A land vibrantly painted with the colours of a very distinct culture and traditions, the city of Amritsar was founded in 1577 by the fourth Sikh guru, Ram Das, and is home to Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the spectacular and radiant Golden Temple, one of India’s most serene and humbling sights. The city was named after the Amrit Sarovar – the tank that surrounds the gleaming central shrine of the Golden Temple, and while Amritsar is known for its beautiful and serene religious atmosphere it is also home to bustling streets, vibrant culture and fun-loving people.
The city is divided in two by a series of railway lines. The old city, containing the Golden Temple and other historic sites, is a fascinating area to explore, with a capillary network of narrow bazaars and markets like the Furwara Chowk that appear to have been lost in time. On the other side of the old city is ‘modern’ Amritsar, which is an eclectic mix of the old and new, with colonial-era boulevards and streets scattered amoung the otherwise modern infrastructure of gleaming malls and upmarket hotels. Crossing between the old and new cities is best done by cycle-rickshaw, but once you’re in the old city, walking is often the quickest way to get around.
Amritsar is also home to some of India’s most iconice locations, here’s a few of them.
1. Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. The Jallianwalla Bagh today is a serene park that pays homage to the 1500 Indians killed when a British officer ordered his soldiers to shoot on unarmed protesters in 1919. Some of the bullet holes are still visible in the walls, as is the well into which hundreds desperately leapt to avoid the bullets. There’s an eternal flame of remembrance as well as an exhibit illustrating the stories of victims, and a Matryrs’ Gallery, with portraits of Independence heroes.
2. The legendary Golden Temple is actually just a small part of this huge gurdwara complex, known to Sikhs as Harmandir Sahib (or Darbar Sahib). the Golden Temple itself is a mesmerising blend of Hindu and Islamic architectural styles, with an elegant marble lower level adorned with flower and animal motifs in pietra dura work (as seen on the Taj Mahal). Above this rises a shimmering second level, encased in intricately engraved gold panels, and topped by a dome gilded with 750kg of gold. In the gleaming inner sanctum (photography prohibited), priests and musicians keep up a continuous chant from the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book), adding to the already intense atmosphere.
3. Wagah a road border crossing between Pakistan and India and lies on the Grand Trunk Road between the cities of Amritsar in Punjab and Lahore in the Punjab province of Pakistan. The Wagah-Atari border is the accepted Radcliffe Line, the boundary demarcation line dividing India and Pakistan upon the Partition of India, was drawn. Every day there is a ceremony at the border that includes lowering of the flags of both countries and the Beating Retreat ceremony which is a military practice that the security forces of India and Pakistan have jointly followed since 1959. The Wagah border is also home to Hussainiwala National Martyrs Memorial.
Air India Express flies to and from Amritsar daily.