That the holiest of the Sikh shrines is visited by over a lakh people daily, as per conservative estimates, only added to the general sense of disorderliness around the monument.
IF YOU’D have visited Harmandir Sahib (or the Golden Temple, as it is popularly known) in Amritsar about a year ago, chances are that you’d have been greeted by pedestrians, hawkers, vendors and rickshaw-pullers—all jostling for space—as you walk through the busy street from the iconic Bharawan Da Dhaba. That the holiest of the Sikh shrines is visited by over a lakh people daily, as per conservative estimates, only added to the general sense of disorderliness around the monument.
Fast forward to the present. As you cross the old Town Hall Building, go towards Jallianwala Bagh and then up to the Golden Temple, what you’ll see now are bright lampposts, statues and fountains in the backdrop of buildings reminiscent of Mughal and Rajputana architecture. In fact, the entire 1-km stretch now looks like a huge, open monument a la European destinations such as Rome, Venice or Florence.
Even the overhead wires are missing—they have now been reportedly channelled through underground tunnels. All the buildings located on the street—that includes the marketplaces and shops too—now sport pink facades. The signboards for the shops have also been kept identical, somewhat like the markets of Jaipur.
A towering statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh now catches your eye at Chowk Phowara, where gigantic LED panels show live kirtan from Darbar Sahib. The Chowk also showcases artificial waterfalls, water animations and a digital water show. Apart from this, there is a mini replica of Parliament and a giant-sized statue of BR Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian Constitution, at the nearby Saragarhi parking lot.
Outside the Jallianwala Bagh gate is another attraction—a flame-shaped marble installation christened ‘Smriti’. The monument was erected as a memorial to martyrs who lost their lives in the 1919 massacre. Sketches of several freedom fighters are etched out on this 16-foot-high memorial. All these sculptures are spread out on a grand plaza paved with Makrana marble in white. The paths are lined with flowering shrubs to add some greenery to the area.
The change is evident. At times, you’re forced to wonder if it is the old ‘Ambarsar’ that you’re staring at, or a newly revamped heritage palace in Jaipur. What is also remarkable is that the entire spruce-up exercise has happened in less than a year with a budget of about `1,000 crore, as per estimates. It was opened to the public in October last year.
Also of particular note is the fact that the holy city of Amritsar is undergoing a rapid transformation in recent times, as it goes on to marry tradition with modernity. In March, low-cost airline IndiGo and domestic carrier Vistara launched their daily Mumbai-Amritsar-Mumbai and Delhi-Amritsar-Delhi flights. Already, three airlines—Air India, Jet Airways and SpiceJet—collectively operate eight flights daily on this route.
The hospitality sector is also witnessing some interesting times. Long since the city first saw its first five-star hotel Ista, which is now being run under the brand name Hyatt, in 2009, Taj Hotels Palaces Resorts Safaris has now announced the opening of its new hotel Taj Swarna, Amritsar. This is the group’s first hotel in the city, strategically located from the international airport (about 11 km), as well as the Golden Temple (about 5 km).
“Punjab has immense tourism and business potential, and we are excited to further extend the signature Taj hospitality with our first hotel in the vibrant city of Amritsar—Taj Swarna, Amritsar,” says Rohit Khosla, senior vice-president, operations (north). The hotel pays homage to Amritsar’s cultural and spiritual identity through local art and design, while offering modern hospitality.
Amritsar has evolved into a major commercial and cultural hub in Punjab, attracting more than 1 lakh tourists on weekdays alone. “In fact, the city is on its way to becoming an IT hub, amplified further with the presence of an international airport and bus terminal. With great infrastructure as its backbone, it is rapidly growing in all sectors thereby emerging as a ‘future business city’,” adds Sumeet Taneja, GM, Taj Swarna, Amritsar.
In constant touch
What hasn’t changed much, though, are the hordes of devotees that throng the temple on a daily basis or, for that matter, the variety in the culinary offerings that Amritsar is famous for. Jalebis, lassis, kulfis—they still vie for attention from visitors, as much as the papar warian, juttis, phulkari dupattas and kurtis. The teeming market lanes, complete with shops selling lovely keepsakes and religious paraphernalia like kadas and khandas, have always remained a crowd-puller. Not to forget the inner peace that you attain inside the Golden Temple.
Going forward, the beautification of the stretch from Town Hall to Golden Temple is just a tip of the proverbial iceberg. As per reports, the heritage theme will extend to the entire city in the next few years. We are all waiting with bated breath to see the results of this ambitious exercise.