Come rain or shine, Amritsar is always abuzz with tourists. And its crowning glory, the Golden Temple, is what draws most of the crowd. But like in every city, there are surprises abound for those who explore. And I found out that there’s no better way to explore Amritsar than by using pedal power.
Go Beyond the Obvious with City On Pedals
You’ll have to agree with me when I say that city tours in India, or anywhere, are more about showcasing the must-see-sights rather than experiencing the place that lies beneath the surface. And while there may be tours in India that take you to the Golden Temple, the Taj Mahal and the Gateway of India, finding ones that brings the charming personality and vibrancy of a city to the fore are rare.
City on Pedals organizes cycle tours in Amritsar, alongside walking tours and day tours (Wagah Border Tour and Village Tour). Featuring the best things to do in Amritsar alongside offbeat experiences, their aim is to turn what would have been a quick one-day visit to Amritsar into a longer, more enriching experience through their top rated tours in India.
Before I tell you about my experience with them, let me first tell you about those nagging little fears I had. With one of the tours being in the evening, I was a little apprehensive about cycling through rush-hour traffic, amidst zigzagging motorcycles and impatient drivers honking their way to glory. Secondly, I hadn’t cycled in a really long time – and wondered if I could keep up with the group. Lastly, I’m allergic to exercise (lol!) and was wondering whether the joy of relishing street food would be diminished by the fact that I was panting, puffing and sweating.
No, no and no. None of that happened, to my utter surprise!
As important as it is to City on Pedals to show you the hidden gems in Amritsar, they place even more importance on the safety and comfort of their guests. For starters, we were given helmets and fluorescent jackets for the ride, before being quickly briefed by the tour leader, Aman, on how the tour would unfold. He showed us gestures he would be using to guide us, some do’s and don’ts….and we were soon out the gate and down the street.
After a little jiggling on my cycle, I remembered how easy it was to ride. With Aman in front of us, and Sam, another City On Pedals guide at the back of the group to take care of the traffic, we cycled in a neat line down the streets of Amritsar. When the time came to cross a busy street, Aman placed himself on one side of the group and Sam went to the other side. Holding one hand out on either side to slow traffic down, we crossed every road with ease.
These amazing cycle tours are designed in such a way that the stops are pretty close together, so apart from one 20 minute ride to and from our starting point, we merely had 5 minute rides in between, allowing us to enjoy the city without being tired. For those who don’t know to, or cannot cycle (the elderly, people travelling with babies, etc), City On Pedals arranges a cycle rickshaw to follow the tour group, so you don’t miss out on the experience. Kudos to the thoughtfulness and professionalism!
STREET FOOD BICYCLE TOUR
In my opinion, chomping your way through a city is the best way to learn about it. There are treasures to be found at the ends of tiny alleys, in food trucks and in night markets amid the clamour of hawkers – sometimes, in age-old restaurants and fine dining spots, too!
My first cycle tour with City on Pedals was a delicious one – involving some tantalizing golgappa, hot-and-crispy pakoras, creamy tandoori momos, soya chaap and jalebis dripping in sweet sugar syrup. Thankfully, each person does not have to eat an entire portion at every stop – so one can get a little taste of everything as you listen to the guide telling you a little about the food you’re sampling.
My favourite stop on this Street Food Bicycle Tour was the legendary Aam Papad stall. Unlike the sugary synthetic stuff you find everywhere else, this one was flavour-packed and was miles better than any I’d ever had before. A worthy contender to feature on your list of things to do in Amritsar.
Our main course was a sit-down dinner at an old establishment called Charming Chicken – for some butter chicken, malai chicken and hot, flaky naan! Lip-smacking, you guys! Rich, delicious and sooo filling – the perfect Punjabi meal!
WAGAH BORDER TOUR
Before the Wagah Border Tour, team City On Pedals took me to Pul Kanjri, around 20 minutes away from the Attari-Wagah Border and 40 minutes from Amritsar (this isn’t a cycle tour, we went by car). This historical village on Amritsar-Lahore Road holds a historic monument with an interesting tale dating to the time of Raja Ranjit Singh, the mighty ruler of Ancient Punjab.
