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Punjab

Photo by Patrick Horton

See a golden temple, a city designed by Le Corbusier and witness a surreal border crossing ceremony

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Northwest of Delhi is the Punjab and its holy city for the Sikhs in Amritsar. Here the Golden Temple in the centre of the complex shimmers in the lake that surrounds it. This, dating from the 16th century, is the most sacred of all Sikh shrines. All is white and mostly in marble. The Golden Temple itself is clad in gold from the first floor up.

The temple complex attracts visitors and pilgrims from all over the world where they are made most welcome. Available are guides, basic meals in the langar (kitchen) and  accommodation. All this is for free regardless of religion, race, gender or origin.

It is an intensely peaceful place to visit. Visit the prayer hall, sit cross-legged and listen to the music and chanting of verses from the Sikh holy book. This is called the Granth Sahib. Go to the kitchen and watch the mass preparation of food and then maybe help with the scores of people doing the washing up.  Alternatively rest in the shade under the colonnade and observe everyone else.

A short walk from the Golden Temple is Jallianwala Bagh, a walled garden. An infamous episode in the British rule of India occurred here in 1919. A peaceful crowd of 2,000 assembled to protest against British rule. British soldiers opened fire on the crowd massacring many as they tried to flee in panic. Today it is a monument to this shameful episode and you can still see the bullet holes in the surrounding walls. There is a small museum on site.

The Partition Museum in the Town Hall chronicles the partition of India. In 1947 a line was drawn creating the new country of Pakistan and the Punjab was thus divided. Millions of people moved. Muslims to Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs to India. It was the largest migration in history. It was also a bloody event with an estimated 800,000 killed and an estimated 1.4 million made homeless.


Border antics

Forty miles away at Attari is the border with Pakistan.  Nightly, both sides perform the closing of the border ceremony just before sunset. Surreal, bizarre and with a frisson of danger, this spectacle attracts hundreds on both sides to witness a jingoistic display. Goose-stepping, bellowing and posturing abound. Both sides perform the same actions at the same time as though they had rehearsed it.


Chandigarh, Capital of the Punjab

Both the Punjab and the adjacent state of Haryana share Chandigarh as a capital. It is also India’s first planned city designed by the architect Le Corbusier. The city lacks the charm and history of other Indian cities. Its grid system with a lack of street names (places are called sectors) makes navigation awkward. However if you’re passing through it has one redeeming charm, the Nek Chand Rock Garden. This fantasy land has been built up, initially secretly, by Nek Chand using rubbish tip materials to construct sculptural figures adorning a maze of passages.


Patalia

If you are anywhere near Patiala then the Qila Mubarak palace is worth a visit. Although rather dilapidated it is still a fine example of Sikh architecture. It was built by the ruler of Patiala, Baba Ala Singh in 1763. Within are some fine frescoes and paintings plus a collection of princely artefacts including archaic weaponry.

The Mall has a wonderful example of Art Deco architecture in the shape of the Phul Cinema.


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