After Jalandhar and Kapurthala, let’s move on to the last post in this series on the state of Punjab. Today’s two cities are Pathankot and Amritsar.
Located about 130 km north of Kapurthala and on the border between Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, and close to the border between Punjab and the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir, Pathankot is a border district, sharing an international border with Pakistan on its west. Due to its location, Pathankot serves as a travel hub for these three northerly states. The city is the sixth largest in the state and is situated in the picturesque foothills of Kangra and Dalhousie, with the river Chakki flowing close by. The city is often used as a rest-stop before heading into the mountains of Jammu and Kashmir, Dalhousie, Chamba, Kangra, Dharamshala, Mcleodganj, Jwalaji, Chintpurni and deep into the Himalayas. Pathankot also serves as the education hub for the nearby areas of Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh with many students from rural areas of these states coming to Pathankot to complete their education.
An ancient city with historical significance, Pathankot’s ancient name may have been Audumbara. Numerous coins of antiquity found at Pathankot prove that it is one of the oldest sites in the Punjab region. Pathankot was the capital of Nurpur State and its name was changed to Dhameri Nurpur during the Akbar reign. The Pathania clan of Rajput derived its name from ancient name of Pathankot which was Paithan at that time. After the independence of India, Pathankot, has developed as an important township because of it’s strategic location which has prompted the establishment of an army presence and air force station. After the liberalisation of the Indian economy, Pathankot emerged as a commercial center of wholesalers and distributors of consumer goods and services, catering to Himachal Pradesh, J&K and northwest Punjab.
Nurpur Fort is a 900 year old fort, popular for its ancient Krishna temple located in the inner sanctum. It was built by Pathania Rajputs and later Shah Jahan named it after his beloved wife Nur Jahan. The fort was quite badly damaged during the 1905 earthquake and is located about 25 km away from Pathankot.
The Shahpurkandi fort is located approximately 20 km from Pathankot City and was built in 1505 by a Rajput chief named Jaspal Singh Pathania who was a subordinate of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. It was strategically located to have control over the Kangra and Nurpur region, but today, the fort is in ruins.
One of the most popular local shrines, the Mukteshwar temple is an ancient temple which is almost 350 years old and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The shrine is about 25 km from the city in the village of Doong on the banks of the river Ravi. Perched on top of the highest point in Mukteshwar, a beautiful hill station that got its name after the shrine, the temple lies approximately 2312 m above the sea level. The temple is the perfect location for breathtaking views of the area and you can click some wonderful photos from here. This grand temple is identified as one of the eighteen most important temples dedicated to Lord Shiva in the Hindu scripture. A white marble Shiva Linga is also present here which has a copper yoni. In addition to the Shiva Linga, there are idols of other deities as well including Lord Ganesha, Brahma, Vishnu, Parvati, Hanuman, and Nandi. There are some caves which purportedly date to the time of the Mahabharata. According to legend, the Pandavas stayed in those caves for a night during their exile. This temple is said to be 5,500 years old, dating it to the time of Mahabharata.The Mukteshwar temple is considered vital and holds a lot of significance for the community of iron ore miners known as ‘agaries’. You can trek to the temple and the trek is said not to be very challenging with the way up to the temple covered with fruit orchards and forests and the trek should take around 2 hours to complete.
Located in the village of Kathgarh, the Pracheen Shiv Mandir Kathgarh temple is renowned for its 6 ft high Shivalinga. Devoted to Lord Shiva and Parvati, this temple is 25 km from Pathankot on the confluence of the Beas and the Choch rivers. The temple is built in the Roman architectural style, housing two Lingas of light grey sandy stone of 6 feet and and 4.7 feet in height having an octagonal base with every side measuring 1.3 feet above the ground level, personifying Lord Shiva and Parvati respectively. These lingas stand 3.5 feet apart at the bottom, and incline towards each other, being just two inches away from each other at the top.
The Ashapurni Mandir is one of the oldest temples in Pathankot, dedicated to Mata Ashapurni, who is considered to be an extremely powerful deity. The Kanya Poojas and the annual festival of Navratri are celebrated at the temple with great enthusiasm.
Dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi, the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir is a famous temple in the region. It is one of the largest temples in Pathankot and has the idols of the deity in the main shrine and a large statue of Lord Hanuman in the courtyard. With ample space and greenery all around, the temple is a perfect attraction to quite a troubled soul.
The Ranjit Sagar Dam was built for irrigation and power generation on the river Ravi. It is a stunning work of engineering, the highest gravity dam in Asia and the biggest hydroelectric project in Punjab. 60% of the 32 billion cubic metre capacity reservoir formed falls in the Jammu and Kashmir region while the remaining 40% falls in Pathankot. The power plant has four turbines that generate 600 mw of total electricity.
The Hydraulic Research Station is a perfect attraction for engineers and engineering enthusiasts, especially those interested in hydraulics and civil engineering. The station has an impressive display of dam models and models of systems used for irrigation and one can make the most of the simulations and the research information readily available at the station.
This is a city that has been on my bucket list for more than a decade now. I have made failed plans to visit Amritsar three times now, the most recent being early this year before the panademic struck, making all travel in 2020 impossible! I am still hopeful that next year, I make it here.
The holiest of all cities in India for adherents of the Sikh faiths, Amritsar, also colloquially known a Ambarsar and historically known as Ramdaspur is home to the Harmandir Sahib or as we know it, “the Golden Temple”. Amritsar is the second-largest city of Punjab and is also one of the fastest growing cities of the state. In the mid 1980s the city was famous for its textile industry, but after the 1984 Sikh riots, the city faced a blow to its industrial growth but there are still many textile mills present in the city. Amritsar is famous for its Pashmina shawls, woolen clothes and blankets. The craft of the Thatheras of the Jandiala Guru in the district got became a part of the UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2014. Amritsar is very close to India’s border with Pakistan and one of the border crossing called Wagah is in the outskirts of Amritsar at a distance of about 28 km.
The Bhagwan Valmiki Tirath Sthal situated at Amritsar is believed to be the Ashram site of Maharishi Valmiki, the writer of Ramayana. As per the Ramayana, Goddess Sita gave birth to her twin sons, Lava and Kusha, sons of lord Rama at the Ramtirth ashram. A large number of people visit the Ramtirth Temple during its annual fair. Cities close to Amritsar which are Lahore and Kasur, both in today’s Pakistan, were said to be founded by Lava and Kusha respectively. During the Ashvamedha yagna by Lord Rama in the Ramayana, Lava and Kush captured the ritual horse and tied Lord Hanuman to a tree near what is today the Durgiana Temple.
Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh guru is credited with founding the holy city of Amritsar in the Sikh tradition. Two versions of stories exist regarding the land where Ram Das settled. In one, based on the gazette record, the land was purchased with Sikh donations, for 700 rupees from the owners of the village of Tung. According to the Sikh historical records, the site was chosen by Guru Amar Das and called Guru Da Chakk, after he had asked Ram Das to find land to start a new town with a man-made pool as its central point. After his coronation in 1574, and the hostile opposition he faced from the sons of Amar Das, Ram Das founded the town named after him as “Ramdaspur”. He started by completing the pool, and building his new official Guru centre and home next to it. He invited merchants and artisans from other parts of India to settle into the new town with him. The town expanded during the time of Arjan financed by donations and constructed by voluntary work. The town grew to become the city of Amritsar, and the pool area grew into a temple complex after his son built the gurdwara Harmandir Sahib, and installed the scripture of Sikhism inside the new temple in 1604. The construction activity between 1574 and 1604 is described in Mahima Prakash Vartak, a semi-historical Sikh hagiography text likely composed in 1741, and the earliest known document dealing with the lives of all the ten Gurus.
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, involving the killings of hundreds of Indian civilians on the orders of a senior British military officer, Reginald Edward Harry Dyer, took place on 13 April 1919 in the heart of Amritsar, on a day sacred to them as the birth anniversary of the Khalsa, which is Vaisakhi day.
