Punjab was probably the part of India, which suffered the most destruction and damage at the time of partition. Prior to partition the Punjab extended across both sides of what was its capital, Lahore, is now the capital of Pakistani State of Punjab. The grim logic of partition sliced the population of the Punjab into a Muslim region and a Sikh and Hindu region. As millions of Sikh and Hindu fled eastward and equal numbers of Muslims fled west, there were innumerable atrocities and killings on both sides.
More recently, Sikh political demands have racked the state. In 1984, extremists occupied the Golden Temple in Amritsar and were only evicted after a bloody battle with the Indian army. The terrorist activities of five extremists groups continued into the early 1990's, putting the Punjab firmly off limits to travellers. Support for these groups had dwindled, things are quiet now, and it's safe to visit.
The major city in the Punjab is Amritsar, the holy city of Sikhs, but it is so close to the Pakistani Border that it was thought wise to build a safer capital further within India. At first Shimla, the old imperial summer capital, was chosen, but Chandigarh, a new planned city, was conceived and built in the 1950's to serve as the capital of the new Punjab.
In 1966, however, the Punjab was to undergo another split. The time it was divided into the predominantly Sikh and Punjabi speaking state of Punjab and the State of Haryana. At the same time some of the northern parts of Punjab were hived off to Himachal Pardesh. Chandigarh, on the border of Punjab and Haryana, remained the capital of both states until 1986 when the government announced that it would be handed over to Punjab in an attempt to placate the Sikhs. However, with the continued violence in Punjab this didn't take place, although eventually it will. In meantime, Chandigarh remains the capital of two states, yet is administered as a Union Territory from Delhi.
Although the Punjab is an agricultural state, it also has a number of thriving industries including Hero Bicycles at Ludhiana - India's (and the world's) biggest bicycle manufacturer.
From the traveller's point of view, the area has just one attraction- the beautiful Golden Temple in Amritsar. Apart from that, the states are mainly places of transit to and from Pakistan or the Indian Himalayas.
Founded in 1577 by Guru Ram Das, the fourth guru of the Sikhs, Amritsar is both the center of the Sikh religion and the major city of Punjab state. The name means Pool of Nectar, referring to the sacred tank around which the Golden Temple is built. The Golden Temple is an exceptionally beautiful and peaceful place.
The original site for the city was granted by the Mughal emperor, Akbar, but in 1761 Ahmad Shah Durani sacked the town and destroyed the temple. It was rebuilt in 1764, and in 1802 was roofed over with copper-gilded plates by Ranjit Singh and became known as ' the Golden Temple'. During the turmoil of the partition of India in 1948, Amritsar was a flash point for the terrible events that shook Punjab.
During unrest in the Punjab in the early 1980s the Golden Temple was occupied by sikh extremists who were finally evicted by the Indian army in 1984 with much bloodshed. The temple was again occupied by extremist in 1986. The damage wrought on the Golden Temple by the tanks of the Indian Army has now been repaired, and things are quiet again. The Sikhs are justifiable proud of their capital city and the Golden Temple, and travellers have commented on their friendliness and helpfulness.
The Old City
A 15 minute walk from the Golden Temple through the narrow alleys of the old city brings you to the Hindu Durgiana Temple. The small temple, dedicated to the goddess Durga, dates back to the 16th century. A larger temple, built like the Golden Temple in the center of a lake, is dedicated to the Hindu deities, Lakshmi and Narayan.
There are a number of mosques in the old city, including the mosque of Mohammed Jan with three white domes and slender minarets. The old city is south-east of the main railway station and is surrounded by a circular road which used to contain the massive city walls. There are 18 still in existence but only the north gate, facing the Ram Bagh Gardens, is the original. The Golden Temple and the narrow alleys of the bazaar area are in old city.
This park is just five minutes walk from the Golden Temple and commemorates the 2000 Indians who were killed or wounded at this site, shot indiscriminately by the British in 1919. This was one of the major events in India's struggle for independence and was movingly re-created in the film Gandhi.
The story of this appalling massacre is told in the Martyrs' Gallery. A section of wall with bullet marks still visible is preserved, as is the well into which some people jumped to escape.
This beautiful garden is in the new part of town and has a museum in the small palace built by sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The museum has a weapons from Mughal times and some portraits of the ruling houses of the Punjab.
Fort Gobind Garh
Fort Gobind Garh is in the south-west of the city, has been taken over by the Indian Army and is now off limits. It was built in 1850-09 by Ranjit Singh, who was also responsible for constructing the city walls.
Taren Taran is an important Sikh Tank about 25 km south of Amritsar. There's a temple, which predates Amritsar, and a tower on the east side of the tank, constructed by Ranjit Singh. It's said the a leper who can swim across the tank will be cured.
The town of pathankot in the extreme north of the Punjab is important to travellers purely as a crossroad. It's the gateway to the Himachal Pradesh hill stations of Dalhousie and Dharamshala, and on the route to Jammu and Srinagar. Otherwise it's a dull little place, although there's the picturesque Shahpur Kandi Fort on the River Ravi.
Patiala was once the capital of an independent Sikh state. There is a museum in the Motibagh Palace of the Maharaja in the Baradari Gardens.
This was once a very important town and the capital of the Pathan Sur dynasty. In 1555, Himayun defeated Sikander Shah here and a year later his son, Akbar, completed the destruction of the Sur dynasty at Panipat. From then until 1709 Sirhind was a rich Mughal city, but clashes between the declining Mughal and rising Sikh powers led to the city's sacking in 1709 and complete destruction in 1763.
The Pathan-style Tomb of Mir Miran the later Mughal tomb of Pirbandi Nakshwala, both ornamented with blue tiles, are worth seeing. The Salabat Beg Haveli is probably the largest private home remaining from the Mughal period. South-east of the city is an important Mughal Serai.
The textile center of India, Ludhiana was the site of a great battle in the First Sikh War. The world's largest bicycle manufacturer, Hero Bicycles, which produces nearly three million bikes annually, is based here.
This was once the capital of an Hindu Kingdom. It survived a sacking by Mahmud of Ghazni nearly a thousand year ago and later became an important Mughal city. The town has a large serai built in 1857.
The railway line from Sirsa (Haryana) to Firozpur passes through Bathinda which was an important town of the Pathan Sur dynasty.
FaridKot close to Pakistan border, was once the capital of a Sikh state of the same name and has a 700 year old fort. Firozpur almost on the border is 382 km north-west of Delhi; prior to Partition, the railway line continued to Lahore, now in Pakistan.