A Journey through Punjab, Patiala & Chandigarh

We travel to Punjab, the land of Sikhs, Murgh Makhani and Bhangra music. Traveling in Punjab means crossing lush plains and visiting ancient temples. Punjab is a treasure trove for the avid tourist. In fact, it offers not only ancient monuments but is also full of historical incarnations. There are museums galore and the same can be said of the sacred places. Certainly, there is no shortage of breathtaking palaces, as confirmed by the imposing Quila Mubarak.

It's no secret that anyone visiting this land of yellow and blue fields has ever gone without permeating the essence of Punjab that emphasizes a romantic and picturesque backdrop. 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. It is fun and exciting.

Fortunately, modernity has not erased the past. It's centuries­ old customs and traditions make the eyes pop still today. 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. The Golden Temple in Amritsar is the sacred of all the gurdwaras in the world. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in the entire country.

The Sikh heritage is the most well ­known aspect of the history of Punjab. 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. It's worth mentioning 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 reached Punjab before retiring. The Mughals, however, got greater success, who repeatedly invaded the region.


With time Patiala became famous worldwide for the ostentatious magnificence of the beautiful fortified residence of the Maharaja. Quila Mubarak was founded in the mid-eighteenth century by Baba Ala Singh, a member of one of the families of the small Sikh aristocracy who suffered religious persecution by the last Mughal. Located in the Malwa region of Punjab Southeast, Patiala is a fairly new city by Indian standards. It, 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. After managing to integrate successfully into the struggle between the Maratha and Afghan Mughal ruler Ahmad Shah Durrani, Baba Ala Singh carved out his own territory. Flanked by his general Sardar Lakhna, he obtained control over a good stretch of the GT Road what was then the main artery of northern India. He also won Sirhind, today known by Fatehgarh Sahib.

A magnificent Citadel made up of 45 buildings also date back to later periods. It was inspired by the Indo-Islamic Mughal style and Rajasthani Havelis. The Citadel was dotted with open spaces, courtyards, and gardens with pools and fountains. Everything was elegantly decorated with frescoes, miniatures, and mirrors, as in the case of the Sheesh Mahal or the Rang Mahal, a genuine art gallery.

Later, crushed by the forces of the Northern Sikh empire founded by Ranjit Singh and the East India Company, the great-grandson of Baba Ala, Sahib Singh, chose to side with the British. He signed an alliance against Ranjit Singh in 1808, who was not only able to maintain the formal independence of his kingdom, but also bring it over time to unpredictable heights of prosperity and influence.

The Maharaja of Patiala, who claimed a moral authority received from Guru Gobind Singh, quickly became one of the main protagonists of the Indian aristocratic relations with the British Empire and Europe. The Bel Mondo era contributed significantly to the legend of the Maharaja thanks to the amazing standard of nonchalant living performed in the old continent.

Of all the rulers of Patiala, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, the first undisputed champion and then patron of polo and cricket teams rose to fame and glory. He was on the throne from 1900 to 1938. He was the first in India to own a private plane and twenty Rolls Royce. A monorail was specially built in the principality. He was the founder of banks.

He was a tireless and refined manufacturer, who commissioned jewels and various objects of immeasurable value and extravagance. As a senior army officer, he was awarded every possible Indian and European honor including that of Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown of Italy. Bhupinder was also a politician, a patron of the arts and a reformer. He was also the father of 88 children and had 10 official wives and numerous concubines.

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

At the same time, the Maharaja built a huge royal residence. The Moti Bagh Palace, accompanied by magnificent gardens inspired by those of the Mughal Garden in Srinagar was one of the most extensive in the world. It was later expanded by his grandson Bhupinder. After Indian independence, the last ruling Maharaja of Patiala, Yadavindra Singh, gave the palace to the State, which converted it into a museum, cultural center and part of the National Sports Institute.

The heir of Yadavindra, Captain Amarinder Singh, has been chief minister of Punjab, and his wife, Preneet Kaur, was Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs under the Manmohan Singh government.

The local style of Patiala impressed many traditional clothing accessories that rose to national fame like Patiala Jutti, and the Patiala Paranda. These are long ribbons ending in elaborate tassels for curtains. Then there is the turban, trouser, and Patiala Salwar. In drinks, the Patiala peg became famous. Patiala is also known for the fine musical tradition called the Patiala Gharana, sponsored by Maharaja Narinder. He was a passionate lover of all the arts and Hindustani classical music in particular.