In Punjab, during World War I which took place between 1914 and 1918, there was considerable unrest particularly among the Sikhs, first on account of the demolition of a boundary wall of Gurdwara Rakab Ganj at New Delhi and later because of the activities and trials of the Ghadarites, almost all of whom were Sikhs. On 10 April 1919, Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, two popular proponents of the Satyagraha movement led by Gandhi, were called to the deputy commissioner’s residence, arrested and sent off by car to Dharamsetla, a hill town, now in Himachal Pradesh. This led to a general strike in Amritsar. Excited groups of citizens soon merged into a crowd of about 50,000 marchings on to protest to the deputy commissioner against the arrest of the two leaders. The crowd, however, was stopped and fired upon near the railway foot-bridge.
Three days later, on 13 April it was the traditional festival of Baisakhi and thousands of Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh. An hour after the meeting began as scheduled at 4:30 pm, Dyer arrived with a group of sixty-five Gurkha and twenty-five Baluchi soldiers. Without warning the crowd to disperse, Dyer blocked the main exits and ordered his troops to begin shooting toward the densest sections of the crowd. Firing continued for approximately ten minutes. A British inquiry into the massacre placed the death toll at 379. The Indian National Congress determined that approximately 1,000 people were killed.
Operation Blue Star which took place between 1 to 6 June 1984, was an Indian military operation ordered by Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India at that time to curb and remove Sikh militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The operation was carried out by Indian army troops with tanks and armoured vehicles. Militarily successful, the operation aroused immense controversy, and the government’s justification for the timing and style of the attack are hotly debated. Official reports put the number of deaths among the Indian army at 83, with 493 civilians and Sikh militants killed. Four months after the operation, on 31 October 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards in what is viewed as an act of vengeance. Following her assassination, more than 3,000 Sikhs were killed in anti-Sikh pogroms.
The reason most people visit Amritsar, the Golden Temple, also known as Sri Harmandir Sahib, is the holiest shrines in Sikhism. Located right in the heart of Amritsar and is easily reachable from any part of the city, it is seen as a symbol of brotherhood and equality. The Golden Temple is just a small part of the vast complex known as Harmandir Sahib or Darbar Sahib to the Sikhs. You can’t describe the divinity which emanates from this place, you need to experience it. After going through a tumultuous period of demolitions, it was rebuilt by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1830 purely with marble and gold. The view of the resplendent shrine, glistening in the centre of the tank brings an infinite calmness to the soul. The spiritual focus of the complex is the tank, the Amrit Sarovar, which surrounds the glistening central shrine. Around the edge of the compound, there are more shrines and monuments. The Sikh Museum is located inside the main entrance clock tower which shows the oppression endured by the Sikhs at the hands of the Mughals, the British and the Indian Government of 1984. The Ramgarhia Bunga is a protective fortress located at the southeast end of the tank and is surrounded by two Islamic-style minarets. The Guru Granth Sahib or the Sikh holy book, is placed inside the temple premises every morning and returned to the Akal Takhat or the timeless throne, which is the temporal seat of the Khalsa brotherhood, every night. This ceremony is called the Palki Sahib, and it provides male visitors with a chance to participate in the veneration of this holy book. The Guru Granth Sahib is carried in a heavy palanquin. The male visitors form a line in the front and back of the palanquin, shouldering the burden for a few seconds before passing it on. This allows every person a chance to participate and rest. The ceremony takes place at 5 am and 9:40 pm during winters and 4 am and 10:30 pm during summer. The temple also has the largest kitchen in the world offering free langar food to people of all religions and faiths. The Guru-Ka-Langar is an enormous dining room located at the southeast end of the temple complex where an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 pilgrims a day come to eat after praying at the Golden Temple. The food is free of charge, but the pilgrims often make donations and offer help with the staggering pile of dishes to be washed. It is a humbling projection of the Sikh doctrine of hospitality, catering to everyone from paupers to millionaires. The food served here is vegetarian to ensure that all people can eat together here, as equals and is often touted as the World’s Largest Free Kitchen.
