Punjab is split between India and Pakistan and contains the richest agricultural land and is regarded as breadbasket of both countries. Punjab means "Land of Five Rivers" in Persian, a reference to the five rivers that flow out of the Himalayas to join the Indus River: the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. The land between these rivers is known as a doab. Each of the five doabs is considered culturally different from the others.
The Punjab is mainly a nearly level plain that drops from an elevation of 300 meters in the northeast near the Silwalik range to about 100 meters where the Indus is united with the last if its main tributaries. Above the plain are the Salt Range in Pakistan and the foothills of the Himalayas in India. The entire Punjab covers about 270,000 square kilometers with 205,344 square kilometers in Pakistan and 50,362 square kilometers in India.
The climate is temperate with the hottest season from May to June when temperatures sometimes exceed 40 degrees C. The coolest months are in February, when nighttime frosts occur. Two thirds of the annual rainfall occurs during the June-to-September monsoon season. The amount of rain that falls decreases as one moves farther away from the Himalayas. Near the edge of Himalayas, rainfall amounts often exceed 100 centimeters a year. In Lahore, about 100 kilometers from the Himalayan foothills, the rainfall is around 50 centimeters a year; at Multa about 500 kilometers away, the rainfall is about 18 centimeters.
Before the British arrived, the Punjab was as almost as dry and dusty as the other parts of Pakistan but through their system of canals and irrigation ditches they made the desert bloom. Canal building not only involved building canals it also involved moving lots of people. Before the British built the irrigation system, flooding was common and towns died when rivers changed course. Under the British new towns sprung up along canals and old ones were abandoned. Canal colonies were established that involved moving the entire population of one region to another.
The main crops of the Punjab are wheat (the staple of the region), rice and sugar. The are two main agricultural season marked by two, prolonged, dry harvest periods: 1) the rabi in April and May; 2) the kharif from September and October. The winter monsoon is light but vital to the wheat crop.
When India and Pakistan were divided in 1947 Pakistan got the larger piece including the city of Lahore which was the center of the Mogul Empire. Parts of traditional Punjab, defined by the five rivers, are located in North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan and Hammu, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh in India.
See Separate Article on AMRITSAR and CHANDIGARH
Punjab and Partition
Partition refers to the historical division of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan. The partition of India and Pakistan into the world's second and sixth most populous nations occurred at midnight on August 15, 1947 the same time both nations became independent of Great Britain. To distinguish itself from India, Pakistan set its clock back 30 minutes. The countries have operated on time zones 30 minutes apart ever since.
Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) became the Prime Minister of India and Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1875-1948) Jinnah was named the first Governor General and Qaid-e-Azamm ("the Great Leader") of Pakistan, the world's largest Muslim nation. Neither India nor Pakistan celebrated the 50th anniversary in 1997 with much fanfare. The Pakistani government places a large "50" on the nose of its planes and held a few parades.
After partitions, between 12 and 15 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims migrated from their homelands to live with people of the same religion. Partition was the largest migration of people in recorded history. The biggest migrations occurred in the Punjab in the west and Bengal in the east — both of which had been divided roughly equally between India and Pakistan.
The greatest upheaval occurred in the Punjab, where the border was drawn between the region’s two largest cities: Lahore and Amritsar. Millions of Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistani Punjab migrated to India and millions of Muslims migrated to Pakistan. In the east in Bengal Muslims migrated to East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) and Hindus migrated into India. Christians, Parsis, Buddhists, Jews are people of other religions largely stayed where they were and were spared the mass dislocation and violence that affected the Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus.
Partition produced 24 million refugees and left 200,000 to 1 million people dead. Prior to partition Lahore, a city with 1.2 million people contained 500,000 Hindus and 100,000 Sikhs. Only a handful remained after partition. The division of the Punjab, where much of the violence took place, was not announced until two days after independence in part so the British could escape and not be held responsible for the violence that was destined to follow. No preparations had been made so once the violence got going there was little to stop it.
Referring to two friends that now live in Amritsar, Geoffrey C. Ward wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Raghu was a small boy in 1947, living in the village of Jhang in what is now Pakistan, but he still remembers fleeing with his family out the back of their house as an angry Muslim mob banged on the front door. Gurmeet, too young to have firsthand memories of the division of India, comes from a clan that includes both Sikhs who fled from Pakistan and Muslims who stayed behind. When she returned to Delhi from a visit across the border to her family's ancestral village in 2000, she recalled, "It was a homecoming from a place which felt quite like home." [Source: Geoffrey C. Ward, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2009]
Violence in the Punjab During Partition
By most estimates 200,000 to 1 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs died after the 1947 partition. Most of the violence was in the Punjab and to a lesser degree Bengal, where long-standing animosity between the Hindu majority and Muslim and Sikh minorities, egged on by firebrand politicians, erupted in full scale carnage. No one knows how many people were killed. The British have long claimed only around 200,000 were killed. Most historians put the figure at around 500,000 and some so as high as 2 million.
