The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, also known as the Amritsar massacre, is one of the most horrific tales of the Indian freedom struggle. It is one of the worst war crimes committed by the British in India.
April 13, 1919, marked a turning point in the Indian freedom struggle. It was Baisakhi that day, a harvest festival popular in Punjab and parts of north India. Local residents had gathered at Jallianwala Baugh, a large public garden to condemn the arrest and deportation of two national leaders. The crowd had a mix of men, women and children. It was a peaceful protest, but while the meeting was on, General Dyer of the British Indian Army crept on the scene, blocked the exit with an armoured tank and ordered his troops to fire at the crowd for ten minutes, killing over 1,000 innocent civilians. While people were killed by the bullets, many died in the ensuing stampede while others died when they jumped into a nearby well to escape the bullets. The bullet marks are still visible on the walls.
We will visit the memorial gardens in Jallianwala Bagh while in Amritsar a mere month before the centenary of this massacre.
The Golden Temple is also referred to as "Harmandir Sahib", and is the holiest Gurudwara and one of the oldest worship places for the Sikh community. Located in Amritsar, the temple is spiritually the most significant shrine in Sikhism. At the same time, it is an open house of worship for all men and women, from all walks of life and faith.
The Golden Temple was built in 1589 but it was destroyed several times by raiding armies from Afghanistan and the Mughal Empire. Each time it was steadfastly rebuilt, and now occupies prime position at the centre of a man-made lake known as 'Amrit Sarovar' which is translated as ‘Pool of Holy Nectar’. The entire top of the temple is made of pure gold (750kgs of it), adding to the beauty of the temple. All the Gurudwaras in the world serve free meals (called Langar) to its devotees. The Golden Temple has the world’s largest free kitchen which feeds 50,000 people on an average day and up to 100,000 on festivals and special occasions. This incredible feat is made possible through donations and volunteers. Everyone, regardless of faith and background is allowed in the dining hall. And everyone must sit on the floor as equals, so all people are on the same level and nobody is ‘above’ anyone else. The selflessness and generosity of the volunteers shows that not only is this beautiful temple made of gold, but so are the hearts of the devotees who come to worship here.
While we are in Amrtisar, we will visit the temple and experience the serenity of this holy shrine. We also have the opportunity to volunteer in food preparation and later enjoy the simple, yet delicious vegetarian food for lunch. For some of you, this may well be the highlight of our journey.
The story of Taj Mahal can easily resemble any Bollywood film. It has love, romance and tragedy involving a King, his Queen and the villain who happens to be his own son.
When Emperor Shah Jahan ascended the throne in 1628, he bestowed his wife Banu Begum (the favourite of his 3 wives) with the title Mumtaz Mahal (Jewel of the Palace). After 19 years of happy life, Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631 when she was giving birth to her 14th child. Shah Jahan was heartbroken and his court mourned for two years. Few years later, Shah Jahan decided to build Taj Mahal, in the memory of his beloved wife. This monument is now one of the most outstanding monuments of Mughal and world architecture visited by millions of people every year.
Mumtaz Mahal’s tomb is at the lower chamber of the monument and later Shah Jahan was buried there too. It was built by twenty thousand workers and craftsmen and materials form Baghdad, Shiraz and Bukhara and it took nearly 20 years to complete. It is built entirely of white marble inlaid with precious gems and decorated with intricate flowers and calligraphy carvings.
As the legend goes, Shah Jahan intended to build a second grand mausoleum exactly like the Taj Mahal, but in black marble across the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal, where his own remains would be buried when he died; the two structures were to have been connected by a bridge. However, in 1658 Shah Jahan was overthrown by Aurangzeb, (Shah Jahan’s third son with Mumtaz Mahal) imprisoned him and took power himself. Shah Jahan lived out the last years of his life under house arrest in a tower of the Red Fort at Agra, with a view of the majestic resting place he had constructed for his wife. When he died, he was buried next to the love of his life in the Taj Mahal.
Wagah is a border town straddling the line between Pakistan and India, 29 km from the town of Lahore on the Pakistani side and 27 km from Amritsar on the Indian side. The two countries are separated by two heavy gates set a couple of meters apart and this is the only crossing point between Pakistan and India that is regularly open to foreigners. The Wagah border famous for the lowering of the flags ceremony that armed forces of both countries have jointly followed since 1959.
This ceremony takes place every evening before sunset and tells the story between these two neighbouring nations. It starts with a blustering parade by the soldiers from both sides, and ends up in the perfectly coordinated lowering of the two nations' flags. As the sun sets, the iron gates at the border are opened and the two flags are lowered simultaneously. The flags are folded and the ceremony ends with a retreat that involves a brusque handshake between soldiers from either side, followed by the closing of the gates again. The spectacle of the ceremony attracts many visitors from both sides of the border, as well as international tourists. It is alternatively a symbol of the two countries’ rivalry, as well as brotherhood and cooperation between the two nations. The recent border skirmishes in Kashmir and the escalating tensions between the two nations, makes this a spectacular event – one not to be missed.
Of all the Rajput palaces and forts, the royal fortified palace in Amber is the most romantic. It is an exquisite specimen of Rajput and Mughal architecture, was begun by Raja Man Singh early in the 17th century, and completed by Raja Jai Singh I and Sawai Jai Singh II, founder of the city of Jaipur, over a hundred years later. Constructed of red sandstone and marble, the attractive, opulent palace is laid out on four levels, each with a courtyard. It was once the residence of the Rajput Maharajas and their families.
We will ascend the fort riding on an Elephant that are richly decorated, all wearing red silk overcoats, and some faces even painted with beautiful Indian floral designs in vibrant colours. Once on top, you can stroll through the sprawling complex of courtyards and halls. Among the main attractions of the fort are Jai Mandir and Sheesh Mahal. While the Sheesh Mahal has walls inlaid with exquisite mirrors, the Jai Mandir, hanging on the upper floor, is a superb blend of Mughal and Rajput style of architecture. This is evident from the elegantly carved Jali screens and stucco work. Jal Mandir has a huge opening which is covered with sandalwood doors. A special feature of this structure is the flow of water through the building, making the entire hall air-conditioned. Sheesh Mahal too, has a special feature - the entire edifice would glow even at the light of a few candles.
Our experienced guides will enthral us with some fascinating stories about the fort and the lives of the Rajputs who once resided here.
This is a story about the Mughal kingdoms finest folly in India.
Fatehpur Sikri is a magnificent fortified ancient city, 40km west of Agra. It was the short-lived capital of the Mughal empire between 1571 and 1585, during the reign of Emperor Akbar. The majestic imperial city is the size of London and has a fort, palaces, dining halls, courtyards, pools and mosques. Unfortunately, it was erected in an area that supposedly suffered from water shortages. Therefore, the city that took 15 years to build was inhabited for only 14 years and was abandoned to become a ghost town. It was later used by the British as an army outpost.
The architecture, listed among World Heritage sites leaves a tale of a what-could-have-been a jewel of the Mughal empire behind in ruins.