Punjab set to figure more prominently on tourism map

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With several new sightseeing attractions in the pipeline, Punjab is all set to figure more prominently on the tourism map that will ultimately increase the number of domestic and overseas visitors. The country’s first amphibious bus project at the Harike wetland near Amritsar, initiated by the Badal government, is just one example to highlight this. The amphibious bus named as “Harike Cruise”,  aunched by Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, travels on land and as well as in water. The first of its kind bus, which was imported from Swedish automobile company Scania, will be run by the Punjab Tourism Department.

The Rs 11 crore project, undertaken by the state government, has a seating  apacity of 34 people and is equipped with lifejackets for everyone. The route of bus includes a 13 km ride from Amritsar to Harike wetlands. It will then traverse 4 km on water, covering the total distance in 45 minutes. Harike Wetland or Hari-ke-Pattan, perhaps the largest wetland in northern India, is on the borders of Tarn Taran and Ferozepur districts of Punjab. The wetland and the Harike lake, which were formed by constructing the headworks (dams) across the confluence of the Beas and Sutlej rivers in 1953, support rich biodiversity that plays a vital role in maintaining the hydrological balance in the catchment area. It was designated Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance in March 1990. It has provides ecological support to migratory fauna and number of globally threatened species such as Indus dolphins and Gharials.

Virasat-e-Khalsa

Virasat-e-Khalsa at Anandpur Saheb, a museum of Sikhism designed by world-famous French architect Moshe safdie, celebrates 500 years of the Sikh history and 300th anniversary of birth of Khalsa. There are two complexes on each side of a ravine, connected by a ceremonial bridge. The smaller estern complex includes an entrance plaza, an auditorium with 400 seating capacity, two-story research and reference library, and changing exhibition galleries. The eastern complex contains a round memorial building as well as extensive, permanent exhibition space, consisting of two clusters of galleries that try to evoke the fortress architecture of the region and form a dramatic silhouette against the surrounding cliff terrain. The gathering of the galleries in groups of five reflects the Five Virtues, a central tenet of Sikhism. The buildings are constructed of poured-in-place concrete. Some beams and columns remain exposed, though a great deal of the structures will be clad in a local honey-colored stone. The rooftops are stainless steel-clad and exhibit a double curvature. They gather and reflect the sky while a series of dams in the ravine create pools that reflect the entire complex at night.

Virasat-e-Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib; the Ram Tirath Temple in Amritsar; Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Golden Temple
Virasat-e-Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib; the Ram Tirath Temple in Amritsar; Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Golden Temple

Sri Harmandir Sahib

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took a heritage walk and visited the Golden Temple soon after arriving in this holy town to attend the “Heart of Asia” conference, the beauty of Sri Harmandir Sahib was there for everyone to see and admire. Modi and Ghani walked through the renovated heritage corridor before reaching Sri Harmandir Sahib.

The Amritsar makeover with a majestic entry gate, the heritage look to the corridor from the Town Hall to the Golden Temple, the Partition Museum, the face-lift of 170 buildings in the heritage street surrounding Shri Harmandar Sahib are now attractions for pilgrims and tourists alike from India and abroad.

Enter the city of Amritsar and there is a golden gate looming over the skyline shaped like the dome of the Golden Temple (Darbar Sahib), the holiest of the Sikh shrines. As the pilgrimage progresses, there is a gilded leaf patterned Bus Rapid Transport System (BRTS) track. The beautification of the place was spearheaded by Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.

The long stretch from Town Hall to Jallianwala Bagh has nothing of the old familiar bustle. For a moment, one wonders if it is our old “Ambarsar”. The marvel has indeed come up in less than a record one year. The facades of all buildings are blushing pink in Kota stone tiles and trellis screens. This includes the market places and shops selling the city’s famous “pappar-warhian”, Punjabi “juttis”, Amritsari Kulchas , religious artefacts and much more. The Dharam Singh Market on the Golden Temple road has been turned into pretty pink, and right in front is a rectangular block on which life-size bhangra dancers, carved out of black marble, are jeering and striking poses.

