Flavour Amritsari

Flavour Amritsari

Invigorating

Decked in gold leaf and surrounded by pristine marble, Amritsar’s resplendent monument, the Golden Temple, captivates the visitor’s imagination, writes Ashis Dutta

The Golden Temple; bullet marks and the pyramidical slab  indicating where bullets were fired from in Jallianwala Bagh. Photos by Author

“You will look just like Aamir Khan in Rang De Basanti,” insisted the young man. Neither he nor I could conceal the outrageousness of his promise. We both laughed aloud as I relented. He tied the Khanda-printed saffron scarf to cover my head. For some reason, I did not feel like haggling with the 10 rupees he charged for that little starched piece of cloth. You hardly get a souvenir at that price anywhere, and this one would see me through the sanctum of Sikhism. My head covered, I walked down the road leading to Harmandir Sahib — known to the world as the Golden Temple.

The sanctum

There is magic in the first sighting of the Golden Temple. The golden aura of the temple resonates around as the morning sun reflects from it, carrying with it specks of the golden hue, and spreads in all directions. This majestic edifice sits in the middle of a holy lake, the Lake of Nectar — Amrit Sarovar. A broad, marbled pathway surrounds the lake with inlaid pavilions on two sides, which form the base of the white temple complex all around. There is a calmness embodying the atmosphere, accentuated by the melody of Shabad kirtan reverberating in the air. The place is squeaky clean despite the hordes of devotees that descend here, some bathing in the holy lake, taking a dip, then shivering in the cruel chill of January, and then dipping again. People, many with offerings in hand, queued over the causeway on the western side that connects the walkway to the temple.

If there is one aspect that epitomises the spirit of the faith and which permeates much of Punjab, it is to be found in the Langar of the Golden Temple. I sat down with hundreds of others in a hall that can host 3,000 people at a time. People were walking in, in an endless flow. Clean, dry utensils were provided, followed by warm rotis, daal, subji and payas. Feeding and cleaning is an endless continuum perfected at this place. And all these — cooking, serving and cleaning — are carried out by devout volunteers. Nobody goes hungry in the land of the guru.

Stalked by history

History stalks Amritsar at every corner. The bullet marks in the walls of Jallianwala Bagh are still zealously guarded, since that fateful New Year Day — Baisakhi — in 1919 when a group of the British Army, led by a mindless officer, blocked the only narrow entrance of the park and fired indiscriminately at a peaceful gathering that killed thousands of innocent people. “Bullets fired from here,” says a low pyramidal slab. Standing in the manicured garden, it is hard to believe how much of sacrifice this serene park had demanded at the most gruesome bend in the path of
independence.

Sarson-da-Saag

The zinda dil vibe of the people is palpable in Amritsar. I decided to find the source of their turbo-charged energy and sniffed my way into Bharwan da Dhaba at the market junction. This looked popular with the locals. I fiddled with the menu card and ordered what I had decided upon eating even before entering the eatery. Makki di roti, made out of corn flour, arrived fresh out of the oven, seeped in ghee. Soon, I was delving bits of it in the green ecstasy of sarson da saag — a thick paste of cooked mustard leaves, a bit coarse in texture and tangy to taste, with a earthy aroma that permeates all five senses and tantalises the sixth one.

The young waiter brought in more rotis, but I was full with just two of those ghee-soaked rotis; half of the saag was still lingering on my plate. He was disappointed with me and kept asking if I did not like the preparation. I found it difficult to convince him that I was no hardy Punjabi hunk. He however did not give up and asked, “Lassi, sir?”, and cleverly added to the allure, “Malai maar ke.”
The Main Market, as it is called, is a great place for clothes and fabrics. I walked inside a pagri shop to see the rainbow of colours available for that ubiquitous turban that has signified to me, since childhood, a macho Sikh. Looking for a particular shop in the market, I asked for directions from an elderly Sikh with a white flowing beard. “Go straight up the road,” he said, “till you find a crossing with a shop preparing hot jilebis. There, you turn right and in about a 100 yards, you will find what you are looking for.”

“Thank you,” I said. But, just as I was about to move ahead, he gestured for me to stop. “Buy the clothes you want,” he said, and then added, “lekin jilebi zaroor khana.”

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