Amritsar was the first city we entered, in our journey to North India, back in February 2007. It was towards the end of winter, the night was cold and dusty, and I could not see anyone meeting us at the airport.
Amritsar is the second largest city in Punjab province. It sits close to the border of Pakistan, about 30km to the west of the city. The border itself is 2km west of Attari village. The border guards have the ceremony of opening/closing the border which can be watched by visitors in the morning and evening.
We were brought to our accommodation in Ranjit’s Svaasa (www.svaasa.com/ranjit), a family-owned bed and breakfast. It was almost 11pm when we arrived, Abhimanyu, one of the owner’s twin boys was helping us at the reception desk. The first instance and at a glance, I like Ranjits. Old, homy, tucked queitly in a residential side-street, a well-lived place. It reflected well in the room we stayed.
Breakfast was continental, with additional Indian pratha as the bread selection. With rented car we plan the day to go to Qadian, the birth place of Ghulam Ahmad, founder of Ahmadiyya Moslem Community. We took Gusdaspur route, passed Pathankot and Batala. About 2.5hour later, and almost an accident of colliding between our car and another car driven by a drunken man (!), we arrived in Qadian. A tiny, peasant village bordered by Hindi villages. We arrived and following the sign of Langar Khana (community dining room). By accident, we met Mahmud, a fellow Ahmadiyya, which we hugged feverishly, like a long lost friend. Mahmud spoke relatively good English. I can feel a genuine holiness atmosphere surrounding this tiny village. Mahmud then took us around the place. These were the places we visited:
Bait-ud Dua was the place where Ahmad prayed intensively and devotedly. Minaratul Masih is the only minareth in the village. We went up almost to the top, since the top floor was not opened for visitors. Breath-taking view. Underneath it, in the courtyard, people do their jami sholat, surrounding the sacred tomb of Mirza Ghulam Murtaza, the father of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who passed away in 1876.
We walked around the scholar office and met with another Mahmud, a scholar from Bandung. He took over and took us around to another important place in the compound. Bahishti Maqbara, the heavenly graveyard, Hazrat Malevi Abdul Karim was the first one buried in the graveyard back in 1905. His tombstone was engraved by Ghulam Ahmad himself. Since it was already passed lunch time, Mahmud ordered the people in Langar Khana to prepare us a simple lunch of lamb goulash with rice. I took only the sauce with rice, the lamb’s taste was too strong for me. We said good bye and left Qadian with awe. Such a small place, such a huge historical value!
Later, we had dinner in Ranjit’s dining room. Traditional and typical Punjabi home cooking, which we enjoyed so much. The night was quiet and cold, a good reason to huddled under the blanket.
Abhimanyu’s mother owns an apothecary of homeopath medicines, which she displayed near the living room. She also produced the essential oils for ayurveda or aromatherapy treatments, be it massage or facial. Besides that she made gigantic candles which she filled with various spices and fruits, such as chilly, lemon, cardamom and such. Around Ranjit’s you have pockets of courtyard, where you could sit quietly and contemplate.
On the second day, we continued our spiritual journey to the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine. It is located in the Old City of Amritsar, in the midst of bazaars and trading places. We put our shoes in the numbered locker outside the Temple and walked bare-feet towards it. Pilgrims and visitors must cover their heads, men and women. Tobacco and alcohol are not allowed. Prior to stepping in, there was a small pool to clean our feet one last time. And, once again, I got goose-bumps all over me when entering the place. It was a genuine spiritual atmosphere surrounded the place, despite the crowds.
Entering the mausoleum, the Sikhs kissed the marble floor and prayed. Some of them already took a bath in the pond, despite the chilly weathered winter morning. They believe, it brings health and blessings to do so. We walked around Parkarma, the marble walkway surrounding the pool. At one point, I just sat there enjoying and absorbing the ambience with a peaceful feeling. The architecture, like the religion, is a blend of Hindu and Moslem. The golden dome represents an inverted lotus flowers, a symbol of the Sikhism’s aim to live pure life. A causeway leads to the marble temple, which stands in the middle of the sacred pool of Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar), that gave the town its name.
Guru-ka-Langar is the community dining room, which bustled with making free lentil soup and chapattis for its pilgrims and visitors. All are welcome and you eat ‘lesehan’ (sit on the floor) style. Initially, I thought, if we could not get an accommodation because it was the high season, we would stay in Golden Temple – which you can and most welcome.
We walked about 300 meters to where the parked car and went straight for our lunch in New Punjabi Rasoi, a vegetarian join, not far from the Temple. Their serving was very generous, more than enough to share among 2-3 people.
The Ayurveda massage I experienced in Ranjit’s was not that great, compared to Bersih Sehat or Nanda Sehat. The treatment was done on a solid teak bed, and boy, did the therapist pummeled me passionately, I felt like she was trying to destroy me. Invigorating, yes; heaven, definitely not.
The cold winter evening was just perfect for the instant noodle we prepared ourself in the room. Perfect! We continued to talk until late in the evening.
We packed up that night and ready for our next journey to Agra.