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Freedom trail

Amritsar is a good place to celebrate Independence Day. You can honour the heroic spirit of Jallianwala and watch the retreat ceremony at the Wagah border

Wagah is where you can cross the border to Pakistan on foot. Here a retreat ceremony called lowering of the flags is held every single evening since 1959. Hundreds of citizens gather on both sides to witness the ceremony which starts 30 minutes before sunset. Men, women and kids on our side were too happy to sing and dance when patriotic songs were being played. It is heartwarming to see women and children holding the national flag and sprinting towards the gates. The atmosphere is so positive and happy that one forgets any kind of tension between the two nations. Indeed, it’s a great spectacle which lasts for about an hour and is not to be missed. Entry is free.

When in Amritsar, you would of course make it a point to visit the Golden Temple. But next to it is a historical site which creates a sombre mood. Step into the narrow passage leading to the Jallianwala Bagh and you will notice an inscription on a stone plaque: ‘This is the place where the bullets were fired from.’ Look for the Shaheedi Kuan-Martyr’s Well in which people jumped to escape the gunfire. Bullet holes on the walls have also been marked for visitors to observe. The park is well maintained and stands as a memorial to the people who sacrificed their lives.

Amritsar itself, founded in 1577 by fourth Sikh guru Ram Das as a small village, is divided into two parts by the railway 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 historical structures. The north side of town is more modern with malls, upmarket restaurants and modern homes.
To enjoy a beautiful blend of tradition, culture, history and food, here’s what else you must do around the city.

The Golden Temple
Needless to say, the Golden Temple is the soul of Amritsar. A stunning architectural marvel is part of the huge gurudwara complex, known as Harmandir Sahib (or Darbar Sahib). The temple is beautifully tucked 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 Takht, the temporal seat of the Khalsa brotherhood. How it is taken to the place of resting late night in a ceremony called Palki, is worth watching. It is said that with the support of Hukam Singh Chimni and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the temple was decorated with stunning gold and marble work that lends it a unique look. Visitors are instructed to remove their shoes and cover their heads before entering the temple.

You must have parshad at the Langar (community meals) served here and see the community kitchen, which is the world’s largest kitchen. Also when you are in the main temple complex which is a two-storey structure; don’t miss the upper floors — accessible through a narrow winding staircase — where the view is amazing.

Ranjit Singh Museum
Originally the summer palace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, today as a museum it showcases arms, armor, paintings, old coins, manuscripts and personal belongings of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The paintings displayed in the galleries of the museum showcase the court and camp of the king, giving an insight into the palace’s history and the lifestyle of its royal residents. Look for a famous painting depicting the city of Lahore. The palace is surrounded by beautifully kept garden grounds called the Ram Bagh. The entry is free.

Hall Bazaar
For shopaholics, Amritsar is heavenly. Textiles, garments, jewels, you find everything here. Though you find good stuff in various local markets, but Hall Bazaar is the busiest shopping center located off Hall Road. This one-stop shopping destination offers a wide range of products, including electronics, books, handicrafts, home décor and clothing. You will also find restaurants and food stalls, making this a great destination for an all-day outing.

Ram Tirath
About 11 km from the city is Ram Tirath, an ancient pilgrimage center associated with the period of Ramayana. This is said to be the place where Lord Ram and Sita’s twins, Luv and Kush, were born. Also sage Valmiki is believed to have scripted the Ramayana at Ram Tirath. You can still find Valmiki’s old hut here. Look for a sacred site where there is a well believed to have been dug by Lord Hanuman.

Where to stay
l WelcomHeritage RanjitVilas designed as a traditional Punjabi Farm House, is worth trying for it offers a unique flavor of hospitality steeped in authentic Punjabi heritage.
l Hyatt Regency Amritsar for a modern comfortable stay and its USP is its wonderful gastronomy.