A Journey through Punjab, Patiala & Chandigarh

Quila Mubarak Patiala

Punjab is one of the most fertile regions of India and the land of Sikhs, a religion founded by Guru Nanak in the fifteenth century. Travelling in Punjab means crossing lush plains and visit ancient temples Sikhs among which the wonderful Golden Temple in Amritsar, the sacred city for all Sikhs in the world. Every year, at the end, the Hola Mohalla Festival draws thousands of Sikhs in the city of Anandpur Sahib.

Punjab is a treasure trove for the avid tourist, and in fact, offers not only ancient monuments, but is also full of historical incarnations. It's no secret that anyone visiting this land of yellow and blue fields has ever gone without permeating the essence of Punjab that emphasize a romantic and picturesque backdrop. Certainly there is no shortage of breathtaking palaces, as confirmed by the imposing Quila Mubarak.

There are museums galore, and the same can be said of the sacred places with the Temples are the food for the soul and mind of every visitor. The atmosphere in Punjab is very different from that of the rest of India, yet fun and exciting, from butter chicken to bhangra music. Fortunately modernity has not erased the past, and with it centuries­ old customs and traditions that still today make eyes pop. to confirm this, just visit one of the many sites such as the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest place of worship of the Sikh religion, and one of the most beautiful buildings in the entire country.

The Sikh heritage is the most well ­known aspect of the history of Punjab , but archaeological excavations have revealed that more than 4,000 years ago, the area was part of the Indus Valley civilization founded by the Harappans. Parallel Buddhist relics have been found at sites associated with the later Maurya dynasty in Sanghol, near Ludhiana, not to mention that the Kurukshetra district hosts roughly 360 historic sites within a radius of only 92 sq km.

Later, the Persian king Darius and Alexander the Great's campaigns reached Punjab before retiring. However, Mughals get greater success, who repeatedly invade the region.

Day 1 CHANDIGARH - PATIALA

With time Patiala became famous worldwide for ostentatious magnificence of the beautiful fortified residence of the Maharaja, Quila Mubarak, founded in the mid-eighteenth century by a skilled Sikh leader, Baba Ala Singh. Located in the Malwa region of Punjab Southeast, Patiala is a fairly new city by Indian standards that in fact developed only in the second half of 1700, taking advantage of the gradual collapse of the Mughal dynasty.

Many Indian leaders were able to take entire control of the regions and districts and among these, including Baba Ala Singh, a member of one of the families of the small Sikh aristocracy who suffered religious persecution by the last Mughal. After managing to integrate successfully in the struggle then underway for supremacy between northwestern Hindustan Maratha and Afghan Mughal ruler Ahmad Shah Durrani, Baba Ala Singh, flanked by his general Sardar Lakhna, carved out his own territory, later also obtaining control over a good stretch of what was then the main artery of northern India, the GT Road.

Indeed, it was after having also won the Sirhind, today's Punjabi district of Fatehgarh Sahib, that in the second half of the eighteenth century, with the proceeds obtained from the toll imposed on copious transit of goods and merchants along the way, Baba Ala Singh founded the Qila Mubarak, around which then developed the modern city of Patiala.

A magnificent citadel made up of 45 buildings also date back to later periods, but mainly of Indo-Islamic Mughal style or inspired by Rajasthani Havelis, dotted with open spaces, courtyards and gardens with pools and fountains, and all elegantly decorated, both outside and inside, with frescoes, miniatures and mirrors, as in the case of the delicious Sheesh Mahal or the precious Rang Mahal, a genuine art gallery.

Later, crushed by the forces of the Northern Sikh empire founded in the meantime by Ranjit Singh and the East from those of the then rampant East India Company, in line with internal rivalries that already had cost so much over the centuries to the Rajasthani Rajput clans, by which the family claimed an ancient lineage, the great-grandson of Baba Ala, Sahib Singh, chose to side with the British, signing an alliance against Ranjit Singh in 1808, who was not only able to maintain the formal independence of his kingdom, but also to bring it over time to unpredictable heights of prosperity and influence.