During partition, people recall seeing oxcarts stacked with bodies. Thousands of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim women were abducted and raped. "Terrible vendettas were enacted on their bodies," wrote novelist Bapsi Sidwa in TIME, "not so much to dishonor them as to humiliate the men of another faith." The violence lasted for about three months, from August until it ended suddenly and mysteriously in November. It is estimated that around 20,000 people had already died when Nehru gave his famous independence speech at midnight on August 14-15.
Entire trainloads of refuges and entire columns of people fleeing on foot were slaughtered for being caught in the "wrong" zone. Most of the violence was carried out against Muslims by Hindus angry that India had been divided and Sikhs bitter over the loss of their land in the Punjab. Muslims answered back with retaliatory killings. The murder of trainload of Muslims heading for Pakistan, for example, lead to "ghost train" of dead Hindus going the other way. Much of the violence was incited by rumors of atrocities that never happened or rumored attacks that never occurred. "People on both sides had gone mad," one journalist from Lahore told Time. "Any sane person can't explain it. The entire people were caught in a frenzy."
Many Muslim immigrants that arrived by train in the newly formed Punjabi section of Pakistan were slaughtered by Sikh residents. One man told Time that he came upon a mass of bodies with sword and gunshot wounds. He said the entire landscape was silent except for the cries of babies crawling around the corpses of their dismembered mothers and the moans of an elderly woman that was still alive but had her arms and legs cut off.
One Hindu man, who was 12-year-old at the time of the partition, told Time he accompanied a gang of youths that attacked a trainload of Muslim refugees heading out of India. He said arrangements had been made for the train to stop at a pre-arranged place, where the passengers were told to lie face down while they were stabbed and beaten death. A Hindu boy that screamed "Kill, me too" was granted his wish. The Hindu man told Time, "At the time it seemed OK and justified because we were doing it in reaction to what happened in India."
A Sikh living in a Muslim village in India told Critchfield, "The Muslims thought they were safe. They were ready to fight back as soon as they saw the Sikhs start to surround the village at daybreak. A two o'clock in the afternoon Dogra [Hindu] soldiers opened fire...The Muslims had muzzle-loading rifles. They answered the fire...At about four o'clock in the afternoon those Dogras came with machine guns...Thousands and thousands they were, Sikhs and Hindu and Dogra, like herds of sheep surrounding the village." [Source: "The Villagers" by Richard Critchfield, Anchor Books]
Punjab state in India covers 50,362 square kilometers (19,445 square miles), is home to about 28 million people and has a population density of 550 people per square kilometer. About 49 percent of the population live in urban areas. The capital is Chandigarh with about 1 million people. The largest city is Ludhiana, with about 1.6 million people.
Punjab is a land of ethnic and religious diversity, having borne and shaped a number of religious movements that include Sikhism, Buddhism and Sufism. The Punjabi language is an Indo-European linguistic language like Hindi, Urdu, Persian, English, French and Latin. The Punjab in India is known as the home of the Sikhs but in Pakistani Punjab there are very few Sikhs. In Indian Punjab, Sikhs make up 61 percent of the population; Hindus, 37 percent; and Muslims, 1 percent. Christians, Buddhists and Jains and other groups make up less than 1 percent. Indian Punjab comprises only 1.7 percent of India’s total land area but produces 21 percent of India’s wheat and 8.5 percent of its rice. India Punjab has the best infrastructure and the highest per capita income in India.. It also has a lot of industry.
Punjab is located on the northwestern edge of India and is one of the more prosperous states in the nation. Naturally replete with fertile soils and rich water sources, it is primarily an agricultural state, and has continually and infinitely contributed towards the food security of the Indian Republic. Punjab’s many festivals–Teej, Lohri, Basant, and Baisakhi, to name some–are celebrations that mirror the farming ethos. Indeed, Bhangra, the traditional dance of Punjab revolves around, and replicates a farmer’s daily life. Historically, Punjab has played host to a number of ethnicities, including the Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Afghans and Mongols, thus bestowed with a rich tangible heritage. Reflecting this history are the countless sites that dot the state: impressive forts & palaces, ancient monuments, architectural marvels and many a battlefield.
Although the Punjab makes up perhaps a forth of the territory of Pakistan it is the home of almost half of the country’s people. Over 100 million people live in Pakistani Punjab. The population densities are relatively high, particularly in the central areas. With the exceptions of Lahore, the population is around 60 to 70 percent rural. Urban centers are sprawling and it often difficult to determine where the cities and town leave off and the countryside begins. The highest population densities are around Lahore. The lowest are in the desert of the Thal Doab between the Indus and the lower portion of the Chenab.
In Pakistani Punjab, Muslims make up 97 percent of the population; Christians, 2 percent; with small numbers of other groups. Pakistani Punjab comprises 25.7 percent of the Pakistan’s total land area and is far an away its most important agricultural area. Pakistan Punjab is home to 60 percent of Pakistan’s the population. Much of the land is covered by orchards and fields that produce rice, wheat, cotton, fruits and vegetables.
