Trip Code: AITFTP
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This itinerary delves into one of India’s most interesting and prosperous states. Known as the birthplace of Sikhism and home to the majority of India’s Sikhs, it is also famed for its fertile farming land and its distinctive and vibrant culture.
The trip covers the state’s two most popular – and contrasting attractions – the 16th century Golden Temple of Amritsar and the 20th century planned city of Chandigarh. Sikhism’s most sacred shrine draws millions of people from around the world for its spiritual significance. A city unlike any other in India, the capital of Chandigarh, built by famous architect Le Corbusier, also draws visitors from far and wide, mainly for its architecture.
Stops at Patiala and Kapurthala are included. These former wealthy princely states, featuring distinctive and opulent architecture, offer insights into the history of 18th and 19th century Punjab.
A highlight of the trip is a three night stay in the countryside affording an opportunity to relax and experience the simplicity and charm of Punjabi rural life. [Image: Punjab Tourism].
Day 1 Delhi
You will be met by our local staff on arrival in Delhi and transferred to your hotel for an overnight stay before departure for Patiala tomorrow.
Day 2 Patiala
Travel to Patiala today. You have the option of being driven (about 6 hours) or taking a train (5 hours).
On arrival, check in to the heritage hotel, Baradari Palace. Built in 1876, this white, colonnaded building, set in a sprawling garden, was once the residence of the royal family of Patiala – after whom rooms and suites have been named. The property has been lovingly restored and its authenticity has been preserved. The portico features cane chairs typical of old colonial bungalows, whilst period furniture and other items from its royal past – as well as a large collection of royal Punjab portraits – evokes a bygone era.
Day 3 Patiala
Spend this morning sightseeing, beginning at Qila Mubarak. Built in 1763 as a mud fortress by Baba Ala Singh, the founder of the Patiala dynasty, it continued to expand well into the 19th century and remained the official residence of the Maharajas until 1862. The township of Patiala grew and flourished around the fort. An enormous complex, it comprises inner and outer precincts, and is an outstanding example of Mughal and Rajasthani architectural styles. The Durbar Hall is now a museum with a beautifully ornamented ceiling and well-preserved murals. It houses a spectacular display of Bohemian cut-glass chandeliers and a dazzling four-wheeled silver alloy chariot; its armour section displays a remarkable collection of rare cannons, swords, shields, and daggers.
Continue on to Moti Bagh Palace. The principal seat of the Patiala royal family, it was begun in the mid 19th century and completed in the early 20th century. An opulent and imposing Indo-Saracenic structure, it has over a thousand rooms and is set in a 162 hectare Mughal garden, replete with terraces and water channels. The terraces lead to the Sheesh Mahal, part-European and part-Mughal in appearance. Now an Art Gallery, it houses collections of miniature paintings, rare manuscripts, objets d’art and hunting trophies from the former royal collection.
End your tour at the Kali Devi Temple. Dedicated to the goddess Kali, it is held sacred by both Hindus and Sikhs; thousands of devotees visit the temple, particularly on Saturdays. Another temple within the complex, dedicated to Shiva, is also very popular, especially on Mondays.
Afternoon free. [Image: Rohit Markande].
Day 4 Amritsar
Depart for Amritsar this morning (about a 6 hour drive), with a stop en route at Kapurthala, a town dotted with gurdwaras (temples) commemorating events from the life of Guru Nanak, the First Guru of the Sikhs. The most important temple, Gurdwara Ber Sahib, is a sacred Sikh pilgrimage site, as it is said to be the place where he attained enlightenment.
Visit Jagatjit Palace, the residence of the erstwhile Maharajah of Kapurthala state, Maharajah Jagatjit Singh. A Francophile, he commissioned a French architect to build him a palace modelled on Versailles and Fontainbleau. It sits amidst gardens decorated with stone statuary and fountains and its magnificent Durbar Hall is one of the finest in India with its stylized domes and canopies, and superb latticework executed in stone.
Kapurthala’s unique Moorish Mosque, also designed by a French architect, stands as testimony to Jagatjit Singh’s secularism. Inspired by the Grand Mosque of Marrakesh, its inner dome has been beautifully painted by Punjabi artists.
Arrive Amritsar late afternoon. [Image: Jiwanjot].
Day 5 Amritsar
Amritsar, literally meaning “holy pool of nectar”, was founded by Guru Ram Das in 1574. It is now home to the majority of India’s Sikhs and a major pilgrimage centre for Sikhs the world over.
