Amritsar is known for its serene and religious atmosphere. Although the city was founded by the fourth Sikh guru, Amar Das, its cultural heritage extends beyond Sikhism. There are many places to visit in Amritsar, and none of them treat you like a stranger. It always feels like you belong to Amritsar no matter who you are. The city is of course home to the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine for Sikhs. There are many more gurdwaras and temples here, like the Gurdwara Sri Tarn Taran Sahib, Baba Atal tower, and Mata Lal Devi temple. It is also believed that no one in the city goes to sleep hungry because of the langars in the gurudwaras that provide free food to people, regardless of their religion.
Best Places To Visit In Amritsar
1. Amritsar’s Most Visited Place: The Golden Temple
We cannot talk about Amritsar without talking about the Golden Temple. The holy shrine is also known as the Sri Harmandir Sahib or Darbar Sahib. It doesn’t discriminate against any community, so people of all ages and religions are allowed inside the temple. The gurudwara complex has a few rules, where you need to take off your shoes and cover your hair. The temple is a two-storeyed building and there are both Islamic and Hindu architectural styles. The temple is covered in real gold and is surrounded by a lake called the Amrit Sarovar, which makes the setting more ethereal. One of the best places to visit in Amritsar, the temple’s interiors are beautiful and the walls are adorned with meenakari and glasswork using semi-precious stones. The temple also houses the holy book of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib. Another interesting aspect of the temple is its langar. One of the world’s largest community kitchens, the langar provides free vegetarian meals to everyone who knocks on its door. There are many that volunteer in this kitchen and help out. The best time to see the Golden Temple is at sunrise. As the golden rays fall on golden walls, the entire place seems like a slice of heaven.
Also read: 8 Places To Explore True Indian Spirituality
2. Preserving The Justice: Akal Takht
A temple that is as important as the Golden Temple, Akal Takht is one of the five seats that represent power and authority in Sikhism. Amongst the five seats, Akal Takht is believed to be cardinal. The other four seats are Keshgarh Sahib (Anandpur), Patna Sahib, Hazur Sahib, and Damdama Sahib. Akal Takht has five storeys and a golden dome, and is influenced by the architectural style of the Sikhs, and is situated opposite the Golden Temple. The word akal means timeless and takht means throne so it translates to Throne of the Immortal. It is believed that Guru Hargobind Ji sat on this throne and solved all the disputes in the Sikh community, and made sure that justice prevailed. On June 15, 1606, the first stone of this structure was laid by Guru Hargobind Sahib. Such places to visit in Amritsar are deeply rooted in the history and culture of the region.
3. A Unique Experience: Wagah Border
Located 30 kms from Amritsar, the Wagah border is also called the ‘Berlin wall of India’. It is the road that identifies the boundary that separates India and Pakistan. There is also an important ceremony that happens at this border that makes it an important place to visit in Amritsar. The Beating Retreat is performed by the soldiers of both India and Pakistan. The soldiers lower the flags of their respective countries and perform military exercises. This retreat ceremony has been held every day since 1959. Different from most tourist places of Amritsar, the ceremony at Wagah Border is 45 minutes long. You can watch it free of cost but make sure to arrive an hour early to get the best seats.The retreat starts 30 minutes before dusk, so in winter it takes place from 4:15-5 PM and in summer from 5:15-6 PM.
4. Paying Respect To Lost Lives: Jallianwala Bagh
“This is the place where the bullets were fired from,” reads a plaque at Jallianwala Bagh. The massacre of men, women, and children will be remembered as one of the worst massacres in the history of the Indian struggle for freedom. On April 13, 1919, on Vaisakhi (the Sikh harvest festival), General Dyer of the British army, opened fire on innocent Indians who had gathered for a peaceful meeting at Jallianwala Bagh. In a garden spread across 6.5 acres, a large stone memorial was built by American architect Benjamin Polk after India gained independence. You can also still see the bullet holes on the walls of the garden, as well as the well into which many people jumped to escape the gunfire. Since there was only one exit and entry point back then (which General Dyer blocked), many people lost their lives because they couldn’t escape.
5. Hindu Mythology In Amritsar: Ram Tirath Ashram
Ram Tirth Ashram is one of the most fascinating places to visit in Amritsar. Attached to Hindu mythology, it’s a pilgrimage centre, believed to be the place where the sage Valmiki penned the epic of Ramayana. It’s located 11 kms from Amritsar. It’s also believed that this is where Sita gave birth to her children, Luv and Kush. It is also called the Bhagwan Valmiki Tirath Sthal because Valmiki’s ashram (hermitage) is said to have been here. The temple was built to commemorate the holy site, and there is also a statue of the sage, that is gold plated.