The term Punjabi is used to describe both the inhabitants of the Punjab and speakers of the predominate language there. Punjabi is an Indo-European language, related to Hindi and clearly related to languages spoken by neighboring people particularly Pahari. There are six major dialects, each associated with a different area. Majhi and Malwa are considered the most “pure.” [Source: Most of the information for this articles comes from the Encyclopedia of World Cultures: South Asia, edited by Paul Hockings, C.K. Hall & Company, 1992]
Punjabis are tall and dark and have a reputation for being strong, aggressive, hospitable, warm and lively. Masti is an important Punjabi term. It means intoxicated with life.
The Punjab has a long history. The ancient Indus city of Harappa was in Ravi in the Punjab. Situated on the main invasion route into India, it was used by Aryans, Scythians, Greeks (under Alexander the Great), Arabs, Persians, Afghans, Pathans, Baluchis, Mongols and Europeans to conquer other regions. The main historic Punjabi cities of Lahore, Amritsar, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Patiala are a part of line of traditional commercial and military centers between the Khyber Pass and the Ganges Plain. Along this route are good water supplies, fertile soils and good weather. The line of cities also includes Delhi and Varanasi.
The Punjab has traditionally been ruled by feudal leaders. The most important level of government administration has traditionally been done on the district level. Local power has traditionally been in the hands of panchayats. After independence, these became elected bodies but were disbanded by the government of Indira Gandhi in part because of their association with the Sikh separatist movement.
Politics in the Punjab is highly factionalized and shaped much more by the self interest of villagers and landowners than by ideology. Political alliances on the local and village level are comprised of unions of household whose identity is “secret.” Their main goal is to gain and protect land and resources.
Many important Indian history events have occurred in the Punjab. See Alexander the Great, the Mughals and the Partition of India under History.
Punjab Agriculture and Industry
The richest agriculturally land in both India and Pakistan is in the Punjab, which has traditionally been regarded as the breadbasket for both countries. The Punjab's Khanna grain markets is one of the largest in Asia. Agriculture in the Punjab relies heavily on irrigation, and has very high cropping densities and levels of investment, with most farmers producing multiple crops and relying much more on machinery and fertilizer than in other parts of South Asia.
The key to the Punjab’s high agricultural productivity has been irrigation. Much of the currently productive land was once desert. The transformation began in 1905 when the British Raj dug a network of canals to draw water from three rivers for irrigation. More canals were built after the partition and farmers were given 15 acre parcels of land. Tube wells were added in the 1950s, making it possible to use water deep in the earth. Some have Persian wheels, driven by camels, which bring the water to the surface. Electrification made it easier to bore wells. By the 1970s the 15 acres parcels were either divided up into small farms run by children or else bought up by rich land owners who created large mechanized farms.
The main crops in the Punjab are wheat, sugar, rice (primarily in the Indian Punjab) and cotton (primarily in the Pakistani Punjab). Since the British era, cotton has been an important cash crop. Cotton was largely abandoned in the Indian Punjab because of the high risk of loss. Rice was introduced in the Amritsar area in the mid-1960s because of widespread flooding, caused in part by the construction of new canals in the area.
The Punjab has traditionally relied heavily on oxen, camels and water buffalo. Cattle populations are higher than elsewhere in India and the animals are generally larger and more productive. With increased mechanization, the number of work animals — namely camels, oxen and Indica cows — have been reduced while the number of milk-bearing animals, namely water buffalo, has increased. The size and productively of these animals has also increased through the use of artificial insemination. Many farmers have Indica-Jersey and Indica-Holstein cows.
Associated with agriculture is an extensive infrastructure, and agricultural and food processing industries and services. There are large distribution centers, dairies and food processing factories. The Punjab also has light and medium manufacturing for products such as textiles, electrical appliances, medical equipment and foodstuffs. Heavy industry produces tractors, railroad cars, cement, bicycles, rickshaws, machinery and tools. There are lots of brickworks around Lahore because there the soil is mostly clay. Outside the chimneyed brickworks little girls as young as six or seven dig mud and clay out of pits for bricks and load it in baskets they carry on their head to the factory.
Green Revolution and the Punjab
The Punjab is where chemical fertilizers and high-yield seeds introduced by the Green Revolution in the 1960s. This and the introduction of relatively small-scale machine and storage technologies and support systems suited for family-owned peasant farms in the 1960s and 70s dramatically improved crop yields.
Agriculture is more productive than it used to be. A field of wheat that produced food for 5 people 75 years ago now produces wheat for between 20 and 50 people. New plant varieties and advances in technology have boosted corn and wheat yields by nearly 80 percent.
This so-called Green Revolution began in the 1960s when the Iowa-born plant scientist Norman Borlaug developed a hybrid strain of wheat that was much more productive than natural strains. Borlaug's "miracle wheat" allowed Mexico to triple its grain production in a few years. When the hybrid was introduced to south Asia in the mid-1960s, wheat yields there leapt 60 percent. New strains of rice and other grains followed. Borlaug died in 2009 at the age of 95. The United Nations Word Food program credited him with saving more lives than any man in history. He received the Noble Peace Prize in 1970.
One of the key advances of the Green Revolution was developing wheat with very short stems. Compared with traditional taller stemmed varieties, the short-strawed strain shifted a higher proportion of plant sugars into the part of the plant where the grain were formed. In this way the plants produced much more food and the result was dramatically higher yields.
