Friday, November 21, 2014

Amritsar - Day 1

The golden temple, Amritsar 

After months of planning, research, looking up the internet, asking friends, we finally managed to make the much awaited trip to Amritsar, Punjab. We hardly make a touch and go trip to a new place and so had wanted this to span a couple of days to be able to get a feel of the place ... roam the lanes and by lanes, visit the Golden Temple, shop and of course try out the local cuisine.
Amritsar or Ambarsar is famous for the Harmandir Sahib or the famous Golden Temple. As well as the Jalianwala Bagh. Foodies will of course keep the food scene in mind too. Not to forget the wonderful textiles and carpet markets.

We landed in Amritsar on a beautiful, weekend winter evening. The drive from the airport to the centre of the city was hardly of half an hour. We had chosen a wonderful place to stay in, right in the middle of the old city from where the Golden temple was hardly 800 meters away. There were markets on all four sides including the cloth market and all the good eateries all around ... the farthest being 2 kms away ... the only place where we needed a cab to go to. All other places we walked to  ... making our evenings very fruitful in more than one ways.
Amritsar from air
We started out to explore the city right after checking in, without wasting any time. Amritsar  has 12 gates that lead into the old city. We stayed near Hall gate or gate no. 1, where all the markets are located. Walking down the Katra mal market or the Hall market, full of textiles and cloth shops, the first street food we came across was roasted sweet potatoes that a vendor was selling. Wonderfully sweet and moist, the potatoes had a beautifully rustic flavour given by the wood fire they were being roasted in. Winter had almost set in and   that wood fire smoke made the chill in the evening air to almost melt away.
The man cut them up and served them hot with a dash of lemon juice and rock salt. Awesome!

Amritsar streets are full of such small vendors selling all kinds of street food. From kulche chole being sold off handcarts to samosas to puri chole to gol gappas to boiled eggs ... the list is endless.
Traffic is pure mayhem. Roads are narrow inside the old city and it will seem like everybody is driving into everybody .... rickshaws, cars, bikes, people .... all honking, shouting out warnings, jostling against others to make a way. Crazy!

street food in amritsar
Walking along, we came across another man selling what he called "Methi ke namkeen laddoo".They definitely did not look like laddoos. The man urged us to try one. Deftly he made a plate ... arranging two 'laddoos', throwing in some tamarind chutney to which some red colour has been added, some onions and carrots and a good dash of salt and pepper. The 'laddoos' were actually moong vadas with some chopped methi leaves thrown in.

methi ke laddoo in amritsar
He happily shared the recipe with me, all the while advising us on what to do and what not to do in Amritsar. He suggested some shops and warned us against a few. And so on. We have a rule when visiting new places ... always talk to the locals. Internet if fine but it will be the locals who will give you the most authentic tips. And those tips help. Always.
best street food in amritsar
We walked on and after completeing a half circle of the market, took the road to the Golden Temple. After all, that is what anyone who is visiting Amritsar for the first time would always want to.
Waking up at 3 in the morning and changing two flights to get to Amritsar had left us a little tired.
So we decided to just  look around and get an idea of the surroundings on that evening. Standing in the long line for drarshan and langar would be on the next day.

Golden Temple Amritsar
The first sight of the massive , pure white entrance took my breath away! There, beyond that, stands the, THE Golden Temple.
It was a beautiful evening with a light breeze and a little chill. All around, it was a festive feel. The huge area in front of the temple has a water fountain that played along with changing lights. People filled the whole place but there was no jostling or big sized crowds. The kirtan from inside the temple floated all around. We spent some time there ... clicking snaps and walking all around.

