboy. As a young lad, I had always wanted to travel to Amritsar. That may have been influenced by the fact that, even as a child, I was in love with the Indian Railways and I wanted to travel on the famed Frontier Mail. Years later, in 1981, after moving to England, on a visit home, I went to Amritsar with my elder son Ajit.

After an overnight train journey from Delhi, we arrived in Amritsar the following morning. After checking into our hotel, I decided to hire a tonga for the day to go around Amritsar so Ajit could experience the novelty of travelling in a tonga.

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Golden Temple That was one of the best travel deals I have ever done in my life. The tongawalla knew his onions. He explained everything in Hindi to me, which I translated for Ajit's benefit, in English. Ajit was suitably affected by the history of the British tyranny while in occupation of India, especially after the visit to the Bagh. While we were travelling about Amritsar, we were keenly aware of the noise of rickshaws, buses, two wheelers, bicycles and what have you. But once we entered the precincts of the Golden Temple, the noise seemed to vanish miraculously.

That is one of the experiences of travelling in India that I will never be able to cast away from my mind. One minute you are in the midst of all the cacophony you can imagine and the moment you enter the precincts of the Golden Temple, it all seems to vaporise away. Ajit and I sat down for a few precious minutes by the lake in the precincts of the Golden Temple. The fact that I am not a Sikh did not seem to enter the equation at all. It was Heaven. No noise. Nobody hassling you for money. No-one wanting to show you an easy way to Heaven.

Jallianwala BagNext on the itinerary was the Jalianwalla Bag. Our tongawalla wended his way through the narrow lanes towards the Bag. The din of traffic was a constant reminder that we were in the middle of a very busy North Indian city. But the minute we entered the Bag, it was the same experience again. A dignified silence appeared to engulf us. It is still inexplicable why we did it, but I found that Ajit and I were whispering to each other. We spent a long time at the Baag. I explained to Ajit about the 1919 Baisakhi day massacre of unarmed civilians perpetrated by General Dyer's troops. I showed him the well where people had jumped in, to save themselves from the flying bullets, only to end their lives in a watery grave. Ajit was merely a child, but he was visibly moved by the story of the massacre. Chatterbox that he was, he did not utter a word until we entered the precincts of the Durga temple. This must be a speciality of Amritsar, that while on the streets of the city, you can't even hear yourself think, because of all the noise around you. But as soon as you enter the Golden Temple, the Baag or the Durga temple, you almost immediately get enveloped in a soothing and reverent silence. The only noise emanating from the Durga temple was the peeling of the temple bells. The only time the silence was breached was when an Indian Airlines jet roared overhead on its way to Amritsar airport.


After the first trip to Amritsar with Ajit, I went there again with my younger son Atul, after the Bhindranwale episodes. In Mumbai, we were advised to avoid Amritsar at all costs, not being Sikhs. But I had more faith than my advisers. We were scheduled to stay in Amritsar for one afternoon. We stayed for 3 days! We followed the same trail I had on my first trip with Ajit. This time, wherever we went, there were soldiers carrying machine guns, inspecting our bags etc. But we were not inconvenienced in any way whatsoever. The icing on the cake on this visit was the steam engine ride we were taken by some of the drivers of the steam locomotives of Amritsar Steam Loco shed. Atul was then (and I still am!) a steam loco enthusiast. At the end of the ride, the group of drivers took both of us to their canteen and offered us besan laddoos, a typical sweetmeat of Punjab.

I have been to Amritsar once after that. My impressions remains unchanged. I will return there, as long as I can! The city is quite justifiably famous for its Golden Temple. It ought to be equally famous for its golden silence.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.