Amritsar wasn’t even on our radar when we arrived in India. I’d planned to visit Leh and Ladakh, or Dharmshala. I wanted to catch a glimpse of the Dhali Llama, do Yoga by the river, and learn how to meditate in the mountains. I expected to transit through the city. I never planned to actually stay in Amritsar!

But, a combination of getting comfortable quickly, being too tired to want to move on, and finding unexpected surprises, led us to spend a week in this Punjabi city searching for fun and historical places in Amritsar to visit.

Golden Temple in Amritsar

Sri Harmandir Shahib, more commonly known as “the Golden Temple”, is a highlight of any trip to Amritsar. I’d go so far as to say you can’t travel to Amritsar without paying a visit to this impressive Sikh temple.

The original structure was completed in 1604, but was blown up in 1762 by an Afghani ruler. The current building, in the original location, was completed in 1809. The main temple is completely covered in gold leaf, and surrounded by a man-made lake. Over the centuries it’s been the site of gatherings, ceremonies, attacks and persecution. Through it all, it’s remained one of the holiest sites for Sikhism.

There are a surprising number of things to do when visiting the Golden Temple, but other than appreciate it’s architectural beauty, we didn’t do any of them! The main activities are Langar (receiving a free meal at the community kitchen in the Gurdwara), Prakash (the morning opening and reading of the Lord’s message for the day) and Sukh-Aasan (the evening ritual for “putting to bed” the holy book).

Planning Your Visit To The Golden Temple

You must have your arms, legs and head covered in order to enter the temple complex. There are free headscarves for both men and women at the entrance if you haven’t come prepared. You also have to take your shoes off. There’s a shoe-check area to the left of the entrance where you can safely leave your shoes during your visit.

Getting To & From – Ask any taxi/rickshaw/bike driver to take you to the Golden Temple and they’ll drop you off along the side of the pedestrian street. Follow the street South until it turns, and then West, and you’ll run right into the temple complex.

Cost – Free

The one I would’ve like to have participated in was Langar. The Langar in Amritsar is supposed to be one of the best, but the line-up to get into the temple was always hundreds of people long. Standing at the entrance to the temple complex, I watched a steady stream of people cleaning plates and looking to be busy with dishes and meal preparation. They serve meals to approximately 50,000 people a day, which I think is pretty darn incredible!

Prakash and Sukh-Aasan are the rituals surrounding the opening and putting away of the holy book. They’re supposed to be quite fascinating to witness. The book is opened very early in the morning (4 am’ish) and closed very late at night (10pm’ish), and required quite a long wait in line to get in to observe the ceremony, it just didn’t make it to the top of the list!

I did, however, steal away with Kacela early one morning to watch the sun rise over the temple. It was incredibly peaceful, and I appreciated the stillness of the morning. The line-up was already surprisingly long, but in front of the lake it was quiet.

Pedestrian Road Near The Temple

There’s a lovely (unnamed on google) pedestrian-only street leading from Fawwara Chowk to the Golden Temple. It’s not really one of the historical places in Amritsar to visit, but it’s sure great for observing all the people going to and from the Golden Temple.

On our first approach if felt like we’d landed in Europe, complete with a McDonalds! We loved grabbing an ice cream (at the only Vegetarian McDonalds I’ve ever been to) or a Chai, sitting on one of the benches, and just people watching. There was always so much going on! Of course, if we hung around for too long people got comfortable and started asking for pictures. That was always our cue to leave!

The surrounding streets really make up the heart of the city. There are chai shops, delicious restaurants and dressmakers down all the little alleyways. We loved wandering around both during the day and at night, because the whole vibe of the place changes. Plus, I never once felt unsafe or uncomfortable here, even after dark.

Getting To & From – It’s nice to start at Fawwara Chowk and walk the length of the street, but if you ask any driver to take you to the Golden Temple, you’ll end up somewhere on this street!

The Partition Museum

The Punjab Sikh’s have always found themselves in the middle of the conflict between the Mulsims and Hindu’s of northern India. This was never more evident than during partition. I knew nothing about the partition of British India in 1947. It occurred long before my time, and in a part of the world that we tend to learn very little about.

I was hesitant to take the girls to the Partition museum as I had no idea what to expect from it. I tend not to shy away from exposing them to the good AND bad of the world, so ultimately, we decided it was worth bringing them along.

