April 14, 2018
From the Golden Temple to the Wagah Border ceremony, to a lesson in Sikhism and some history of partition, plus some of the richest and most delicious North Indian food you will find – a tour of India including Amritsar offers an array of experiences and things to see.
For travellers wanting a more authentic and raw experience during a tour of India, to see places less frequented by other travellers, a visit to Amritsar and the Punjab provides that opportunity. It can potentially provide you with a rich cultural, historical and spiritual experience and a deeper understanding of India.
If you are planning to visit Amritsar on a tour of North India, here are some tips about what to visit in Amritsar, including where to stay in Amritsar and things to see and do in Amritsar and the Punjab region. You can easily spend a total of 4 or 5 nights in Amritsar and the surrounding Punjabi countryside.
#1 Visit the Golden Temple
Amritsar is much revered by the global Sikh community for the city’s centrepiece, the beautiful Golden Temple. Join devotees who come to visit the temple each day and marvel at the contrast of the white marble and brightly clothed visitors and the striking golden dome made up of about 900 kilograms of gold. Or visit in the evening to hear the evening prayers. Take some time to stroll around the temple and its sacred water and take in the golden dome. Make sure you take the time to enter the temple proper (during busy periods and festivals this may mean lining up for a while) to hear the singing of the sacred text. The Golden Temple is stunning and an amazing place to visit. A guided tour of the temple arranged by us will also include some information about Sikhism and the temple’s place in India’s history. It will also show you the impressive kitchen at the temple, which serves more than 100,000 meals each day to devotees.
What do I need to wear to visit the Golden Temple?
You’ll need to wear long pants or a long skirt, a modest top and cover your head. It’s handy to have a scarf with you or you can easily get one at the temple – as they are provided at the entrance. Both men and women need to cover their heads in the temple. You’ll also need to leave your shoes at the shoe counter and wash your hands and feet to enter the temple space.
#2 Visit the Partition Museum in Amritsar
This relatively new museum is privately run and covers one of India’s most turbulent times in history. The museum offers visitors the chance to learn about partition – featuring interviews, images, artefacts and art works. The museum itself takes about an hour or 90 minutes to visit and for those with little knowledge of partition it’s a good introduction. Due to the museum’s size, it’s not too overwhelming. The museum is set in an old municipal building, which is worth seeing too. An important and interesting place to visit in Amritsar. The Partition Museum in Amritsar opens at 10 a.m.
Best places to eat in Amritsar
#3 Take a street food tour in Amritsar
It’s clear that Punjabi’s take their food seriously. Punjab is the breadbasket of India – with its abundant wheat and grain crops. You’ll notice the presences of that wheat on your plates too and if you have already visited South India, the change of cuisine will be evident. In Punjab and North India, locals favour bread with their meals – and the dishes are richer and ghee-laden, (very tasty but don’t ask about the calories!) and mopped up with breads hot and fresh from the tandoor – breads like roti, naan and stuffed paratha. South Indian meals are generally consumed with rice and the ghee doesn’t feature in such epic proportions as it does in the Punjab!
A guided street food tour in Amritsar will introduce you to some of the local delicacies. Be prepared to eat fish tikka, mutton, hot tandoori breads, kulfi (a type of Indian ice cream) served in miniature clay pots and wrapped like a parcel and the Amritsar lassi – among other delicacies.
#4 Eat at Kesar Da Dhaba
No foodie would come to Amritsar without visiting Kesar de Dhaba. This 100-year old restaurant is an institution of the city. Guests from India and abroad come to taste this slow cooked, ghee rich black dal and freshly baked breads straight out of the tandoor (some also rich in ghee!) Order the thali – a set lunch which comes with dal, 2 breads, stewed chickpeas and raita. (And all generously cooked or coated in ghee!) The lassi (a yogurt milk drink) and kulfi are also `must try’s’ at Kesar Da Dhaba. After you’ve eaten you can head into the open kitchen and see the breads coming out of the tandoor and the massive pots of slow cooked dal.
#5 Visit the Wagah Border
The Wagah Border is less than an hour by private vehicle from Amritsar and is where more than 20,000 people flock each day on the Indian side to see the Wagah Border flag lowering ceremony. This daily military ritual is abundant with noise, colour and ceremony, and holds a carnival like atmosphere. Soldiers from India and Pakistan stare each other down in an exuberant display as they open and close their bordering gates and lower their respective flags. It’s almost ridiculous, and certainly highly entertaining, though quite significant to be at the point where these two nations share a border.
#6 Experience a farm stay in the Punjab countryside
We’re told that the golden wheat fields of Punjab have been immortalised in several Bollywood movies – think Bollywood stars dancing in the wheat fields in brightly coloured saris and salwars – their colourful costumes standing in contrast to the soft yellow hues of the grain. So don’t be surprised if you see local tourists dressed up and posing in the wheat fields if you head out of town and visit Punjab’s countryside. It’s also a popular destination for pre-wedding photos in India apparently. (For the record we didn’t see any during a recent visit to rural Punjab.)
However we can understand the appeal – the countryside around Amritsar is beautiful. We recommend including a 2 night farm stay in Punjab during a private tour of India with a visit to the Golden Temple. Experience life away from India’s big cities and main tourist destinations and see its rural heart. Wake up with the wheat crops at your doorstep, with bed tea to greet the day. During your stay you can visit the local gurudwara, or Sikh temple, and hear the evening prayers, and take a walk through the local village – visiting the local school, stopping to chat with the friendly locals, and maybe even being invited to enjoy tea in a local home. If you have had a busy itinerary in India, it’s also a great chance to slow down a little.
For the best places to stay in Amritsar, here are some of the hotels in Amritsar that we recommend.
* Taj Hotels have just opened a lovely new property called Taj Swarna. The Taj hotel in Amritsar lives up to the beautiful properties and excellent service one expects from a Taj hotel. It’s an oasis of cool and quiet after a busy day out and about. There’s a lovely pool, spa, several restaurants and bar to enjoy.
* Ramada Amritsar is conveniently located near to the old city and Golden Temple and is also a good option for a hotel in Amritsar.
* Windsong – located a little out of town, but close to the airport and within easy reach of sights including the Golden Temple, Windsong is a small boutique hotel in Amritsar. It is a family run property, with just five rooms and a pretty garden. It’s a retreat away from the city and also popular with our travellers.
This blog was written during a month long private tour of India with a family. You might like to read some of our other travel blogs for family travel in India. We recently took an 8-day private tour of Kerala with a focus on travelling with children in India.