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The city of Amritsar is a lovely mixture of tradition, culture, history, and food. Established in 1577 by the fourth Sikh guru, Ram Das, the railway lines divide the town into two sections. The name of the town originates from the name of the pool surrounding the Golden Temple (also known as Harmandir Sahib) and means “holy nectar pool.” You will discover that Golden Temple in the Old City to the South is one of the most divine and peaceful destinations in India, along with several other ancient historical buildings. The city’s north side is all upmarket restaurants, tall towers, modern housing, and other indications of abundance and prosperity in the city. You should definitely explore Amritsar if you are keen on learning more about the cultures and history of Punjab.
12 Best things to do in Amritsar
1. Akal Takht
Considered as one of the five main seats of the Sikh religious authority, it also serves as the central altar for the Sikh political assembly. The meaning of this place literally translates to the Throne of the Immortal. The stone for this building was laid was Guru Hargovind Singh in 1606. The other Takhts that come after it are Keshgarh Sahib, Patna Sahib, Hazur Sahib, and Damdama Sahib. The original Takht, or throne, was a humble one, only 3.5 meters high. Guru Hargobindji used to sit here and dispense justice on the entire Sikh community and his word was final. At present, it is a five-story structure and is exquisitely ornate.
2. Visit the Wagah Border Crossing
Wagah Border is the dividing line between India and Pakistan and is also sometimes referred to as the Berlin Wall of Asia. The Lowering of the Flags is held every evening since 1959 and the ceremonies are witnesses by a large number of people on both sides of the border every day. The Retreat Ceremony commences about 30 minutes before sunset and almost everyone carries the national flags of their respective countries. Considering the fact that relations between the nations are almost always hostile, it is quite an event to see this celebration taking place between both countries every single day. The ceremony is held by the Border Security Force jawans. Entry to see the event is absolutely free but it would be advisable to reach early afternoon to get the best spots to witness this event.
3. Jallianwala Bagh
The day of 13th April 1919 happens to be a dark day in Indian history and people still bow their heads in grief and respect when they visit the memorial at Jallianwala Bagh. A peaceful gathering of Indians, what was supposed to be a non-violent show of protest against the British rule in India, turned bloody and horrific when General Dyer had opened firing on the innocents, killing hundreds of them in minutes. The bullet holes in the walls are still there, a somber reminder of the killings. The well where many Sikhs jumped into to save their lives is still present. Rabindranath Tagore had refused the Knighthood as a mark of protest against this heinous act. The memorial designed by American architect Benjamin Polk stands there and the memorial is open from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm.
4. Shopping at Hall Bazar
The Hall Bazaar is located off Hall Road and happens to be the busiest shopping destination in the city with a wide number of objects on sale. Almost everything under the sky is available here, quite literally! Books, jewellery, handicrafts, clothes, woolens, utensils, spices, flowers and fruits, household knickknacks, bags, shoes, and other accessories- name it and you shall find it here. The hot favorites here are the high-quality woolens available at affordable rates and they are quite a bargain. Then there are hand-woven carpets and blankets. The market has a number of eateries and so catching a bite when you shop- hopping is not a problem at all. Even if you are on a short trip and you do not have the time to go anywhere else, Hall Bazaar alone is enough to give you the true flavor of Amritsar.
5. Pay your respects at the Golden Temple
You cannot visit Amritsar and not visit Golden Temple. Considered the most revered shrine by the entire Sikh community, Golden Temple is also an architectural wonder. The temple literally blazes when the sunshine falls on its golden façade. The temple stands on a rectangular platform in a section of the huge Gurudwara complex, surrounded by the holy waters of the Amrit Sarovar, from where the city gets its name. The Guru Granth Sahib, which is the Holy Book of the Sikhs, is placed on the temple every morning and every night it is returned again to the Akal Takht, the temporal seat of the brotherhood of the Khalsa. The Gurudwara Complex is known as the Harminder Sahib. The stunning gold outer façade with the marble work was installed with the help of Raja Ranjit Singh and Hukam Singh Chimni. The temple draws admires and even foreign nationals who make it a point to visit this temple when they are in India. The temple is open every day from 3 am to 10 pm. One of the most important things to remember here is that shoes must be opened outside and the head should be mandatorily covered before entering the temple, whether male or female.