Crop yields have soared in Ethiopia and Malawi where modern farming technology has been introduced to peasant farmers. The so called “Malawi miracle”---in which the corn harvest reached 3.44 million metric tons, increasing food production from a 44 percent national deficient to an 18 percent surplus---came about after the country’s own government decided to fork out the money for hybrid seeds and fertilizer, and was assisted by the World Bank in making it happen, using a voucher system.
Grand Trunk Road in Punjab
Geoffrey C. Ward wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: The Grand Trunk Road runs for 1,500 miles from Kolkata on India's eastern coast all the way to Peshawar on Pakistan's western edge. A 170-mile section of the ancient trade route — now designated National Highway Number One — cuts diagonally across the Indian Punjab. "Truly," Rudyard Kipling wrote in Kim, "the Grand Trunk Road is a wonderful spectacle....bearing without crowding...such a river of life as exists nowhere else in the world." [Source: Geoffrey C. Ward, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2009]
“That river flows far faster now and is no longer uncrowded. Kim and his contemporaries moved mostly on foot; the fastest travelers rode in horse carts. Now, big gaudily painted trucks race past one another in both directions, blaring horns and spewing black exhaust. Motorcyclists weave among them, wives and small children clinging on behind. Bicycles and sputtering motor-rickshaws join the flow; so do jeeps that act as country taxis and spavined buses so oversold that a dozen or more men ride with the baggage on the roof.
“The brilliant green of the countryside through which all this traffic elbows its way is broken only by the trees that set one wheat field apart from the next and by occasional patches of brilliant yellow mustard. Punjab is the heartland of the Green Revolution that turned India from a country that could not feed its people into an exporter of grain.”
An inventory of all the unprotected monuments along the Grand Trunk Road in Punjab has been conducted. “It's not easy to tell old from new in India. For most historic structures, there are no laws to prevent damaging alterations or outright demolition. Nonetheless, Gurmeet and her team managed to identify and document some 1,100 historically or architecturally significant structures along the Punjabi stretch of the ancient highway. Their list includes everything from the former palaces of feudal rulers to the rock-hewn wells that once served their tenants; from Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras and Christian churches bustling with believers to the lonely roadside tombs of Muslim saints, left behind by those who fled to Pakistan but still visited weekly by Sikh and Hindu farmers in search of miracles. All but a handful of” these “are deteriorating and unprotected.
Ram Tirath (12 kilometers west of Amritsar) is believed to be the place where sage Valmiki’s (the author of epic Ramayana) ashram used to stand in ancient times. Many believe that it was here that Lord Rama's sons, Lav and Kush, were born. It is said the hut where Goddess Sita gave birth to her sons still stands, along with sage Valmiki’s abode. The major attractions are beautifully sculpted statues, depicting scenes from the ancient epic. Anandur Sahib is a Sikh pilgrimage center established where Guru Gobind Singh baptized the first five Sikhs (the Panch Pyaras);
Pragpur (167 kilometers from Amritsar) lies the scenic town of Pragpur, nestled in Himachal Pradesh. Declared as a Heritage Village in 1997, it is perched at an elevation of about 1,800 feet above sea level. The entire village has been established around a famous pond, called the Taal. While the pond is a quaint natural retreat, visitors also like to pray at the nearby Radha Krishna Mandir, dedicated to Lord Krishna and Goddess Radha. There are many heritage buildings dotting the landscape, some of which include Bhutail Niwas, a 100-year-old building, and the Judge’s Court, which is a manor built in the Indo-European style of architecture. The town is also popular for the various festivals that are celebrated with great fervour. Lohri is one such occasion that celebrates the movement of the sun from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere. The Wrestling Festival, organised during the month of September, also draws huge crowds.
Gurdaspur (75 kilometers from Amritsar) was founded by Guriyaji Mahant in the 17th century. Flanked by Rivers Beas and Ravi, this major city of Punjab is the northern-most district of the state. The city has immense historical and spiritual significance and it is said that Mughal emperor Akbar was enthroned here. Alexander, the Great, is also said to have fought one of his many battles in the city. The main attraction is Batala, situated 30 kilometers away, which is said to be the place where Guru Nanak got married. The gurdwara, where the ceremony was held, called the Kandh Sahib, draws visitors from far and wide. Batala is also the site of the tomb of Sher Khan, foster brother of Akbar. The tomb is a beautiful example of Mughal architecture and invites visitors from around the area. Nearby Batala, lies Qadian, which is the birthplace of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmediyah community.
Other attractions in Gurdaspur include the palace built by Maharaja Sher Singh, son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the tomb of Sayid Imam Ali Shah, a sufi saint. Gurdaspur also boasts a major natural wetland called Keshopur, which attracts thousands of migratory birds from Central Asia and Siberia in winters. The popular species one can sight are wigeon, dub chick, black ibis, gadwall, common teal, pintail and Northern shovelercan.