Learning About The Darker Side of History

The Partition museum tells a gripping tale of life at the end of British colonization. The girls were fascinated by tales of brave men who were locked up in prison for standing up for what they believed in. They looked at the old artifacts and explored a bit of the darker side of human history. We talked about war, and religious differences, and the reason behind the partition. It was a lot for them, but they got the gist of it.

In one of the last rooms, I had a hard time keeping it together. There were images of trains carrying newly-made refugees between Lahore (in newly formed Pakistan) and Amritsar (India), with graphic descriptions about them pulling into the station carrying no living passengers. Everyone aboard having been massacred, or abandoned the train to save their own lives on the short journey. At another point, there was a fake-well, adorned with stories of women who’d thrown themselves into wells as a form of mercy killing. They’d then have to crawl back out again because the well was already clogged with dead, bloated bodies. I choked back tears as I wandered out of the museum into the sunshine.

I had such a hard time reading about people who had been neighbours, suddenly killing each other because they ended up on the “wrong” side of some newly drawn border. Human history is incredible and brutal, and it’s fascinating to learn how these two neighbouring countries have coexisted since this tragedy.

(There’s no photography allowed inside the Partition Museum, so you’ll just have to visit for yourself!)

Planning Your Visit To The Partition Museum

Hours – Open 10am-6pm (closed Mondays).

Getting To & From – The entrance is located on the south side of the complex, by the Ambedkar Statue (Statue of a man in the middle of the round-about). You can enter the complex both from Mahan Singh Gate Rd and Hall Rd.

Cost – 250 rupees ($5 CAD) each (Kids 5 and under free)

Extra Info – Exit onto Hall street and turn left. Ahead are 2 great restaurants, Brothers Dhaba and Bharawan Da Dhaba, where you can pick up a delicious and inexpensive lunch or dinner.

Wagah Border Ceremony

After learning about the horror of the partition, I was even more intrigued to visit the Wagah Border. The Partition line, creating the border between these two countries, is about 30km West of Amritsar. Every evening, at sunset, there’s a HUGE flag-lowering ceremony. The relationship between India and Pakistan is still quite strained, but you’d never know visiting the Wagah beating retreat ceremony.

When I told Randy I wanted to go to a flag ceremony at the border he though I was absolutely crazy. But, like a good husband, and travel partner, he came along. He was pleasantly shocked and surprised when we got there!

We arrived at the border to stadium seating, blaring music and a massive crowd dancing in the streets. There were even vendors in the stands selling clothing, Indian flags & hats, face painting, popcorn, drinks, pretty much anything you’d expect to find at a sporting event!

We found some seats (for some reason foreigners are given a preferential seating area), and Calais and I went down to the road to join in the party. When it was time for the ceremony to start, an announcer came out and sent everyone to their seats. He ran up and down the street, keeping the crowd riled up and cheering.

Men in fancy military uniforms put on a marching demonstration that seemed to go back and forth between those on the Indian side and those in Pakistan. They kicked incredibly high as a show of intimidation, and walked right up to the border egging on the other side. At the climax, the border opened up and the crowd went completely crazy! The flags were lowered across each other making an “X”. When the flags were lowered and folded, the flag-bearers saluted each other, the border closed, and they all marched away.

It was an incredible ending to the sad story that began with partition. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a happy ending but, it’s an incredible story of human persistence and the desire to make something good out of something terrible.

Planning Your Visit to the Wagah Border Ceremony

Hours – Every night at sunset (varies according to the season). It’s best to arrive at least 30min prior to sunset.

Getting To & From – You’ll need to hire a taxi or rickshaw for the 30km drive to the border. Expect to pay 1000-1500 rupees ($20-25 CAD) for a return trip. Ask if the driver or a guide will stay with you or if you’ll do it on your own. We had a driver and his brother. The brother walked us through the crowd, sat with us during the ceremony, and then ensured we found the rickshaw after the ceremony. It wasn’t necessary, but made the experience more enjoyable as we didn’t have to worry about a thing!

Cost – Entrance to the border ceremony is free.