6. Experiencing the langar food at the Golden Temple
If visiting the Golden Temple alone leaves you awestruck, then wait till you visit the langar of the temple. The temple feeds about a million people every day, no matter race, caste, religion, creed, or gender they may be. It is truly a symbol of universal harmony and love that the world is in much need of today. With such a population fed every single day, the kitchen at the Golden Temple happens to be one of the largest in the world and it is completely vegetarian. Everything to the washing, prepping, cooking, serving, and cleaning up is done by the volunteers who come here every day and do their bit. It is considered one of the most religious things that one can do in their lifetime and a single visit would tell you why. Food items are cooked with seasonal vegetables and fruits, with kheer and lassi, a dessert and drink respectively, made from milk remaining a constant almost throughout the year. It is guaranteed that you have never had such a simple and delicious meal anywhere else in the world.
7. Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museum
Originally a summer palace of the first ruler of the Sikh empire, the palace has now been transformed into a museum. It is surrounded by a wonderfully landscaped garden, the Ram Bagh, and the interiors house some of the personal belongings of the Maharajah. There are countless arms, old coins, original paintings, and manuscripts. The paintings mainly depict the court of the king and give an account of the way of life and the palace history. Entry to the museum is free and it is open for visitors from 10 am to 5 pm.
8. Brush up on Sikh History at Central Sikh Museum
The Central Museum is dedicated mainly to Sikh history and the role they played in the independence of India. The Sikhs who attained martyrdom at the hands of the British and Operation Bluestar are commemorated here. The museum was established in 1958 and now there are galleries of portraits, Sikh gurus, and other prominent leaders. A large number of coins are kept here, along with ancient manuscripts. There is an excellent library inside the museum as well. The museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday.
9. Ram Tirath
Of the things to do in Amritsar in summer, visiting the Ram Tirath, which is a land full of folklore, is a good idea. This is because this region is associated with the period of Ramayana. It is located just about 11 km west of the main city. It is believed that Ram and Sita’s twin sons, Luv and Kush were born here and it was here the Sage Valmiki had written the Ramayana. An old hut here is dedicated to the sage and it is believed that was where he lived. It is also believed that the sacred site was dug by none other than Hanuman himself.
10. Enjoy Mouthwatering food at Kesar da Dhaba
Although quite small, no one could believe that this Dhaba is so special unless one has visited the eatery himself. The entry is through a narrow lane so you may have to ask for directions but in the end, it is totally worth it. Food is cooked in desi ghee and a variety of dals, grams, parathas, and of course, lassi is available here. The fragrance of the food cooked in desi ghee and then doused with butter is heavenly, to say the least.
11. A tour of Gobindgarh Fort
Built by the army of Gujjar Singh Bhangi, the fort was later reconstructed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh between 1805 and 1809. The fort has since then had some beautiful additions like the Darbar Hall, Hawa Mahal, and Phansi Ghar. After the Independence, it was taken by the Indian Army to be used as a base and it is still so today. There are two massive gates and four bastions along with a rampart. The main entrance is called the Nalwa Gate and the second is the Keelar Gate.
12. Go for Birdwatching at Harike Wetlands
At the confluence of the Sutlej and the Beas rivers, lay this wetland that is home to a number of species of birds. It is one of the most off-beat things to do in Amritsar. Migratory birds come from the cold countries in the north like Siberia, Russia, and Kazakhstan. November to March is the best time to visit as this is when the birds are to be seen the most. Siberian gills, Rudy, Spotted ducks and many other rare species of animals can be seen here. You can go for a jeep safari but you will have to hire the jeep from Amritsar. Be sure to leave the surroundings clean and not litter the place and most importantly, not disturb the birds in any way. There is no entry fee but one has to acquire a permit from DFO. Photography of the Harike Barrage is also prohibited.
Amritsar is not just another city, it an experience itself and you are sure to fall in love with it.
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