An all-women group comprising Anns, Annets from the Rotary Club of Kanpur Greater (RCKG), D 3110, set off on an excursion to the Golden City of Amritsar, which we fondly call Ambarsar. The itinerary was a package of spirituality (Golden Temple), history (Gobindgarh Fort and Jallianwala Bagh), patriotism (Wagah border), fellowship (conclave with Rotary Club of Amritsar), gastronomy (delicacies) and shopping (from spices to phulkaris to jootis).
Under the leadership of Ann Wing Director Ritu Tandon and seasoned ‘trip advisor’ Ritu Bhargava, we took off westwards. Although the trip was just a 4-day-3-night affair, the number of events in the jam-packed schedule made all of us wake up early and retire late at night.
Clad in multi-coloured polka attire that caught attention everywhere, we took a flight from Lucknow and made our way to Amritsar via Delhi. After the check-in at The Grand Hyatt and a quick lunch we were excited and all eager to visit the main attraction — the Golden Temple.
Back home, as I opened the namkeen tuck boxes we got as souvenirs, memories came flashing — the incessant clicking of photos, the joy of being together, the laughter and the pranks!
The Golden Temple is an epitome of spirituality and beauty; having been brought up in the religious city of Kashi, I (Priyanki) felt immediately connected. The ambience gave me positive vibes and I stood transfixed. The ardent devotees, the dedicated guards, the gyaniji taking care of the Guru Granth Sahib — all of them had an unconditional sevabhaav. The most striking observation was the cleanliness in the entire complex despite the footfalls of thousands of devotees who throng to this magic temple day after day.
Queuing up for the darshan, taking the parikrama, eating at the langar, witnessing the shayanpalki ceremony and doing the Kar Seva in the sprawling kitchen, we went through it all. Many of us did more than one trip to the temple. With each visit, we saw a different aspect of the temple, during the day it glittered in the sunlight and in the evening the temple lent radiance to the periphery — magical, majestic and magnetic!
The Indo-Pak Attari-Wagah Joint Check Post (JCP) was our next destination. Thanks to our President Anup Mehrotra, who had made the arrangements, we got special seating in the VIP enclosure, to witness the Beating the Retreat ceremony — the simultaneous lowering of the national flags of both India and Pakistan. It began with a commentary, in legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan’s voice, on the feats of the BSF. There was a patriotic fervour in the air as the BSF personnel and the Pakistani Rangers performed the march amidst the sounds of the bugle. And finally, when the national flags of both the countries were simultaneously lowered against the golden backdrop of the setting sun, the daily ceremony was over. And the crowd dispersed. Thanks to the special arrangement, we were allowed to visit the very last permissible point of the border and we were also invited for high tea by the Indian Army. The historic RCKG highlight was when we, Anns, left our mark there by jogging in the retreat area with gusto and pride.
Next on our itinerary was the Gobindgarh Fort built in 1760 by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. A lesser known destination among tourists, but a must visit place. It is a unique museum, a repository of the Punjab’s history, opened to public viewing only since February 2017. The State government has taken this heritage monument as a pilot project and provided exclusive tourist attractions. A 7-D film showcases the beautiful architecture of the fort, replica of the unmatched Kohinoor diamond, realistic wax statues of Sikh warriors, a laser show in the evening, gatka-style (sword and shield) performances of the fearless sword-fighting warriors and the graceful folk dance Giddha. Punjabi culture comes alive at the Gobindgarh Fort. And if this was not enough, work is still in progress for its expansion.
A mention of Amritsar is incomplete without speaking about the carnage at the Jallianwala Bagh. The place still evokes a feeling of horror as we remember the massacre of hundreds of helpless and innocent people on the command of General Dyer on April 13, 1919.
The real essence of belonging to RC Kanpur Greater was felt when we were invited by the Rotary Club of Amritsar, D 3070. Established before Independence, it is one of India’s oldest Rotary clubs. Our team was welcomed lovingly by the simple and humble group of Rotarians and Anns with evening tea and snacks. The clubs exchanged flags and also shared their areas of service to humanity. RC Amritsar works for the welfare of cancer and leprosy patients and also runs a small unit teaching sewing to the local women.
How can any trip, that too for an all-women’s group, be complete, without shopping? Flouting all norms of extra baggage on the flight back home, we shopped bags full of exclusive phulkari, exquisite pashmina straight from the weavers’ units and of course, Amritsari jootis.
And last but not the least, the lip-smacking, finger-licking local cuisine from the land of kulchas, which we had at the iconic Kesar Da Dhaba. The taste of their kulchas, chhole bhaturas and the pure lassi in Patiala glasses still lingers.
Our giggly gaiety was at its height when we had chaat batashas from a roadside thela at 10.30 pm and special paans from the Chaurasia Pan Shop.
By day four, like Alice out of Wonderland, we boarded our flight back home, to return to the real world from a dream tour.
Back home, as I opened the namkeen tuck boxes we got as souvenirs and dug into the delicacies, memories came flashing back — the incessant clicking of photos, the joy of being together, the laughter and the pranks! And then the picture of the sacred Golden Temple, came floating before my eyes… so peaceful and tranquil…
The Amritsari wand had spun magic on us. We are now complete Ambarsariyas.
Neeta Mehrotra is spouse of RCKG President Anup Mehrotra and Priyanki Garg is spouse of Rtn Prashant Garg.
Pictures by Neeta Mehrotra