Jallianwala Bagh

The one major site we skipped was Jallianwala Bagh. This is a large, open square near the Golden Temple where the British colonial troops massacred hundreds of people in 1919. After visiting the Partition museum, I couldn’t bring myself to visit this memorial. I read descriptions of bullet-holes riddling the interior walls, still there 100 years later to serve as a reminder of the heinous act. It was an even deeper conversation that I wasn’t ready to have with the girls.  It serves as another brutal reminder of the injustices suffered by the Indian people at the hands of colonization.

Hours – 6:30am-7:30pm every day

Getting To & From – Entrance is from the North, along the street leading to the Golden Temple.

Cost – Free to Visit

Know Before You Go

Where To Stay – Accommodation in Amritsar

The best location to stay in Amritsar is in the center of town, close to the Golden Temple. There’s a plethora of incredible restaurants, a gorgeously clean boulevard to wander and you’ll be walking distance to the main historical places in Amritsar.

Budget Option: Osahan Paradise

This little gem is right in the middle of it all, with clean rooms, breakfast included, and an unbeatable price. The staff is incredibly helpful and the rooms are spotless. It doesn’t look like a Western hotel, but the decor seems to match the quirkiness.

CostClick to find the most up to date price for Osahan Paradise.

Where we Stayed: Fab Hotel Prime Royal Suites

Fab Hotel Prime Royal Suites (formerly Hotel Sallow Royal) is a newer, mid-range hotel just outside of the city center. The family room was large and beautiful, one of the nicest places we stayed in all of India! Breakfast was included in the room price, and was different every morning. There was a buffet set up, but they’d also cook fresh for us if we asked. The small roof-top pool provided a great place to cool down in the afternoon, and the meals at the on-site restaurant were good enough to avoid going into town just for a meal. The decor is very modern. We felt like we’d stepped back into North America!

Cost – 2999 rupees ($60 CAD)/night for a family room, including breakfast. Check the most up to date price right here!

Mid-Range Hotels near to Golden Temple in Amritsar: Hotel City Park

This is a modern, mid-range hotel well located right around the corner from the Golden Temple. The rooms are large and spotlessly clean with a Western bathroom. There’s a great breakfast included, and the staff are incredibly helpful.

CostCheck the price of Hotel City Park.

High-end Option: Taj Swarna

This is likely the nicest hotel in all of Amritsar and its just oozes opulence. The downside is the distance from the main historical sites in town, but the outdoor pool and beautiful property more than make up for it!

CostCheck for today’s best price at this beautiful hotel.

Food In Amritsar

Punjab food is delicious, and I quickly fell in love with the incredible Amritsar kulcha. A kulcha is a type of flat-bread made up of delicious, flaky dough and stuffed with anything from paneer to garlic. It’s eaten as part of a dhaba, on a plate with dahl and raita, and washed down with a thick lassi (this is obviously optional but highly recommended!). My mouth is watering just thinking about it! We found three incredible places for Dhaba, all near the center of town.

The Best Places To Eat In Amritsar

Kesar Da Dhaba – This is tucked away in the complicated mess of Amritsar’s streets. Most rickshaw/taxi drivers will know where it is, and you can find it here on Google!

Cost – 359 rupees ($7.18 CAD) for a large lunch plate and lassi

Bharawan da Dhaba – Right across from the Partition Museum on Hall road. Locate it here with Google.

Cost – 500 rupees ($10 CAD) for a lunch plate, extra kulcha and a drink

Brother’s Dhaba – Located on Hall road near the Partition Museum. Its right here on Google!

Cost: 557 rupees ($10 CAD) for 2 lunch plates

The other common meal in Amritsar is rotisserie chicken. There are chicken joints all over the city, but the following was recommended by a local foodie we met in Jodhpur.

Charming Chicken – Majitha Rd, in the North part of Amritsar. It’s here on Google.

Cost – 830 rupees ($16.60 CAD) for a chicken with bread, veggies and drinks.