The Wagah Border (28 kilometers from Amritsar) is an army outpost on the Indian and Pakistani border, lying between the cities of Amritsar and Lahore (Pakistan). It is around and is one of the main access points overland to the neighbouring country of Pakistan. Among its many buildings, roads and barriers, one can witness the impressive Beating the Retreat ceremony, held here every day. During the ceremony, an infantryman stands at attention on both sides of the gate. Then, the gates are flung open and the two soldiers, one from both India and Pakistan, approach each other, mimic anger and exchange fierce looks. After this, they shake hands and begin to lower both the Indian and the Pakistani flags on either side of the gate simultaneously. People from both countries gather to witness the impressive proceedings. On the Indian side of the border stands a huge gate with an encryption reading 'Swarn Jayanti Dwar' (Golden Jubilee Gate) and one can enjoy a panoramic view of the Wagah Border from here. The Lowering the Flag Ceremony is a must-see in Amritsar as the high-decibel spectacle leaves one in awe.
As night approaches, lights are switched on to mark the end of the day. There is patriotic fervour in the air as people start singing the National Anthem and applauding the ceremony. The energy makes for a rare display of pride in one’s country and nationality. Another attraction nearby the Wagah Border is a complex housing the samadhi of Sham Singh Attari, who was a celebrated general in the army of the Sikh empire. Samadhis of his family members are also there along with a water tank. Nearby is the Atari Railway Station.
Geoffrey C. Ward wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Wagah marks the western end of the Indian portion of the Grand Trunk Road. It is the sole crossing point between the two Punjabs; Lahore, the capital of Ranjit Singh's Sikh kingdom and of pre-Partition united Punjab, is just 18 miles up the road. The formal flag-lowering ceremony that takes place at Wagah at dusk every evening of the year must be one of the oddest regularly scheduled events on earth. On the evening we visited, hundreds of eager onlookers streamed into specially built grandstands in the coppery light. On the Indian side, a big amiable crowd jostled one another for the best seats, men, women and children sitting together. In the roadbed, several busloads of teenage girls in brightly colored salwar kameez danced to recorded bhangra music. On the Pakistani side, a giant portrait of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founding father whom Pakistanis call their Quaid-i-Azam, or "Great Leader," looked down upon stadium seats in which men and women sat carefully segregated: men and boys on the left side of the road; girls and women (a handful in full-length burqas) on the right. Instead of dancing schoolgirls, three gray-bearded mullahs in green and white raced back and forth, waving huge Pakistani flags to whip up enthusiasm. [Source: Geoffrey C. Ward, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2009]
“The ceremony itself proved both impressive and ludicrous. As the spectators cheered and chanted "Long Live India" or "Long Live Pakistan," squads of uniformed Punjabis from both sides of the border, picked for their height and fierce good looks and wearing turbans with starched coxcombs that made them look still taller, quick-marched toward one another until they stood only a foot or two apart. Then, they stamped and whirled, puffed out their chests and flared their nostrils in perfect military unison, each apparently seeking to out-testosterone his opposite number before hauling down their flags. I asked the major in charge of the Indian contingent how seriously his men took their nightly confrontation with their neighbors. He laughed. "We've been doing this for more than 20 years," he said. "We know each other's names. It's all for the audience."
“It was the muted reaction of that audience that fascinated me. The region around Wagah had witnessed some of the worst Partition bloodletting. Since then, India and Pakistan have gone to war three times. A few weeks before my visit, fanatics trained in Pakistan had butchered more than 160 people in Mumbai. The people who had turned out to watch the ceremony this evening had grown hoarse shouting patriotic slogans. And yet when the flags were finally folded away and the big gates clanged shut, spectators on both sides drifted as close to the dividing line as the respective armies would allow, peering silently across the no man's land into the faces of counterparts who looked so much like themselves.”
Kapurthala (50 kilometers southeast of Amritsar) is known for the marvellous architecture of its monuments and gardens, which are built in Indo-Saracenic and French styles. The city was founded in the 11th century by Rana Kapur (after whom the city has been named) of Jaisalmer. The main attraction in Kapurthala is the Jagatjit Palace, which was the residence of the maharaja. Built in 1908, many believe that it is modelled after the famous Versailles Palace in France. Presently, it is under the care of Sainik School to train and prepare boys for the National Defence Academy (NDA).
The Elysee Palace is also worth a visit as its monolithic structure and beautiful facade are a treat for the eyes. It was built in 1962 by Kanwar Bikram Singh in the Indo-French style of architecture. Moorish Mosque and Panch Mandir are some of the other places that warrant a visit. Photography enthusiasts can head straight for the Kanjli Wetland that houses a number of mammals and birds. The Kanjli Lake makes for a great picnic spot with its picturesque views and amazing surroundings. For science enthusiasts, the Pushpa Gujral Science City is a must-visit. A spiritual site to visit near the city is Sultanpur Lodi, which is known for its association with Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
Kapurthala is closely associated with the founder of the Ahluwalia dynasty, Baba Jassa Singh, who ruled it for many years. Jagatjit Singh, who was enthroned here in 1877 and ruled the city for 71 years is believed to have been the architect of the modern city. Under his reign, Kapurthala acquired a telephone exchange, a modern sewage and water system, an improved judiciary, free and compulsory primary education, a state assembly and state council etc.
