The long weekend in August called for an impromptu trip to Amritsar, which was a quick and convenient flight away from Delhi. First stop, after checking into our hotel was, of course, the Golden temple. After a short drive through the narrow streets, our driver stopped in the middle of a crowded market. From there on we had to walk through the small by lanes to finally reach the amazing Golden temple.
What caught me unawares and very early on in the visit, was the lack of cleanliness in the city. Somehow, it being such an important tourist and holy destination, made me, for some reason, expect more. As we made our way in single file through the narrow street which led to the Golden Temple jam packed with pedestrians and rickshaws, we also had to navigate piles of litter on the streets. With the large number of tourists and locals visiting the area, I did not see the much needed dustbins that could have helped. And definitely, the road could have been better maintained.
Luckily, in stark contrast, was the Golden Temple itself. Though really crowded, it was kept spotlessly clean. Everyone entering had to walk through a small pool of clean water and we could see volunteers cleaning away even the small pieces of dirt so that devotees could walk on clean ground. We got a good viewing inside, walked around and after having the holy prasad, slowly made our way out, savouring every minute of this amazing place.
Once out and heading for lunch, the lack of civic sense hit us again like a jolt. We literally stepped into a pile of garbage as we alighted from the car to walk to the famous Kesar Da Dhaba in the Old city! Following our driver’s instructions, we walked slowly down the narrow gullies navigating through more dirt and holding our noses to keep out the awful stench. The kids shuddered while we passed garbage piles left open in front of a school, commenting on the hygiene levels and maneuvering the open manholes and drains on the way. While we were assured that all this was worth the meal, Kesar Da Dhaba just lost our group as potential customers. I couldn’t help wondering how many other tourists might have had this same experience. For locals as well, this was, hands down, totally unhygienic.
Not that this held us back. We spent the rest of the weekend exploring the city’s various historic and religious sights, savouring at other popular and cleaner dhabas the best Amritsari kulchas, channa, lassi and rabdi we knew we wouldn’t get for a long time, and shopping for the simply gorgeous Phulkari dupattas that one cannot leave Amritsar without.
Back home, and visibly shaken by the dirt I found in this holy city, I found myself reading up online news articles to find out more. To an outsider, it looks like a forgotten city, which has still not got the authorities’ attention, but to the locals, the situation is real and cannot be forgotten.
It seems that frequently choked sewerage, bumpy roads, contaminated water supply and garbage dumps are the major problems faced by many residents. Apparently, the development has not been taking place as expected. Interestingly, what seems to have added fuel to the fire is that a private waste management firm that had been contracted by the Amritsar Municipal Corporation to lift garbage from the city on a daily basis had stopped its operations for many weeks due to a payment issue and it has been the citizens and tourists who are suffering. So when we had visited, it looked like the garbage was lying there uncollected for weeks! No wonder the stench! Also, it seems that the abundant use of plastic bags has been blocking the sewage system. We only passed by some parts of the city, and I sincerely hope that there are areas that are better off.
The city has a history and so much to offer all those who are fortunate enough to pass through it…. The time has now come for the city authorities, residents and other groups to take things quickly and urgently into their hands and to work together to make Amritsar the clean and golden city it really is.Renu Ramakrishnan