The Akal Takht or the Throne of the Immortal is the highest political institution of the Sikhs, founded by the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind in 1606. Located in the famous Golden Temple complex of Amritsar, the Akal Takht is one of the five Takhts of the Sikhs. The Akal Takht is meant to be a symbol of political sovereignty and justice, where the spiritual and earthly concerns of the Sikh people could be addressed and examined. Situated directly opposite the Harmandir Sahib, this creation was originally a 9-foot high concrete slab built by Guru Hargobind, Baba Buddha and Bhai Gurdas without any external help. The two tall flags symbolise the two swords of Guru Hargobind representing his spiritual authority or Piri and earthly power or Miri by the Akal Takht.Today, the structure is a modern five-story building with marble inlay and gold-leafed dome. The elevated platform inside stands as a symbol of rebellion against Emperor Jehangir, who had ruled that only an emperor can sit on a raised platform. Guru Arjan Dev used to sleep under the cot meant for the Guru Granth Sahib, now known as Kotha Sahib.
The Gurudwara Baba Atal Rai is located inside the Golden Temple complex built in honour of Baba Atal Rai, son of Guru Har Gobind Singh. The 9 storey octagonal tower represents a year in Atal Rai’s life. It is the tallest tower in Amritsar alongside the Kaulsar Sarovar. The last storey of the tower offers visitors a birds-eye view of the bustling town of Amritsar. Devotees believe that having a dip in the holy water of Kaulsar Sarovar brings mysterious wide-spread showers in Amritsar. The langar at the Gurudwara serves the visitors 24 hours a day and is said to be the only continuous langar in Amritsar.
Found within the Golden Temple complex, the Dukh Bhanjani Ber Tree is considered the most sacred tree in Amritsar. The 400-year-old jujube tree, situated on the eastern side of the great Amrit Sarovar, is greatly revered due to the legend and faith of Bibi Rajni, whose leprosy stricken husband was miraculously cured after a dip in the pond close to the tree. It was then named Dukh Bhanjani which means ‘eradictator of suffering’. The sacred pond in the Golden Temple Complex, believed to be the holy pond of healing prophecised by the third Sikh Guru Guru Amar Das Ji, was developed into the famous Amrit Sarovar. While the access to the Amrit Sarovar is restricted, a small portion of it next to the Dukh Bhanjani Beri Tree is available to devotees who wish to take a dip in the holy water. Visitors to the Golden Temple believe that doing so would cure them of their pain and afflictions and that they would receive blessings from the sacred tree.
Located on the banks of river Beas is Gurdwara Goindwal Sahib and around 50 km southeast of Amritsar. It is known as the 1st Sikh pilgrimage site and is where the 3rd Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Amar Das Ji, lived and preached for 33 years. It is also where he coined the idea of langar or community kitchen and where he built a baoli or well from where people of all caste, colour, creed and religion could drink from. The baoli constructed here has 84 steps and many believe that by reciting the Japji Sahib and taking a bath in this well will provide salvation and unity with the Divine by liberating the soul from 84 lakh cycles of living and dying.
The Durgiana Temple, also known as the Lakshmi Narayan Temple, bears a stark resemblance to the famous Golden Temple while also carrying the same sense of peace, tranquillity and spirituality. Within this historic temple lies a beautiful sarovar or lake where one can find idols of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu floating. Gur Shai Mal Kapoor, whose statue can be found at the main entrance of the temple, laid the foundation for this temple. The rare sculpture of the sitting Hanuman, considered one of a kind, is found in this temple. Apart from the main temple, one can find many subsidiary temples here. The Bara Hanuman Mandir is where Hanuman was said to be captured by the twins of Rama and Sita. The Mata Sitla Mandir which is dedicated to Sitla, an incarnation of Goddess Durga, sits beside a Shiva Linga and a brass lion. Idols of Sat Narain and Radha Krishna can be found in the premises of the Sat Narain Mandir and the Goswami Tulsidas Mandir is dedicated to Tulsidas where one can find a rare handwritten copy of the Ramayana.
