Glittering temples and spicy food in Punjab

Punjab is a fascinating state filled with incredibly friendly people, striking architecture and incredible food. It is an area that should not be missed but isn’t visited by many western tourists, so we were more obvious to the friendly locals.

Punjab state is in the northwest corner of India. It is where the Sikh religion began in the 1500s. 90% of all Sikhs in the world live in Punjab, and the second highest amount live in Canada. There are many immigrants from India living in Canada, and 35% of those are Sikh, mostly from Punjab. We felt very welcome in Punjab. As soon as people heard we were from Canada they would smile and mention at least one relative that lives in various cities across the Canada. One of our taxi drivers stopped on the side of the road so we could video chat with his mom! He said she would have been mad if he met Canadians and she didn’t get to speak with us.

Family at the Golden Temple, Amritsar
Family at the Golden Temple, Amritsar

The most important and most impressive Sikh Gurdwara (temple) is in Amritsar, Punjab. Set in the middle of a large pool of holy water (Sarovar), the Golden Temple (Sri Harimandir Sahib) is a glittering marvel reflecting off the surface of the water. The building is covered in gold paint with a shiny domed roof. There is a long causeway leading to it that is always full of devotees lining up to worship. Inside the temple are 2 floors, each with a simple design. There’s a marble floor, a desk covered in fabric with the Sikh scripture (Guru Garanth Sahib) on top. People walk around the table, some stopping to pray. There is a ceremony each morning and evening when the book is brought to and taken from the temple. Around the outside of the pool is a marble pathway surrounded by white Indo-Mughal style buildings. The buildings house other temples, prayer rooms and a large dining room that feed thousands a day for free. The complex was originally built in 1577 but had to be rebuilt in the 1980s after it was destroyed by the Indian army when they were arresting a militant leader that was receiving sanctuary inside.

Golden Temple Complex, Amritsar
Golden Temple Complex, Amritsar
Golden Temple Complex, Amritsar
Golden Temple Complex, Amritsar
Entrance Gate to the Golden Temple
Entrance Gate to the Golden Temple
Golden Temple, Amritsar
Golden Temple, Amritsar
Golden Temple, Amritsar
Golden Temple, Amritsar
Golden Temple Complex, Amritsar
Golden Temple Complex, Amritsar
Golden Temple Complex, Amritsar
Golden Temple Complex, Amritsar
Exterior of the Golden Temple Complex
Exterior of the Golden Temple Complex
Golden Temple, Amritsar
Golden Temple, Amritsar
Golden Temple Complex, Amritsar
Golden Temple Complex, Amritsar
Golden Temple Complex, Amritsar
Golden Temple Complex, Amritsar

Hundreds of pilgrims come to the temple each day. Many spend the whole day and night in various parts of the complex reading their prayer books; bathing in the holy water; talking with friends; or sleeping on the marble floors.

Pilgrims walking along Heritage Street to the Golden Temple
Pilgrims walking along Heritage Street to the Golden Temple
Sikh man dress in traditional dress and shoes
Sikh man dress in traditional dress and shoes
Men bathing in the Sarovar, Amritsar
Men bathing in the Sarovar, Amritsar
Serving free food with their hands at the Golden Temple
Serving free food with their hands at the Golden Temple

The Hindu Temple Durgiana Temple (Silver Temple) is a less impressive replica of the Golden Temple. When we went it was very quiet with few visitors.

Durgiana Temple (Silver Temple), Amritsar
Durgiana Temple (Silver Temple), Amritsar

Amritsar is 30km from the Pakistani border. Each evening at sundown they have an entertaining border closing ceremony. Thousands of spectators cheer and dance while waiting for the show to start. Once the rooster-hatted border guards march into the arena, the crowd goes wild. It felt like a sporting event. The soldiers put on an entertaining show by goose-stepping their way to the border gates. Their kicks were so high, some almost kicked themselves in the forehead. Once there they display their strength and power by flexing their muscles. The hilarious show goes on for about 25 minutes with both sides competing to be the manliest. The Pakistanis do the same on their side but with much less fanfare. The large crowd on the Indian side is loud and having fun while the Pakistani side is small and reserved.

Indian women dancing before the ceremony
Indian women dancing before the ceremony
Pakistan's subdued crowd
Pakistan’s subdued crowd
Rooster Hat, Wagah Border Ceremony
Rooster Hat, Wagah Border Ceremony
High goose-step, Wagah Border Ceremony
High goose-step, Wagah Border Ceremony
Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Pakistani Border Guards, Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Pakistani Border Guards, Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Indian Border Guards flexing their muscles, Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Indian Border Guards flexing their muscles, Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Pakistani Border Guards
Pakistani Border Guards
Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Wagah Border Closing Ceremony

At the end of this Monty Python style skit both sides lower their flags and close the border for the night.

Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Wagah Border Closing Ceremony
Lowering the flags at the Wagah Border Ceremony
Lowering the flags at the Wagah Border Ceremony
Indian Border Guards carrying the flag
Indian Border Guards carrying the flag

For the hilarious video see it on the sideboard or go to  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKZJ0GG6d14

On our way to the border closing ceremony we stopped at the bizarre Mata Lal Devi Temple. The temple is a maze of long hallways, small rooms and fake caves. It’s filled with odd statues in wild colours with mirrored walls. It’s like being in a house of mirrors at a fair.