Jalandhar (80 kilometers from Amritsar) is an industrial town, famous for sporting goods, located in the plains between the Beas and Sutlej rivers. The name Jalandhar means an area that lies under water and many believe that the name has been derived from its location between two rivers. It is one of the largest cities in the state and thus has no shortage of tourist opportunities. While visiting this city, one can go to the sacred town of Kartapur, which hosts an annual fair to celebrate Guru Arjan Dev’s birth. Nearby stands Nur Mahal, best known for the ruins of a beautiful medieval sarai (inn) built by Mughal queen Nur Jahan; and Phillaur, known for its fort and archaeological sites dating back to the Harappan period.
Other attractions of the place include St Mary’s Cathedral Church, the Gurdwara Chhevin Padshahi, and the Devi Talab, dedicated to Vrinda, wife of the demon king Jalandhar. Another town close to Jalandhar that is worth a visit is Nakodar. It houses two architectural marvels: the tombs of court musicians Mohammad Momin and Haji Jamal. The Pir of Baba Murad Shah, a sufi (Muslim mystic order) saint also lies here. A grand festival is held in September that attracts musicians and singers from all over the state. One of the oldest classical music festivals in the world, the Harballabh Sangeet Festival, is held in December.
Jalandhar served as the capital of Punjab until 1953 before Chandigarh acquired that status. Steeped in heritage and legends, it is mentioned in the Puranas (sacred Hindu literature) and the Hindu epic Mahabharata as well. A legend says the region was once ruled by Danava Jalandhara, an offspring of River Ganga. Historically, the area around the city dates back to the Indus Valley civilisation, with numerous sites yielding traces of ancient settlements. Jalandhar was also home to many Buddhist viharas. Today, it’s one of India’s most prominent sports goods manufacturing hubs. About 318 major items are manufactured here, including cricket bats and balls, boxing equipment, hockey sticks and balls, inflatable balls, fishing equipment, carom and chess boards and other protective equipment.
Sri Hargobindpur and the Guru’s Mosque
Shri Hargobindpur (70 kilometers east of Amritsar) is an old walled town on the banks of the Beas River. The Sixth Guru of Sikhs Shri Guru Hargobind Sahib ji established this city on the land bought by his Father and fifth Guru Shri Guru Arjan Dev Sahib ji. Geoffrey C. Ward wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: Guru ki Maseet, or "Guru's Mosque" sits “on a bluff overlooking the Beas River. A member of the Nihang Sikh order, justly celebrated for the ferocity with which it defended the faith against its enemies in the old days, stands lonely guard over a Muslim house of worship. His name is Baba Balwant Singh and he has been on duty here for more than a quarter of a century. The shrine he protects is a modest three-domed brick structure, barely 20 feet deep, with arched entryways so low that anyone much over five feet tall must duck to enter. But it has a truly extraordinary history. [Source: Geoffrey C. Ward, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2009]
“Sri Hargobindpur is named for Hargobind, the sixth Sikh guru, who, according to tradition, ordered his followers to make a city of "unmatched beauty" so that "those who inhabit the town [should] be free of sorrow." Those who inhabited it included Hindus and Muslims as well as Sikhs, and so, to ensure tranquillity, the guru made sure that adherents of all three faiths had their own houses of worship. But sorrow eventually came to Sri Hargobindpur in any case: Partition forced every single resident of its Muslim quarter to flee to Pakistan. Hindu and Sikh refugees took over the homes they left behind. Elsewhere, abandoned mosques were transformed into shelters for people or livestock — or demolished altogether.
“But this mosque's unique origin made such actions unthinkable. "Nobody can damage this maseet," the leader of the Tarna Dal band of Nihangs declared. "This maseet was established by our guru. If anyone tries to damage it, we will kill him." His followers reverently placed a copy of the Granth Sahib inside the building and set up a 50-foot flagpole bound in blue cloth and topped with a double-edged sword; it let the world know the mosque would henceforth be under their protection.”
Ludhiana (140 kilometers from Amritsar) is the largest city in the Indian Punjab, with about 1.6 million people.. Located on the south bank of River Sutlej, it is an industrial town of Ludhiana. Famous for its socks and sometime called Manchester of the East, it is known for the production of industrial goods, machine parts, auto parts, household appliances, hosiery, woollen apparels and garments. The city of Ludhiana was founded during the rule of the Lodi sultans in the 15th century.
If one is visiting Ludhiana, they can stop at the Punjab Agricultural University, which is sprawled over an area of 1,500 acre and is home to the unique Museum of Rural Life, which displays traditional pottery, musical instruments and Punjabi clothing. It was established in 1962 with a purpose to improve profitability and productivity in the agriculture sector. Another attraction here is the annual Kisan Mela that invites farmers from all across the state.
Lying close to the museum is the beautiful Nehru Rose Garden, which boasts hundreds of rose varieties and ornamental fountains. There is another interesting museum that showcases Punjabi military history, called the Maharaja Ranjit Singh War Museum.
