Traveler Esha (@iam_iesha) tells Travel Noire how a trip to Amritsar, India changed her life forever.
Travel Noire: Why did you decide to go to India?
Esha: I was craving for an authentic experience and all of a sudden India popped into my head. There are parts of the world you visit that change your whole life’s perspective. A place that stays in your heart forever and that place for me is Amritsar, India. The city is the spiritual and cultural center of the Sikh religion and the home to the Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple.
Travel Noire: When did you start planning your trip?
Esha: I usually don’t plan my trips. This one, in particular, was actually planned because I went to three countries in Asia. It took about two months of planning.
Travel Noire: Did you go alone or with friends?
Esha: I’m an adventurous person so I did go alone with an open heart and mind. Prior to my trip I got many negative comments about my safety there. India has a reputation as an unsafe destination for solo women travelers, however, I personally didn’t feel unsafe at all. Maybe Amritsar being a holy city, crime is low there. I recommend being respectful of the culture by dressing conservatively and be mindful of your surroundings and personal safety just like when you’re in your hometown.
Travel Noire: Where did you stay?
Esha: I stayed at a hotel next to the Golden Temple, and with it being the major attraction of the city, it was very busy. It’s very close to the local markets, restaurants and shopping centers. Being a busy area, there are always people walking around, which made me feel safe. The hotel staff did speak English which was very helpful.
Travel Noire: Where were your favorite places to eat?
Esha: I found this really awesome restaurant close to the Golden Temple. Being a vegetarian, Amritsar has a lot of vegetarian-friendly restaurants. While I was there I had some of the tastiest vegetarian dishes I’ve ever tasted. My favorite was the special Veg Thali which comes in a big silver plate with a slide of rice and bread, and is served with delicious colorful vegetable soups in separated small bowls. I also ate a lot of Biryanis. I had the best Chai tea ever and I was so addicted I had about 8- 10 cups a day. There was this particular small chai shop that was very popular amongst the locals. It was 5 rupees per cup which is equivalent to $.60 cent. The owner was just an incredible person and one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. He never accepted my tips and made me think of the words of Edward Gibbon, “Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive.”
Travel Noire: What was the coolest thing you did?
Esha: The coolest thing I did was visit the Golden Temple. Three nights in Amritsar and I visited the site every day. The temple is mind-blowing. The temple is made of gold and it’s surrounded by water with beautiful kaleidoscopic colors everywhere, fragrant smells and traditional Punjab music playing all over the temple. Thousands of people strolling around the beautiful shining marble floors. There is a pilgrimage dining hall which offers free meals and even guesthouses for people who wish to stay the night. The moment I walked in the building, there was a big room where you drop off your shoes, and before you enter the entrance of the temple, you have to wash your feet. Right when I walked in, I felt goosebumps because at that moment I felt a sense of peace within me. It was such an amazing place to meditate and I found a nice spot on the top floor of the temple. The atmosphere was so peaceful.
Travel Noire: What surprised you the most about your destination?
Esha: The kindness of the people. The people of Amritsar are the most kindhearted people I’vecomee across in all my travels. I got invited to a lot of homes for tea, although I respectfully declined. The only shortcoming is the high level of staring. Being an African, it was hard for me to comprehend why so many people were staring at me because my skin complexion was so close to theirs. After a couple of days, I got used to it and figured it was probably just out of curiosity. “Can I have a photo with you?” I heard that quite often.
Travel Noire: Would you go back?
Esha: I would definitely go back again. The beauty of the city and its people touched my soul. I was bummed I didn’t get to watch the famous “Wagah” border ceremony, a daily military practice at sundown where India and Pakistani guards face off marking the nightly closing of the border. I was a little skeptical but I regret not going. It was only 17 miles from Amritsar.