This morning visit its dazzling and sacred Golden Temple. An harmonious synthesis of Islamic and Hindu styles of architecture, it is a breathtaking sight. Spend some time exploring the complex and afterwards – if you would like – you can enjoy a meal at the langar (community kitcken / dining hall) where food is served to all visitors for free. Thousands of people dine at the Golden Temple every day (its vast hall can seat 3000 at a time). The kitchen works almost 20 hours; all the preparation, cooking and washing-up is done by voluntary helpers, known as Sewadars. The institution of the Sikh langar, was initiated by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak, to uphold the principle of equality between all people regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status; this was a revolutionary concept in the caste-ordered society of 16th-century India where Sikhism began.
This afternoon take a guided walk through the fascinating Walled City of Amritsar, popularly known as Hall Bazaar. Its narrow streets and lanes, with their colourful and vibrant street hawkers, shopkeepers, traders, rickshaws and dhabas (wayside eateries) invite exploration. Each katra (area) has its own speciality. Guru Bazaar, Mai Sewan Bazaar and Katra Jaimal Singh sell an array of jewellery, clothing and textiles, whilst Bartan Bazaar sells all sorts of utensils, and Katra Sher Singh sells tea. If shopping is of interest, the Punjabi jutis (footwear), ladies salwar-kameez (especially the Patiala salwar), shawls and stoles, woollens and the traditional local craft, phulkari (colourful embroidered shawls and headscarfs) are must buys.
Late this afternoon take a one-hour drive to Wagah, an army outpost on the India-Pakistan border between Amritsar and Lahore, where you can witness the border closing display – ‘Beating the Retreat’. Just before sunset each day an elaborate 45-minute flag lowering ceremony, comprising of synchronized marching and bellowed military commands, takes place between the Indian Border Security Force and the Pakastani Sutlej Rangers. This spectacular display attracts countless tourists every day.
Day 6 Gurdaspur
After a leisurely breakfast, depart Amritsar for the 1-hour drive to the Gurdaspur region and your accommodation here, Punjabiyat Lodge, a farm set amidst vast green fields, crisscrossed by canals. Its four stand-alone cottages have been built using locally made mud bricks, thus supporting the indigenous construction culture of the Punjab. Simple and spacious, each has a covered front deck and a private open roof terrace from which to enjoy spectacular views across lush farmlands.
A highlight of a stay at Punjabiyat is the opportunity to enjoy Punjabi food. The tandoori cuisine and open-air barbecue dinners, where an array of kebabs are cooked over glowing coals, are very popular.
A three-night stay here enables you to relax and unwind in a peaceful environment and offers an opportunity to experience life on a working Punjabi farm.
Day 7 Gurdaspur
Spend the next two days relaxing and enjoying some of the activities on offer in this quiet rural environment. You may like to observe or participate in various farming activities, including a visit to a nearby dairy farm where you can learn about traditional dairy farming and – if you like – participate in milking the cows.
There are also many opportunities for walking and cycling with a good network of trails; take a stroll through the local village, or call in to the Sikh History Museum – one of the three being built by the Punjab government to encourage young people to take pride in their culture and history. Visit the Sikh temple, Ghallughara Saheb – religious ceremonies are held here early in the mornings and on weekends. Tractor and tonga (traditional horse-driven carriage) rides can be arranged.
Day 8 Gurdaspur
Another day to relax and enjoy rural life. If you are here on a Sunday you can experience a small carnival at Gurudwaras where people from neighbouring villages come to participate in prayers and a community kitchen; a small market selling various items such as toys and sweets is set up.
Day 9 Chandigarh
Drive approximately 5 hours to Chandigarh today. The creation of Le Corbusier, the father of modernism, Chandigarh is an entirely planned city. Built during the 1950s, its design was a response to Nehru’s dream to build “a new town symbolic of the freedom of India, unfettered by the traditions of the past, an expression of the nation’s faith in the future”.
Spend this afternoon sightseeing. A drive around the broad boulevards, large parks and quadrants of neighbourhoods will give you a sense of the scope of Le Corbusier’s project. Visit the Architecture Museum which contains archive materials that tell the story of the creation of the city; the Museum includes an Art Gallery that houses Modernist works. One of the city’s main architectural attractions is the Capitol Complex, which contains a Cubist mural by Le Corbusier and the giant metal Open Hand Monument, Chandigarh’s official emblem. [Image: Ravjat Singh].
Also explore Nek Chand’s Rock Garden. Commenced in the early 1960s, on a small patch of jungle, today it spreads over 8 hectares. It comprises several thousand sculptures created from rocks, concrete and urban rubbish, set in large mosaic courtyards, linked by walled paths, bridges and tunnels and includes a series of interlinking waterfalls.
Day 10 Delhi
Transfer to the station to board a train to Delhi.
Alternatively you can take the famous ‘toy train’ journey up to Shimla, where you can enjoy a couple days of mountain air and stunning Himalayan views, or fly to Varanasi or Jaipur via Delhi for further touring.
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