In the Amritsar India Episode
We head to Amritsar, India to visit India’s most visited attraction and end up accidentally discovering the best Indian bread on this planet! Plus, surprisingly bendy soldiers at the India-Pakistan border ceremony.
(Full Transcript for this episode is after the photos below)
Become part of the Travel Freedom community on twitter.
Tweet suggestions to @mytravelfreedom
#travelfreedom #travelthursdays #moneymondays
Weblinks from Amritsar India Episode
World Nomads Insurance – Specifically designed for digital nomads, flashpackers, adventure & long term Travellers – Get a 5% Discount with our coupon code: FOOD5
Restaurant with the Jawain Butter paratha Kesar da Dhaba
Brothers Dhaba for Chicken Tikka Pizza
travelbloggerretreat.com – The Conference we are speaking at in October 4th to 11th. Come join us!
Dave Brett – talking about Travel blogger retreat and living in Thailand as a digital nomad.
Our personal blog: Five Dollar Traveller
Yim Huay Kwang Hostel – Bangkok
Flow house – Surf School in central Bangkok
Rick & Morty – The Best cartoon ever!!
Thali – Traditional Indian Mix plate
Chapati – Like an Indian tortilla
Potato Kulcha – The Second best bread in the world
The Food Network – Because we are addicted to trash TV, but only if it is about food.
Michael Palin – Himalaya TV series
Paneer Cheese – Indian Cottage Cheese
Varanasi on travel freedom podcast episode 007
Want to learn how to do India in style? Then check out this article from our friends at With Husband in Tow
Love this podcast? Why not pin it to your favourite travel Pinterest board?
This is an unedited transcript – so there may be typos. It is also not word for word. You’ll have more fun listening to the show with audio, as most of the funniest bits are spontaneous and not in the transcript notes.
Up to you though!!
In this episode…
We are in Amritsar, North West India, close to the Pakistan border.
We visit one of the largest free kitchens in the world! That serves over 100,000 people on a typical day.
And we see Indian soldiers contort their legs to unusual proportions at the Pakistan-India lowering of the flags border ceremony.
Also, we eat some of the tastiest bread that exists on this planet!
This is The NEWS!
We are in Thailand! We just back from a swim at our beach front hotel at Lamia Beach, Koh Samui. It’s hot, it’s blue skies and it’s officially low season. So our giant air-conditioned hotel room, 30 seconds walk to the beach, is $17 USD per night.
Not too shabby. No ocean view, sadly, but I am looking out the window at palm trees and blue skies, with green hills in the distance.
We are back in paradise! And though we were sad to leave Romania, we are very excited to be living by the beach again. 16 months in Europe with barely any beach time, we missed it!
Of course, you can get a fan bungalow for under $10 a night, but we like a little aircon.
Aside from loving the beach, one of the main reasons we headed down to the islands was because we are speaking at the First ever Koh Phangnan travel blogger retreat.
We’ll be talking about podcasting and SEO from a beach front resort near Haad Rin beach. The opportunity to have real one-on-one focused sessions that help travel bloggers learn methods that really work, is going to be a great experience.
If you are in Thailand from the 4th october to the 11th, take a look at travelbloggerretreat.com to find info about the event.
Also, this episode is the first of our Travel Monday episodes that will feature a transcript. it’s not 100% accurate, or as random as us actually talking shit on the mic, but you know, if your ears are injured or something, then you can “read” our podcast if you like. Show notes at travelfreedompodcast.com/055
So, today we are talking about India. Before we get onto that, a few shout outs to the companies we’ve been working with over the last month. These, are of course, companies open to working with bloggers, so that’s good news to all our blogger listeners.
Also, if you know us a little by now, you know that we select experiences we want to to do and pitch for them. We rarely apply for organised press trips where we have no idea what stuff we’ll be sent on.
We think it makes more sense for our readers and listeners that we pick and choose stuff we’ll definitely enjoy, rather than having to write about stuff we didn’t enjoy. We just don’t believe in selling positive reviews for free stuff. We sell honest reviews, and we do offer companies the choice, in the rare event we did not enjoy a product or experience, as to whether they’d prefer an honest but potentially detrimental review, or for us just not to write about them and to end the relationship there.
If you’ve ever wondered what to do if you don’t like something you offered to write about… that’s what we do. We won’t compromise our integrity and we do state that in our initial pitches.
But, as we say, it doesn’t happen often.
Some of the great experiences we’ve had recently…
Escape room in Bucharest (Vlad and Oana) They have a bike themed game – that we won – and a virus outbreak game that you play in the dark… that we ran 6 minutes over, so died of infection. But almost won! It’s hard to do the games with a flashlight!
Also, we went surfing in Bangkok. Yes we did. They have a Flow rider artificial wave and we learned to surf. Well, we learned to fall over a lot, but we did ok.
That’s at Flow House – they also do great Thai-western fusion food, including fish tacos with thai curry sauce – which were great!
