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Amritsar, the vibrant city nestled in the heart of Punjab, is undoubtedly most renowned for its iconic Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple. This sacred shrine attracts pilgrims from all corners of the globe, who flock to bask in its ethereal beauty and seek spiritual solace. Yet, beyond the magnificence of Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar holds a treasure trove of attractions and experiences that await eager explorers. From its rich historical heritage to its culinary delights and bustling markets, this city has much to offer beyond its holy abode. 

The Golden Temple/ Harmander Sahib

The Golden Temple is situated in Amritsar, the holy city for Sikhs. It is renowned for its striking golden dome and holds great significance as a sacred pilgrimage site for Sikhs. The temple, known as Harmandir Sahib, is a two-story structure constructed on a 67-ft square marble base. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had the upper half of the building adorned with around 400 kg of gold leaf. Surrounding the Golden Temple are several other notable temples, including the Durgiana Temple. Amritsar, the city where the Golden Temple stands, was founded by Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru of the Sikhs. Initially, Guru Ram Das constructed a pool at this location, and over time, Amritsar grew to become the home of the Golden Temple.

Amritsar holds further historical and religious significance as it is believed that Sage Valmiki composed the epic Ramayana here. According to legend, Lord Rama and his wife Sita spent their fourteen-year exile in Amritsar, a central place for Sikhism. Adjacent to the temple, towards the south, is a garden and the Baba Atal tower. Atop the Clock Tower stands the Central Sikh Museum. The  Guru-ka-Langar, a communal canteen is located towards the eastern entrance of the temple complex provudes provides free food to all visitors regardless of their background, including their colour, creed, caste, or gender.Approximately 20,000 people are served free meals daily. On special occasions, this number can skyrocket to 100,000.

Visitors are required to cover their heads before entering the temple premises and are encouraged to remove their shoes. During the day, the holy scripture known as the Granth Sahib is kept in the Temple, while at night, it is transferred to the Akal Takht- the Eternal Throne. The Akal Takht is also home to ancient weapons once used by Sikh warriors and was established by Guru Hargobind. Within the temple compound, there is a rugged old Jubi Tree located in the northwest corner. This tree, planted by Baba Buddha, the first high priest of the Golden Temple, 450 years ago, is believed to possess special powers.

If you wish to avoid crowds, visiting the Golden Temple in the early morning on weekends is recommended.

Around the Golden Temple

Within the sacred precincts of the Golden Temple, a devotee can seek blessing at:

  • The Akal Takht
  • Har Ki Pauri
  • Dukh Bhanjani Ber (Jujube Tree)
  • Thara Sahib
  • Ber Baba Budha Ji
  • Gurudwara Ilachi Ber
  • Ath Sath Tirath
  • Bunga Baba Deep Singh

Now, let us embark on a journey through the colourful streets of Amritsar, as we delve into the lesser-known gems that make this city an irresistible destination for travellers.

Durgiana Temple/ Lakshmi Narain Temple

Constructed in the 1920s, this structure resembles the Golden Temple rather than a typical Hindu temple. It stands in the middle of a water tank and features canopies and a central dome inspired by the Sikh temple design. The foundation stone was laid by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, a prominent figure in India's reformation and politics. This building is widely recognized as a significant collection of Hindu scriptures.

Wagah Border

The international border between India and Pakistan is a place called Wagah, located between Amritsar and Lahore. It is an intricate complex with buildings, roads, and barriers on both sides. One of the main attractions here is the evening ceremony called "Beating the Retreat." Every day, soldiers from both countries showcase their impeccable drill skills as they lower their national flags. As the sun sets, the atmosphere becomes more patriotic, with the crowd applauding and lights illuminating the area, signifying the end of the day.

Jallian Wala Bagh

The memorial honours the 2000 Indians who were killed or wounded during a peaceful public gathering on April 13, 1919. They were shot indiscriminately by the British forces led by General Michael O'Dyer. This tragic event is considered significant in India's fight for independence. The Martyr's Gallery at the site tells the story of this horrific massacre. A preserved section of the wall still bears bullet marks, serving as a reminder of the violence that took place. Additionally, there is a memorial well, which some people jumped into to escape the gunfire.

"The brave people of India will rise and free their homeland," declared Mahatma Gandhi in response to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel laureate, wrote, "The punishment inflicted upon the innocent people and the manner in which it was carried out is unparalleled in the history of civilized governments," upon returning his knighthood as a form of protest.