The city is also home to Qila (Kila) Raipur, which is the site of the annual Rural Olympics. One can also find a number of monuments dating back to the Mughal period. Alamgir village, founded by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, is famous for Gurdwara Manji Pir and is also worth a visit. Other attractions include Machhiwara, 30 kilometers east of the city, which is the place where it is said that Guru Gobind Singh learnt of the death of his sons.
Pathankot (near the border of Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir, 481 kilometers from Delhi and 237 kilometers from Chandigarh) is a small and bustling city lying at the foothills of Kangra and Dalhousie. Criss-crossed by the Beas and Ravi rivers, the city enjoys a lush green landscape that is dotted with ancient forts and centuries-old temples. From the majestic Shahpur Kandi Fort, built under the patronage of Rajput chief, Jaspal Singh Pathania, to the charming Nurpur Fort, named in honour of Mughal empress Nur Jahan, Pathankot preserves its age-old ties with care. Tourists can soak in the charm of archaeological ruins and pay homage to one of the few temples dedicated to Lord Krishna and Meera Bai.
Pathankot lies at the confluence of the three states of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. Its unique position as the last city on the national highway that connects Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India, often makes it a rest stop before heading into the mountains of Jammu and Kashmir, Dalhousie, Chamba, Kangra, Dharamsala, Mcleodganj, Jwalaji, Chintpurni and deep into the Himalayas.
According to Sikh history, it is believed that Pathankot was established by the first Sikh Guru – Guru Nanak Dev Ji. In the great epic, Mahabharata, Pathankot is noted as Audumbar and in the ancient book of Ain-i-Akbari, it was noted as ‘Pargana Headquarter’.
Nurpur Fort, frmerly known as the Dhameri Fort, is massive structure constructed by Raja Basu, the ruler of Pathankot, in the late 16th century. It is known for its impressive architectural designs, particularly the walls that have deeply carved panels depicting figures of birds, animals, men, women, children, kings, gods and goddesses. Tourists can also pay respects at the Brij Raj Swami Temple, located within the premises. A special feature of this site is that here the idols of both Lord Krishna and Meera Bai are worshipped together. The Nurpur Fort retains its charm with its expansive precinct, archeological ruins, ponds and a 400-year-old maulshri tree. The fort has been named in honour of Mughal empress Nur Jahan, who is believed to have taken a fancy to the beautiful valley of Nurpur.
Getting There: By Air: It has its own airport called Pathankot Airport, which is connected to other cities of India. By Road: Pathankot is 481 kilometers from Delhi and 237 kilometers from Chandigarh. Regular bus services are available to Pathankot. By Train: Pathankot Railway Station is well-connected to the major cities of Punjab.
Kangra Valley Railway
Kangra Valley Railway was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Kangra Valley Railway (KVR) is a linear Property 163.720 Kilometers long and 0.762 meter wide, which runs from Pathankot (located at an elevation of 383.820 meters) to Joginder Nagar (located at an elevation of 1184.160 meters), in the Kangra Valley, in the states of Punjab (Gurdaspur District) and Himachal Pradesh (Kangra & Mandi districts), India. The difficult mountain terrain involved the bridging of ravines through which flow the mountain torrents and some of these are noteworthy as engineering marvels. There are also two tunnels. Over its length of 163.720 Kilometers, the KVR ascends at a maximum gradient of 1 in 25, crosses over 993 bridges, runs through two tunnels and winds through 484 curves (sharpest being 300 equal to 58.33 meters). This unique line has been constructed skillfully to present to the traveler, a chance to gaze on the ever present panorama of snow-clad ranges and the gold green fields. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“The Kangra valley is the region between the Dhauladhar ranges of the Himalayas to the north (a low chain of ridges about 2500 meters high in front and peaks 5000 meters tall behind) and the foothills to the south, about 50 kilometers wide, ascending from West to East and the KVR runs through its entire length. It remains a well known tourist attraction in Northern India. The portion of the line in Gurdaspur and Kangra districts forms the lower section (smoother gradients and curves) and the portion in Mandi district forms the upper section (steepest gradients and curves). The route of the KVR, developed as a cultural corridor and provided access to the Kangra Valley; linking important towns, very holy Hindu pilgrimage centers & settlements. It also, provides access to the Dalai Lama's abode at Mcleodganj.
“The construction of KVR began in 1925 and it was opened on 1st December 1928 for freight traffic for the Uhl hydroelectric project due to which this Railway was constructed. In April 1929, it also, became a passenger Railway. It suffered a disruption during World War II (1941-42) when a portion of its track was dismantled for war material supply but it was restored twelve years later in April 1954. A short portion (about 25 kilometers) of KVR also had to be realigned in 1973 due to the construction of the Pong Dam resulting in a disruption for three years. Despite these disruptions, other natural / technical calamities in high mountainous areas and although the KVR has never been remunerative; it has survived as a cultural asset and the Indian Railways is committed to its conservation for posterity.
