Amritsar is a beautiful blend of tradition, culture, history and food. Founded in 1577 by the fourth Sikh guru, Ram Das, the city is divvied into two parts by the railways lines. In the Old City to the South you’ll find the Golden Temple, one of India’s most spectacular and serene sights, along with several other ancient historical structures. The North side of town is all upmarket restaurants, gleaming towers, modern homes, and other shining signs of the city’s contemporary prosperity. Read on for a list of the top ten ways to explore this city’s glorious past and exciting current events.
Wagah Border Crossing
Wagah is the border on the grand trunk road that marks the dividing line between Pakistan and India, known to same as the ‘Berlin Wall of Asia’. On this border, a retreat ceremony called ‘lowering of the flags’ has been held every single evening since 1959. The ceremony has gained a huge following, and is witnessed by hundreds of people every day on both sides of the border. The Retreat ceremony starts 30 minutes before sunset. As a prelude, public address systems on both sides play their most impassioned patriotic songs. The Border Security Force (BSF) jawans encourage women and children to hold the national flag, sprint towards the gates, and dance to Bollywood tracks in celebration. The positivity of this environment might surprise people who would expect hostility or tension between India and Pakistan, but this ceremony is consistently an expression of joy, fun and love for one’s country, without hating the other. The pageantry and the pomp attracts a large gathering and makes for a great spectacle.
Hours: Starts 30 minutes before sunset, daily
Watch out for: impromptu Bollywood dance parties!
Amritsar, Punjab +91 172 2625950 (Punjab Tourism)
Hall Bazaar is the busiest shopping center in Amritsar. Located off Hall Road, this one-stop shopping destination exhibits a wide range of products including electronics, books, handicrafts, home décor and clothing. Many people are drawn to this bazaar for its selection of quality woolen items, like carpets, blankets and shawls; you’ll also find ample accessories here, from wooden bangles to fine silver jewelry. A range of reputable restaurants and tasty food stalls are also situated in Hall Bazaar, making this a great all-day outing for the whole family.
Price and hours vary by vendor
Watch out for: great textiles, jewelry and accessories to take home
Amritsar, Punjab +91 172 2625950
You haven’t seen the soul of Amritsar until you’ve visited the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikh religion. This architectural marvel is a only a small part of this huge gurudwara complex, known to Sikhs as Harmandir Sahib (or Darbar Sahib). The temple sits on a rectangular platform, surrounded by a pool of water called the Amrit Sarovar, from which the city received its name. The Guru Granth Sahib (Holy book of Sikhs) is installed in the temple every morning, and returned at night to the Akal Takhat, the temporal seat of the Khalsa brotherhood. With the support of Hukam Singh Chimni and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the temple was decorated with the stunning gold and marble work that continues to inspire awe in admirers from all over the world today.
Hours: 3 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily
Watch out for: Visitors are required to remove their shoes and cover their head before entering the temple.
Golden Temple Rd, Amritsar, Punjab +91 183 255 3957
April 13, 1919, marks a bloody day in the history of Indian independence, when hundreds of innocent Indians participating in a meeting at the Bagh were killed by British troops on the order of General Dyer. As you step into the narrow passage leading to the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, the first thing you’ll notice is an inscription on a stone plaque: ‘this is the place where the bullets were fired from.’ After the event of Indian Independence, this park was turned into a memorial to the people who sacrificed their lives, and a memorial designed by American architect Benjamin Polk now stands at the site. A well which people jumped into to escape the gunfire has been preserved inside the park, and stands as a sobering reminder of the horrific event that occurred here. Bullet holes on the wall within the Jallianwala Bagh have also been marked for visitors to observe.
Hours: 6.30 a.m. – 7.30 p.m. daily
Watch out for: marks indicating old bullet holes in the park wall
Golden Temple Rd, Amritsar, Punjab +91 172 2625950
Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museum
Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museum
Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museum was originally the Summer palace of the first king of Sikh Empire, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Though it’s since been transformed into a museum, the palace is still surrounded by beautifully-kept garden grounds called the Ram Bagh. The museum holds a fascinating exhibit of arms, armor, paintings, old coins, and manuscripts, all of which personally belonged to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The paintings displayed in the galleries of the museum showcase the court and camp of the king, giving insight into the palace’s history and the lifestyle of those who dwelled within it.