The Shri Ram Tirth Temple was built to honour the birthplace of Luva and Kusha, the twin sons of Rama and Sita. Constructed in lime yellow stone, the temple dates back to the time of the epic Ramayana where Sita was given sanctuary in the Ashram of the sage Valamiki after being abandoned by Rama. The battle of Ram’s Ashwamedha force with Luv-Kush is said to have taken place here. The ancient temple organizes a five-day fair a fortnight after the festival of Diwali, where almost one hundred thousand pilgrims visit to seek blessings. Devotees take a dip in the ancient tank next to the temple on Purnamashi or the full moon night. A tradition called Tulla Torana is practised where lamps made of kneaded flour and ghee are released into the water on the night of the full moon. The practice of this tradition is said to wash away any sins and is said to please Lord Rama. There is a unique belief that the pilgrimage is not complete without giving money or food to charity to the needy.
The Mata Lal Devi Temple, popularly known as the Sheesh Mahal of Amritsar, is famous among pilgrims for its miraculous fertility-improving powers. The temple is dedicated to the female saint Lal Devi and is considered a miniature dimension of the popular Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu. The temple is decorated with shining mirrors that light up the area through the reflecting sunlight and numerous diyas. A man-made cave leads pilgrims to the Goddess’s shrine which can be reached only by crawling or bowing completely. Women from across the country visit this mystic temple in order to seek blessings to bear a child, as the mysterious temple is famous for its ability to improve fertility among women.
The Gobindgarh Fort is a historic fort which represents the glorious past of 257 years, starting with the Bhangi Misl era and ending with the Indian Army after The British East India Company. Gobindgarh Fort was first known as ‘Bhagian da Qilla’ and was built by Gujar Singh in the 1760s. The area has now been developed into a live museum and acts as a repository of Punjab’s history. The Tokshakhana which is now a museum in the fort was used to store the famous Kohinoor diamond. Maharaja Ranjit Singh enhanced the fort, adding elements which were influenced by the French architecture. The monument was opened to the public in 2017 after being restored. The bungalow, one of the attractions at the fort, used to serve as a residence to Garrison Commanders during the British era.
Located near the Golden Temple, Jallianwala Bagh is a public garden that also houses a memorial to commemorate the massacre by the British forces. Spread over 6.5 acres of land, Jallianwala Bagh is associated with one of the saddest days in Indian history when thousands of innocent people were killed on the orders of General Dyer as they gathered for a peaceful celebration of Baisakhi. The place has now been turned into a beautiful park and is managed by the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust. There is a memorial tablet at the entrance which serves as a record of history. A number of structures are present inside the premises which bear the marks of bullets that were shot at the civilians gathered at the park and a well in which many people jumped to save themselves from the onslaught of the bullets. It is estimated that over a 1000 people, from all religions, lost their lives in this brutal assault. Even after a century, you can still feel the sense of sadness that emanates from this place.
The Maharaja Ranjit Museum is right in the middle of Ram Bagh garden, and used to serve as the summer palace of the first king of the Sikh Empire, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, after whom the museum is named. The museum provides insightful information on the life of the first Sikh monarch, along with history, art and architecture of the Sikh community between the 18th and 19th centuries. Converted to a museum in 1977, the museum consists many artefacts and personal items of the Maharaja such as his armour and weaponry. It also displays fantastic paintings, various manuscripts and coins from centuries, long gone. The museum reflects the rich history of the Sikh empire. The paintings mostly depict scenes from the Sikh monarch’s court and camp. Among all of them, the most famous among observers is the one depicting the city of Lahore. The museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm on all days except on Mondays and Public holidays with an entry fee of INR 10 per person.
The Partition Museum is the first-ever museum in the entire world to focus on the stories and trauma of the millions who had to suffer the consequences of the partition of undivided India. Located at the Town Hall in Amritsar and developed by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust (TAACHT), the museum is a part of the newly inaugurated Heritage Street at Amritsar, which begins from the Golden Temple and ends at the Town Hall. The collections at the Partition Museum include newspaper clippings, photographs as well as personal items that were donated by people who had witnessed and lived during the Partition. The museum is devoted primarily to the victims & survivors, and their lasting legacy. The partition of India saw the disorganised displacement of twelve million people to a new land, causing the painful demise of over two million people. The museum is open every day except Monday from 10 am to 6 pm and the entry fee for Indians is INR 10 and that for foreigners is INR 250 per person.
