I can’t speak to whether you can find love in Amritsar (though I will say that I found the Sikh men in Amritsar to be the most handsome, collectively, of all the Indian men I’ve come across in my two weeks of travel), but if you are looking for AMAZING food and God, you don’t need to go to two different countries. Just visit Amritsar in northern India. This city is known for food and is home to the most important pilgrimage site for Sikhs, the Golden Temple. This final stop on my Indian adventure made it official: my favorite cuisine in the world is Indian! Mad at myself for gaining 10lbs in Spain, where I don’t even really like the food, instead of saving more space for India. (I clearly must return and eat my way through south India!) I absolutely have a few favorite dishes: (1) Dosa (South Indian); (2) Kulcha (specialty of Amritsar); (3) Lassi (a real one, with chunks of tart yogurt curd in the cup! Way different than the mango lassis I’ve had before in the US); (4) Chat (aka, chaat); and (5) authentic Masala chai (if you’ve never had someone throw a mix of 10 or so spices into water and milk that is boiled over a gas flame, you haven’t lived!). Amritsar is also famous for its dhabas, and we certainly explored our share of those! Tons of food and restaurant recommendations below.
I absolutely would not have enjoyed this city as much as I did were it not for my travel companions: Bhavna, Satvik, and Vihaan. Photos immediately below from the lobby of our incredible (!!) hotel, the Ramada Inn. Seriously. This place only has a 3-Star rating, but it is WAY nicer than the 4-Star hotels I stayed in when in Jaipur and Udaipur, and the location is just perfect. Walking distance from The Golden Temple and Brothers Dhaba.
(Thanks to Bhavna I was able to safely depart from my otherwise strict food advice.) Travel can sometimes kill friendships, or at least be the source of a lot of tension/fights, and other times turn friends into family; thankfully, my experience in Amritsar was the latter. I would not hesitate to travel with Bhavna, Satvik, and Vihaan again, and there are only a few people in the world I can say that about. We had SO much fun. From our early morning start in Delhi, where monsoon rains soaked us as we made our way to the train station before 7am, through sweating a few lbs per person all over Amritsar. The train ride itself was long, but the train had air conditioning and was very comfortable. And when you ride Bhavna-style, you REALLY get a unique train ride experience I’m not sure you can find anywhere else in the world. Check out the video below!
Pro-tip: if anyone is going to Amritsar and wants the most amazing driver (who will take you to all the best food and lassi places in Amritsar!!!) let me know. But you must speak Hindi; he doesn’t speak enough English to use him without a Hindi speaker in the group.
In keeping with the spirit of Liz Gilbert’s famous book (referenced in the title of my post), let’s first highlight the amazing food and restaurant last in Amritsar…
Apart from seeing the Golden Temple, Bhavna had one goal for Amritsar: Eat our way through the city. Mission accomplished. I made sure to get my butt up to the gym each morning to compensate a bit for everything I was consuming. Though a pleasant side note: there were no alcohol calories, which totally helps. I spent the last few weeks in places where drinking is very much NOT a huge part of the culture. While Bhavna and I love grabbing drinks together when I’m in NYC, I never once even thought of suggesting we should grab alcohol while in Amritsar. Just too much else that occupied our time. Plus, since ice isn’t safe, unless you like your booze straight/neat (or mixed with soda but no ice) cocktails are out. Beer is affordable, but I don’t drink beer. And wine is crazy expensive here. Bottles that cost you $10 in the US cost you $30 here, and most places only have Indian wines as the by-the-glass option (and in case you missed my prior post: JUST SAY NO! Indian domestic wines taste a bit like drinking the cheapest wine you’ve ever had, with undertones of vinegar). So it was really easy not to drink alcohol.
As for what we did eat… EVERYTHING! Amritsar is famous for Kulcha, so we started off at Kulcha Land (food for 4 people, including 2 bottles of really yummy Indian lime soda, cost about$5!!) and had every type of Kulcha they make: Masala (spicy), Amritsari, and Paneer (cheese). SO GOOD! We had amazing Lassi from a total hole in the wall place, coconut water from a side of the road stand, dinner at the famous Brothers Dhaba (and the Dhaba next door to it, which was also amazing), yummy lunch from a famous Indian chef-restaurantour at The Yellow Chilli, the BEST chat from Rajasthani Chat (though the chat from the cart in our hotel was pretty amazing too!), and jelabi from right across the street at Gurdass Ram Jelabibwala. Also, don’t sleep on the breakfast buffets at Indian hotels. WOW!
Amritsar is the most holy city for Sikhs. Located within Amritsar is The Golden Temple, which is the most important gurdwara and pilgrimage site for Sikhs. Over 60,000 people visit on an average weekday, and over 100,000 on an average weekend day! I don’t care what religion you believe in, it’s impossible to visit this place and not feel it’s significance, and be blown away by how beautiful it is. Especially at night. It is not lost on me that in three months of traveling I’ve been fortunate enough to visit two of the most important pilgrimage sites for two religions (Santiago de Compostela, Christianity, and Amritsar, Sikhs).
But the Golden Temple wasn’t the only holy site we visited. We also went to Ram Teerath Mandir, a Temple not far from the Wagha Border (more on that below). Bhavna told me that although this is a very holy site, it’s WAY off the beaten path and not even listed in most tour guides/books. And from the stunned look on the faces of many people there (especially the children), I’m pretty sure I am the first white person most of these people have ever seen in their life. I feel so blessed to have seen a place so remote, spiritually significant, and beautiful.
We did loads of of other exploring in and around Amritsar, including a visit to the Wagha Border for the daily ceremony (which is a very elaborate flag ceremony in which both Indian and Pakistani soldiers participate, and crowds of thousands on both sides of the border fill up stadiums to watch), and thanks to Saurabh, we had VIP treatment and a BSF escort! It was also one of the two most disgustingly sweaty days of my life. See photographic evidence below. I promise, I did not pee my pants. We also went to the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Panorama museum ( I would not add it to any “must do“ list for the same, but if you have lots of extra time, it’s very cheap and there’s some beautiful artwork), and enjoyed half a day at the Gobindgarh Fort (which is great for kids!). But if you’re an adult without kids, probably not worth the trip/time (and if you do go, skip the 7-D movie, so bad it’s laughable!). But if you do go, and you buy a package for your kids that includes all the games and extras, PLEASE skip the camel and horse rides (because, those poor animals…) Instead, they will let you use the tickets to play extra games instead. We also went to the Partition Museum, which I don’t have photos of (because they’re not allowed) but it was AMAZING and I learned so much about the history of India, and in particular, Partition. This is definitely a MUST DO when in Amritsar. It’s also air conditioned, which is great when all you want to do is escape blistering heat (the day we went it was about 100 with 100% humidity and we all agreed it felt like it was at least 110). The nearby Jallianwala Bagh Memorial is equally educational and sobering, as happens when you visit any memorial to a massacre. No shortage of educational and fascinating history to learn about in this city.