How To Get Around Amritsar

The center of town is all easily within walking distance.  The streets can be a bit crazy so hold on tight! It’s also very inexpensive and convenient to grab any type of transportation on wheels. Amritsar has it all; Ola, motorized rickshaws, bike rickshaws with a canopy and bike rickshaws that barely fit two people, let alone a family of 4. It’s easy to flag one down and tell them where you’re going. Negotiate the price before leaving, and pay upon arrival. Easy peasy

How To Get To Amritsar

Train

We traveled to Amritsar on the Delhi to Amritsar Train. It was a bit different than the other trains we rode in India because it was Chair Class, no sleeper bunks!! The train New Delhi to Amritsar was comfortable and felt more like an airplane than a train. It included a snack right after we left Delhi, followed by dinner, as well as water and tea. The 7 hour ride passed quickly and comfortably.

I’d suggest traveling from Delhi to Amritsar by train because it’s the happy medium between the plane and the bus. You get to see the countryside out the window, can get up and walk around as you’d like, and the cost is very reasonable

Cost – Delhi to Amritsar train fare – 1195 rupees ($24 CAD) per person, Chair class. Find today’s fare on IRCTC.

Plane

There are multiple nonstop flights from Delhi to Amritsar every day, on Jet Airways, Air India, IndiGo and Vistara.  The Delhi to Amritsar flight time is just over an hour, and the average cost is 2000 rupees ($40 CAD).

There are also daily direct flights to Amritsar from Mumbai and Bengalaru, and international flights from Doha, Dubai and Ashkabat (just incase you happen to be in Turkmenistan!!!).

Bus

The bus from Delhi to Amritsar is the cheapest travel option, averaging 700 rupees ($14 CAD). The Delhi Amritsar bus typically travels overnight and takes 8 hours (in perfect conditions). This is a very rough estimate as it can always take significantly longer!!

If you’re going from Delhi to Amritsar by bus, pack a blanket as it can get cold in the A/C, and a few snacks just in case the ride takes longer than expected!

Bonus: Things To Do In Amritsar With Kids

Amritsar isn’t typically on the top of many family’s itineraries when visiting India. At first glance there isn’t a lot to do here with kids. However, if you’re willing to dive into some of the historical significance of the area and not shy away from the less pretty parts of human history, Amritsar has lots to offer.

Golden Temple with Kids– If your kids are like mine, they get excited about anything GOLD (or that has to do with princesses!). For this reason alone the temple was a hit, as they were flabbergasted at the amount of gold covering the building. Aside from the sheer beauty of the temple, there’s lots of space for kids to spread out and observe without getting in anyone’s way.

Partition Museum with Kids – Although there are some graphic pictures here, they’re situated above the sight-lines of smaller kids (they were well out of view for my 6 & 7 year olds). It’s still possible for them to learn about the history without being traumatized by horrific images. Plus, the outside area is large and traffic-free, so there’s plenty of space for the kids to run around after you’ve visited the museum.

Get Clothes Made – There are tailors a plenty down the streets surrounding the Golden Temple. One of our favourite activities was getting Salwar shirts made. The girls had a ton of fun picking out their own fabric, and deciding on the arm length and shirt length. They were finished in a few short hours, allowing the girls to proudly wear them around town afterwards. The only downside – I think they were in MORE photos because of their cute local clothes!

Playpark at Funland – We always like to find a playpark when we’re somewhere for more than a day or two. The best park in Amritsar is at Funland. Although the amusement park itself is quite rundown (and likely not open), the attached playground is still in good shape, with slides, swings and a merry-go-round. The cost was 10 rupees ($0.20 CAD) for adults and 5 rupees ($0.10 CAD) for kids. You can find it on Google or just ask a rickshaw driver and they’ll know where it is.

See How Tandoors Are Made – This was one of the girls’ favourite things! They’re both absolutely in LOVE with Tandoor Naan, and were thrilled to watch these being made. The locals were friendly enough to let us watch, but got a bit shy when I pulled out my camera (well, not all of them!). Make sure to be considerate if you’re wanting to take pictures as this is NOT a common tourist stop, so you might catch them a bit off guard! There are a number of workshops along the side of the raod. You need to pay  attention as the street is a little busy, but its’ easy to stay out of the way of traffic. The workshops are front of the OYO hotel, find it on Google maps.

What We Spent

We spent an average of $139.08 CAD/day for our family of 4. This averages out to $34.77 CAD per person.

We travelled very mid-range; staying in a nice hotel, eating out frequently, and spending money on a private transfer to and from the Wagah border. It’s definitely possible to travel in Amritsar for significantly cheaper if you wanted!

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