We stayed at Yim Hauy Kwang hostel, which is in a less touristy district of Bangkok – called Hauy Kwang. So, great priced street food everywhere! And 150 baht thai massage where the guy walked on my back!
More shout outs on our next travel money episode. Right now, Amritsar, India!
Amritsar is a city of over 1 million people in the north west of India, lying 28KM away from the pakistan border. Its the spiritual and cultural home of the sikh religion and the Golden Temple, the holiest temple for Sikhs, attracts more daily visitors than the Taj Mahal.
This may be because they give away free food… always a winner for getting people in the door. Either way, the complex itself, especially the golden temple that sits glimmering on a causeway in the centre of a man made blue green pool – constructed in the 1570s and called “Amritsar” meaning “Pool of nectar of immortality”.
The city was built outwards from the original Amritsar. The temple itself was completed in the centre in 1604.
This is a seriously important place for sikhs, and the line to walk through this tiny temple – which seems to only fit about 100 people at a time, the line is long. It was a little shorter at night than in the day, so that’s when we went inside.
The original temple had to be substantially re-built after an Afghan attack in the mid-18th century.
The current gold plating of the outside of the temple was completed in 1830.
So, it really is a golden temple. It’s gold everywhere. Ornate gilded designs cover the structure, inside and out. Photos on the show notes.
The other most fascinating part of the complex is the free kitchen. Called the “Langar”
Volunteers and food donations feed 100,000 people per day, 24/7. It’s an epic operation.
We lined up with a thousand or so people and were herded to to a massive, high ceilinged room where everyone sat in lines, cross legged.
First came the typical empty metal dishes which are divided in to sections. Then, before the food is served, they pray.
[Clip – Praying shouting]
It a bit like a school assembly where the headmaster says good morning and everyone is like G-o-o-d m-o-r-n-i-ng…
Then comes the food. Guys with ladles and massive steel buckets walk up and down the lines of people slopping curry into our metal trays. First a veg curry, then a lentil dahl, then a cheese curd of sorts and finally rice and chapatis – a simple unleavened bread.
The food is very basic, of course, but it means the poor of Amritsar can always get a meal. No one is turned away.
Honestly, the food is still better than some of the watery piss curries I’ve had in Australia or America. It’s still very edible food. They do use spices. It may not be as amazing as the paid restaurant curries in india, but it is still good.
Most importantly, you see how cheap and simple it is to feed everybody. People do not have to starve.
Sitting amongst a thousand strangers, on the floor, eating rice and Dahl, you realise how privileged we really are not to rely on hand-outs. Not everyone in the room is poor, some just come as part of their religion. Some, though very few, are tourists like us, interested to see how a charitable operation of this scale can actually function year in year out.
We see that first hand while entering and exiting the food hall. What’s this noise…
[Clip Metal plates]
It’s the sound of volunteers washing up the thousands of metal plates visitors eat off! People are hear washing dishes 24/7. 100,000 plates a day!
If you hate washing up, you might want to be on potato peeling duty instead. Rows of volunteers sit along a tarp on the floor, covered in potatoes. Non-stop peeling.
It’s an important part of the sikh religion to give back and to Volunteer. A central theme for Sikhs is to fight inequality which is why they all wear a turban. This wrapped head wear was traditionally worn only by the elite. Sikhs all wear it in order to show they are all equal. Even we, as tourists, are required to cover our heads in order to enter the temple complex.
Bring your own scarf if you want to avoid using a communal head covering.
Now, other than the free kitchen, there is a lot more affordable street food around. I have to say, the breads we had in Amritsar were the best I tasted in all of India.
So good, I think it may be deserved of a story corner….
Indian story corner!
When it rains in Amritsar, the street become muddy. It’s an old town, with narrow passages and winding lanes. Built long before modern town planning was a thing. Street vendors with colourful fabrics spill onto the narrow streets and of course, there is food…
It’s typical street fare. Breads and curries. all for less than 50 cents a meal – about 20 to 30 rupees. When the mud is on the ground, the options seem dirty. Maybe they are dirty. But if you are put off by this, you’ll miss out on some of the best bread in India.
So, we wrongly named that as a nan bread in the clip. We have since been educated. It’s is similar to a nan, but it’s called Kulcha and ours was stuffed with potato, and lathered in herbs and butter.
It’s made with a wheat flour and is leavened so it will rise in the oven. it was served with a chole which is chickpea curry. The most interesting thing about how it was made here on the street…
The tandoori oven was made from an old oil drum, filled with concrete to leave a teardrop shaped whole on the inside. The breads are stuck to the inside of the hot concrete and baked until crispy. Then pried off with a metal stick and served.
From his tiny cart, the chef makes the dough, rolls it and cooks it. We sit in a tiny, open room with just 4 seats facing onto the street. I doubt many foreigners come to this guy, but the locals were queuing up. So we had high expectations.
The outer crispy bread, like the base of a perfectly cooked pizza, but crispy on both top and bottom, gives way to a soft and mildly spiced potato filling. The heart attack sized portion of butter atop the bread, leaves a rich overtone in your mouth that balances nicely with the chickpea curry.
