Kids Corner

Photos: by the author.


Day One In Amritsar





The author is a researcher with The Ancient House Museum in Thetford, England, which is not only located in the town in which Duleep Singh had his sprawling 22,000 acre estate, but it also has a dedicated section displaying an exhibit on, and artifacts associated with the Last Emperor of Punjab.

Karen-Emma White is on a two-week visit to Punjab -- her first -- to gain some first-hand experience in understanding the world Maharaja Duleep Singh had left behind when the Sikh Empire was annexed by the British and he, while still a minor, was exiled to England for the rest of his life.

This is a report on her first day in Amritsar.

Amritsar, Punjab

I’ve been here 24 hours now and so far so good.

I experienced my first car journey from the airport to the hotel. Slightly unnerving when we approached a roundabout and nobody stopped, they all approached it from different directions at the same time … including pedestrians!

I have no idea how nobody died.

Last night I met Damandeep and Sukhdev Singh Sandhanwalia. Both have been devoting most of their time to organising my time here recently, so after so many emails and text messages, it was fantastic to be together.

They arrived at my hotel with the most amazing flowers to say ‘Welcome!’

Today started with the Amritsar Heritage Walk. I wanted to do this to get a feel for the city and find out as much as I could in quite a short time. Our guide, Davinder Singh from the Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board, took us to places that even the Sandhanwalia family hadn’t seen before.

It was a magical mix of old architecture, smells, smells and more smells, congested traffic of all kinds and just about every kind of commerce you can imagine.

Amritsar is amazing – if ever there was a place that needs a version of English Heritage (the body which oversees historical buildings in England), it’s here. Everywhere you look there are crumbling buildings. There are plans afoot to create a modern city, but when you see a new building, it sticks out like a sore thumb, with all the romance and craftsmanship stripped away. 

We were fortunate to be able to go inside one of the older buildings. The windows shone like jewels, deep blue and green.

There are four generations living in this house over 4 or 5 floors. The wife has a chocolate-making business and it would have been rude not to try one! Lunch was the most delicious roti, freshly prepared from the stall next door somewhere down one of the many, many winding lanes of the old city.

The lower level of most of these buildings contained some kind of commercial activity. Davinder found out that I am interested in textiles, so he took us to see a family who were each working on a tunic. The bead work was exquisite, and looked deceptively easy.

Most of the premises concentrate on making individual items, something you so rarely see in England.

Having explored Amritsar for six hours, we had a very short break before enjoying the theatre that is the Wagah border ceremony. If you ever saw Michael Palin’s programme about this daily occurrence, it is exactly as he described it, with each side taking turns to out-strut each other to the crowds roaring their approval!

The Sandhanwalia family have been the most generous hosts, and managed to organise VIP seats with the chance to visit the border marker stone in no-man’s land, finishing off with tea.

As I arrived back at the hotel, Bhupinder ‘Peter’ Singh Bance -- the Duleep Singh biographer from London, England -- called to say he was on his way.

After one quick auto-rickshaw ride, we made a quick dash to the ‘Singh Brothers’ book shop to top up my Museum’s Duleep Singh library and then had dinner at Crystal – where brain curry was listed as a house specialty …

Tomorrow is my first Golden Temple day!

February 24, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), February 24, 2015, 10:06 PM.

Ms White is extremely fortunate to have this experience of a lifetime ... an experience that grabs all visitors spiritually and leaves an indelible mark.

2: R Singh (Canada), February 25, 2015, 9:59 AM.

We need to stop, take a deep pause and look at the condition of neglect of our heritage, and how our connection to our past has been severed and is being severed. The damage can only be halted if we can provide a measure of depth in thought and process to our children.

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