When I sat down to write this one specific piece on my time in Amritsar, so many fleeting thoughts, feelings and memories came rushing to me. I found myself struggling with what to begin this piece with. Should it be gratitude? Admiration? Or mere love?
When the team at Stay On Skill asked me to visit Amritsar, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. “It would just be like my first trip to Amritsar. Punjabi food, The Golden Temple, Jallianwala Bagh, some local markets and done”, I said to myself. But then I decided to visit anyway and boy am I glad I did!
I packed my bag, booked myself a bus ticket and left to explore Amritsar. If you are planning your visit for the first time, here is your guide to experiencing the best of Amritsar in 3 days.
How to reach Amritsar
It is fairly easy to get to Amritsar. It is well connected by road, flights and trains. I decided to take a bus from Delhi to Amritsar, but here are a few options for you to explore-
1. Road – A road trip from Delhi to Amritsar with friends could make the journey memorable. You can either hire a taxi or drive yourself. The roads are well maintained and safe, even for a solo traveller. If you are planning on taking a bus to Amritsar as I did, there are about 12-14 private luxury and semi-luxury buses available from Delhi. You can check the ratings on redBus and book the one that suits your budget and timings the best.
2. Air – Amritsar has a domestic airport which is well connected to the other metro cities of the country. If booked as early as 2 weeks before the trip, you can get a flight from Delhi to Amritsar for Rs. 2500 ($35 – $40).
2. Train – This is probably the cheapest way to get to this city. Trains to Amritsar (with AC chair car or sleeper coaches) are available on daily basis from most of the cities in north India. If you are travelling from south India, you may have to combine flight+train/bus to make it easy and convenient.
From visiting the much popular touristy spots to exploring the hidden gems, read through this detailed travel blog to find out about the things to do and places to see in Amritsar. But before I hold your hand and take you with me to the streets of the holy city, where all you can smell is the mouthwatering food that’s prepared with a few grams of butter and a whole lot of love, let’s talk about where to stay. Just like anyone else, you’d probably skim through the internet looking for the best hotels in Amritsar, when you should be looking for an offbeat experience altogether.
City on Pedals – La Familia
When I met Rishabh Mahajan from City on Pedals, he didn’t strike me as a local. It was when I heard him talk about his city with such passion and love, I realised he was a true Amritsari. When I asked him if City on Pedals was his passion project, he said, ‘I wouldn’t call it so. However, I wanted to build something that would offer travellers a real taste of this city. Amritsar has so much more to offer than the typical things you read about on the internet. That’s precisely why my wife Michelle and I came up with the concept of these tours, to let the flavours and beauty of Amritsar sink in, slowly, one pedal at a time.”
Rishabh has gathered a team of passionate youngsters who walk by his side and help him manage both the aspects of City of Pedals- The Hostel and The Tours.
City on Pedals – The Hostel
I reached the bus station quite early. It was around 7 in the morning so I assumed everyone at the hostel would be sleeping. It was about 2 km from the bus station so I decided to take a tuk-tuk and get to my destination. When I finally reached the house-turned-hostel, I was welcomed by 2 friendly dogs and a bunch of sleepy-smiley faces. As I entered the common area, my eyes lit-up. With a sudden splash of colours, parandas used as curtain tie-backs and phulkari dupattas hanging on the mezzanine screamed ‘welcome to Amritsar’. That’s when I met Rabiya from the CoP team, who showed me to my 6-bed mixed dorm.
The CoP hostel has 4 dorms, 3 of which are 6-bed mixed dorm and 1 is a 6-bed women’s dorm. These dorms are spacious and come with dedicated lockers, on-bed light and clean and hygienic common washrooms. The Hostel has a kitchen for you to cook with basic amenities like a microwave, electric kettle to make tea and coffee, refrigerator etc. The common area has a very comfortable seating arrangement for you to sit and work or indulge in conversations that really range from socio-economics of a region to gun-control laws in the US, or why should kulcha be the national food of India (alright, the kulcha part was all me but if you agree, let me know in a comment below. I can start a petition). Out in the verandah of the hostel is a station for all the geared bikes, helmets and neon green vests that are used for the morning and nights bike tours, read on to know about these tours. You’d also notice smalls plants in plastic bottles in and around the hostel. Rishabh later explained how its an effort towards reusing plastic bottles that people end up buying on the bike tours. The team collects these bottles and plants herbs and other decorative plants on regular basis.
