2019 marked the centenary of the Jallianwallah Bagh Massacre, an event that exponentially changed the face of Indo-British relationships pre-independence. History has it that wounded places find their road to recovery through the strength of its people. Amritsar is no different. After all, it’s Punjab’s golden city – home to heritage and culture worth consuming.
This tryst, long due on my bucket list, was put together by ITC’s Welcomhotel located 20-minutes away from the main city in Raja Sansi. Upon arriving, I had to acclimatise myself to the overpowering aroma of the city that attacks the heart before it does the nose, thanks to its many food stalls and dhabas, of which some are centuries old.
Welcomhotel Amritsar envelopes a collonaded mansion, the erstwhile Sandhanwalia Haveli, which predates to the early 1900s. In just five years, ITC has modernised this century-old haveli while preserving its cultural, architectural, and culinary nuances. The haveli’s legacy glares you in the face as you saunter through its verdant environs around the Baradari. The interiors, on the other hand, run parallel to another motif inspired by the Golden Temple. The marigold-themed flooring, copper lanterns that double as chandeliers, and pictures of the Golden Temple from different eras nailed to the walls of it hallways are all a reminder of Amritsar’s greatest feat.
”We want guests to have enriching experiences of the city in the hotel as well. From local food to local paraphernalia, we’ve hyper localised everything for the guests to feel at home”, said Richa Sharma, general manager of corporate communications, ITC.
Left in awe of its riches and royal disposition, my stay at their executive suite was luxury at par, not to mention the most welcoming with its cosy interiors, warm parlours, large sunlit windows, and luxe decor touches. As I continued to let them spoil me, one thing that I’m still hung-over about is the excellent culinary offerings on display. What started as a tasting session turned into a full-blown culinary jaunt with each dish better than the next – suffice to say, the food and the city are a match made in foodie heaven.
At Welcomhotel Amritsar, ITC lives up to its globally renowned cuisine supremacy. First stop was at the Phulkari Cafe, an all-day dining restaurant open from 6 am to midnight, where I wolfed down their classic ‘WelcomSthalika’ (a platter of traditional Punjabi dishes, served with separate portions of fish, mutton, and chicken).
My taste buds and dipping December temperatures then took me to Makhan Fish on Majitha Road for some spice fried sohal fish (chef recommended for winters). I later topped the night with the iconic Durga fruit cream on Lawrence Road. When in Amritsar, one drink that all Punjabis love to slurp, besides the infamous Kulhad Chai, is a tall glass of cream-filled lassi at Gian di Lassi, and if you still have some room left, gorge on the famous Amritsari kulchas.
Back at Welcomhotel, drinks were planned at Swizzle, a bar that resonates the old world charm of the haveli, and dinner at Kebabs & Kurries, a restaurant that takes you through the delicacies of North India. At Kebabs & Kurries, must-try includes Murgh Angaar, Macchli Tikka, Murgh Handi Qorma, Burrhani Gosht, Tarkari Pulao, and in desserts, the Bombay Falooda.
Another element that captivates your soul in Amritsar is its palpable history. A visit to Gobindgarh Fort, an 18th-century fort that became open to the public in 2017, acts as a live museum where history comes to life. Its exclusive 7D show unveils the rise and fall of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the leader of Sikh Empire (1801 -1839), and the light and sound show called the Whispering Walls (a 40-min show for 320 rupees) promises to leave you speechless.
After this hefty dose of history buried under the reams of city-life highlights, a visit to the humble abode of the gods is a must. After being gnawed at on several occasions, Golden Temple has stood the test of time and proved to be a place of sheer solace. Its goodness, richness and freedom are what you take away from Amritsar that surpasses every souvenir. Although if you are still looking to splurge, then head to Katra Jaimal Singh market for colourful phulkaris, juttis, and local snacks like papad variyan and aam papad, which will make you drool.
As I plunged further into the history, exploring three places that should be on your radar: Wagah Border, Partition Museum, and Jallianwalah Bagh. Bordering the Attari village, the Wagah ceremony starts every day at 4:30 PM. If you get VIP passes, you’d be able to see the other side aka Pakistan side. There’s chanting and marching on both sides exhibiting fierce patriotism, and with the crowd of hundreds joining in, the whole extravaganza fills you with pride.
History takes a sombre route as you navigate towards Jallianwala Bagh. It was the site of the horrific massacre that took place in 1919 under the orders of General Dyer. Currently, the site is under construction, but you can still see the tear-shaped landmark and the bullet marks on the wall. This visit compelled me to visit the Partition Museum in the Town Hall. An ode to one of the most gut-wrenching events in human history, this three-storey museum showcases stories, events, documents, and paraphernalia of the post-partition riots.
Three days in Amritsar aren’t enough to intake the beauty of this place. With all the running around and trying to meet timings, I was grateful to the spa at Welcomhotel on the day of departure. Their signature spa, K by Kaya Kalp, was every bit relaxing. The special treatment started with foot ritual using sea salt followed by an hour-long full body massage using eucalyptus, rosemary, and black pepper.
If there’s one place where you can eat, pray, love all-in-one, it is here.
All images: Courtesy Welcomhotel Amritsar and Getty Images