Our next stop is Bhatinda, a village with rich cultural and religious heritage. We visit the Qila Mubarak, the fort built in 1763. Here 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. It is believed that Raja Dab and emperor Kanishka built the fortress.


Next morning we leave Bhatinda towards the town of Faridkot. Here we visit Gurudwara Tilla Baba Farid. The Sikhs come to pray to the Sufi Baba Farid. We continue to visit the temple of Tarn Taran. It has a gleaming golden dome and a sacred bath. The foundation is owed to the fifth Sikh Guru Arjan Dev Ji.

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. It is the capital of Punjab and the religious capital of the Sikhs. Its name, which means a pool of nectar, refers to the sacred place of the Golden Temple or Darbar Sahib.

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. They are 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.


In the morning we visit the Golden Temple. It is visited by devotees from all over the world. The white marble temple topped by a copper dome and 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. They sit around a priest, singing verses accompanied by the sweet sound of stringed instruments.

We continue our visit to the Jallianwala Bagh gardens that commemorates 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 the Wagah 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.


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.


We move to Anandpur Sahib near the India-­Pakistan border, the holiest site for Sikhs after the Golden Temple. Anandpur Sahib is a small city located on the lower slopes of the Himalayas. A place of pilgrimage for over 300 years, it includes several historic gurdwaras and is located at the Naina Devi Hills. We witness the preparations of Holla Mohalla, while the next day we participate in its celebrations. Every year, the Hola Mohalla Festival draws thousands of Sikhs to the city of Anandpur Sahib.

Anandpur Sahib was founded by the ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur in 1664 on the left bank of Satluj river, near the ruins of the Makhowal, an ancient palace. And it is to him that we owe the military organization of the Sikhs and the introduction of the baptism by 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. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb beheaded him for refusing to convert to Islam.

Like a fortress, the Kesgarh Sahib is the largest gurdwara. Here several sacred weapons are on display, some of which are hand­held by the guards. Today there is a large white marble temple, Takht Keshgarh Sahib, built in 1936. Inside there are six swords used in the first ceremonies.

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. Here a staircase rises up to a strong roof from which you can see the shape of the five ­Khalsa Heritage Complex.

Guru Gobind Singh wanted the festival of Holi to become the occasion for a demonstration of the martial spirit of its people. He renamed it with the name of Holla Mohalla. Here congregations of Nihang converge from all over the country. Nihang's are the members of the Army of the guru. They wear blue dresses, bright saffron-colored robes, and turbans decorated with silver rings. They sport long white beards and majestic mustaches.

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

Not far from Anandpur Sahib is Sirhind, a small town that has three main attractions. The most important is the Aam Khas Bagh and Fatehgarh Sahib. It is a Mughal garden surrounded by walls. It was 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. There is the ruined palace of Jehangir and winter rooms of the building. Some of these are incredible engineering marvels such as a ventilation system by the floor.

After a 20­ minute walk, we reach the Fatehgarh Sahib Gurdwara. Its golden domes resemble martyrdom of two minor sons of Guru Gobind Singh. They were buried 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 we come to the Rauza Sharif. It is the marble mausoleum of Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi. It is 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.


Chandigarh is an anomaly in the Indian urban landscape. It 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 have a succession of new hotels, departmental stores, cafes, and gyms. They are frequented mostly by young Indians, who are always on the move and seek to emulate the West. They embrace modernity, while happily spending their earnings.

The emotions evoked in Chandigarh were the most diverse. Some remain a substantially indifferent aspect of nontraditional settlements. This leafy geometric town is a pleasant diversion from the chaos that grips most of the other Indian cities. We launch ourselves in exploring its many sights and soaking in its buzzing nightlife.

Among the attractions, we visit the Capital Complex. It is an imposing concrete structure which includes the High Court, the Secretariat, and the Vidhan Sabha. We move to the Nek Chand Fantasy Rock Garden, a huge 20­ hectare garden. We also visit the City Museum and the Natural History Museum. Next 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 summer, the one that goes from April to June, when the maximum temperature goes above 40 degrees and the humidity starts to rise. The rainy season is from July to September when the whole state is plagued by very heavy rainfall.

How to visit Punjab

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

Punjab Travel Tips

Punjab is one of the most fertile regions of India.

Sikhism is a religion founded by Guru Nanak in the fifteenth century.

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