Opening hours: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Watch out for: an especially famous painting depicting the city of Lahore
Maharaja Ranjit Singh Bagh(Ram Bagh), Lawrence road, Amritsar, Punjab +91 183 2545155
Central Sikh Museum
Central Sikh Museum preserves the gruesome history of the Sikhs’ martyrdom at the hands of the Mughals, the British, and Operation Bluestar. Established in 1958, the gallery now hosts a collection of portraits of Sikh gurus, saints, warriors and prominent leaders. Visitors will also find a rich collection of coins, arms, and ancient manuscripts, as well as an excellent library.
Opening hours: Tuesday-Saturday 12 a.m.-6 p.m., 10 p.m.-12 a.m.; Monday 10 p.m.-12 a.m. only
Admission Fee: Budget
Golden Temple Rd, Atta Mandi, Katra Ahluwalia, Amritsar Cantt., Punjab +91 172 2625950
Ram Tirath is an ancient pilgrimage center associated with the period of Ramayana, located about 11 km west of Amritsar city. This is said to be the place where Lord Ram and Sita’s twins, Luv and Kush, were born. Sage Valmiki is believed to have scripted the epic Ramayana at Ram Tirath, as well; visitors will still find Valmiki’s old hut here. The sacred site also features a well believed to have been dug by the Hindu god Hanuman, a devotee of Rama.
Kaler, Punjab +91 172 2625950
Akal Takht is one of the five seats of Sikh religious authority, and also serves as the central altar for Sikh political assembly. Akal Takht translates to ‘Throne of the Immortal’, in which ‘Akal’ refers to the Timeless One and ‘Takht’ means the throne. The stone of this building was laid down by Guru Hargobind Sahib on June 15, 1606. Of the five takhts established by the panth (community), Akal Takht is supreme; it is followed by Keshgarh Sahib (Anandpur), Patna Sahib, Hazur Sahib and Damdama Sahib. The original Takht of Guru was a simple platform, which was raised 3.5 meters high. Guru Hargobind Ji used to sit on this raised platform with all marks of royalty, and from this spot he dispensed justice and handed down the final word on all disputes in the Sikh community. Today, this 5-story modern structure remains a resplendent sight for visitors to Amritsar, adorned in marble and a gold-leafed dome.
Harmandir Sahib, Golden Temple Rd, Amritsar, Punjab +91 183 254 0820
Kesar Da Dhaba
Restaurant, Indian, Vegetarian, Vegan, $$$
Kesar Da Dhaba
Kesar da Dhaba is a small, unnassuming restaurant located in a narrow lane, quite inconspicuously. It’s always better to ask someone for the exact location. Don’t let the lack of décor fool you: this is one the city’s most beloved eateries, and with good reason. The smell of desi ghee (clarified butter) at the entrance is enough to lure one in, and a taste of their chana, paranthas, dal, phirni and lassis will leave you completely enthralled. While it’s no visual spectacle, the flavors you’ll experience at Kesar Da Dhabar are a manmade wonder to rival the Golden Temple itself.
Opening hours: 11 a.m. – 10.30 p.m.
Watch out for: parantha thali and lassi
Chowk Passian, Near Telephone Exchange, Amritsar Cantt., Punjab +91 98155 76117
Gobindgarh Fort was built by the army of Gujjar Singh Bhangi of Sikh Misls, and later reconstructed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh between 1805 and 1809. The Darbar Hall, Hawa Mahal and the Phansi Ghar were then added to the fort during British rule. After India gained Independence, the Indian army took control of the fort, and to this day it remains under the administration of the Indian Defense Force. Architecturally, this fort is constructed with brick and lime in a sturdy square pattern. The structure features two gates, four bastions, and a rampart, as well as two entrances. The main entrance called Nalwa Gate; the second entrance, called Keelar Gate, is believed to be connected with the tunnel of Lahore.
Old Cantt Rd, Gobind Garh Fort, Amritsar, Punjab +91 172 2625950