The Maharaja of Patiala, which also claim a moral authority received directly by Guru Gobind Singh, quickly became one of the main protagonists of the Indian aristocratic relations with the British Empire and Europe than with Bel Mondo era, contributing significantly to the legend of the fabulous Maharaja thanks to the amazing standard of nonchalant living also performed in the old continent.

Of all the rulers of Patiala, the Maharaja Bhupinder Singh rises to fame and glory, who was on the throne from 1900 to 1938, the first undisputed champion and then patron of polo and cricket teams, the first in India to own a private plane, the use of which alternated with that of twenty Rolls Royce or that of his royal carriage, from the monorail train specially made to build in the principality.

He was founder of banks, tireless and refined manufacturer, which commissioned the jewels and various objects of immeasurable value and extravagance, senior army officer, awarded during the Great War of every possible Indian and European honors including that of Knight Grand Cross of the Kingdom of Italy. Bhupinder was also a politician, a patron of the arts and a reformer, but also the father of 88 children and well had 10 official wives and numerous concubines.

It was his grandfather, Maharaja Narinder Singh, who made the fortification of the city, which took place in mid-nineteenth century, but still enriched Patiala with mighty ramparts punctuated by nine monumental entrance gates and a new main portal for the Qila Mubarak, Darshani Gate. Now the whole contained in a lively city bazaar, the Adalat Bazar.

At the same time, the Maharaja gave way to the works for a number of other buildings, among them a new and huge royal residence at the time one of the most extensive in the world, the Moti Bagh Palace, accompanied by magnificent gardens inspired by those Mughal Srinagar and later expanded by his grandson Bhupinder. After Indian independence, the last ruling Maharaja of Patiala, Yadavindra Singh, gave the stately palace to the state, which converted it into a museum, cultural center and part of the National Sports Institute.

While the family still lived in the city, it moved to Moti Bagh. The heir of Yadavindra, Captain Amarinder Singh, has been chief minister of Punjab with the Congress from 2002 to 2007, and his wife, Preneet Kaur, was Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs until 2014 with the Manmohan Singh government.

No worthy enhancement was been thought until recently to the very heart of the city, Qila Mubarak, which now is partially restored thanks to the reaction provoked by the underlying documentary, produced and disseminated by the Indian state television network, after being left to reach a serious state of decay and neglect, while being partly occupied by various government offices and even by a government hostel and by a forensic laboratory.

Given that this is a historic place, by the very high artistic and cultural value, which even alone would justify a visit to Patiala, the center renowned today not only for the highest offer in higher education and the strong sporting vocation, but also for the local style impressed many traditional clothing accessories that rose to national fame from Patiala jootis, Patiala parandis, long ribbons ending in elaborate tassels for curtains, turbans, trousers, Patiala salwar, and in drinks the Patiala peg as well as for fine musical tradition, Patiala Gharana, sponsored by Maharaja Narinder, who was passionate lover of all the arts, but in particular of Hindustani classical music.

DAY 2 PATIALA - BHATINDA

Our next stop is Bhatinda, a village with rich cultural and religious heritage. We visit the Qila Mubarak, the fort built in 1763, where Razia Sultana, the first woman to take command of the throne of Delhi, was imprisoned and dethroned. The strong bricks date back to the Kushan period, and it is believed that Raja Dab, together with the emperor Kanishka built the fortress.

DAY 3 BHATINDA - FARIDKOT - TARN TARAN - AMRITSAR

Next day in the morning we leave Bhatinda towards the town of Faridkot, where we visit Gurudwara Tilla Baba Farid, an important place of worship of the Sikhs who come to pray to the Sufi Baba Farid. We continue to visit the temple of Tarn Taran, with gleaming golden dome and the sacred bath, the foundation of which is owed to the fifth Sikh guru Arjan Dev Ji during 1563-1606.

