Wednesday 3rd April 2019
With an early train to catch, we had to leave before breakfast and found ourselves in a carriage with a party of British tourists we had previously seen on the train down from Shimla, although they had disembarked the Himalayan Queen part way down the hill. We sat with a Welsh couple and Robert was able to while away the four and a half hour journey discussing rugby, politics, holiday destinations and more rugby.
As our train from Chandigarh to Amritsar travels at an average speed in excess of 34mph it is classified as a “Super Fast” express. When we found ourselves waiting just a short way outside Amritsar Station for about half an hour, we felt the average speed had to have been affected and we should be due a refund. However, when Robert looked this up, the average speed excludes stops.
Having checked in to our room, Robert was shocked to discover that he had booked a four star hotel where there was no bar. The bell boy told us as we were going up in the lift that we were within 200 metres of the Golden Temple complex and apparently alcohol and meat are banned within a certain radius of this holy place. Whenever Matilda caught sight of Robert’s face, she could not help but chuckle at his incredulous look of dismay. With this preying on his mind, we settled in to our hotel and arranged a guide for the next day to show us the Golden Temple and a car to take us to the Wagah-Attari border in the evening. The two major sights covered, we decided to do a little exploring.
The map showed another temple surrounded by water to the north east of the Golden Temple and we thought we would walk to this as we would be visiting the latter on the following day. Our route took us through some very narrow streets and past what must be the clothes district, as nearly all the stalls and shops sold clothing or shoes. We arrived at the Durgiana Temple, confusingly also known as the Lakshmi Narayan Temple; the Durga Tirath and Sitka Mandir, to find that there was no water in the pool as it was being renovated. Land has been acquired around the site and work is underway – it looks as though this will be a very striking development when it is finished, although it is apparently behind schedule.
Built in 1921 by Guru Harsai Mal Kapoor, this Hindu temple mirrors the architectural style of the Golden Temple of the Sikh’s. We were subsequently told that Guru Harsai Mal Kapoor built it as he did not like having to cover his head when he volunteered at the Golden Temple but we were unable to corroborate this.
When confronted with the prospect of no hotel bar, Robert had previously looked up recommended places to drink beer in Amritsar and from here we walked to find the Bottom’s Up bar in the Grand Hotel. As we approached, it looked as though both hotel and bar were closed – there were no lights on and the premises seemed to be deserted. We were about to turn away when a barman appeared as if from nowhere – but definitely not from inside the bar – and assured us it was open and ushered us inside.
From the outside, the hotel was anything but “grand”. Initially we sat down in an empty bar in the dark before another member of staff suggested it would be pleasanter for us to be in the garden. This indeed proved to be a cool, shaded and enclosed oasis of green but as we were the only ones there we decided to move on. Robert had identified another bar on the internet and given the heat we decided to accept the offer of a passing tuk-tuk. Things were complicated by the fact that although the tuk-tuk drivers equate a tourist with dollar signs and constantly stop to offer their services, they do not always speak English and we cannot always understand their spoken English either. So, with the driver not entirely sure where he was going, despite help from a passer-by with better language skills and Robert following our route on Google Maps and trying to direct, we totally failed to find the venue and eventually dismissed the tuk-tuk to walk back to the hotel.
Here, after making some enquiries, Robert was informed he could buy beer to drink in his room and was told where the nearest shop was. We walked towards this, but unfortunately turned back before we had walked quite far enough. We then walked a similar distance in another direction towards the Gandhi Gate before returning to the hotel to confirm the directions. The hotel Travel Manager drew Robert a sketch map of where to go. Walking back along our original route we saw an ‘English Wine and Beer Shop’ with the shutters firmly down. We returned to the hotel for the second time and this time the hotel Travel Manager sent another member of staff out with Robert, in a tuk-tuk, on his mission to acquire some ale. It transpired that a new shop had opened next door to ‘English Wine and Beer Shop’ and bottles of beer were therefore forthcoming.
We had been told that Amritsar was beautiful, but today turning right out of the hotel and walking down some of the side streets, we were finding it hard to reconcile this description with our experience.