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Amritsar: A Holy Tryst

Pilgrimage sites, historical monuments, rich Punjabi Pilgrimage sites, historical monuments, rich Punjabi culture and mouth-watering delicacies ~ all of these culture and mouth-watering delicacies ~ all of these make Amritsar a perfect touristic destination, writes make Amritsar a perfect touristic destination, writes Rakesh Kumar.

Rakesh Kumar | New Delhi |

The holy city of Amritsar has always been attracting tourists from all over the world. The Walled City, which is just 50 kms away from Pakistan, has a rich culture, housing the sacred Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple.

Amritsar is also known for its numerous historical monuments, pilgrimage sites, rustic look and mouthwatering food. Not only this, the Old City has played a major role during India’s Independence movement.

Sadly, it has also witnessed inhuman tragedies like the Jaliawala Bagh massacre and mass exodus during Partition. All these pictures were hovering in my mind when we boarded the early morning Shatabadi train from New Delhi Railway station.

Throughout our journey there were many questions bothering us: How come this once celebrated Sikh pilgrimage city became infamous for jallianwala Bagh massacre? How would the city have responded to the massacre? What was the situation when mass exodus happened? Thinking of all this our seven hours journey passed, crossing Panipat, Sonepat, Ludhiana, Ambala, Jalandhar and others. By the time the train reached Amritsar, it was afternoon. However, our encounter with the wealthy Sikh tradition already began when the train entered Punjab. At several places people were offering free water on the station. As part of their Guru’s teaching, they believe in serving water to everyone without any distinction or discrimination. Then the sight of gurudwaras and lush green fields with tractors, all promised an unforgettable experience of Punjabi culture ahead. What a way to start a trip!

A little history

Amritsar, which means pool of nectar, was part of erstwhile Punjab province before Partition and was one of the biggest cultural and religious hubs for Sikhism. It dates back to 1600, when India was ruled by the Mughals and founded on a village called Tung. The main purpose of city was to build a sarovar (pool) and the fourth Sikh Guru, Ram Das, in 1574 bought land for Rs 700 from the owners of the village. The guru shifted his residence to Amritsar. Therefore, the city is also known as Guru Da Chakk (village of Guru). In the following centuries, the city developed ~ the narrow streets in the city are part of the development. The city had built katrasthat are self-styled residential units, which provided a unique defence system during attacks on the city.

In the city

its peak. Therefore, the best one could do was either take rest in the room or explore the hotel ~ we preferred the latter. Our home was a beautiful property, Welcome Heritage Ranjitvilas ; it was a 1.5 acre farm house-cum-hotel on the outskirts of city. The resort is newly-built but wore a heritage look. It has just 22 rooms, each of their interior décor crafted with time and patience. One could find Punjabi flavour everywhere, be it the kundilock, old gate or rustic furniture. All of this gave a look like any old Punjabi home. In fact, the story of Ranjitvilas goes back to 1933, when Sardar Ranjit Singh Makhni dreamt of making his grandchildren stay together in an authentic Punjabi farmhouse. It was his last wish that his future generations should not forget the taste of “Punjabiyat” and richness of Punjab heritage. Hence, the resort came into being. Interestingly, the rooms don’t have numbers but names of their family members, such as Kake da kamra. When it was dusk, we stepped out of the resort to explore the city. We began with the Golden Temple (also known as Harminder Singh Saheb), the most visited Sikh’s pilgrimage site. It was a wonderful experience as we were taken on a guided tour of this beautiful temple, especially at night. The dome of the temple, which is plated with pure gold, is illuminated at night and one can’t take one’s eyes off it while appreciating its beauty. The temple has another arresting feature ~ Guru ka Langar, or free food from the community kitchen. Known to be the largest community kitchen in the world, it serves free food to pilgrims, feeding up to one lakh people per day. Interestingly, most of the work related to food is done by volunteers. One has to eat first then go to pray.

Tracing history

The next day was meant for some history lessons. And it led us to the gate of jallianwala Bagh, which witnessed one of the deadliest massacres of all times. Just a few minutes’ distance from grand Golden Temple, this is just a small park with several structures like an old well, soldiers’ memorial site and a museum. Inside the park one can still see the bullet marks on the walls, while at the memorial site are names of people, who died in the firing. Everything around is testament to the tragic incident when, on the occasion of Baisakhi, a crowd of at least 10,000 men, women, and children had gathered inside the garden. Troops of the British Indian Army under the command of Acting Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer opened fire on the peaceful crowd. Sadly, there was no way to escape. Just 500 meters away is a Partition Museum that houses documents, archives, stories and history of the tragic Partition. Once inside the museum it is hard to come out. In fact, one is immediately transported into pre-Independance era.

A multi-media audio visual station details the voices that were silenced during the riots, around 100 interviews of the survivors and those that couldn’t survive (given before they migrated). The museum can engage anyone, not only a history buff, as they see the dark history through photographs and documents of a bloody past.

Rural touch

The next day, we woke up to a beautiful windy morning. Outside the resort, it seems as if the green fields were inviting us. It was the perfect weather for a tractor ride, arranged by the resort to tour the nearby village and fields. It was not a comfortable ride but who cares when you get to feel fresh air, a view of people working in the fields waving at you and elders sitting on cots. Inside the village everyone greets you. It was a perfect experience to share. In fact, a few of the village folk invited us for tea and breakfast, reminding us of the popular saying that guests are like god. Then, it was a time to try their delicacies ~ eating rotis fresh from the chulha(wood and coal stove) accompanied by Sarso da Saag. Seated on the charpai (string cot) and hearing the chirping of birds gave a feeling of being in Punjab. The trip ended on a nationalist note by visiting the Wagha