After the tour we reach Amritsar in the late afternoon and move to the hotel. Amritsar, founded in 1577 by the fourth Guru Ram Das is the main economic and cultural center of the region and the religious capital of the Sikhs and the capital of Punjab. Its name, which means pool of nectar, refers to the sacred place of the Golden Temple. In the late evening we witness the ceremony called Palki Sahib, during which the holy books are put to rest. All day disciples take turns chanting the holy book of Granth Sahib, surrounded by pilgrims who sing the verses to the sound of stringed instruments. Every night, during this impressive ceremony, the original copy of Granth Sahib is brought back inside Akal Takht.

DAY 4 AMRITSAR

In the morning we visit the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh sanctuary, who consider him the Darbar Sahib, visited every year by devotees from all over the world. The white marble temple topped by a copper dome covered in gold leaf was built between 1588 and 1601, in the Indo-Islamic style. The temple is decorated inside and outside with inlaid floral compositions with colored marble and semi­precious stones. On the first floor, the devotees read the Granth Sahib every day from 5 am to 4 pm sitting around a priest, singing his verses accompanied by the sweet sound of stringed instruments.

We continue our visit to the Jallianwala Bagh gardens, that commemorate the killing of thousands of Indians by British troops during a rally in 1919. We have lunch in a langar, the community kitchen inside a Sikh temple after which we do some shopping. In the late afternoon, we travel to Wagah, the border between India and Pakistan, to attend the ritual greetings that takes place every evening at sunset. We return to Amritsar and have another visit to the Golden Temple.

Different bazaars are dotted around the old town. Other popular attractions are the Ram Bagh and Mata Temple and Sri Durgiana Temple.

DAY 5 AMRITSAR - JALANDHAR - NALAGARH

We depart for Nalagarh, via Jalandhar and stay overnight at a hotel. Nalagarh is the gateway of Himachal Pradesh. We visit the city and its fort.

DAY 6 NALAGARH - ANANDPUR SAHIB - SIRHIND - CHANDIGARH

We move to Anandpur Sahib near the India-­Pakistan border, the holiest site for Sikhs after the Golden Temple that
includes several historic gurdwaras and is located behind the Naina Devi Hills, to witness the preparations of Holla Mohalla, while the next day we participate in its celebrations. Anandpur Sahib is a small city located on the lower slopes of the Himalayas, one of the most important holy places of the Sikhs.

A place of pilgrimage for over 300 years, Anandpur Sahib was founded by the ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur in 1664, before the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb beheaded him for refusing to convert to Islam. Like a fortress, the Kesgarh Sahib is the largest gurdwara, where several sacred weapons are on display, some of which are hand­held by
the guards. A smaller gurdwara, the Sis Ganj, marks the spot where the head of Guru Tegh Bahadur was cremated after being brought back from Delhi. At about 500 meters from the center is the Anandgarh Sahib, where a staircase rises up to a strong roof from which you can see the shape of the five ­Khalsa Heritage Complex.

Here, on the left bank of Satluj river, near the ruins of an ancient palace, the Makhowal, the ninth Sikh Guru founded in 1664 a large temple-fortress, where stayed the tenth and last guru, Gobind Singh. And it is to him that we owe the military organization of a part of the Sikhs and the introduction of the baptism of the sword. Gobind Singh, in front of the repeated persecutions, urged Sikhs to defend the faith by force. They had to take the last name Singh, meaning lion and wear turbans. Today this place is a large white marble temple, Takht Keshgarh Sahib, built in 1936. Inside there are six swords used in the first ceremonies.

Gobind Singh, the guru of Anandpur Sahib, wanted the festival of Holi, generally celebrated with shedding of water and colored powders, to became the occasion for a demonstration of the martial spirit of its people and to rename it with the name of Holla Mohalla. Here converge from all over the country congregations of Nihang, members of the Army of the guru with blue dresses, bright saffron-colored robes, the amazing turbans decorated with silver rings, long white beards and majestic mustaches.