6. House Of The Warriors: Gobindgarh Fort
Now open to the public as a heritage museum, the Gobindgarh Fort was first built by a Sikh warrior called Gujjar Singh Bhangi and his army. The fort was renovated by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and named Gobindgarh fort, after the 10th Sikh guru, but before that it was called the Bhangian da Killa. The fort was constructed in a square pattern using brick and lime. It has two gates, the main one is called Nalwa Gate and the second is called Keelar Gate. An interesting thing about the Keelar gate is that it is believed to be joined to a tunnel that leads to Lahore. Until February 10, 2017, the fort was under the control of the Indian army. Different places to visit in Amritsar have different significance, and this fort has played an important role in the history of Amritsar, both pre and post independence. Now there are many theme parks and museums like the warfare museum, coin museum, haat bazaar and a 7D show experience with interactive videos, motion chairs along with light and sound effects, that depicts the life of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Earlier, the fort had 25 cannons. Later, from the mid-19th century to 1947, the British army introduced many features like the Hawa Mahal, Phansi Ghar, Darbar Hall, as well as defence upgrades.
7. The Sikh Culture And Heritage: Central Sikh Museum
The Central Sikh Museum depicts the bloodshed of the Sikh community at the hands of the Mughals, British, as well as Operation Blue Star ordered by former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. It is one of the most important places to visit in Amritsar as it sheds light on Sikh history. The museum is also a way of preserving the heritage of the Sikh community with exhibits highlighting the sacred words and meanings behind their sacred banner, paintings, and drawings of Sikhs at war, paintings of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and other exhibits that depict Sikh traditions like weddings and festivals. The museum was established in 1985 and maintains a collection of ancient manuscripts, coins, and warfare artefacts. The museum also has a gallery with portraits of important people in the Sikh community, including their gurus, saints, warriors, and leaders.
8. Remembering The Dark Past: Partition Museum
The partition of India and Pakistan was one of the biggest genocides in the two countries’ history, and the largest exodus. Punjab was particularly affected by this division because of its proximity to the Indo-Pak border. Many peoples’ lives, dignity, family members, wealth, and houses were forcefully taken away from them. The Partition Museum, located in the Town Hall building in Amritsar, details the timeline, from the early demand of different states for Hindus and Muslims, to the struggle for independence and the partition. It strives to retell the experiences of the people who had to suffer through partition. The museum displays objects carried by refugees like utensils, clothes, and jewellery among others. These artefacts were once owned by people from different backgrounds showing how the trauma prevailed regardless of social differences. It also has audiovisual stations with interviews with refugees that give them a platform to voice their stories. The museum also has art and literature regarding the India-Pakistan Partition.
9. Give Your Taste Palate A Treat: Kesar da Dhaba
Amritsar is a food paradise for vegetarians. The Amritsari kulcha with chole is famous throughout India. One of the most visited tourist places of Amritsar, Kesar da Dhaba gives you the Amritsari taste with pure ghee spread over parathas, accompanied by lassi, dal and phirni. Tucked away in the small lanes of the Chowk Passian, lies Kesar da Dhaba. At first glance, you might think of it as any other dhaba, as it lacks any grandeur. Don’t be deceived, as it is one of the most sought after dhabas in Amritsar. This eatery was started by a couple, Lala Kesar Mal and Parvati, in 1916 in Sheikhpura, Pakistan. After Partition, the couple shifted the dhaba to Amritsar. Their thali is the most famous dish, with palak paneer, dal makhani, malai kofta curry, Punjabi chole, cucumber raita, salad, and lachcha paratha. All these dishes are very tasty, and are priced very reasonably. You can also step inside the kitchen and watch the magic unfold.
The city also has a shopping centre called Hall Bazaar. It has everything from textiles and electronic gadgets to accessories. The street food in Hall Bazaar is a must try. The entire city generates a feeling of ‘community’ which is imbibed in Sikh religion and culture. People here are warm and welcoming and make you feel involved, as opposed to being a mere visitor witnessing it from the outside. Indians and foreigners alike feel a sense of belonging. The gurudwaras and langars are open most of the time, they do not have many restrictions and don’t turn anyone away. The city gives importance to equality and faith and celebrates them.