City on Pedals – The Tours
During the trip, my Instagram was flooded with questions like- what are some offbeat places to see in Amritsar? What are some nice places to eat in Amritsar? And it is really difficult to respond to each and every DM. So to answer these 2 questions and 25 more that came along, I am listing down all the tours that are super affordable and will let you experience Amritsar like never before. And if you read the article till the end, you’ll find a sweet discount code that you can use to save yourself some $$$.
The CoP team organizes various walking and bike tours depending on your area of interest and preferred mode of transportation and by transportation I mean, you either walk or you ride a bike.
The Heritage Biking Tour – Rs. 1000 | $17
I am honestly conflicted between The Heritage Tour and The Food Tour to crown as my favourite. When I was asked to get ready by 6:30 in the morning to ride a bike around the town for good 8-9 km, I thought, “well, this better be good and worth my morning sleep and cold shower”. Trust me, it was worth that and more. When we started from the hostel at the sunrise, we were given neon jackets (so that it’d be easy to spot the squad), helmets, and a piece of advice – follow the tour lead, Rabiya.
From Kila Ahluwalia to Jama Masjid Khairuddin, The Partition Museum to Darshan Deori, these timeless structures stood still in the morning, reciting the stories and the unheard songs. What amazed me the most was the fact some of these places were not even listed on Google Maps, so there is no other way to find these unless you walk down the streets yourself. I was naturally impressed by the amount of work and efforts the CoP team had put in the research, finding these hidden gems that even the locals didn’t know about and finally designing these tours. I was also told that a lot these structures are in such poor condition that if not paid any attention, we’d just end up losing them. That just broke my heart.
The Food Biking Tour – Rs. 1200 | $20
This was something I was really looking forward to and I must say, I wasn’t disappointed. We started at 7:30 pm for a 9 km bike tour, hunting for the best places to eat in Amritsar. The tour was well designed to let you hog and burn calories at the same time. We started with some delicious Momos and Champ, Paani Puri, moved to some appetizing Aam Papad (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED), Bunta Soda, Makke di Roti and Sarson da Saag (would be a sin to leave that out) and ended with the best Gulab Jamun and Jalebis of my life. All in all, happy stomach, happy me!
The Wagah Border Tour – Rs.1500 | $24
Witnessing The Beating Retreat at the Wagah-Attari Border was always a dream. Not for the drama, or the fact that it is probably the only peaceful event between India and Pakistan that has been happening since years and years, but for the vibes and how everyone just gets together for a few minutes, keeping their caste, colour and creed back home to enjoy the hard work that the BSF puts in to organize it every day. I eventually found myself dancing with the ladies before the parade started. What a fun evening!
The Golden Temple Walking Tour – Rs.450 | $8
Visiting the Golden Temple during the daytime is one thing but visiting during the wee hours of the Palki Sahib Ceremony (holy book opening) is another. For the life of me, I can’t stress enough on how much I wanted to attend this tour but couldn’t. To attend the ceremony, you are expected to wake up at 3:30 am and get to The Golden Temple with the CoP team at 4 am. It is something that I have added to my list of things to do in Amritsar when I visit the next time (which would be soon, like ‘2019’ soon).
1. Do not carry a big bag to the Wagah-Attari Border. They won’t let you in with the bag.
2. At the border, you will not have any digital connectivity. I am not sure if the BSF has network jammers or is just because it is so close to another country.
3. Try not to eat anything before 3-4 hours of The Food Tour. Trust me, you’d want to save that appetite for what follows.
4. Try Monu Kulcha in Rani ka Bagh. Drop me a DM on Instagram if you end up liking it as much as I did.
5. You made it! Here is your discount code– Drop a DM to City on Pedals on Instagram with my reference to get 50% off on your stay and 30% of the tours.
You can follow me on Instagram and Facebook. I am quite responsive there. If you looking for a few hidden gems to explore in India, try reading my blogs on Jibhi, Totam and Varkala.
Happy traversing, fellas!