Amritsar

Amritsar, literally Pool of Nectar, derives its name from the Amritsar  Sarovar that surrounds the famous Golden Temple in the city. Amritsar is an important city in Punjab and is a major commercial, cultural, and transportation centre. But the Golden Temple radiating a spiritual calmness that makes people bend their heads in respect.

How To Reach

By Air

The Rajasansi airport, about 11 kms from town, is connected by domestic flights to Delhi and Chandigarh. You can get to town by a pre-booked rented car, taxis or auto-rickshaws.

By Rail

Amritsar is connected by direct trains to major Indian cities like Delhi, Jammu, Mumbai, Nagpur, Calcutta and Puri. The most convenient train from Delhi is the Swarn Shatabdi which takes about 6 hours.

By Bus

You can drive into Amritsar from neighbouring states. Bus services also connect Amritsar with most north Indian towns, including Chandigarh (235 Kms), Delhi (450 Kms), Shimla, Kulu, Manali, Dharamshala and Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh, Dehradun and Rishikesh in Uttar Pradesh and Jammu.

Best Time To Visit Amritsar

The best time to visit Amritsar is between November and March when the weather is very pleasant. Summers get really hot and visitors need to acclimatize themselves to this dry and searing heat.

History

The seeds of the city were laid in 1577 when the fourth Sikh Guru Ram Das heard of a pool in the area that had healing powers. He instructed his son and successor Guru Arjan Dev to construct a temple at the site, which would be the focus of the Sikh religion. In 1588 Guru Arjan Dev laid the foundations of the city of Ramdaspur and the temple complex was completed in 1601. The Mughal emperor Akbar is said to have donated the land around the temple after paying off the local Jat farmers. Arjan Dev, who had compiled the Adi Granth or holy text of the Sikhs, placed it in the temple precincts, which came to be known as the Harmandir .

In the late 18th century, the town was plundered by Ahmad Shah Durrani and rebuilt by the first Sikh ruler of Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Maharaja Ranjit Singh donated 100 kilos of gold for the temple, which was added on to the surface as plating, and gave the temple its name.

During India’s freedom struggle, Amritsar became the scene of one of the worst atrocities perpetrated by the British. Jallianwala Bagh massacre, involving the killing/injuring of over 2000Indian civilians by a senior British military officer, Reginald Edward Harry Dyer which took place on 13 April 1919 in the heart of Amritsar, the holiest city of the Sikhs, took place on a day sacred to them as the birth anniversary of the Khalsa (Vaisakhi day).

Sightseeing in Amritsar

Golden Temple

Located in the heart of Amritsar, the temple complex is surrounded by a maze of narrow lanes or katras that house one of the busiest markets. But the Golden Temple is a serene presence, radiating calm.

Also known as Harmandir or Darbar Sahib, the temple is a white and gold majestic building in the centre of the Amrit Sarovar., the foundation of which was laid by the Muslim saint, Mian Mir, an admirer and friend of Guru Arjun. The Mandir is built on a 67-ft square of marble and is a two storied structure. The lower storey is in white marble, the top structure of the temple is covered with pure gold leaf, hence, the popular name, Golden Temple. The building is crowned with a dome shaped like an inverted lotus. The temple building has four entrances. The walls within are decorated with carved wooden panels and elaborate inlay work in silver and gold.
Inside the temple lies the holy book of the Sikhs – the Granth Sahib.

The Granth Sahib is kept in the Temple during the day and in the Akal Takht or Eternal Throne in the night. The ‘Guru Ka Langar’ located near the eastern entrance offers food to all visitors. Visitors to the Golden Temple must remove their shoes and cover their heads before entering the temple.

The Akal Takht

Adjacent to the Golden Temple, Akal Takht, the supreme seat of Sikh religious authority i.e. Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee. The building of the Akal Takht was begun by Guru Arjan Dev and completed in 1609 by Guru Hargobind. The Akal Takht also houses the ancient weapons used by the Sikh warriors. The Adi Granth is housed in the ground floor of the Akal Takht and is taken out in procession every morning to be placed at the Harmandir Sahib where priests continuously recite verses from the holy book in 3-hour shifts. Again at night, it is brought back to the Akal Takht. A complete reading of the text takes 48 hours.

