Amritsar – The City Of The Golden Temple
Amritsar is one of the major cities in northwestern India in the state of Punjab which is renowned as a religious metropolis. Thousands of pilgrims and tourists visit this holy city every year either for religious purposes or for taking in the religious ambience that this city has to offer. Dotted with many Gurudwarahs or Sikh places of worship, the city is also home to the famous Golden Temple which is truly a sight to behold. The name of the city is derived from the lake that surrounds this beautiful temple; literally meaning – a lake of elixir. There are numerous other attractions that the city offers, other than religious shrines and temples, such as museums and places of historical importance. A visit to India is incomplete without at least a sojourn in this city of saints.
Amritsar is well connected to many cities in India and is accessible by railroad, air, and by roads. The nearest airport is located 11 kilometers or six miles form the center of the city and is an international airport, well connected to all the major cities in India and to other places such as London, Toronto, and Middle Eastern countries. The city is also well connected to all the major cities in India including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Lucknow, and Jammu. Some of the important trains are – Shatabdi Express (Delhi), Shan-e-Punjab Express (Delhi), Golden Temple Mail (Delhi, Mumbai), Howrah-Amritsar Mail (Kolkata, Lucknow, Patna, Varnasi) and Muri Express (Jammu). Rail tickets need to be booked well in advance and the same is true with the return bookings. If you are an occidental traveler, it is better to opt for the Air-conditioned bogie in order to avoid rush and discomfort. The city is also well connected by road to many other cities in India and within a days travel. However it is better to avoid road journeys as they can be tiring and cramped.
Getting around the city is not very difficult and services such as auto-rickshaws, cycle- rickshaws and taxis can be availed of. The cheapest being the cycle rickshaws and the most expensive albeit comfortable option would be taxis that are abundant.
Places Of Interest
There are numerous temples and Gurudwarahs in Amritsar; however the city is also home to some other places of interest such as museums and other locations that carry significant historical importance.
The Golden Temple
The Golden temple or Harmandir Sahib as it is known among Sikhs is a religious place of worship for Sikhs. However it is also open to people of other faiths and is intended for people from all walks of life. The temple was built in 1574 A.D and was surrounded by a small lake and a forest at that time. It is also said that the third Mughal emperor, Akbar was so impressed by the city that he bestowed great gifts on the daughter of the then reigning Sikh Guru. The temple is surrounded by an artificial lake and the temple itself is open from all the four sides implying openness; inside the temples are many shrines and memorial plaques of Sikh martyrs and Gurus. There is also a Sikh museum in the vicinity and is called the clock tower gate. The temple gets its name from the golden plates that cover the upper domes and the arch of Darshani Deorhi leads the pilgrim to a causeway which then opens into the Sanctum sanctorum of the temple. The temple sees millions of people visiting it during festivals such as Vaisakhi which is in the beginning of April. The temple comes alive with many lamps during the festival of Diwali in the month of November. However Sikhs also visit the temple during special occasions such as marriages, birthdays, and other important Sikh religious days.
This is a place of significant historical importance where the massacre of thousands of Indians was carried out. The massacred were protesting against British imperialism in India in the year 1919 on the eve of Vaisakhi on the 13th of April. 90 British soldiers opened fire with vehicle mounted machine guns under the command of Brigadier Reginald Dyer until their ammunition ran out. Many were killed by the bullets, some by the stampede and some jumped in the only well that is situated in the garden. Almost 1200 people died in the park and a memorial was built to remember the martyrs who were brutally slain and left for dead by Dyer and his troops. The bullet marks can still be seen on some of the walls in the park.
Summer Palace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh
Located near the Rambagh Park, this palace has a museum. It houses a collection of coins, oil paintings and various other artifacts related to Sikh history and culture. The palace is surrounded by a beautiful garden that is sprawled over 84 acres of land. The entrance of the palace has four storied towers that face east, west, north and south. The archeological survey of India has discovered some fountains recently that date back to Ranjit Singh’s era. These antique fountains and water channels are one of the high points when it comes to the restoration of the place which is taken up by the archeological survey of India.
The Wagah Border
The Wagah Border between India and Pakistan is located only 28 kilometers or 17 miles from the city. The border attracts many tourists for the flag lowering ceremony that takes place at dusk. The pomp and the meticulous precision of moves by soldiers of both sides are admired by tourists on both sides of the border. The Wagah border is also an important political and historical site which has borne witness to the partition of India and is a place of interest not only for people in India and Pakistan but also for foreigners who want to witness this strange albeit official flag lowering ceremony.
Ram Tirath Temple
This temple is located a few miles outside the city and carries immense religious significance for Hindus. This place was the birthplace of the sons of the great king Ram named Luv and Kush. This is also the place where Maharshi Valmiki’s ashram stood who imparted knowledge and warfare skills to Luv and Kush. A fair is held here after the festival of Diwali in the month of November in which many people visit the place and take a dip in the artificial water tank. This tank is surrounded by temples and is said to be constructed by Hanuman who is the famous monkey god, who always accompanied lord Ram.
Literally meaning the martyrs tree this is a very old banyan tree where some freedom fighters were hanged by the British. This was done in response to the violent attacks by the freedom fighters on people selling beef near the Golden Temple. The cow is considered holy in India and selling such wares near the temple is still a big taboo. The huge tree still stands as a mute witness to the bittersweet history and events that this city has to offer.
Samadhi of Shravan
Shravan was one of the popular characters in the era of lord Ram and carried his parents to many religious sites in India in a wooden cradle. He was mistakenly killed by king Dasharatha; the cenotaph is located six kilometers from the city near a place called Anjala. The place carries immense religious importance for Hindus who often visit the site when they visit Amritsar.
The Durgiana Mandir is located near the Golden Temple and is a Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Durga. Built in the 16th century, the temple is similar in structure to the Golden Temple and has a small artificial lake near it. Some parts of this temple are also dedicated to Goddess Laxmi (Goddess of wealth) and Lord Narayana (Lord of the world).
Where to Stay.
The city is modern and has many hotels from the budget variety to luxurious ones; some of the better hotels include The Ritz Plaza Hotel [Ph: +91 183 2220638], Heritage Inn [Ph: +91 183 2536073], Hotel Mohan International [(4 Star) Ph: +91 183 2227801], Hotel Grand Legacy [Ph: +91 183 5017888], Hotel La Cascade [Ph: +91 183 2224472] and Ranjit’s Svassa [Ph: +91 183 2566618]. These are some of the luxurious hotels and the prices range from INR 3000 to INR 4500 per day for a single room. However, budget hotels are easily available and it is even possible to stay in the Golden Temple itself. The simple accommodations of the Golden Temple are good for those who have experienced India before or for people ready to adjust. Moreover, the Temple offers such accommodations only in exchange for a nominal donation.