Punjab is a state in northwest India.
Sights and Activities
The Golden Temple, Amritsar, India
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The Harmandir Sahib (or Hari Mandir) in Amritsar, is the holiest shrine to Sikhism. Previously and more commonly referred to as the Golden Temple, it was infact officially renamed Harmandir Sahib in 2005. The temple was completed in 1604 by the fifth Guru, Arjan Dev Ji, but it all began much earlier in 1577 when the fourth Guru of Sikhism, Guru Ram Das, excavated a tank in 1577 which subsequently became known as Amritsar (meaning pool of the nectar of immortality), thus giving its name to the city that grew around it. When visiting the temple it is important that you follow protocol. You will need to leave your shoes in the designated area (you will be given a token in exhange), cover your head and bathe your feet on the way in. The other restrictions are that visitors must not drink alcohol, eat meat or smoke cigarettes or take drugs on the premises. Perhaps unlike many other temples in India, here you feel genuinely welcome and there is no pressure to take out your wallet or pay for a guide and there is no entrance fee. The welcoming information office to the left of the main gate gives helpful advice and information, as well as booklets on Sikhism. The temple (or gurdwara, meaning doorway to god) is a major pilgrimage destination for Sikhs from all over the world, as well as a popular tourist attraction where all faiths are welcome. It also offers food and rest for weary travellers and pilgrims within its complex. When visiting the gurdwara you will notice catering quarters on a grand scale where food is being prepared and delicious smells will make your mouth water. Hundreds of people are fed for free every day here. The Golden Temple almost appears to float in its "pool of nectar"and is reflected beautifully in the still waters. It gleams and sparkles in the sunshine and after dark, when it is illuminated, it is equally beautiful and yes it is clad in real gold!
Events and Festivals
- Holi is quite popular in the Indian sub-continent and is traditionally celebrated on the day after the full moon in the month of Phalguna (early March), according to Hindu calender. Holi is a thanksgiving festival, where people offer prayer to God for good harvest and fertility of the land. Holi is a festival of freedom from social norms and caste inhibitions are shed for a day as people indulge in fun and merry-making. Colors and 'gulal' are showered on the people dressed up for the occasion and the whole community seems to merge into one big family under the guise of colors, without any distinction whatsoever. Children with face smeared with colors run around with 'pichkaris' (big syringes to splash colored water) and play amongst themselves. People exchange good wishes, sweets and gifts. Holi is also marked by vibrant processions which are accompanied by folk songs, dances and drum beating. Parties are also organized where snacks and the traditional milk-based drink “Thandai” is served which is often intoxicated with “Bhang”. Of late, lots of foreigners have started taking interest in this festival and they even enjoy the colors and the intoxicating drink. It is advised to cover your hair with a cap and eyes with sunglasses to avoid the colors splashing the eyes and damaging the hair.
- Republic Day - Republic Day is a national holiday in India every January 26 to commemorate the adoption of the Constitution in 1950 and the declaration of independence in 1930. The capital of New Delhi is the focus of the celebrations, including a flag raising ceremony, wreath laying, 21-gun salute, Presidential speech, and presentation of awards for selflessness and bravery. A massive military parade includes elephants ridden by children who have received national accolades.
- Gandhi Jayanti - Gandhi Jayanti is a national public holiday commemorating the birth of the peaceful activist, Mohandas Gandhi on October 2, 1869. The celebration coincides with the United Nations’ International Day of Non-Violence. In India, Gandhi is remembered through statues, flower and candle offerings, prayers and singing the devotional hymn Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram. The Indian government issues special mint rupees and postage stamps bearing his picture.
- Diwali - Diwali is the five-day festival of lights held in India in late October or early November each year. The widely celebrated Hindu event marks Lord Rama’s victory over the demon Ravan. Homes and streets are decorated with lights, candles and small clay lamps, and new clothes are worn and sweets are exchanged.
- Amritsar is served by Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee International Airport (ATQ) which is located around 10 kilometres from the city centre. Oddly enough, domestic flights are only available to/from Delhi. International flights however are available to/from Dubai, Muscat, Toronto, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Tehran, Doha, Ashgabat and Tashkent.
- Chandigarh Airport (IXC) offers flights to/from Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Jaipur, Jammu and Srinagar.
- Sahnewal Airport (LUH) offers flights to/from Delhi and Pathankot.