Prior to the partition of the country, Amritsar occupied an unrivalled position in the business and commercial scene of undivided Punjab. Situated on important trade routes, its trade extends to Kabul, Kashmir and Tibet, even today. Although, the Partition left it a border town and did away with much of its erstwhile importance as a trade center.
The city was founded by Guru Ramdas Sahib, the fourth Guru of the Sikhs, in the late 16th century, who also built a magnificent temple to serve as a central place of pilgrimage for the Sikhs. The design of the shrine included the construction of a tank round the proposed temple. The site lay in picturesque surroundings where the congregations met for prayer and contributed voluntary labour to build the tank under the personal guidance of the Guru. Later, the place grew to be a sprawling town.
It was the fifth Guru, Guru Arjan Dev Sahib, who developed the shrine and the town on a larger scale. He built a beautiful temple, in the middle of the sacred tank, which is better known as the Golden Temple today. Hazrat Sheikh Mian Mir, a Muslim saint, who was a great friend and admirer of the guru, laid the foundation stone of this temple. By this time guru Arjan Dev finished compiling the Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, which was placed in the temple with great reverence. Devotional hymns from the holy book are recited daily and thousands of people come here for spiritual solace.
The Golden Temple is, by far, the biggest attraction of Amritsar. The Sikhs call it Hari Mandir (the temple of the Lord) or Darbar Sahib(the court divine). The Temple, surrounded by the sacred tank, presents a lovely sight when its glimmering reflection is caught by the ripples dancing around it. At night the Temple and the causeway leading up to it are brightly lit. The temple is an imposing three-storey structure, the top being a canopied gilded dome surrounded by golden turrets. The inside of the Temple contains the filigree and enamel work in gold, which is a rare specimen of its kind.
On special occasions such as the birthday anniversaries of the Gurus and on Diwali night, the Golden Temple is attractively illuminated and presents afeast of colour and light. Huge crowds assemble there to witness these illuminations. Among the buildings near the Golden Temple, the Akal Takht or the Immortal Throne and the tower of Baba Atal are of special interest to a visitor.
The Jallianwala Bagh is located about a quarter of a mile from the Golden Temple. It is the Memorial which commemorates the sacrifices of hundreds of men, women and children who were victims of ruthless firing of the British forces. The incident took place on April 13, 1919, when thousands of people had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh to voice their feelings against the repressive policies of the British Government. General Dyer tried to silence the gathered crowd with volleys of bullets which, according to official estimates, took a toll of 397 lives and wounded another 1,200 persons.
The Jallianwala Bagh massacre accentuated political awakening in India and brought Mahatma Gandhi to the forefront of Indian political life. The bullet marks can be seen to this day on the boundary walls of the garden. Jallianwala Bagh has been turned into a spacious and well-laid park where people from all parts of the country come to visit.
The historic Rambagh Garden outside the City is a big attraction in the evenings when people throng its green parks to relax and breathe fresh air. This garden is laid out in the pattern of Shalimar Bagh at Lahore. Several clubs operate in the Garden which also houses the well-known summer Palace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
A partial replica of the Golden Temple, the Durgiana temple is situated outside the Lohgarh Gate. It is dedicated to the Goddess Durga and is frequented by devout Hindus.
The final frontier, Wagah about 28 kms. from Amritsar is the only border crossing between India and Pakistan. Its an interesting experience especially at sunset when the ‘Retreat’ ceremony takes place with the BSF on the Indian Side of the Border. The changing of the guards and the ceremonial lowering of the flags ceremony is carried out with great pomp.