Around 1.5 lakh devotees visit the Golden Temple on weekdays and the footfall goes up to two lakh on Sundays and sangrand (the first day of a month of the Indian solar calendar). This must have made it difficult to complete the project before schedule and in a record time. To attract more tourists Punjab Govt. started double décker bus service called “Hop-on Hop-off,” which will be availabe at the entry gate of the city. This takes the tourists to 16 beautiful places thoughout in the city such as Sri Harmandir Sahib, Jalianwala Bagh,Hall Gate, Town Hall, Sri Durgiana Mandir,Gobindgarh Fort, Khalsa College, Guru Nanak Dev University, War Heroes Memorial, Bhagwan Balmiki Tirath Sthal, Saada Pind (Hertage Village), Anad Park, Trillium Mall, Hotel Taj, Rambagh (Company Bagh) and Urban Haat.

The 45-metre-high stainless steel sword at the War Memorial; the Fateh Burj is the tallest minar in India; the Double-Decker bus for sightseeing
The 45-metre-high stainless steel sword at the War Memorial; the Fateh Burj is the tallest minar in India; the Double-Decker bus for sightseeing

In a salute to the largest democracy of the world, there is a mini replica of Parliament and a giantsized statue of architect of the Indian Constitution BR Ambedkar. The highest pedestal of white marble has intricate carving of elephants and war scenes and small statues of the Sikh generals and a huge statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh riding a horse with a sword in hand on the top. This symbolises the great period of the Sikh glory.

Jallianwala Bagh

Outside the Jallianwala Bagh is a flame-shaped marble memorial to pay tribute to martyrs who lost their lives in the 1919 massacre. All these sculptures are spread out on a grand plaza paved with Makrana marble in white and ochre designs and a huge central fountain. There are more stones paving the paths; Kota tiles here and Katni bricks there. The marble is bound to catch the heart and some greenery was required. Thus, huge planters with flowering shrubs have been placed along the paths.

The amphibious bus project – Harike Cruise – at Harike Wetland aims to provide fillip to tourist footfall in the state

War Memorial

The War Memorial on the Amritsar- Attari road not only lures tourists, but also create employment opportunities. A large bronze mural remembering the Battle of Saragarhi (1897), in which 21 soldiers of 36th Sikhs (now the 4th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment) died fighting Afghan tribesmen in the North-West Frontier Province, stretches across the front wall of the War Memorial and Museum at Chheharta on the Attari Road to the Pakistan border, and is one of the prestigious projects aimed at tourists who frequent the Indo-Pak border. Besides, it has a 45-metre sword jutting into the sky. It covers an area of seven acres and has captured Pakistani Paton and Sherman tanks, which were destroyed by India’s Centurion tank in the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 71. The memorial, which has pictures of soldiers who laid down their lives, is the patriotic segment of the Amritsar development project. It aims at paying homage to the Punjabis in protecting the nation. It will include a light and sound show.

The Daily Retreat ceremony at the Attari-Wagah border; the Jallianwala Bagh and migratory birds   at Harike Wetland
The Daily Retreat ceremony at the Attari-Wagah border; the Jallianwala Bagh and migratory birds at Harike Wetland

With all this and the State known for its cuisine makki di roti and sarson da saag, its hospitality, culture, rich Sikh history and religious spiritualism is gradually becoming a major tourist attraction for domestic and overseas tourists.

Other historical places that may be of immense interest to the tourists include.

Gobindgarh Fort

This fort, which is 256 years old has a place in Indian history. Maharaja Ranjit Singh had given this name after 10th Sikh Guru Guru Gobind Singh Ji. After the Independence, the fort came under the control of Indian Army. In 2008, it was handed over to the Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board of the Punjab government.

Minar-e-Begampura

The Punjab government is planning to develop Khuralgarh, a sacred place associated with Bhagat Ravidas ji, as a world-class pilgrimage center. The Punjab CM laid the foundation stone of the 151-foot high “Minar-e-Begampura, which will cost Rs 110 crore. The memorial will be built in 12 acres.

Fateh Burj (Chappar Chiri)

This place, situated on Kharar- Landran Road near Mohali, belongs to Baba Bada Singh Bahadur, one of the most legendry Sikh warriors. The Fateh Burj is the tallest minar in India. The 328-feet hight tower is dedicated to establishment of the Sikh Misls in a large part of India in 1711. The tallest tower was built to remember the battle between Sikh Army of Banda Singh Bahadur and Governor of Sirhind Wazir Khan, who was administering a territory of the Mughal Empire between the Sutlej and Yamuna rivers.

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