Amritsar literally translates as ‘amrit ka sar-ovar’, the lake of the holy nectar. It was founded by Guru Ram Das in 1574. Situated on the north-west edge of Punjab (the land of five rivers), it was declared a holy city by the British during their rule in 1915.
Famed for the Golden Temple, it is just like any other small city but with the zest of Punjabi’s - Punjabi music, Punjabi food & Punjabi culture.
It is a patchwork of malls, branded stores, coffee joints, restaurants adjunct to which are the narrow streets and lanes of the walled city where till today one finds the old world charm thriving. Street hawkers, rickshaws, shopkeepers, traders, local eateries, dhabas and more vibrate immensely in their characteristic style which is a must-experience when visiting Amritsar.
Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple, is the most important and sacred shrine of the Sikh faith. It is the only place of worship in the world where the sanctum is located in a tank. It is said that Guru Amardas, the third Guru, discovered the site while travelling in he region. He was charmed by the beautiful pool of water and the stories of its magical qualities. The work started in 1574 but stopped a year later with the death of the Guru. It resumed only in 1589 under and designed by Guru Arjan Dev, the 5th Sikh Guru, it was completed in 1601. Mian Mir, a sufi saint, was invited to lay the foundation of the main shrine in the center of the pool. Its four doors open in four directions signifying that it is open to everyone without any distinction made on caste, colour, creed or community. The temple walls are aesthetically decorated with wall paintings and its upper floor, Sheesh Mahal, has exquisite ceiling inlaid with small pieces of mirror and precious stones. The Golden Temple exhibits a harmonious blend of Mughal and Rajput traditions of architecture.
The 'night palki' ceremony is an experience worth a mention where the Granth Sahib, the holy book, is carried across on a palaquin from the shrine to the Akal Takht. The reflection of the gold on the water, the heavenly chanting and the blowing of trumpets and beating of drums sends many a senses riveting.
A little further from the Golden Temple, a beautiful octagonal tower over 45 meters in height, commemorates the birth of the 9 year old son of Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru. Gurdwara Baba Atal Sahib’s foundation stone was laid in 1770 and the first three storeys were completed by 1784. Maharaja Ranjit Singh added the upper floors in the 1820’s. Nine storeys represent the nine years of his life. The story goes that one day Baba Atal brought back to life a friend who died. Unfortunately reprimanded by Guru Hargobind for performing miracles, he gave away his own life for that of his friend. The doors on the ground floor where Guru Granth Sahib is seated are adorned with impressive designs on silver and brass sheets. It has some beautiful murals on the walls of the second and third floors.
Baba Deep Singh was one of most honoured martyrs in Sikh history. A bold and fearless scholar-saint-soldier, he was born on January 26, 1682 and died fighting at Amritsar on November 11, 1757. From about the age of 12 years, he grew up around the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. He spent most of his life as a custodian of the Panth (Sikh community). He headed and fought immense battles. On one such engagement against the Mughal force in the outskirts of Amritsar, Baba Deep Singh was beheaded in the course of the battle. Having vowed to die in the precincts of the Golden Temple, he kept his promise by picking up his head and carrying it on his left palm, whilst continuing to fight. This Gurdwara is where his body was cremated and his head was flung to reach the periphery of the Golden Temple to breathe his last in the Harmandir Sahib.
About 200 meters from the Golden Temple is the historic icon Jallianwala Bagh. It is here that India’s freedom struggle reached a turning point on April 13, 1919. General Reginald Dyer with his troop of soldiers stormed a peaceful ground and opened fire on 2,000 unarmed civilians causing a massacre. He was supported by Sir Michael O’Dwyer, then Governer of Punjab. With no warning and no escape, blocking the only one entrance and exit, the firing lasted for ten minutes. A section of the wall marked with bullets has been preserved as also the shallow well in which many people jumped to escape the firing. At the farthest end of the Bagh lies the Martyr’s Memorial built in the shape of an eternal flame. It was constructed in 1954 by the president of India, Dr. Rajinder Prasad as a tribute.