Ram Bagh

Ram Bagh is a beautiful garden in which you can hear the sounds of horses neighing, as if they are announcing the arrival of the great statesman Maharaja Ranjit Singh, also known as the Lion of Punjab, who lived from 1780 to 1839. In the heart of this garden stands the summer Palace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, which showcases excellent architecture and a unique built-in cooling system. During his reign, Maharaja Ranjit Singh brought local chieftains under his control and eliminated the possibility of attacks on his kingdom. As a tribute to his bravery, a lively statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, sitting proudly on a horse, can be found at one end of Ram Bagh.

The garden was named by the ruler himself as a way to honour Guru Ram Das, the founder of the city. Today, Maharaja Ranjit Singh's summer palace has been transformed into a museum that provides valuable insights into his era. The museum displays weapons from the Mughal era, portraits of Punjab's ruling families, and even a replica of the famous diamond called the "Kohinoor." In the past, the garden was accessed through a large fortified gate, which still exists in its original form on the periphery of the garden.

Ram Tirath

Located 11 kilometres west of Amritsar on Chogawan road is an Important pilgrimage for the Hindus-the Ram Tirath Temple dates back to the Ramayana period. It is believed to be the ashram of Sage Valmiki. This place is known for its ancient tank and several temples. One can still see the hut where Mata Sita gave birth to Luv and Kush. Also, there are the preserved remains of Rishi Valmiki's hut and a well with stairs where Mata Sita used to bathe. The Bedis of Punjab, who trace their lineage from Kush, and the Sodhis, who trace their lineage from Luv, have a significant connection to this place. It is worth mentioning that Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, belonged to the Bedi lineage, while Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru, belonged to the Sodhi lineage. Every year, a four-day fair has been held here since ancient times, starting on the full moon night in November. 

Pul Kanjari

Pul Kanjari is a historic site built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It is surrounded by many tales and legends. Located near the villages of Daoka and Dhanoa Kalan, right on the Wagha border, Pul Kanjari is about 35 km away from both Amritsar and Lahore. The Maharaja used to rest and relax here in the baradari with his royal troops and entourage while passing by. Although the fort and the bathing pool (baoli) are in ruins, this heritage site includes a temple, a Gurudwara, and a mosque, showcasing the Maharaja's secular beliefs. Inside the dome on the corner of the baoli, there are various scenes and sights from Hindu scriptures and the Raj Darbar depicted in frescoes adorned with floral frames.

Samadhi of Guru Angad Dev Ji

The Samadhi of the second Guru is located about 30 km southeast of Amritsar and is easily accessible from Goindwal Sahib. It was constructed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1815 A.D.

Jama Masjid Khairuddin

This mosque was built by Mohd. Khairuddin in 1876.This  architectural wonder is located in Hall Bazar. It is considered a holy place where Tootie-e-Hind, Shah Attaullah Bukhari, gave a call against British rule.

Shravan’s Samadh

Around 6 km from Ajnala, near Jastarwal (previously known as Dashrathwal), you can find one of the oldest heritage spots in Amritsar. It dates back to the time of the Ramayana. Legend has it that Shravan lies buried here after being struck mistakenly  by an arrow from King Dashrath, the Lord of Ayodhya. It is situated on the banks of an old stream called Purani Dhab.

Khoo Kalyanwala

The city of Amritsar played a crucial role in India's liberation from British rule. Well-known freedom fighters such as Madan Lal Dhingra, Ras Bihari Bose, S. Kartar Singh Sarabha, Dr. Satya Pal, and Dr. Saif-ud-din Kitchlu were associated with Amritsar. In 1857, when Mangal Pande initiated a rebellion against the British, its impact was also felt in Amritsar. A group of 400 soldiers stationed in Lahore rebelled against the British government and escaped from their barracks. These courageous soldiers swam across the flooded Ravi River and reached Ajnala. The news reached Mr Fredric Cooper, who was the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar at the time. He ordered the soldiers to be confined in a small room where, tragically around 200 of them suffocated and died. The remaining soldiers were ruthlessly shot the next morning, and their bodies were thrown into a well known as Kalianwala Khoo in Tehsil Ajnala.

The Historical Banyan Tree/ Shaheedi Bohr 

This ancient tree is located in the Namdhari Shaheedi Samark, against the beautiful backdrop of the northern boundary of Ram Bagh. It has a large trunk and a lush green canopy, standing tall and majestic. In 1871, the British Government hanged four Kookas from this tree. These Kookas had reacted violently to the selling of beef near the Golden Temple.

Amritsar is a remarkable destination that captivates international tourists with its rich Sikh cultural heritage and iconic multicultural attractions. Sikhism's core principles of compassion, selfless service, and equality resonate throughout the city. The langar, a communal kitchen that offers free meals to all visitors regardless of their background, exemplifies the Sikh concept of seva (selfless service) and embodies the spirit of inclusivity.

*Based on an article written M.M.Khanna published on 2nd July 2008 


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