From a historical, architectural and religious perspective, there is plenty to see and admire in Amritsar. Two themes dominate this city’s cultural and historical landscape – war and the Sikh religion. Amritsar has a glorious history but it is of violence and spirituality. In this city, they do not seem at odds.
A vast majority of the monuments in the city are dedicated to religious events and incidents. Many a religious shrine is a memorial to heroes and martyrs of various conflicts with the Afghans, Mughals and the British. The city is inextricably linked with Sikh religious and political history.
On another level it is also a hub of tourism in Punjab. Its commercial activities include light engineering, producing superb carpets and handicrafts. It is also a fabric manufacturing and farm producing centre.
The highlights of Amritsar’s sightseeing attractions include among others:
Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib)
Inevitably this is the first and most visited site in Amritsar. The sheer beauty of the structure, its silvery holy water tank and marble walkways is worth every minute spent. The building is three storeys high with the first floor white marble. The upper two are gold plated and topped off with a dome shaped like an inverted lotus.
Right next door to the Golden Temple is the Akal Takht, which is the temporal seat of the Sikh governing body. The Sikh Holy Book or the Adi Granth is housed on the ground floor and taken out in procession every morning to the Harmandir Sahib and returned at night.
There are three ancient jujube (ber) trees within the precincts of the Golden Temple. Older than the temple there are stories attached to each of them and have individual names – Lachi Ber, Ber Baba Buddha Ji and Dukh Bhanjani Ber.
Not strictly in Amritsar city, the Attari-Wagah Border post is 28 kilometres away. It is the border between India and Pakistan.There is a daily routine colourful flag-hoisting and lowering ceremony. A barely suppressed aggressive and dramatic changing of the guard by army personnel of both countries adds plenty of interest to the proceedings.
An enclosed park, accessible only by a narrow lane, it is the site of the mass killing of Indians by General Dyer in 1919. It contains the memorial and Martyrs’ Gallery, which is open every day from 9am to 5pm. The bullet-ridden walls stand as testimony of that gruesome day.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museum
A little distance from Amritsar’s main railway station are the Ram Bagh Gardens. They enclose the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Palace, which has been turned into a museum. There is a rather interesting bathing tank installed by a French General.
Modelled on the nearby Golden Temple this massive 16th century Hindu temple is dedicated to the goddess Durga. The goddess Lakshmi and god Narayan are also worshipped. The temple sits in the middle of a lake.
The Old City
Amritsar’s Old city area is a revelation and a treat! Its narrow streets date back to the 17th century with nothing having changed very much. It is divided into ‘katras’ or independently run units. Trades and crafts practised for centuries are still handed down from generation to generation. Entire streets with rows of shops are given to specialised trading and selling just one particular product. Some of the items are gold jewellery, steel and brass utensils, papads, Indian jams, pickles, dried mango slices, dry fruits and glass bangles.
There are more things and places to see in Amritsar. Take a walk around and discover your own particular gems.