A famous Hindu shrine - Durgiana Mandir also known as Sitla Mandir was founded by the great reformer Madan Mohan Malviya in 1925. The city of Amritsar is pious, it was visited by Lord Rama at the time of Ashavmegh Yagh. Lov & Kush spent their childhood along with their mother Mata Sita at the Ashram of Maharishi Valmiki at Ram Tirath. King Ishvaku, grandson of Surya Devta performed a number of Yagyas on this land. To the right of the main gate is the Shiva Temple. Shree Lakshami Narayan Temple is the most sacred place in the Durgiana Mandir complex. The Shitla Mata (Durga Mata) temple is more than six hundred years old. A complex is built as a replica of the Golden Temple. The joyous illumination of this temple on the eve of Janamashtami and Diwali presents a heavenly sight. The domes of the temple are in the process of being plated gold.
A breathtaking creation of architecture, the Khalsa College catches many an eye for its pure opulence and functionality. This majestic institute of higher learning was established by the leaders of the Singh Sabha Movement in 1892. Its sprawling 300-acre campus is located along the Amritsar-Lahore Highway and falls on the way to the Wagha Border. The majestic red-stone building is considered a gem of the Indo-Saracenic style which is strongly influenced by the Indian and Mughlai schools of art and architecture. The imposing design, the monumental scale and the traditional building materials like bricks, lime, surkhi and sand give it its much deserved uniqueness. A glimpse of the building by the evening lights is worth a sight.
Also known as the window to Pakistan, the Wagah Border, along the erstwhile Grand Trunk Road, is a joint Indo-Pak check post located about 29 km from Amritsar at Atari. It stands like a mute witness to the convoy of history but also shares the laughter of peace and good times. The Lowering of Flags Ceremony, better known as the Retreat, is like a high energy theatrical production which runs non-stop 365 days a year. The half-an-hour ceremony is a matter of pride and prestige for the armed forces for both the countries. Synchronised foot stamping, gate slamming and an exaggerated fiesta of melodrama displayed is beyond imagination.
Near the Wagha Border lies a dilapidated Mughal era caravan sarai. It is one of a chain of caravan sarais on the Grand Trunk Road that was built by the Mughals to make the otherwise difficult Lahore-Agra journey an easier one. Amanat Khan was the legendary calligrapher of the Taj Mahal. Tragically, the sarai which served as a dwelling for him and later became his final resting has been ravaged beyond repair. Despite this, the place retains traces of its former glory. The two gateways of the sarai are still in place. Lahouri Darwaza –which is white inlaid with fine glazed tile and Persian calligraphy and on the opposite side is the Dilli Darwaza of red sandstone from Rajasthan and filigree work can be seen in the upper balcony. They retain their fantastic blue tile-work as well as elegant Islamic calligraphy. The sarai has a mosque and its small rooms around a large courtyard have become homes for families that once sheltered travelers and their cattle.
Built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Pul Kunjarian is situated near the villages of Daoka and Dhanoa Kalan, close to the Wagha border, about 30 kms from both Amritsar & Lahore. It is a square pond near the site of a weekly market that used to be held before 1947. Two platforms were built to its north and south about 200 years ago. While one platform was a stage for girls to dance on, the other was for the privileged to watch from. To the east lies a domed room with latticed windows where the women sat. This room has fading frescoes depicting amorous scenes from Krishna's life. The Maharaja would often rest and leisure while passing by along with his royal troop. According to a legend, a kunjari (dancing girl) was crossing the drain when her slipper fell into it. She asked a courtier of Maharaja Ranjit Singh to build a culvert.
The Walled City or the Old City is popularly known as Hall Bazaar. Just as the name suggests it is a bagful of shops on the ground floor and homes above. Lined along the streets, within narrow galis and lanes, each katra (area) has its own speciality. Guru Bazaar, Mai Sewan Bazaar, Katra Jaimal Singh sell a paraphernalia of jewellery, clothes, textiles while Bartan Bazaar sells all sorts of utensils and Katra Sher Singh sells tea. Behind the Golden Temple one comes to the Papad-Wadian market. It’s a blend of wholesale and retail. The Punjabi jutis (footwear), ladies salwar-kameez (especially the Patiala salwar), shawls & stoles, woolens and the traditional local craft – phulkari are must buys. For those looking to please their appetites, Papad, Wadian, Mathian, Moong Dal Ladoo, Gur Ka Halwa, Moti Chur ke Ladoo, Besan Ladoo are things to carry back home.