The most famous city in Punjab and spiritual home of the Sikh religion, Amritsar is an absolutely fantastic tourist destination

Early morning pilgrims at the Golden Temple

The largest city in Punjab and spiritual home of the Sikh nation, its gurus and their authority, Amritsar is a fantastic tourist destination. Its ancient legends, historical monuments, fortified city gateways, places of worship, old bazaars and markets, labyrinthine streets, parks, theatre traditions, and colourful festivals and food all serve as a window onto its robust past and authentic present.

The city’s primary focus and principal shrine is the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple), which sits over a mirrored pool of sacred waters that echo with the chants of devotional songs. The domed temple, or gurdwara, itself houses the Sikh’s holy book. Its architectural setting is a blend of Hindu and Mughal styles using materials as varied as gold, copper, precious/semi-precious stones, and Italianate marble.

The city’s major pilgrimage destination for devotees from around the world – over 100,000 pilgrims are fed daily (which is more people than visit Agra’s Taj Mahal!) –as well as an ever-increasing popular tourist attraction, the Golden Temple is but a part of a huge religious complex that includes a main entrance/clock tower and the magnificent Darshani Deori. Close by is the Beri Baba Buddha, another revered site; while the complex also houses the seat of the Sikh temporal authority, the Akal Takht.

There are many other religious buildings, temples and towers beyond the Golden Temple complex throughout the city, including the Hindu Durgiana temple, similar to the Golden Temple and likewise situated in the middle of a lake; Gobindgarh Fort and Ram Bagh, built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, founder of the Sikh Empire; and Ram Bagh palace, which has one of the oldest gardens in India.

No visit is complete without a quiet moment in the poignant Jallianwala Bagh, where, in 1919, around 1500 unarmed and peacefully protesting demonstrators were killed by British troops – an atrocity that inspired Mahatma Gandhi’s peaceful Non-Cooperation Movement. The park continues to be the most evocative monument to India’s freedom struggle.

Outside Amritsar itself are the historic town of Baba Bakala; the temple site of Ram Tirath; and dwelling place of Sarai Amanat Khan. And not too far away west is the famous ‘Wagah’ (Attari) border crossing with Pakistan and Pakistani Punjab, with the garden-city of Lahore nearby. The crossing is famous for its elaborate ceremony conducted each day two hours before sunset. Many Sikh families have friends and relatives on both sides of the border and the crossing can be done either on foot or sometimes by bus.

Amritsar has been labelled one of the top 20 key cities to watch in India – being labelled as a ‘niche’ or a ‘boutique’ city – because of its developing tourism, food and thriving industry. For example, it is famed for its textiles, particularly shawls, and carpets. Amritsar has also gained tremendous popularity for its gourmet traditions, especially the dhabas (roadside eateries) that provide hungry locals and curious visitors alike kulchas, chola-bhaturas, tandoori chicken and fried fish.

Amritsar’s airport, Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee International, is only 7 miles/11 km from the city centre. It was newly refurbished in stages between 2005–06 and 2009, becoming one of the first of India’s upgraded airports, and is now able to take the newest aircraft such as the Airbus A330-300s which POP is planning to use.

Early morning pilgrims at the Golden Temple

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