Due to the Covid–19 pandemic engineered worldwide crisis which necessitated shutdown and curfew in Punjab, all the segments of the economy were hit very hard. The worst-hit segment to date pertains to travel and tourism, which flourishes with a bang and collapses like a bubble. Now the government wants to revive the tourism industry. The Indian Government is now keen on reviving travel and tourism all over again, under which the people from different states of India and the rest of the world, can and will tour various parts of India. The idea looks great.
Punjab’s tourism, I must admit, is still in its infancy, though it has immense potential that remains mostly untapped due to the poor economic health of the state government. Somehow, or rightly too, the name Punjab has been synonymous with its excellence in agriculture and preponderance of small scale industry, a remnant of its great past. Now under a Central Government initiative supported by all the state administrations, a concerted effort is being launched to kick start the travel and tourism industry and Punjab tourism is welcoming this step.
This state consists of several princely states such as Patiala, Nabha, Jind (Sangrur) Malerkotla, Faridkot, and Kapurthala and each of the princely states has its own distinct architectural flavour, depending on the tastes of its erstwhile rulers and the people they have been hanging around with. From the point of view of tourism, Patiala, Kapurthala, and Sangrur are the leading former princely states with a lot of potential for future tourism.
Patiala is known for its majestic state constructed buildings influenced primarily by the Rajput style of architecture. After prolonged neglect by the successive state governments, some high ticket historic restoration work is now underway in Patiala. If after the current restoration work is completed, which is in full swing and Patiala is clubbed with Sangrur and possibly Malerkotla, the three are capable of making a world of difference in the field of tourism.
Patiala’s most impressive buildings are Qila Mubarak, which has an impressive “Chandeliers Hall” and two vintage cars plus some rare paintings. The Old Moti Bagh Palace, which houses the National Institute of Sports, can open up some rooms to the tourists too. Shish Mahal is just behind the Old Moti Bagh Palace. One medals gallery in Patiala is also being rehabilitated for tourism. Among the gardens, the most magnificent is the sprawling Baradari Garden of Patiala, which has a nice hotel too called Neem Rana. The neat and clean campus of Gurdwara Sri Dukh Niwaran Sahib in Patiala can be another place for the pilgrims to visit.
Sangrur has a mostly marble twelve-acre “Baradari Building”, which is indeed an architectural masterpiece and has been repaired too. In addition, the heritage “Darbar Hall in Sangrur” is another asset that can be shown to heritage loving tourists from all over the world. Malerkotla, located close by, has distinctly Islamic and European Architecture. But it pains me to admit that most of the buildings in Malerkotla need extensive rehabilitation work.
Faridkot is influenced by European (British) and Indian (Mughal) architectural styles, its major drawback is that geographically it is quite far away from both Patiala, which is now the focus of development for tourism, and Amritsar, which by word of mouth is already thriving as a very popular tourist destination. Faridkot’s other drawback is that protracted litigation between the claimants of its royal properties after the demise of its last Maharaja has ruined its chances of attracting tourists for the time being. Patiala is being fast-tracked for tourism, but so far it lacks high-end hotels, for which it depends on Chandigarh and Zirakpur. Hopefully soon Patiala will have its own lineup of high-end hotels and then it will have a self-energizing tourist economy.
The 113-year-old Jagatjit Palace of Kapurthala is its most impressive architectural marvel. It is by and large influenced by the French Revival Architectural style of the nineteenth century. Its sprawling campus is spread over 175 acres of landscaped grassy lawns studded with some statues, forest cover, and the stylish main building. The main building has some museum-grade rooms equipped with rare historic artifacts. The Jagatjit Club is another architectural marvel located just outside the main palace gate. Kapurthala has an exotic looking beautiful mosque built in Moroccan style of Islamic architecture. Being located very close to Amritsar, barely 45 miles or 75 kilometers from Central Amritsar, Kapurthala can attract hordes of tourists, if paid attention and added to the already booming Amritsar tourism circuit. But its most magnificent Jagatjit Palace needs to be allowed to be visited by the public. The controlling army authorities must show some magnanimity. After all, they are running a Sainik School in this architectural wonder. There is no army and defence forces asset, which needs to be safeguarded from the public eye or from the enemies of the nation. Kapurthala has several other architectural marvels and now has some high-class hotel accommodation too, for additional accommodation, it can piggyback on Amritsar’s proliferating elite class hotel industry. The magnificent modern architectural campus of Science City at Kapurthala offers a neat and clean atmosphere to the tourists plus a lot of basic scientific know-how to all kinds of visitors. The campus of the Rail Coach Factory Kapurthala is now manufacturing Covid – !9 resistant railway coaches, which can be of interest to a lot of tourists from the Western countries.