At the eastern end are two brick watch towers called the Ramgarhia Minars. The Guru-ka-langar or community canteen is a Sikh institution, which was started by Guru Amar Das in the 16th century. The practice of eating together encouraged shedding of inhibitions and the principle of equality. The community kitchen feeds up to 10,000 people in a day, free of charges.

It is believed that the Jubi tree, at the northwestern corner of the complex, was planted some 450 years ago by the temple’s first head priest. The old, gnarled tree is believed to have special powers and childless women tie strips of cloth on it to be blessed with sons. Marriage deals are also fixed under the tree, though this practice is disapproved by the temple authorities.

.A myth dating many years ago, says that a dip in the holy water of the Sarovar surrounding the Golden Temple can cure people of many ailments.

Men and women both need to keep their head covered while in the Gurdwara,.

Baba Atal Rai Tower

This nine-storey tower located south of the Golden temple, represents the nine years of life of Atal Rai, son of the sixth Guru Hargobindji. The inner walls are decorated with frescoes on the life of Guru Nanak. The Adi Granth is enshrined within.

Central Sikh Musuem

The museum located atop the Tower of Baba Atal houses some fine old paintings of battles fought by the Sikhs, old manuscripts, coins and weapons.

Jallianwala Bagh

Noted for its most infamous massacre under British rule, Jallianwala Bagh about 400 metres north of the Golden Temple, is a small stretch of plain ground now converted into a beautiful public garden that houses a memorial of national importance. Jallianwala Bagh is one of the major tourist attractions of Amritsar.

Spread over 6.5 acres of land, Jallianwala Bagh was a popular ground for holding meetings and protests during the freedom struggle in India. On 13th April, 1919, on the occasion of Baisakhi, a large crowd of around 20,000 people had assembled at Jallianwala Bagh to protest against the arrest of two Indian freedom leaders. The crowd included women as well as children. As they were listening to the speeches of their leaders, the British General, Edward Dyer, ordered his soldiers to fire on the unarmed and helpless crowd. Continuous open-firing went on targeting the crowd while the people were trapped inside the Jallianwala Bagh. The place had only one narrow gate which had already been blocked by General Dyer and his troops. 2000 Indians were killed or wounded in the firing. This was one of the major incidents of India’s freedom struggle.

“The impossible men of India shall rise and liberate their mother land”, declared Mahatma Gandhi, after the Jallianwala massacre. “This disproportionate severity of punishment inflicted upon the unfortunate people and method of carrying it out is without parallel in the history of civilized govt.” wrote Rabindra Nath Tagore while returning Knighthood.

This tragic incident has left a deep scar on the Indians. Post independence, the massacre memorial was inaugurated by Dr. Rajendra Prasad on 13th April, 1961. The memorial is managed by the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust. There is a narrow lane between the houses which leads to the lawn of the park. At the entrance there is a memorial tablet which gives an account of the history. There is a well at the site in which many people who tried to escape from the bullets were drowned. The memorial also preserves the remnants of the wall which have the bullet marks. At another side of the garden is an eternal flame of remembrance, named the ‘Flame of Liberty’, set up in commemoration of those who died at the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

Summer Palace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh is in the Ram Bagh park. Now the palace houses a museum, exibiting oil paintings, miniatures, coins and weapons from the Sikh period. In this park is the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Panorama, so ask, if you are at the right museum.

Ram Bagh Garden

To the northeast of the railway station is Ram Bagh a beautiful garden . The garden was named by Maharaja Ranjit Singh himself as a tribute to Guru Ram Das Ji, the founder of the city. Now the summer palace of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh has been converted into a museum. On display are weapons dating back to Mughal times, portraits of ruling houses of Punjab and a replica of diamond “Kohinoor”.

