Home to the ethereal Golden Temple (among many other eminent historic sites), Amritsar has long-since been a bucket-list destination within India.
As though one needed yet another reason to visit this both holy and culinary capital of the North, we now have a formidable one in the form of Taj Swarna, recently launched by the Taj Group. Mother and I had the pleasure of experiencing it for ourselves recently, discovering it to be quite a draw in its own right…
Situated conveniently close to both the airport and local attractions, the shiny new hotel seamlessly marries traditional elements with a sleek, modern design. The lobby is airy and expansive, but suffused with an inviting warmth that is characteristic of both the local Punjabi culture and that certain Tajness…
The latter is a concept which manifested itself in many forms throughout our stay, starting with the auspicious welcome ceremony on arrival. A tradition across all Taj hotels, the greeting is customised in each property to reflect the local spirit of the city!
Having smoothly checked in, we headed to our rooms to freshen up before embarking on the action-packed itinerary that the hotel had thoughtfully arranged for us.
We were staying on the fourth floor, with a sparkling poolside view to wake up to. The room itself was well-apportioned, with all the necessary amenities in their place.
The acid test for me was measured in terms of how quickly I could fall asleep upon hitting my pillow at the end of the day… perhaps it was the blissful tiredness from our explorations, the soft plushness of our bed – or likely a perfect combination of the two – but I slept rather like a baby on both nights!
When in Amritsar…
All told, there is as much to eat in Amritsar as there is to see with the city’s dhabas drawing foodies from world-over for their unnumbered mouth-watering and lip-smacking specialties, each braced copiously with heaps of ghee (clarified butter), malai (essentially the milkfat, or cream settling at the top of milk) and/or butter.
Whilst no visit is complete without braving these street-side eateries (each as greasy as it is searingly satisfying), we found ourselves also indulging in these local foods within the hotel’s cheerful all-day diner, the Grand Trunk.
Having undertaken extensive recces across the local haunts (as well as through poaching some of their staff!), the restaurant has boldly succeeded in replicating the authenticity of the local flavours and textures, albeit with an imitable degree of polished richness. Their use of ghee and butter for instance is more moderated (relatively speaking that is), excessive in any imperfectly-perfect sense as compared to the local spots where you can notoriously find as much as 40-50 grams of butter dolloped on your paratha or kulcha!
Speaking of kulchas, the Grand Trunk’s rendition of this leavened and stuffed maida bread (slow-baked in a tandoor) is quite something, its crisp exterior breaking apart to reveal a soft and flaky (almost croissant-like) texture. As is the tradition, it arrives with chole – a restoratively hearty chickpea curry which we mopped up every last inch of!
The deep intensity of Northern flavours is also showcased through an array of local produce and dishes such as a juicy soyabean chaap (a worthy veggie-friendly alternative to the more succulent grilled sticks of meat); mustard-tinged sarson da saag; tempered and slow-cooked daal and oh-so-much more!
Even the kulfi is served in an Amritsari fashion, otherwise known as kulfa – creamy chunks of milky ice cream festooned with falooda (vermicelli noodles) and rabri (sweetened condensed milk).
Breakfast is served in the Grand Trunk too, and we soon realised that it’s best to arrive here on an empty stomach given the smorgasbord on offer, from Mediterannean and Continental to regional Indian cuisines.
We were but naturally drawn to the more traditional options… After all, where and indeed when else, could we tuck into chola-butara first thing in the morning, washing it down with Amritsari lassis (a refreshingly frothy buttermilk)?
We sought a light respite between all that decadence with an Internationally-inspired lunch on our second day, mother satisfied with a beautifully seasoned broccoli and almond soup while it was immaculate egg-white omelette for me. We shared a veggie version of a Cobb Salad too (one of the signature dishes at the Pierre, Taj’ outpost in New York), and were blown away by the freshness of the ingredients from the sun-dried tomatoes to the broccolis and zucchini!
It’s this same unwavering emphasis on quality produce which emerged the highlight of our dinner at the hotel’s Chinese Room. Humble snow peas and crunchy asparagus deserve particular mention, forming the basis of a feisty dish dressed in a surprisingly-douce burnt garlic sauce. Of course this being Amritsar, even the desserts at this Pan-Asian restaurant are devilishly deep-fried. Think custard fritters studded with sesame seeds, and vanilla ice cream sheathed with an almost doughnut-like sugary coating….
In addition to the two restaurants, the hotel also has a bar aptly titled the Peg (in a nod to the infamous Patiala Peg originating in Punjab).
Softly illuminated in the evenings with a lovely view out onto the stream of water running around the length of the hotel, it’s a cosy yet lively spot to unwind in during the evenings. While rare international malts are the name of the game here, we were equally impressed by the impressive range of homemade infusions for the cocktails, which ranged from rosemary and kafir lime to cardamom and even Darjeeling tea-based syrups! If you ever find yourself lounging at the Peg, I suggest leaving yourself in the capable hands of the bar’s star mixologist, Anuj. You really won’t be disappointed!
We made sure to have ample time to make full use of Taj Swarna’s recreational facilities too which include a Jiva Spa (if you know, you know the name is synonymous with the ultimate luxury experience!), outdoor pool and compact gym with in-house trainers boasting a professional sports background.
Despite my best intentions, I slept through the early a.m. complimentary yoga sessions but definitely fit in a quick cardio session on both mornings, if for nothing else then to work up an adequate appetite for a full-fledged breakfast after!
The sweetest goodbye
From visiting the Golden Temple to shopping for traditional phulkari outfits and juttis in the bustling bazaars and following the diet-destroying yet intrepidly satisfying foodie trail – our entire sojourn was intricately planned by the hotel to ensure that we soaked in as much of the city as possible.
The care and hospitality characteristic of Tajness reflected in other small but thoughtful touches too, such as the dahi (yogurt) and gud (jaggery) offered as we checked out – a custom observed to wish travellers an auspicious journey ahead!
By championing and celebrating the local culture and cuisines, Taj Swarna has most certainly succeeded in presenting a compelling case for both a visit and inevitable return to Amritsar!
For more on what to do, see & eat in Amritsar, do have a read of my detailed travel guide.
We stayed as guests of Taj Swarna, but as always all opinions are mine and mine alone.
Taj Swarna, Plot No. C-3, Outer Circular Road,Opp. Basant Avenue, Amritsar, Punjab – 143001 India