Since highly durable stones like Marble, granite, limestone, and sandstones of various colors and hues are not native to Punjab state, most of the construction in Punjab is based on London’s favorite brick masonry, laid with lime or mud mortar. Such buildings are never long-lasting like the Marble marvels of Jaipur, Udaipur, and of the other cities of Rajasthan. Punjab’s royal brick buildings need frequent repairs. That is why most of the architectural masterpieces of Punjab needed urgent repairs. Some were repaired in the recent past and some badly needed restoration.
The only well maintained and well looked after architectural treasure of Punjab is its primary tourist attraction, known as the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Even it is built with small bricks laid in lime mortar, but it is covered with an external layer of marble and during the reign of Emperor Ranjit Singh, it was covered with gold plates on the exterior as well as the interior. Gold is impervious and it does not corrode, therefore the sanctum sanctorum of the Golden Temple does not need frequent expensive repairs. To an outsider, it always looks new and shining. In addition, the SGPC and the devotees meticulously take care of its daily cleanliness.
Amritsar has the first-grade basic infrastructure for Facilitating nationwide and worldwide tourism. Its international airport was directly connected to London and Birmingham in the United Kingdom last year and it is indirectly connected to all the major cities in Europe, North America, and Australia. Its main railway station is connected to every part of India and its inter-state bus terminal is well connected to the neighboring states of Jammu, Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, rest of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and U.P.
Due mostly to word of mouth, the name and fame of the Golden Temple in the past decade or so has reached not only all the parts of India but Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and North and South America too. The domestic and foreign tourists have found a well-meaning primary tourist attraction in the Golden Temple, at par with the Eiffel Tower and Arc De Triumph of Paris, Taj Mahal of Agra, and the Hermitage at Saint Petersburg. The broad and spacious “Parikarma” of the Golden Temple, built with fine Makrana marble, can accommodate more than one hundred thousand tourists at a time. The artwork “Nakkashi” on the interior of the sanctum sanctorum is matchless in beauty and looks always new. The un-interrupted centuries-old universally available tradition of the free kitchen is another attraction. Prior to the Covid – 19 generated lockdown and shutdown, the Golden Temple was hosting between one hundred to two hundred thousand pilgrims on daily basis. The number has gone down to a trickle now, I don’t know when the milling crowds will return back to the Golden Temple because Covid – 19 is still with us. There are plenty of cheap hotels around the Golden Temple.
Only a stone’s throw away from the Golden Temple is the historic “Jallianwala Bagh”, where a brutal unprecedented massacre of patriots took place on the 13th of April in 1919. This nine-acre park has recently been rehabilitated by a grant from the central government. On a daily basis, twenty to fifty thousand tourists have been visiting this memorial garden prior to Covid – 19.
Just a few yards from the “Jallianwala Bagh is the “Partition Museum” associated with the bloodshed at the time of the division of the country in 1947. It is also located in a century and a half old historic British style landmark building. This museum is also quite popular with tourists. Close to the “Partition Museum” are some of the most popular vegetarian eateries of Amritsar. These include a century-old “Bharawan Da Dhaba” and even older “Kesar Da Dhaba”. These are not expensive but offer unbelievably delicious food nevertheless. The Durgiana Temple is not too far away from the Golden Temple and is another big place of tourism value.