Durgiana Temple

Built in the third decade of the 20th Century it echoes, not the traditional Hindu temple architecture, but that of the Golden Temple and, in a similar manner rises from the midst of a tank and has canopies and the central dome in the style of the Sikh temple. One of the greatest reformers and political leaders of resurgent India, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, laid its foundation stone. It is a well-known repository of Hindu scriptures

Mata Temple

Mata Temple is a labyrinthine like Hindu cave temple devoted to the female saint Lal Devi. Traditionally, women wishing to become pregnant come here to pray.

Ram Tirth

Ram Tirth is located 11 kms outside the city. Consecrated by the appearance of Devi Sita, Ram Tirth had been a witness to the birth of the sons of King Ram. Making a special place in the holy scripts of ancient religions, the place was once the ashrama of saint Balmiki. The saint is believed to have scripted many of his sacred manuscripts at this place. A hut of Rishi Balmiki is still found at Ram Tirth where he once lived. After giving birth to Luv and Kush, Devi Sita used to stay at this place for a considerable period of time. The evidence of her stay still exists in the form a well which, it is believed, was dug by Hanuman. Devotees of King Rama and Devi Sita flock to this place every year to offer their prayers to the respected deities

Jama Masjid Khairuddin

Built by Mohd. Khairuddin in 1876, this masjid is a place of architectural beauty situated in the Hall Bazar. This is the holy place from where a call against the British rule was given by Tootie-e-Hind, Shah Attaullah Bukhari.

Khoo Kalyanwala

The city has played a stellar role in the liberation of India from the British clutches. Freedom fighters like Madan Lal Dhingra, Ras Bihari Bose, S.Kartar Singh Sarabha, Dr. Satya Pal and Dr. Saif-ud-din Kitchlu are house-hold names in Amritsar.

When Mangal Pande blew the bugle of rebellion against the British in 1857a platoon of 400 soldier stationed at Lahore rebelled against the British Government by fleeing their barracks. The deserted soldiers bravely swam across the flooded Ravi and reached Ajnala. The information was received by Mr.Fredric Cooper, the then Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar. On his order, all of them were put in a coop-like room where almost 200 soldiers died of asphyxia. The rest of them were brutally shot dead the next morning and their dead bodies thrown in the well which is known as the Kalianwala Khoo in Tehsil Ajnala.

Places Near Amritsar

Wagah Border in Amritsar

The Wagah village was divided during the 1947 partition. Today, the eastern half of the village remains in India while the western half is in Pakistan.

The Wagah Border is also referred to as the ‘Berlin Wall of Asia’. Wagah Border lies about 28 kms from Amritsar, is the border station of Atari and the Wagah check post between India and Pakistan. This is the only overland opening between the two countries, which continue to have hostile relations ever since independence in 1947. The check post has now become a popular site for tourists. The closing ceremony at Wagah Border, also known as ‘lowering of the flags’ ceremony, is a daily martial custom that the security forces of India (Border Security Force) and Pakistan (Pakistan Rangers) have mutually followed since 1959. This interesting ceremony takes place every evening before sunset at the Wagah Border.

As the sun starts to set, Wagah Border comes alive with an incredible zeal and an unmistakable nationalist energy on both sides. The show starts off with the playing of patriotic songs and remembering the brave soldiers who laid down their lives for the country. The crowd cheers on by calling out ‘Jai Hind’ and ‘Vande Mataram’, reciprocated with cries of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ from the opposite side.

The ‘Beating the Retreat’ ceremony starts with a stiff-marching parade by the soldiers from both the sides. One infantryman stands at attention on each side of the gate. Soon after, the heavy gates at the Wagah Border are flung open; the two soldiers approach each other, exchange fierce looks, give out mimicked threats, and show anger. They shake hands and begin to lower the Indian and Pakistani flags fixed on high poles at the gates, simultaneously. At this point the noise in the open-air theatre transforms into pin drop silence. The spectators at Wagah Border remain extremely hushed in awe of the ceremony. The only sound being that of the pounding of boots of the soldiers on both the sides as they match steps and try to outdo each other as a part of the ceremonial splendour. The flags are neatly folded and carried back into the respective camps. There is a final brisk handshake between the soldiers from either side, after which no glance is exchanged. This is followed by the slammed closing of both the gates and blowing of trumpet to mark the end of the grand ceremony.

