Amritsar: A Traveller’s Paradise
A beautiful and transformed Heritage street on one side and also the winding lanes of the old city take you to the entrance of the Golden Temple’s premises, where thousands throng the shrine, with faith and wonder, at all hours. While Amritsar grows industrially, stretching its limits in all directions in the wake of modernization, it continues to humble our spirits by retaining an old-world charm even today. Amritsar is a beautiful city that can be explored in three days.
A city that takes its name from the Amrit Sarovar, the holy tank surrounding the famed Golden Temple, Amritsar’s story began in 1502 CE when Guru Nanak visited an old tank across the Grand Trunk Road in the city. It was in 1577 CE that the fourth Guru, Ram Dass, acquired this land and started expanding this area. The fifth Guru, Arjan Dev, conceived the idea for Harmandir Sahib, the seed that soon gave birth to this pilgrim’s town and continues to dominate its spirit. Beyond the trope of yellow fields and vibrant fineries, Amritsar is a juxtaposition of contradictions; its tortuous roads open up to commercial hubs that display the walled city’s cultural hues. The best way to explore its many historical and cultural delights is on foot, starting at the Heritage Street.
The Pilgrim’s Walk
At the very core of the spiritual heart of Amritsar lies the famed Golden Temple, which serves as the main gurudwara. Soothing chants from the Guru Granth Sahib surround and calm the endless stream of devotees as they make their way to the main sanctum, with its gold-gilded dome the cynosure of the area. The temple feeds your faith and satiates the hunger of countless pilgrims at Guru ka Langar, counted among the most extensive community kitchens in the world. It is no wonder that in this city of faith, no one goes to sleep hungry. Also visit the Interpretation Centre where four galleries play multimedia shows which tell the tale of how Sikhism came to be. It also makes you understand the basic tenets of Sikhism
A short walk on an interconnected (and dramatically transformed) street also takes you to the Partition Museum at Town Hall, which reminds you of the horrors of India-Pakistan partition and its resulting exodus that displaced lakhs, leaving their lands. Millions were killed also. A stone’s throw away is the Jallianwala Bagh, which bore testimony to one of history’s most horrific chapters - India’s colonialism and which also was the turning point of the country’s freedom struggle. Unarmed men, women and children protesting against the Rowlett Act were massacred by British troops who opened file on the orders of Brigadier General Dyer; even today, bullet-ridden walls tell their brutal past.
A great way to experience the city is to go on a heritage walk from Town Hall to the Galliara at Golden Temple in the mornings and evenings. You can also have a cycling tour of the old streets of Amritsar which is organized by City on Pedals. A Crafts walk, that takes you to Bartan Bazaar, Tea Market, Choora Bazaar, Papad Bazaar and Herbs market is also popular with tourists in the city.
There are dozens or more historic gurudwaras within walking distance of the Harmandir Sahib; for tourists Gurudwara Baba Atal Sahib, Gurudwara Saragarhi in Kaiser Bagh, Gurudwara Mai Kaulan, Guru Ke Mahal Gurudwara, Gurudwara Santokhsar Sahib and the Gurudwara Bibeksar Sahib are the highlights of a religious trail in the city. The entire area surrounding the Golden Temple has been given a much-needed facelift; the tiled pathways lead you to a buzzing commercial Centre where you can get your hands on Punjabi culinary fare or hire a three-wheeler to explore the rest of the city.
Hop on Hop off Bus Service
Amritsar also has a convenient Hop-on Hop-off bus that takes you to the main tourist areas of the city. This is a good way of getting around the city and saving on travel costs. One half-day ticket for this bus in Amritsar costs Rs.250 and is available at popular tourist spots. One of the many architectural delights that can be viewed from atop this ride is the Khalsa College, a grand historical structure which has also been featured in many Bollywood films.
Beyond Amritsar’s many gurudwaras, discerning travellers are also drawn to Gobindgarh Fort, initially erected in the 1760s by local chieftain Gujar Singh Bhangi and was rebuilt in the 19th century by Maharaja Ranjit Singh to serve as a defense fort against invaders. Elucidating the history of Amritsar and the Sikh community’s heroic struggles over the centuries, a 3D mapping show and a 7D show are also aired on the premises, accompanied by local dance performances. Make sure to visit the turban museum, Tosha Kana and Arms Museum here, which take you on a kaleidoscopic journey across the history of this colourful cultural fabric.
Pul Moran, popularly called Pul Kanjari, a small bridge located 35-Km away from Amritsar, on the canal bisecting Amritsar-Lahore road was also made by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Other tourist spots of importance in the heritage trail of Amritsar are Durgiana Temple, dedicated to goddess Durga, this Hindu temple has a gold-covered dome and a white marble pathway surrounding the sarovar. Bhagwan Valmiki Tirath Sthal (Ram Tirath), is believed to be this place where Valmiki wrote the Ramayana and where Sita gave birth to Luv and Kush. Maharaja Ranjit Singh Panorama & Museum in Ram Bagh gives an in-depth insight into the life of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Sadda Pind, a Punjabi Culture Living Village Museum that is spread across 12 acres of land also brings travellers a chance to experience the authentic culture, colours and flavours of Punjab in one place.
A Delectable Love Affair
The quintessential spirit of Punjab traverses its labyrinthian lanes and gets imbibed in the lip-smacking culinary scene that thrives in the city. Amritsari kulche-chhole and lassi are synonymous with Amritsar; to get a taste of the city’s vibrant food scene, head to Kesar Da Dhaba, where ghee-dipped paranthas and dal keep the patrons asking for more. The 100-year-old Gian Di Lassi Shop is a haven for those who enjoy a glass of this sweet concoction, while Makhan Fish has been serving delectable non-vegetarian food since 1962. Some of Punjab's dhabas are as renowned across the world. The most famous ones include, Anant Ram Ke Chole, and Chicken Corner on Majitha Road in Amritsar. One can also savour the authentic taste of Punjabi food at the Original Chain of Haveli Restaurants.
Patriotic Fervour Runs Deep
At a short distance from Amritsar, the serenity of the holy town is replaced by patriotic revelry in Attari, as hundreds gather to watch the military showmanship that is on display at the Attari-Wagah Border each evening. The ceremonial flag-lowering ceremony held at the border between India and Pakistan is electric; from dance to rapturous claps, the environment here is mesmerizing and energetic, mimicked in every sense by the border guards who engage in competitive foot stomping and chest-thumping. But this ceremony is not the only noteworthy aspect of the region.
The Punjab State Heroes’ War Memorial and Museum here pays homage to the state’s boisterous martial tradition. At the same time, the restaurant Sarhad celebrates cross-country friendship by offering cuisines from both India and Pakistan. Shahi Qila, located near the Attari Wagah border is another popular restaurant that offers a glimpse of Punjabi tradition and culture. As the crowd filters out post the border closing ceremony, the calmness takes you back to Harmandir Sahib, looking for peace again.