The king, who was fond of the dancers in his court had a favourite one – Moran. She used to travel from Lahore in modern-day Pakistan to Amritsar to perform for the king. As she crossed the canal on horseback, she lost her shoe, made of silver, and appeared at the court distraught, proclaiming that she wouldn’t perform anymore unless a bridge was built over the canal. The king obliged, and this beautiful monument in Amritsar stands as testimony – and though it looks nothing like the Taj Mahal, it echoes the same sentiments, yet isn’t even remotely as popular.
We then headed to the Wagah border to watch one of the world’s most spectacular border ceremonies that occurs every day – the lowering of the flags of 2 neighbouring nations at dusk, a spectacle even better than watching the changing of the guard outside Canadian Parliament.
For those who aren’t familiar with the geography of India, Wagah is where the Grand Trunk Road crosses over from India to Pakistan. Large crowds gather on each side of a massive gate, shouting slogans in support of their home-country as Indian Border Security Forces dressed in smart khaki uniforms with fanned red turbans, and Pakistan Rangers looking amazing in black, engage in a show of one up-manship. From flaunting biceps and curling mustaches to fast-paced marches, kicks high in the air and races to untie the knots of the flags faster than the other, just watching it is an adrenaline pumping activity.
This intention behind this aggressive no-touch dance of sorts is clear – to vent out the deep hostility as well as expose the similarities between the two countries – all the while bringing the patriotism of the citizens bubbling to the surface. After visiting this thrilling ceremony, I believe that every Indian should visit Amritsar and watch it at least once!
But while everyone can go to watch this Beating Retreat ceremony without having to go through a tour company, City On Pedals brought a lot of value-addition by being present with me – from getting great VIP seats to letting me know tit-bits of info and even telling me when to keep my camera ready so I wouldn’t miss a single exhilarating moment in the midst of the zealous frenzy.
Think ‘Heritage Tour’ and the first thing that pops into mind is old, crumbling monuments. But history lover or not, you’ll be intrigued to know that City On Pedals Heritage Cycle Tour features both, history and food, showcasing the transition from Punjab’s Mughal past to modern times.
Most of the monuments that form a part of the tour are hidden just out of plain sight, almost forgotten by the public and completely ignored by tourists. For example, the now-dilapidated Summer Palace of Raja Ranjeet Singh, is located at the back of a busy park, and while hundreds of people visit the park for a morning jog, not many know that there stands a palace at the back!
The elegant Khairrudin Mosque is located in one tiny cut-off on a bustling street; a blink-and-you-miss-it structure that holds an important significance in India’s Freedom Struggle, for it was here that Shah Attaulah Bukhari called upon the people to wage war against the British. This mosque is also a sombre reminder of the Jalianwala Bagh massacre, as it was here that all the dead bodies were brought and washed, irrespective of caste, creed or colour. Yet how many visitors to Amritsar check it out? A handful, at max?
Interspersed with history are some of the city’s oldest establishments – places that have been around for so long, they have become local landmarks. Frothy fragrant chai at one of Amritsar’s most famous tea stalls, the best kulcha you’ll ever taste, and lassi that will be hard to forget, are some of the highlights of this cycle tour.
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The Heritage Tour left me in awe and appreciation of Punjab’s past, and I can bet you’ll feel the same.
CITY ON PEDALS HOSTEL – STAY IN AMRITSAR
I can’t end this blog post without a snippet of where I stayed! I spent 3 days living at the City On Pedals hostel – and if you’re looking for a cheap way to explore Amritsar, living at this affordable accommodation in Amritsar is a great option. Just like most hostels, living here will mean sharing a dorm with fellow travelers, a common washroom, a kitchen to brew yourself a cup of tea and a colourful common room to watch TV, play music and make friends. If you’re a digital nomad in India, looking for a place to live and work-on-the-go, head on over! You’ll find fast connectivity, a choice of working spaces and 2 cuddly dogs for company.
So after all that, did I end up going to the Golden Temple?
Of course I did! While I did plan to visit it more than once, the crew at COP kept me on my feet – I mean – on my pedals with so much activity, that I could only visit that magnificent wonder once. I’ll leave that story for another day.
Have you ever visited Amritsar before? Did you uncover any little-known secrets that you think travelers would appreciate? Comment below and tell me about it! You can also get in touch with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Bye for now!
P.S. You may also like to read my post on Sunshine Himalayan Cottage, one of the most beautiful homestays in Himachal Pradesh
Note – My stay and experiences with City On Pedals was sponsored, however, views, as always, are my own.