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India: Punjab: Amritsar, Wagah

Amritsar, Punjab, India: The holy city
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief

Har Ki Pauri, The Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab, India

Amritsar is home to the Harmandir Sahib (commonly known as the Golden Temple), the spiritual and cultural center for the Sikh religion. This important Sikh shrine attracts more visitors than the Taj Mahal with more than 100,000 visitors on weekdays alone and is the most popular destination for non-resident Indians. The city also houses the Akal Takht, the highest seat of the Khalsa, and the committee responsible for the upkeep of Gurdwaras.

The Holy Flag, The Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab, India We left Chandigarh the Capital of the State of Punjab after breakfast. Enroute, we made a brief halt for lunch at Haveli Jalandhar at the outskirts of Jalandhar city. Haveli is an interesting restaurant that brings to life the spirit of Punjab. Artefacts, decor, ambience and the food is really impressive. If you are crossing by, do make it a point to take a look.

Chandigarh to Amritsar is just about 275 kms. We would be in Amritsar for 2 days and were booked at Holiday Inn on Ranjeet Avenue, an upmarket neighbourhood of the city. By the time we were ready, it was past 5 PM. We rushed to the site of Jallianwala Baug as the gates close at 6PM.

After coming from Chandigarh, the city of Amritsar left much to be desired. At the time of my visit, the city was in a very bad shape. Garbage, dirt, roadworks, haphazard traffic added to the hardship. I am surprised that such an important holy place has to withstand this. The locals were quite undisturbed. To them the life was as usual. So be it.

Bullet Ridden Walls, Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, Punjab, India On April 13, 1919, the holiday of Baisakhi, thousands of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh (garden) near the Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar. Baisakhi is a Sikh festival, commemorating the day that Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa Panth in 1699, and also known as the 'Birth of Khalsa.' During this time people celebrate by congregating in religious and community fairs, and there may have been a large number who were unaware of the political meeting. On that fateful day, fifty British Indian Army soldiers, commanded by Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, began shooting at an unarmed gathering of men, women, and children without warning. Dyer marched his fifty riflemen to a raised bank and ordered them to kneel and fire. Dyer ordered soldiers to reload their rifles several times and they were ordered to shoot to kill. Official British Raj sources estimated the fatalities at 379, and with 1,100 wounded. Civil Surgeon Dr Williams DeeMeddy indicated that there were 1,526 casualties. However, the casualty number quoted by the Indian National Congress was more than 1,500, with roughly 1,000 killed.

Historical Lane, Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, Punjab, India I got the shivers walking through the narrow lane that leads into Jallianwala Baug. The sheer thought of what must have happened left me speechless. In the Jallianwalla Baug premises, I had the opportunity to pay homage at the Amar Jyot (eternal flame); witness the bullet ridden walls; look up to Memorial Tower and walk around the Martyr's Well.

We were there in the Jallianwala Baug premises till it was time to be pushed out. A short walk brought us to one of the gates of The Golden Temple. We removed our shoes and covered our heads with a handkerchief. Covering one's head is mandatory as that is the mark of respect whilst within the temple complex.

What surprised me was the fact that there were no security checks at any point. We could just walk-in. It was a very pleasant experience but left me wondering. Isn't the sanctum sanctorum an easy target? With His blessings, hopefully, I will be proved wrong.

Sri Harmandir Sahib (the abode of God) and informally referred to as the "Golden Temple", is the holiest Gurdwara of Sikhism, located in Amritsar (literally, the tank of nectar of immortality), was founded in 1574 by the fourth Sikh guru, Guru Ram Das. The fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan, designed the Harmandir Sahib to be built in the center of this holy tank, and upon its construction, installed the Adi Granth, the holy scripture of Sikhism, inside the Harmandir Sahib. The Harmandir Sahib complex is also home to the Akal Takht (the throne of the timeless one, constituted by the Sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind). While the Harmandir Sahib is regarded as the abode of God's spiritual attribute, the Akal Takht is the seat of God's temporal authority.

Durgiana Temple, Amritsar, Punjab, India The construction of Harmandir Sahib was intended to build a place of worship for men and women from all walks of life and all religions to come and worship God equally. Accordingly, as a gesture of this non-sectarian universalness of Sikhism, Guru Arjan had specially invited Muslim Sufi Saint, Sai Mian Mir to lay the foundation stone of the Harmandir Sahib. The four entrances (representing the four directions) to get into the Harmandir Sahib also symbolize the openness of the Sikhs towards all people and religions. Over 100,000 people visit the holy shrine daily for worship, and also partake jointly in the free community kitchen and meal (Langar) regardless of any distinctions, a tradition that is a hallmark of all Sikh Gurudwaras.

Transportation, Amritsar, Punjab, India The present-day gurdwara was rebuilt in 1764 by Jassa Singh Ahluwalia with the help of other Sikh Misls. In the early nineteenth century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh secured the Punjab region from outside attack and covered the upper floors of the gurdwara with gold, which gives it its distinctive appearance and its English name.

It took us an hour’s wait in the line to be able to visit Harmandir Sahib. The aura in the entire complex was certainly very positive. We visited the Langar and my wife offered Kar Seva by peeling potatoes and washing a few utensils. Blessed.

When in Amritsar, savouring its rich food is absolutely a must. There are many famous dhabas (eating houses) that offer their own specialities. That evening we had our dinner at Kesar Da Dhaba – a 100 year old establishment in one of the city by lanes. By no means can the ambience of any of these eating places be called ‘neat and clean’ but the food… lets you forget everything around you! In Amritsar there are food specialists… be it parathas, kulfis, jalebis, custards, kachoris, chicken, fish… almost an endless list. Sadly, we had only 2 days so had to limit ourselves. Food tours lasting for days can easily be planned in Amritsar.

Martyrs' Well, Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, Punjab, India The next morning, after breakfast, we visited Durgiana Temple, also known by other names of Lakshmi Narayan Temple, Durga Tirath and Sitla Mandir. It is a premier Hindu temple of Punjab. Though a Hindu temple, its architecture is similar to the Golden Temple of Sikh religion. This temple derives its name from the Goddess Durga, the chief Goddess deified and worshipped here. Idols of Goddess Laksmi (goddess of wealth) and Vishnu (the protector of the world) are also deified here and worshipped. The original temple is reported to have been built in the 16th century. It was rebuilt in 1921 by Guru Harsai Mal Kapoor in the architectural style of the Sikh Golden Temple. The newly built temple was inaugurated by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya.

Guards, The Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab, India The temple is built in the middle of a sacred lake. Its dome and canopies are similar to that of the Golden temple. A bridge provides the approach to the temple. The dome of the temple is gilded. Marble is used extensively in the temple's features. The dome is illuminated with colourful lights. The temple is sometimes called Silver Temple because of its large exquisitely designed silver doors. It has a rich collection of Hindu scriptures and the temple complex also has some historic subsidiary temples such as Sita Mata and Bara Hanuman.

In the afternoon, we would be visiting Wagah Border to witness the retreat. We had some time on hand which we spent in exploring the cloth market as Amritsar is famous for woolen produce. For lunch we visited Kulcha Land… as the name suggests a dhaba that serves mouth-watering kulchas.

By the time we were back from Wagah, it was past 7PM. Time to savour some street food followed by fruit cream.

Fattened, the next morning we had our flights back home.

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