“A trip on the KVR is a lot of fun and the best way to savour the beauty of the Kangra Valley. Pathankot is the interchange station, of the broad-gauge main line in Northern India. Broad Gauge trains are connected at Pathankot, and have about 7 pairs of connecting narrow gauge services. The KVR was opened with steam traction and it now being run with diesel locomotives based at Pathankot. However, one original steam locomotive has been restored for KVR and this is also based at Pathankot for heritage steam train service available for chartered train operation. Trains are run at a maximum speed of 45 kmph in the lower section and 20 kmph in the top section (steepest portion).
Sections of the Kangra Valley Railway
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The railway can be divided into three sections as follows: 1) The first section is 12 kilometers long from Pathankot (elevation 383.820 meters) to Chakki Bridge (elevation 398.780 meters); in Gurdaspur district, in Punjab. Pathankot has the locomotive shed, carriage sub-depot of the KVR. Starting from Pathankot, the narrow gauge line runs out of the town and crosses the Chakki river in a scenic manner. Significant locations and structures along this route include inter-alia the Pathankot station and Chakki bridge. The maximum gradient is 1 in 40 that is the maximum gradient in the lower section of KVR. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]
“2) The second section is the pilgrim section, 130 kilometers long from Chakki Bridge (elevation 398.780 meters) to Baijnath Paprola (elevation 979.750 meters). Significant locations and structures along this route include inter-alia the railway stations, Reyond Khad bridge, Bathu Khad bridge, both the tunnels of KVR (Dhundi tunnel and Daulatpur tunnel) and the heritage bunglow at Palampur. Kangra is around midway along the KVR. The KVR passes just away from Kangra town separated by a gigantic cleft in the hills at the bottom of which runs the picturesque Ban Ganga River and provides spectacular views of the ruins of the historic Rajput Fort. Onwards along KVR, approaching Palampur, the ever present background of snowy peaks (about 5000m high and about 15 kilometers away) run parallel. The spectacularly beautiful area around Kangra & Palampur is famous for very significant Hindu pilgrimage temples (attracting millions of pilgrims each year), Tibetan monastery of Dalai Lama, Tea gardens and numerous popular locations. The best access to this beautiful area is provided by the KVR.
“3) The third section is 22 kilometers long, from Baijnath Paprola (elevation 979.750 meters) to the end of the line i.e. Joginder Nagar station (elevation 1184.160 meters). Ajhu station is about midway and is the highest point of the line (elevation 1290.230 meters). Significant locations and structures along this route include inter-alia the railway stations and flume bridges. Here, the KVR threads its way among the pines of the Bhir gorge and the journey in wilderness in far superior to the journey by road.
“Trains on KVR run efficiently offering an enchanting ride with the backdrop of the Dhauladhar Mountains on one side, lush green fields on the other side, tea gardens, and significant pilgrimage centers; for the benefit of the tourists as well as the local communities and offer a rich and scenic expanse of the spectacular Himalayan Mountains.
Shahpurkandi Fort (in Gurdaspur, 35 kilometers southwest of Pathankot and 20 kilometers from the Pakistan border) is named after Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, this fort is the major tourist attraction of Gurdaspur in Punjab. Nestled in the foothills of the majestic Himalayas, the fort gives an insight into Pathankot's rich tradition and history. What makes the fort worth visiting is its intricate carvings, magnificent construction and the fact that it offers great views of the picturesque Himalayan foothills and the Ravi river. The ruins around the fort that were destroyed during the British rule, are also worth visiting as they speak volumes about the glorious past of the Pathania dynasty. The fort was built by Shah Jahan's Rajput chief, Jaspal Singh Pathania, in 1505, with an aim to protect regions of Nurpur and Kangra. The fort also served as the last refuge of Ram Singh Pathania in 1848 AD when he rebelled against the atrocities of British rule.
Dera Baba Nanak (on the Pakistan border, 30 kilometers west Gurdaspur) is one of the most sacred places of the Sikhs. Situated on the banks of river Ravi are several famous gurudwaras. Pilgrims come to this holy town in large numbers. The town has many lanes and houses that date back to time of Guru Nanak. From town, pilgrims can see across the border into Pakistan and see the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur.
Geoffrey C. Ward wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Just outside the village of Dera Baba Nanak, where, between two guard towers, a Sikh regiment of the Indian Border Security Force has constructed a brick platform from which the faithful can look across the border into Pakistan and see, shimmering on the horizon, the white domes of one of the most sacred of all Sikh gurdwaras, Sri Kartarpur Sahib. It marks the spot where Guru Nanak spent 15 years preaching to his first disciples, and where he died in 1539. As he lay dying, according to one tradition, Muslim and Hindu followers began to quarrel over what was to be done with his body. Muslims believed it must be buried. Hindus were equally sure it had to be cremated. Nanak told each faction to place flowers at his side and leave him for the night. If the Hindus' flowers were freshest in the morning, he said, his body should be burned; if the Muslims' flowers were brightest he would be buried. Then, he covered himself with a sheet. In the morning, both offerings were as fresh as when they'd first been cut. But when the sheet was removed Nanak's body had vanished. His followers cut the makeshift shroud in half. One piece was buried and the spot marked with a tomb; the other was burned and the site of the cremation indicated by a stone cenotaph.” [Source: Geoffrey C. Ward, Smithsonian Magazine, September 2009]
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020