A typical vacation plan would include destinations that are widely explored, offer various tourist facilities, are picturesque, and known for exotic tourist experiences.
During my last winter travel plan, I tailored an itinerary straying away from the typical trend and set out to explore destinations near the Indian borders in search of places that would have exciting experiences on offer for the tourists.
Borderlands across the world, especially in Europe, are popular attractions among tourists and an important source of revenue and economic gains for their countries. While in India, border destinations often stay neglected due to safety concerns, a dearth of good facilities, a lack of accessibility, and information about the region. However, several places provide basic tourist facilities but are seldom visited.
This was going to be the first destination on the trail. I decided to start from Punjab and move further north and then east, in search of more such places on the Indian borders.
The city of Amritsar, situated about 28 kilometers from the India- Pakistan border, seemed like a good option to start from. Amritsar was not only a place of religious importance in Sikhism but also had a rich historical past. It was the central point of the Chinese silk road and had been largely associated with India’s freedom struggle.
I convinced my friend Sumeet, who worked in Amritsar, to be my guide on the trail along the Attari border.
Reasons why you should consider taking up Border tourism in India
- Political and cultural confluence can be observed at these places
- Places along the border have unspoiled tourism resources that can add to the enjoyment of the tourists
- Border tourism can provide much-needed economic development for the region
- Border tourism is likely to promote peace and prosperity between the two countries
- You understand the problems & the way of life on the borders of the country.
Sumeet received me at the exit gate upon arrival. I apologized for bringing him to the airport on his weekly day-off. Kind as always, he refused my apology.
A patriot, an all-weather runner, and a coffee lover, Sumeet had trained several students for competitive exams to serve the nation, and was the perfect person to introduce me to the Indian borders at Amritsar!
It was noontime and we drove to a restaurant at Attari border for lunch as he insisted. The air of Punjab in early winter was fresh and was filled with positivity. I could see trucks loaded with goods engaged in cross border trade. The road was lined with cozy Dhaba’s adorning a simple décor. They were abuzz with customers indulging in hot parathas over giant glasses of lassi.
Sumeet gave me greater insights into the way of life in that region. The menace of drugs, smuggling, was an addiction trap for the youth in this region. The area, being situated on the border was neglected by both the countries. Tourists coming for visiting the Attari border to witness the flag-lowering ceremony every evening were a source of revenue. The youth in the region were employed at the roadside Dhabas and food joints to facilitate tourist activity. People who lived in the villages had family members and friends living across the border and the cultural ties were strong and dietary habits were similar.
In an hour’s journey we arrived at the destination. While Sumeet parked the car, my eyes fell upon a board that read ‘Sarhad’.
I had the golden opportunity to have my lunch at the last restaurant on the Indian side of the border! A fill of excitement!!
Sarhad – A Restaurant that promotes peace through Food
Sumeet smiled as he led me towards the restaurant. He was sure I was in for a surprise.
I could see the flags of both the countries from the entrance. Indeed an important location.
Outside the restaurant, two beautiful trucks with artwork caught my attention. They were painted by renowned truck artist Haider Ali.
Sarhad had a different vibe altogether. Something I had never experienced in any restaurant before! What appeared to be a normal restaurant on the outside turned out to be a ‘melting pot’ of cultures on the inside!
The interiors of the restaurant had walls that were lined with stories of friendship between the two countries. Paintings by artists of Indian and Pakistani origin were hung proudly. The red-bricked two-storeyed building was inspired by the walled city of Lahore and the interior had marble tiles with inlay work and windows similar to that of the Golden Temple.
The museum of peace at Sarhad was a repository of the stories and artifacts of pre-partition Punjab.
Sarhad had a menu as unique as itself. Specialty dishes from both countries were included. The Lahori Miyan Ji- ki- dal, Chapli kebabs, and Barkhani Rotis declared peace with the Indian Dal Makhani, Aloo Paratha, and Chicken Tikkas!
Indian and Pakistani delicacies seemed to mutually win the hunger war on the menu. I ordered a fusion of both the cuisines. The food platter was soon brought to the table. It smelled delicious and looked appetizing!
The portion sizes were generous. I enjoyed the flavor burst with occasional sips of Murree beer (A non-alcoholic lemon drink from Pakistan) while listening to the stories of the close-by army bunkers from my guide.
Sumeet ordered for a Khalifa Khatai (similar to a nan khatai) topped with a scoop of ice-cream for me, along with a cup of coffee for himself. We thanked the chef and left for more experiences in Amritsar.
Things to do in Amritsar
- Witness the flag-lowering ceremony in the evening at the Attari Border for a thrilling patriotic session.
- Be a part of the langar seva at the Golden Temple
- Watch the scars of freedom struggle at the Jallianwala Baug national memorial
- Visit the recently inaugurated Partition museum, for a collection of stories and material related to the partition of both the countries
- Take a trip to Harike wetlands for Bird watching
- Treat yourself to famous dishes like Amritsari fish, Amritsari Kulchas, lip-smacking street food and not to miss – the Amritsari Kulfi!
- Shop for vibrant Phulkari dupattas, a pair of Punjabi Juttis, and Afghani carpets
I thanked Sumeet for a day well spent and explored Amritsar by myself for the next three days staying in a hotel at hall Bazar.
Clad in a salwar kameez complemented with a phulkari dupatta, I mirrored the local culture and visited various places in the city. My gorgeous Punjabi Juttis felt comfortable as I walked through the lanes of Amritsar during the day and my new Afghani shawl gave me the needed warmth on cold evenings as I returned to the hotel.
This trip had given me a different perspective on the lifestyle of locals on the borders of the country and had filled me with intense feelings- patriotic, religious, feelings of gratitude, and most importantly, of peace.
Border tourism destinations in India are at a nascent stage and may not offer the best of facilities at the moment. However, they are sure to offer you unforgettable experiences and great memories that you will cherish for a lifetime!
PS: I couldn’t once finish the entire glass of Lassi while in Amritsar, can you?