Golden temple Amritsar
The Golden temple is an excellent example of how man can be humble if he or she really wants to. The temple is extremely clean, managed by workers of the temple as well as people who are visiting. Many  pilgrims work in the Golden temple on their own will. This is known as Kar Seva. They work in the shoe stands, sweep the outside area of the temple, wash steps, was dishes in the Langar section, cut vegetables for Langar ... anything.
Light fountain in golden temple amritsar
Since it is mandatory to keep our heads covered all the while inside the temple, we bought two scarves for ourselves. For those who cannot buy, there are scarves or chunnis kept in two big bins kept just outside the main entrance. On returning, they are are deposited them back in them for others to use.
Walking through the flow of water that washes our feet, we stepped into the temple.

The first look is breathtaking .... especially in the evenings and nights, when the temple is all decked up with lights. With its reflection shimmering in the water, there stood a monument of faith; a witness of history that is now history itself.
Amritsar golden temple amritsar
The Sarovar is surrounded by the whole temple structure all around. And in the middle of the water is the santum sanctorum. There is a strange peace and quiet all around inspite of a huge number of people walking around. The Ardas or the kirtan or prayers waft around, coming from the main temple. People sit near the water, some praying, some just soaking in the peace.
It was beautiful.
Golden temple amritsar
Since we did not go for darshan, we decided to skip langar too and try out one of the many places that we had on our minds to eat at.
Harmiandir sahib amritsar
We decided to go to Beera Chicken house on Majitha road ... some 2 kms away and for which we would need a vehicle. All other places we can walk down to. Besides it was the only day I could have non vegetarian food. So off we went.

Beera Chicken house is a small place with a few chairs outside. But there is good sized hall inside, complete with dining tables and chairs. You can park your car outside too and get your plate of food served there. 
beera's chicken house amritsar

I was looking forward to trying out this place and was not disappointed by the food at all. It was close to 9:30 in the night yet the place was packed and people were still coming in. There were two boys working as fast as they could. Service was prompt and the food was fresh and hot.
The chicken tandoori at Beera's is by far the best I have eaten so far.
It was so good one has to taste it to know it. I do get good tandoori chicken in Pune ... and yes, it does not have the red colour too ... but this was something else altogether.
Done on a grill, the chicken was so succulent I could actually peel the pieces. The meat just melted and fell into my fingers. Totally out of the world!

beera's chicken house amritsar punjab
Their vegetarian menu is limited but whatever they served was good, very good. Do not miss the green plates for vegetarians.
B ordered Shahi Paneer and tandoori naan and roti, which again was wonderful in both taste and flavour. The roti is differently done ... not the usual tandoori roti that we get to see elsewhere. He did not take the butter but I did not refuse it on my Kheema paratha. After all I was in Punjab ... to taste Punjabi food. Good dhaba food.
beera's chicken house, amritsar
The Keema paratha was good too.
Paired with fresh onions , a chutney, green chiilies and lemon juice sprinkled liberally all over, our first meal in Amritsar took us straight to food heaven.
If there is one place in Amritsar where I would love to eat again, it would be Beera's.
Anyday.

Beera's chicken house amritsar
Fully satiated, we finally called it a day.
Only one evening in Amritsar and we were already in love with the place, its food and people.

Tomorrow will be another big day!
Darshan, Langar, more snacks and meals. And a surprise find ... all lined up.
Do stay tuned for my next post. :-)


2 comments:

  1. This bring backs many childhood memories. I could be little biased here when I say the food and people of Punjab are amazing! :) The dhabbas serve best food one can crave for. It's never enough for me..Miss it more when you stay away from home. The Jalianwala Bagh gave goose bumps to me when I visited way back in 1997. Salute to Heroes who lost their lives. We must Value our freedom and keep it secure. Vadis (made out of lentils)are famously associated with Amritsar. You must try..Good luck and enjoy your Trip!

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  2. I totally agree with you on this Priyanka ... the food and the people of Punjab are great! Every person we came across, even on the streets, were eagerly helpful .. be it when it came to asking for directions or when it came to suggestions on places to shop at or eat in. The best part is they promptly walk up to you offering help when they overhear you! :-)
    My later posts will have all the details of the rest of the places and of course my shopping too.
    Thanks! :-)

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