The Punjab State War Heroes Memorial and Museum showcases the bravery of Punjab. Built in both a traditional and modern architectural style, it houses a state-of-the-art gallery where Punjab’s martial tradition and military campaigns can be viewed. Numerous illustrations, photographs, paintings, artefacts, weapons and interactive panels can be found here, letting the tourists go back in time. The museum has a collection of photographs of the 1965 and 1971 war. A mural has been built to commemorate the work and pay tribute to the 21 Sikh soldiers who were martyred in the 1971 war. Tourists can travel back 3 eras, through the pre-British, British and post-independence periods with the special light and sound show organised here. The 7D auditorium is a must-do experience during your visit here, transporting visitors to the war zones of the past. The chief appeal of this fascinating museum is the 45-metre stainless steel sword preserved at the centre of the place. The sword represents the strength and courage of the people defending the nation at the peak hour of war. The glorious sword is placed on a water body with 3500 martyr names inscribed on the memorial wall. The decommissioned aircraft carrier ship MiG-23, INS Vikrant, and 3 tanks are also exhibited here. Open from 10 am to 5 pm every day, the entry fee for the museum is INR 100 per person.
Pul Kanjari, popularly known as Amritsar’s Taj Mahal, is a village located close the Wagah border. Historically significant, this place was the site where Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his troops would rest while travelling between Amritsar and Lahore. An important trading centre during the 18th century, the town was named after a small bridge built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh over the canal between Amritsar and Lahore for his favourite dancer Moran, a Muslim dancer from the nearby village of Makhanpura. Apart from the bridge, one can also admire the fortress of the Maharaja, which houses a Mosque, a Mandir, the Baradari and a Sarovar. A war memorial has been instituted to pay respect to the martyrs of the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971.
Located at a distance of 28 km from Amritsar, the Wagah Border marks the boundaries between Indian and Pakistani borders, running along the Grand Trunk Road. People from all over the country visit this place to witness the Beating Retreat Ceremony that is held every day before sunset. The flag ceremony has been conducted by the Indian Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers since 1959. This ceremony includes the closing of the international gates and lowering the flags of both countries and is a spectacle to be witnessed. Every evening, just before the sunset, the soldiers from the Indian and Pakistan military meet at this border post to engage in a 30-minute display of military camaraderie and showmanship. Officially, the purpose of the ceremony is to formally close the border for the night and lower their respective national flags. During the build-up to the ceremony, the crowd engages in chanting the Indian national anthem, rounds of applause and Bollywood-style dancing on Hindi songs. The Beating Retreat Ceremony starts at 4:15 pm in winter and 5:15 pm in summer and lasts for about 45 minutes. Entry is limited, so make sure you are there at least an hour before the ceremony to make sure you are able to enter. The ceremony is a military practice carried out by the Indian Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers. It begins with a parade by the soldiers from both the sides, and ends with a coordinated lowering of the flags of both the nations. As the sun sets, the iron gate is opened, with an infantryman standing in attention at both sides of the gate. The flags of India and Pakistan are lowered simultaneously and then folded. The ceremony ends with a retreat that involves a brusque handshake between soldiers of both the sides followed by the closing of the gate.
Since the area is a very sensitive one, there is no mobile phone service available. There is proper seating arrangements for the visitors and select seats are reserved for women, while the general seating is allowed for men. Irrespective of where you sit, you should get a good view of the ceremony because the place is constructed like a stadium. There are separate stands for foreign tourists, and these stands are the second-best seat, just behind the VIP section. So if you are a foreign national, don’t forget to carry your passport to claim this seat. Cameras are permitted, but bags are prohibited. Lockers are available beside the entrance gate to keep your belongings at a cost of INR 50. There is no entry fee and seating is on a first come, first serve basis.
This ends my small series on the state of Punjab, one I have learnt a lot in the last few years from my helper R. This state, which along with West Bengal suffered the most during partition is one I hope to visit soon. Here’s a small documentary I saw some years back on the Samjhauta Express, a train that plies between Attari near Amritsar, India and Lahore, Pakistan. I recently rewatched it and thought it to be a fitting end to this series.