Mirrored room in the Mata Lal Devi Temple, Amritsar
Mirrored room in the Mata Lal Devi Temple, Amritsar

Amritsar also has several beautiful buildings built in the Indo-Saracenic and colonial architectural styles. Our favourites were Khalsa College and the Partition Museum.

Khalsa College. Amritsar
Khalsa College. Amritsar
Partition Museum, Amritsar
Partition Museum, Amritsar
Partition Museum, Amritsar
Partition Museum, Amritsar
Statues of bhangra dancers on Heritage Street, Amritsar
Statues of bhangra dancers on Heritage Street, Amritsar
Jan Mohammed Mosque, Amritsar
Jan Mohammed Mosque, Amritsar
Mosque in Amritsar
Mosque in Amritsar
Typical street in Amritsar
Typical street in Amritsar
Making chapati on the street in Amritsar
Making chapati on the street in Amritsar

The city of Chandigarh is the capital of Punjab and Haryana states. It was established in the 1950s and was a planned city. It feels very artificial as you drive down wide, clean boulevards with roundabouts at intersections, all set in a grid system. But get into the communities and the organization is gone. Instead it is Indian chaos with a maze of streets without any logical numbering or naming. There is an interesting art exhibit in Chandigarh. In the 1950s, local artist, Nek Chand, began secretly making art out of garbage, stones and discarded items from the buildings that were demolished to make the new Chandigarh. Eventually the local government found out about it and instead of destroying it, they created a large park to display his art. It is now a huge 10-hectare Rock Garden with over 2000 sculptures of everything from walls and waterfalls to monkeys and people.

Waterfall sculpture, Rock Garden, Chandigarh
Waterfall sculpture, Rock Garden, Chandigarh
Wall sculpture, Rock Garden, Chandigarh
Wall sculpture, Rock Garden, Chandigarh
People sculptures, Rock Garden, Chandigarh
People sculptures, Rock Garden, Chandigarh
Tree sculptures, Rock Garden, Chandigarh
Tree sculptures, Rock Garden, Chandigarh
People sculptures, Rock Garden, Chandigarh
People sculptures, Rock Garden, Chandigarh
People sculptures, Rock Garden, Chandigarh
People sculptures, Rock Garden, Chandigarh
People sculptures, Rock Garden, Chandigarh
People sculptures, Rock Garden, Chandigarh
Camel and his owner, Chandigarh
Camel and his owner, Chandigarh

Outside of Chandigarh in Anandpur Sahib, is the 2nd most important Sikh Gurdwara, Kesgarh Sahib. It is a stark white building with a domed roof sanctum set on a small hill above town. Beside the temple is the old, red Anandpur Fort. From the grounds you can see many other gurdwaras with their characteristic domed roofs.

Kesgarh Sahib Gurdwara, Anandpur Sahib
Kesgarh Sahib Gurdwara, Anandpur Sahib
Anandpur Fort
Anandpur Fort
Anandpur Fort and temple
Anandpur Fort and temple
Sikh man in traditional dress outside Anandpur Fort
Sikh man in traditional dress outside Anandpur Fort
Gurdwara, Anandpur Sahib
Gurdwara, Anandpur Sahib
Sikh Gurdwaras in Anandpur Sahib
Sikh Gurdwaras in Anandpur Sahib

Patiala was once the capital city of another Sikh state and has many old palaces and forts from this time. Unfortunately, many have gone into disrepair, but you can still imagine their grandeur from earlier days. Qila Mubarak Fort is a large brick fort in the Rajasthani style.

Qila Mubarak Fort
Qila Mubarak Fort
Qila Mubarak Fort
Qila Mubarak Fort
Patiala's Old Town
Patiala’s Old Town

Sheesh Mahal was once a private retreat, but now the artificial lake is empty, and the building is in poor condition.

Sheesh Mahal
Sheesh Mahal

Shahi Samadhan has several white marble cenotaphs and the tomb of Baba Ala Singh, the founding ruler of Patiala.

Shahi Samadhan
Shahi Samadhan
Shahi Samadhan's white marble cenotaphs
Shahi Samadhan’s white marble cenotaphs
Shahi Samadhan
Shahi Samadha

Traveling in Punjab is definitely easier than in the Himalayas, but we still had a few surprises.

Bus stop toilet in Punjab
Bus stop toilet in Punjab
Home-made auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks)
Home-made auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks)

The food in Punjab was delicious. We had spicy masala served with either mushrooms, potatoes or paneer (cheese); toasted cumin seeded jeera rice and potatoes; and a new favourite, flavorful paneer bhurji which is crumbled cheese in curry spices. We ate very well during our time in Punjab. Even McDonald’s has a McSpicy Paneer burger!

Punjab McDonald's menu
Punjab McDonald’s menu

Coming up next: Trekking in Himachal Pradesh

For extra pics from this trip go to Gallery/Northern India. For extra pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca

To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.

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One thought on “Glittering temples and spicy food in Punjab

  1. The border crossing certainly looks different from when I was there many years ago. At that time, there were only dilapidated customs buildings on both sides, and the most interesting site was a bunch of evil-looking vultures perched above the fence separating the countries.

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