Amritsar, literally a Pool of Nectar, derives its name from Amrit Sarovar, the holy tank that surrounds the fabulous Golden Temple. First time visitors to Amritsar could be forgiven for the impression that Amritsar is like any other small town in northern India. But Amritsar stands head and shoulders above any other city, its status elevated and sanctified by the presence of the venerable Golden Temple.
Located in the heart of Amritsar, the temple complex is surrounded by a maze of narrow lanes, or katras, that house one of the busiest markets in India. But the Golden Temple is a serene presence, radiating a calm that makes people bow their heads in reverence. The gurudwara, as Sikh temples are called, is the holiest of Sikh shrines. It is not just Sikhs who travel to the Golden Temple to pay homage, the sacred shrine is equally revered by Hindus and people of other faiths who, too, make the pilgrimage to offer prayers at Harmandir Sahib.
There more to Amritsar than that - Amongst other sights is Jallianwala Bagh, site of the gruesome massacre of unarmed Indians by British troops. A major tourist attraction these days is the Indo-Pakistan border crossing at Wagah, just a short distance from Amritsar, with its elaborate change-of-guards drill with a lot of strutting and intimidatory showing off by both sides.
If you are 'doing' north India, Amritsar is a city you should not miss. It's easy to travel there from Delhi by road and by rail. It is easy to navigate through the city; few guides bother you as tourism is not the most important commercial activity here. Ask them in Amritsar, and they will tell you that if for nothing else you must travel here for the roadside chhola-bhaturas.
- Golden Temple - The most sacred of Sikh shrines, the Golden Temple, is a major pilgrimage destination for devotees from around the world, as well as, an ever increasing popular tourist attraction. Construction of the Amrit Sarovar (pool of nectar) was initiated by Guru Amar Das, the third Guru, in 1570 and was completed by Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru.
- Atari Boder - The border with Pakistan lies roughly 30kms from Amritsar at Attari on the Grand Trunk Road to Lahore and is one of the main access points overland to the neighbouring nation.
- Gobindgarh Fort - One of the most striking and historic edifices of Amritsar, it is the only surviving fort from the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It has had a continuous historical narrative including events from the struggle for independence.
- Rambagh Palace - The Ram Bagh Palace is set amidst gardens modelled on the famed Shalimar Gardens of Lahore. Named in honour of Guru Ram Das, it boasts rare plants and trees, water channels, and a well-appointed statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh seated on a horse.
- Sarai Amanat Khan - Sarai Amanat Khan was built by Persian calligrapher Amaanat Khan, who is also credited with inscribing verses from the Koran on the Taj Mahal. Two gateways, Lahori Darwaza and Dilli Darwaza, flank a large open courtyard that houses a mosque, a well and a makeshift stable. The most striking feature of this Mughal-era monument is the fantastic blue glazed tile-work that adorns its gates and mosque.
- Maharajah Ranjit Singh Museum - The Ram Bagh Palace was converted into a museum in 1977 and has an interesting collection of archival records from the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, including the attire worn by Sikh warriors, paintings, miniatures, coins, and weapons.
- Ram Tirath - Ram Tirath is believed to have been the ashram of Maharishi Valmiki, the composer of the epic Ramayana. Legend also has it that Lord Rama''s wife, Sita, gave birth to her twin sons, Luv and Kush, here. A hut that marks the site of their birth, and beautifully sculpted statues depicting scenes from the ancient Sanskrit epic are amongst the notable attractions. A four-day fair is held here every November.
- Panj Sarovar Walk - Sikhism places equal emphasis on the importance of reading scriptures on your own, as it does on visiting a gurudwara. A majority of gurudwaras enclose sarovars or sacred pools where devotees are expected to bathe as a cleansing ritual.
- Heritage Walk - This two-hour guided tour conducted twice-daily showcases some of the richest architectural and traditional heritage from Amritsar’s layered past. It includes the numerous katras, akharas, bungas, havelis & hattis, expressions, all, of traditional town planning.
- Baba Bakala - Bakala is the town where Guru Tegh Bahadur grew up and spent over two decades meditating in its serene environs, until it was revealed that he was the ninth Guru, or the Baba (holy man) of Bakala. The gurdwara complex comprises an octagonal, eight-storied tower which marks the cell where Guru Tegh Bahadur used to meditate and the Darbar Sahib where he was anointed Guru.
- Goindwal Sahib - Goindwal Sahib is considered the first Sikh pilgrimage site as it is here that Guru Amardas, the third Sikh Guru, lived and preached, and it is here that he introduced the idea of langar (community kitchen). He also built a baoli (step well) from which people of all castes were welcome to drink. It is believed that anyone who bathes here and recites the Japji on each of the step-well's 84 steps will attain deliverance from karmic life cycles. The gleaming white gurdwara stands adjacent to this well, and houses the room in which Guru Amardas once lived – and where, according to legend, he met Emperor Akbar after the ruler had partaken of langar.
- Durgiana Temple - The 16th century Durgiana Temple draws Hindu sages and scholars from all over the country as it is a well known repository of Hindu scriptures. Dedicated to goddess Durga, the temple is modelled on the Golden Temple with its main shrine rising.
- Jallianwala Bagh - On 13 April 1919, a peaceful crowd of 2000 men, women and children had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, a walled garden near the Golden Temple, to protest British rule.