From the atrocities of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre to being home to one of the holiest Sikh shrine in the country – Amritsar is a fascinating city that embraces the historical, cultural as well as the spiritual heritage of India. Founded by the fourth Sikh Guru Ram Das, this city is also known for its local cuisine and local markets. Here is a list of places to visit in Amritsar:
Today, Amritsar is synonymous with the legendary Golden Temple which is inside the huge gurudwara complex of Harmandir Sahib. However, their association can be traced back to 1577 when Guru Ram Das (4th Sikh Guru) excavated the Amrit Sarovar, which is the holy lake that surrounds the Golden temple, thus imparting the name Amritsar to the city. Built with a unique blend of Hindu and Islamic architectural styles, the temple is layered with almost 750 kilograms of gold. The gilded temple shimmering and rising above the sarovar exude a sense of peace within the soul. While at the temple, do not miss the “langar” where all the visitors are welcomed and served with food for free.
Situated just about one kilometer away from the Golden Temple is the Jallianwala Bagh which is one of the most important landmarks in the Indian Independence struggle. This ground was witness to the public massacre of 1919, when on the orders of General Dyer, the British soldiers opened fire on men, women and children. A large portion of the gathering jumped into a well present inside the Jallianwala Bagh to save themselves from the firing. The massacre took place on the day of Punjabi New Year and a memorial was built in here 1951 to honor the victims.
The element of patriotism that one feels in the Jallianwala Bagh quickly transforms into a fierce rush of pride at the Wagah Border. Located between Amritsar (India) and Lahore (Pakistan), the Wagah Border is the only road border crossing between the two neighboring countries. The Wagah Border (Attari in India) is located approximately 30 kilometers away from the main city. Each day, this place attracts huge crowds on both the sides of the border as well as foreigners to witness the “Changing of the Guard” ceremony where the traditional lowering of flags and synchronized marching of guards on both sides takes place.
Guru Ke Mahal
What started as a small residence established by Guru Ram Das in 1573, has went on to become a huge shelter for most of the Sikh Gurus. The religious scripture of the Sikhs – The Guru Granth Sahib, is placed inside Guru Ke Mahal. From being founded by Guru Ram Das, being the birthplace of Baba Atal Rai to serving as the residence for Sri Guru Hargobind Singh, Guru Ke Mahal is associated with a huge number of Sikh Gurus. As a result, this place is immensely popular with the Sikh community, especially during the birth anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur.
Gurudwara Mata Kaulan
Situated to the south of Harmandir Sahib and to the west of Gurudwara Baba Atal Sahib, the Gurudwara Mata Kalaun commemorates lady saint – Mata Kalaun (also known as Bibi Kalaun). As per the belief, Mata Kalaun left her home and family to pursue religion while seeking the patronage and blessings from Sri Guru Hargobind Singh. She dedicated her life to the service of others and hence this Sikh shrine was built at the edge of the Kalaun reservoir in her honor. You can club a visit to Gurudwara Mata Kalaun along with the Golden temple.
Gurudwara Bibeksar Sahib
Located to the south of the Harmandir Sahib and on the banks of Bibeksar Sarovar, the Gurudwara Bibeksar Sahib is another gurudwara worth-visiting in Amritsar. The Bibeksar Sarovar was excavated by Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib while the gurudwara itself was built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. An interesting highlight of this place is the “Kareer Tree” where it is believed that Guru Hargobind Sahib would tie his horse. The garden beside the gurudwara was used as a site for relaxation as well as to organize his followers by Guru Hargobind Sahib. This gurudwara hosts a keertan program on the last Saturday of each month.
The Khair-ud-Din-Masjid is another important landmark in the Indian Independence struggle. Shah Attaullah Bukhari first raised the cry for rebellion against the British from this mosque. Built in 1876 by Muhammad Khairuddin, this mosque is also known its beautiful Islamic architecture and exquisite calligraphy. Located at the entrance of a bustling marketplace, this mosque itself attracts hordes of devotees for daily namaz. Despite being inundated with devotees on a daily basis, the courtyards and the mosque are very well preserved.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museum
Leader of the Sikh Empire and popularly referred to as “Sher-i-Punjab” (Lion of Punjab), Maharaja Ranjit Singh is a significant Sikh monarch. This museum, which initially served as the summer palace for Maharaja Ranjit Singh gives a sneak peek into the royal life with a host of objects from his lifetime. Old paintings, jewelry, ancient coins and manuscripts, and military artefacts used by the king in his battles (complete with audio and video effects) are on display in the museum and make up an interesting history lesson for Sikh culture enthusiasts.
Located in the southeast corner of the Ranjit Singh Museum are the Rambagh Gardens which were the former palace grounds of the summer palace. Now serving as a public park, these beautiful gardens are well tended, beautiful and a perfect spot to relax after the sightseeing fare. Named after Guru Ram Das, these gardens were inspired by the Shalimar Gardens of Lahore. Built in a Mughal pattern, these gardens boast of a huge collection of plants, water channels set with fountains and a statue of the Maharaja himself seated on his horse.
The oldest surviving fort, Gobindgarh Fort, was initially known as Bhangian Da Kila and dates back to the 18th century. Later, it was re-built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh to include a Toshakhana that served him as a safety locker for storing everything – from the food grains for the army to the Kohinoor diamond. Consisting of five cannons, a front and back entrance and underground tunnel, this fort was an important military structure and served as a strong defense against external invasion. Later, in 1849, the fort was captured by the British and was further fortified.
If you want to experience authentic Punjab culture, then head towards Virasat Haveli which is “Punjabi Theme” family resort. Located on the outskirts of Amritsar, this centuries-old structure offers a plethora of experiences that depict the traditional Punjabi way of life. Walks in the lush green fields around, horse-riding, Punjabi mela, live Bhangra performances and a huge dollop of Punjabi cuisine are some of the main highlights of this place on offer. If you are traveling a large group, you can also get a few activities organized by the management.
Built in 1892 by the leaders of the Singh Sabha Movement, Khalsa College is one of the finest examples of a historical and academic complex in Amritsar. Its architectural grandeur is evident from the fact that it is spread over an area of 300 acres. The college was designed by Bhai Ram Singh who was then the principal of Mayo School of Arts in Lahore. Entry to the academic and administrative buildings is restricted, however, several small museums are open to the tourists which help the tourists understand the history of this place. The distinctive red sandstone domes are a testament to the Indo-Sarcenic architectural style making this College worth a visit.