This bread is a winner. But… not THE winner.
It actually comes in second place to the BEST bread in India.
The best bread is at Kesar Da Dhaba.
A Dhaba is a traditional budget restaurant. Our amazing bread, called a Jawain Butter Paratha, was about 40 rupees – maybe 75 cents. So, its still cheap, and you get to sit inside at a real table – luxury!
But, this place actually has a history, not just amazing food. The Dhaba was founded in 1916 in Sheikhupura, but moved to Amritsar when India and Pakistan separated. Ghandi used to order take out from there!
We didn’t know any of this at the time… A month or so after eating there we were watching the discovery channel, or could have been the travel channel and the owner who we chatted to briefly was on TV! He was being interviewed for a travel cooking segment.
We were like, holy shit, that dude served our food in Amritsar. Turns out they’ve been featured on TV a lot, even on the BBC.
The funniest thing was, this young English girl presenter was a little clueless. When they were making the food, he goes to add the butter to the pan. She asks him, for people back in England, who may not have Indian butter, can they substitute with olive oil…. He pauses, looks at her and then with the most dismissive “you are a fucking idiot” tone of voice goes, “sure, why not”
He’s like, yeah If you want curry to taste like Itallian food bitch.
“Sure, why not” actually became one of our catchphrases since then. Any time any one says something really idiotic as a question. Why correct people, when letting them live in delusion land is a much more fun inside joke.
So, the bread…. It looks like a thick pancake, but with individual layers separating as it is baked. Imagine puff pastry, but each of those puffed layers is thicker and bready, but very crisp at the end and slightly soft in the middle. layers upon layers of simultaneously crispy and soft bread, covered in fresh butter ghee – which is richer still in flavour than the regular butter you get back home.
Imagine that bread crunching to the bite but instantly melting away to doughy buttery goodness.
This is the best bread in India.
Amazingly, they have a website! http://www.kesardadhaba.com/ it’ll be in the show notes.
Next today, a famous attraction that Michael palin visited in his show Himilaya.
The India-Pakistan border ceremony at the Wagah border crossing is quite a spectacle. A 28KM ride outside Amritsar, which can be bartered for a few hundred rupee with a rickshaw, is well worth the trip.
It’s a big show of pride, on both sides. Each day they draw the flags of each country down together and close the gates until the next day. This is celebrated with gusto! And much leg extension. If the Indian soldiers cannot kick themselves in their own face, then they have failed.
Michael palin would have been very at home with all the silly walks going on. Still, the crowd is riled up. The entrance to the border is more like an arena than a border. Must have been over 2000 people. Screaming and singing.
There are two important things you need to know about the ceremony. All India soldiers must have a moustache. A big bushy one – but perfectly groomed. The one soldier we saw without a moustache did not seem to be invited to participate in the ministry of silly walks. He was shunned to the side of the arena, on guard duty, lest his un-mistachioed face be seen by an international cameraman and the pride of india be lost.
The second important fact is, it’s essential to have a shouting competition before the gate is closed. Whoever can shout the longest seems to win. What they win, who knows. Here is the clip.
[Shouting border Clip]
The yelling can be heard all the way from pakistan! fun.
The silly walks appear to be a taunt to soldiers of the other side as to who has the bendier hamstrings.
Eventually, after all the build up, they pull down the flags, close the gate and send everyone home.
Please note, all foreigners are put in a separate section. It does get full, so don’t turn up late. Also, there was a suicide bombing on the pakistan side in november 2014, killing about 60 people – so go at your own risk and be aware they will not allow bags in.
So, thats almost it for today.
But Finally, Subway Sandwhiches in India… Well. In a lot of towns, they have vegetarian only subway. It’s awful! The empty menu features just six sandwiches. If You don’t want a salad sandwich, a potato sandwich or a paneer cheese sandwich, then there ain’t much else going on.
You go in to Subway expecting a little break from Indian food… It’s a ghost town.
Also, in macdonalds you can get a paneer burger! We didn’t. It’s Macdonalds. Still, Indian cheese may have been a better choice than a bigmac.
I’ll stick with a Potato Kulcha. The western fast food is way more expensive than the indian food!
An unexpected one today. We want you to volunteer to help out somewhere. I was inspired by just how many people volunteer to help out at the Kitchen of the Golden Temple.
So, give out a couple of hours this week to do as the sikhs do, and volunteer.
Alternatively, go to subway and by the plain salad sandwich and feel the pain we felt seeing the menu in Amritsar. Actually, I ended up skipping the Subway and getting a chicken tikka paneer pizza from Brothers Dhaba, which for less than $3 was pretty good.
DISCLAIMER: We are affiliated with, World nomads, – companies we love and support. Some other links may also be affiliate link – these links help support the podcast financially. All our opinions, as always, are our own.
WE NEED YOUR FEEDBACK
Please leave your comments below so that we can make changes to future episodes based on your feedback.