On the Indian side of the Wagah Border is a huge gate with an encryption ‘Swarn Jayanti Dwar’, from where a panoramic view of the Wagah landscape can be enjoyed. This high decibel flag-lowering performance at Wagah Border is a true spectacle and attracts many visitors from both sides of the border, as well as foreigners. It definitely is a must see when in Amritsar!

The six-seven feet tall soldiers at the Wagah Border are well dressed in their uniforms with colourful turbans. The Indian ‘Border Security Force’ soldiers are dressed in khaki, and the Pakistani ‘Sutlej Rangers’ soldiers are dressed in black.

The speciality of the ceremony is the extremely fast pace at which the soldiers walk, with their feet rising almost to their foreheads. This highly skilful ceremony is impressive and one of its kind in India!

Timing
The Wagah Border post remains open daily from 10:00 am till the flag down ceremony in the evening.

For the Wagah Border ceremony, it is advisable to arrive well before sunset to grab a proper seat in the open air theatre.

Depending upon the time of sunset, the flag down ceremony normally starts around 4:30 pm in winters and 5:30 pm in summers.

Pul Kanjari

It is another heritage sight built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh around which are sewn many tales and legends. Situated near the villages of Daoka and Dhanoa Kalan right on the Wagha border, Pul Kanjari is about 35 kms. Both from Amritsar & Lahore. The Maharaja would often rest and leisure here in the baradari while passing by along with his royal troop and retinues. Despite a ruined fort and a baoli-a bathing pool – this heritage sight has a temple, a Gurudwara and a mosque which bespeak of the secular concerns of the Maharaja. The inside of the dome on the corner of the baoli enshrines a number of scenes and sights from the Hindu scriptures and the Raj Darbar.These frescoes are laced with floral frames.

Samadhi of Guru Angad Dev Ji

About 30 km south east from Amritsar, and within easy reach from Goindwal Sahib is a Samadhi of the second Guru. It was built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1815 A.D.

Samadhi of Shravan

About 6 Kilometres from Ajnala near Jastarwal (earlier known as Dashrathwal) is located one of the oldest heritage spots in Amritsar. It belongs to the Ramayana period a legend has it that Shravan lies buried here after the fell from the arrow of King Dashrath, the Lord of Ayodhya. The Samadh is situated on the banks of an old rivulet (Purani Dhab ).Shravan had taken his blind parents on a wide-ranging pilgrimage by cradling them on his shoulder in a wooden device.

Shopping in Amritsar

Markets
The old city, with the Golden Temple and surrounding bazaars along narrow alleys, is encircled by a ring road. There are rows upon rows of shops on each street selling specifics goods. Guru Bazaar specialises in gold jewellery shops, while the Bazaar Kesarian is for steel and brass utensils. The smells of Katra Kathian announce its wares before you reach the shops selling papads, warian (crispies made from pulses) murabbas (Indian jams), pickles and ampapad (dried mango candies). The Mishri Bazaar is the place to buy dry fruits, while Katra Mohan Singh offers a colourful kaleidoscope of bridal glass bangles.

The ladies have a great time so far as shopping is concerned. From salwar suits to bangles and other trinkets, the bazaars of Amritsar have it all especially in the old city. The little shops opposite the Golden temple are full of interesting little trinkets. One can buy juttis, steel kadas and even dry fruits here. The best woolens – shawls, sweaters and mufflers are available in Amritsar’s Hall bazaar.

Eating Out in Amritsar

Amritsar has a plethora of eating out options that are a foodies delight! Finger licking food is available in Amritsar – from the proverbial Tandoori Chicken to the Chhole Kulchas on Maqbool Road and Amritsari Fish that is available at most of the dhabas sprinkled around the town. The Punjabi has a penchant for good food and it stands to reason that even the smallest of dhabas here will serve you really tasty and good food, whether its aloo parathas or sweet dishes like Phirni.

The good restaurants are all in the newer city areas to the north of the station. In the restaurants of the upmarket hotels you can also sample some Chinese cuisine in addition to continental dishes.

 

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