Near the Amritsar Junction Railway Station is the historic “Fort Gobindgarh”, which houses the replicas of Emperor Ranjit Singh’s “Zamzama Cannon” and the world-famous “Kohinoor Diamond”. At one time, during Emperor Ranjit Singh’s time, both were housed in Fort Gobindgarh. The other tourist hot spots in Amritsar include the eighty acres plus historic “Ram Bagh” (also known as the Company Bagh”) and the “Maharaja Ranjit Singh Panorama” depicting some of the main events of the life of the Sikh emperor. It is located inside the “Ram Bagh”. One equestrian statue of Emperor Ranjit Singh graces this once magnificent park.
In the evenings, to cap off the day’s events, there is a magnificent patriotic event enacted by the Border Security Force of India called “Retreat” at the Attari/Wagha international border. This lively and entertaining event lasts till dusk and leaves a fine taste in the mouth of the visitor. On the second day, the tourists can visit Ram Tirath Temple on the Northern outskirts of Amritsar. This is the holy place, where ‘Sita’ spent a number of years while in exile. This is where her two sons, Luv and Kush were born and brought up as children. Both Luv and Kush were educated by Rishi Valmik in Ram Tirath. After the start of the construction of Ram Janam Bhoomi Temple in Ayodhya, the Ram Tirath Temple in Amritsar has gotten more important, it is a hidden treasure now. Tourist footfall has already started increasing at Ram Tirath. If added to the Bhagwan Ram tourist circuit, Ram Tirath can attract hordes of pilgrims.
“Harike Wild Life Watching Place”, which can be reached from any place within Amritsar within one hour, can be an ideal bird watching station and a picnic spot. It needs immediate attention. The visitor can see birds from six thousand miles long and more than one thousand miles wide mostly frigid Siberia in Russia in a small lake and wetland within India. This is an ideal place for seeing multitudes of rare species of wildlife. Some dolphins can also be spotted here. The scenic beauty is also immense. The unorganized visitors are requested to bring packed lunches to this place. A tour of this place can be arranged by the tour operators. The Gurdwaras at Tarntaran, Khadoor Sahib, and Goindwal Sahib are some of the other tourist attractions near Amritsar.
Also, the tourists can visit the historic buildings of Sultanpur Lodhi, Kapurthala, and Jalandhar not too far away from Central Amritsar. Sultanpur Lodhi, associated with the life of Guru Nanak is less than 35 miles or 55 kilometers from Central Amritsar. In Sultanpur Lodhi, you can see the Gurdwaras like “Ber Sahib”, Sant Ghat, Hut Sahib, Bebe Nanki’s home, and the eight hundred-year-old Lodhi Fort, where Guru Nanak served for a number of years in the Modi Khana.
The “Kali Vein” (a small rivulet) associated with the life of Guru Nanak, has been recently cleaned up by an environmentalist Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal and its banks have received new trees and flower beds. The other tourist attractions in 29 kilometers away Kapurthala, are the “Darbar Hall” within the old district courthouse. The old District Court House of Kapurthala is another architectural marvel. The “Kanjli Lake” has in the past been a decent picnic spot and a place for boating. This lake offers a good view of the old “Villa Buona Vista Palace”, where the present Maharaja of Kapurthala lives now. Among the modern worth seeing tourist attractions of Jalandhar, is the recently constructed “Freedom Struggle Museum of Kartarpur” located 8 miles or 13 kilometers from Kapurthala as well as Jalandhar. It is only 41 miles or 66 kilometers from Central Amritsar and has very rare stuff on the freedom struggle of India. The Virasat – E – Khalsa in Anandpur Sahib in Ropar district is a must-see recently built tourist attraction.
Rural Jalandhar has a decently well preserved “Noor Mahal Di Serai”, the recently rehabilitated “Tombs of Nakodar” of the time of Emperor Akbar and an old Serai of the times of Emperor Jehangir in a tiny village of Jehangir near Nakodar. All these monuments are worth seeing. Punjab solicits your visit and welcomes all with open arms. This writer will be thankful to you, in case you have a plan to visit Punjab.