Inside the temple and under makeshift tents, there are the prayers and sacred ceremonies, and at every corner we see the ritual duels between Nihangs. In the afternoon we visit the Virasat-e-Khalsa Museum, built to commemorate the 500 years of Sikh history and 300 years of Khalsa, the Sikh army. The museum is divided into three different architectural blocks with the first boat-shaped, the second flower-shaped with the roof representing the petals and the third half-moon.

Not far from Anandpur Sahib is Sirhind, a small town that has three main attractions, the most important of
which is the Aam Khas Bagh, a Mughal garden surrounded by walls built by Emperor Akbar and later expanded by the emperor Jehangir in the seventeenth century. The fountains and wells are almost dry but still offer a remarkable sight, not to mention the beautiful setting designed by the ruined palace of Jehangir and winter rooms of the building, some of which feature incredible engineering measures such as a ventilation system by floor.

A 20­ minute walk is an important pilgrimage site Sikhs, the Gurdwara Fatehgarh Sahib, whose golden domes resemble martyrdom, which occurred in 1704, of two minor sons of the tenth Guru Gobind Singh, made bury alive by the Mughals for refusing to convert to Islam. Today the two young men are honored with the Shaheedi Jor Mela, a three ­day festival held at the temple every December. Continuing on foot for another ten minutes you come to the Rauza Sharif, the marble mausoleum of Muslim saint Shaikh Sirhindi Faruqi, a sort of second Mecca for Sunni Indians, who come there in droves.

After the tour we move towards Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab and stay overnight at a hotel.

DAY 7 CHANDIGARH - DELHI

Chandigarh is an anomaly in the Indian urban landscape, which was designed in a very innovative manner by the modernist architect Le Corbusier in the 1950s. The straight and clean streets of this city of almost a million inhabitants has a succession of new hotels, departmental stores, cafes and gyms frequented mostly by young Indians, who are always on the move, seeking to emulate the West and embracing modernity, while happily spending their earnings.

The emotions evoked from Chandigarh to us were the most diverse, with some that remain substantially indifferent aspect of nontraditional settlements and others who are in this leafy geometric town and a pleasant diversion from the chaos that grips most of the other Indian cities, launching in exploring its many sights and soaking in its buzzing nightlife.

Among the attractions we visit the Capital Complex, an imposing concrete structure which includes the High Court, the Secretariat and the Vidhan Sabha, the Nek Chand Fantasy Rock Garden, a huge 20­ hectare garden, and the many museums of the center, among which the City Museum and the Natural History Museum. Next day morning we get to the train station and depart by train to Delhi.

What to visit in Punjab

The Durgiana Temple, Jallianwala Bagh, Saragarhi Gurudwara, the Tower of Baba Atal, the Academy of Arts, the Museum central and art gallery of SG Thakur Singh.

Punjab Excursions

Goindwal Sahib (30 km), Tarn Taaran (22 km), Baba Bakala Gurudwara (45 km), Ram Tirath (10 km), Preet Nagar (20 km), Amanat Khan Sarai and Hari-ke-Pattan- (38 km ).

When to visit Punjab

The best time to visit Punjab is between October and March, when the temperature is mild with almost no humidity. Avoid the hottest season of the year, the one that goes from April to June, when the maximum temperature goes above 40 degrees and the humidity starts to rise, and the rainy season, from July to September, when the whole state is plagued by very heavy rainfall.

How to visit Punjab

Currently the international airports in Punjab is the Amritsar International Airport, also known as
Raja Sansi International Airport and the Chandigarh Airport, connected to all major Indian cities. Long­ distance buses allow tourists to move from the Punjab to numerous Indian destinations, but also to cross the Indo-­Pakistan border at the village of Attari, while the rail network is less developed.
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