Amritsar, the golden city

WHEN I saw thousands of people, including military personnel, beginning to march towards the India-Pakistan border near Amritsar, my heart jumped a beat.

Are these two nations going to war again – when I am in Amritsar, of all places!

Images of the carnage, which let to the displacement of millions during the 1947 partition of India, flashed across my mind.

But thankfully, this was not a foreboding of a war to come.

Rather, a parade that signifies the countries’ brotherhood and cooperation, as much as it does their past rivalry.

This is the Wagah border flag ceremony, which has been taking place since 1959.

Every evening at sundown, the security forces of India (Border Security Force) and Pakistan (Pakistan Rangers) lower their flags at the border – just one of two road links between the countries – in a drill characterised by elaborate, dance-like manoeuvres, a ceremony which has drawn massive crowds of onlookers for decades.

And this is just one of the many historic attractions that locals and tourists are able to enjoy during a visit to Amritsar, India.

I was there in the city as one of several guests of AirAsia, which brought us there to mark its maiden flight from Kuala Lumpur to Amritsar.

Amritsar is also known for being the birthplace of famous Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, as well as for its renowned Golden Temple – or the Sri Harmandir Sahib – the holiest gurdwara (Sikh place of worship).

The sanctum, which was built in 1577 around a man-made pool, was overlaid with gold foil in 1830, which gave it its name.

Over 100,000 people visiting the temple daily, drawn by the view, as well as the free vegetarian meals served to all visitors who want it.

Those wishing to pay the gurdwara a visit are also advised to return to the location at night for a completely different, yet similarly stunning, view of the shrine.

As one pilgrim we met there put it: “You want to visit this temple for worship as much as you want, to be intrigued by its beauty.”

Other places worth paying a visit include the Partition Museum, Sadda Pind heritage village, the Jallianwala Bagh public garden, which houses a memorial to commemorate the massacre of peaceful protesters by the British army on April 13, 1919, and the historic Gobindgarh Fort, which has been developed into a live museum for the public.

And as much as you would fall in love with the history and architecture of Amritsar, you would not get the true Indian experience without a taste of northern Indian cuisine, and a quick stroll down the old streets of Amritsar for cheap goods.

And while the taste of ‘laddu’ or the ‘kulcha’ on your tongue might only last the flight back home, the experience of seeing the holy city and its iconic venues would definitely last a lifetime.

AirAsia operates four return flights each week, on Tuesdays, Thursday, Saturdays and Sundays, between Kuala Lumpur and Amritsar.

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