Quick Guide Anandpur Sahib, Punjab

The holy citadel of the Sikhs and a pilgrimage centre, Anandpur Sahib, is a perfect getaway for those looking for a spiritual weekend break
Quick Guide Anandpur Sahib, Punjab

Fast facts
State Punjab
Distance 318 km NW of Delhi  
When to go Anandpur is pleasant even in summer. Although it isn&rsquot a hill station, its slight elevation makes it always appreciably cooler than the plains of Punjab
Tourist Offices Punjab Tourism, Near Water Lily Restaurant, DC Road, Ropar &nbspCell 09814657056
Punjab Tourism, Punjab Bhawan, Copernicus Marg, New Delhi  Tel 011-23384943
Web punjabtourism.gov.in
STD code 01887

Getting there
Air Nearest airport Chandigarh (80 km/2 hrs)
Rail Anandpur Sahib Station
Road Take the NH1 out of Delhi straight past Karnal and Ambala. Head onto NH3 near Chandigarh to reach Anandpur Sahib. Stay below the flyover at Ambala for Chandigarh and Anandpur Sahib

For the first two hours out of Jalandhar, the road to Anandpur runs through a landscape as flat as an ironing board. And then, the terrain starts rolling gently as the Shivalik foothills appear. Technically speaking, you never leave Punjab. As you reach Anandpur Sahib, you can see Sri Kesgarh Sahib, the fortress-gurudwara brooding on its hill a kilometre away.

If Amritsar is the holy city of the Sikhs, Anandpur is their holy citadel, forever identified as the place where the political Sikh nation was born, where Guru Gobind Singh forged a mass of peasants into a martial race. But the story of Anandpur Sahib too does not begin with Guru Gobind Singh, but with Guru Tegh Bahadur, who first settled here. A shy man who lived in Bakala, Tegh Bahadur unexpectedly found himself the ninth guru when the eighth, Guru Har Krishan, died young in 1664. Chased out of Amritsar and Kiratpur by schismatic sects, he finally put down roots at Chak Nanaki, which later came to be known as Anandpur Sahib. He bought the land from the Rajput Rani of Bilaspur, who was a devotee and had entreated him to stay close by.

Later, after Tegh Bahadur&rsquos beheading by Emperor Aurangzeb&rsquos men, his son Gobind Rai, the tenth and last guru of the Sikhs, established the Sikh military headquarters in Anandpur Sahib, conceptualising the Khalsa and reshaping Sikhism into the form we are familiar with today.

Things to see and do
Anandpur Sahib is a pilgrimage centre revolving completely around Sikhism. Every one of its winding little streets seems to contain historic gurudwaras commemorating emotive events in the evolution of the Khalsa. Most of the time, Anandpur is a small town, but during major festivals, it seems to experience a population explosion. Lakhs of people come here every year during the festivals of Hola Mohalla, Baisakhi and Diwali. And you will also see some of the most spectacular scenery in Punjab at Anandpur, because the town rises up from the gorges leading down to the Sutlej.

Of the five fortress-gurudwaras built by Guru Gobind Rai in 1688, Takht Sri Kesgarh Sahib is the most important and also the best preserved. Some of the old fortifications still survive, although the modern gurudwara complex sprawls much further. The gurudwara here is, as usual, built in white marble and located on a hill that dominates the town. It was obviously chosen for its strategic location, as the other four fortresses are clearly visible from here. Since all five fortresses are within easy walking distance, it is possible to map your routes from here. The statutory sarovar (tank or lake) is on lower ground, a little way from the main building.

The inner sanctum is a square hall with a platform. Several weapons belonging to Guru Gobind Singh, including some that were brought back from British museums are on display. They include a saif (scimitar) that reputedly belonged to the Imam Ali and was given to the guru by Bahadur Shah I during a brief period of peace between the Sikhs and the Mughals. There is also a Baroque-looking serpentine nagin spear, once used during the siege of Lohgarh Fort to repulse a drunken elephant.

Of the other fortresses, Qila Anandgarh Sahib is fairly well preserved. The chief landmark of this gurudwara is the holy well, Baoli Sahib. The gurudwara itself is not more than 50 years old. There is no trace of the old structure in Qila Fatehgarh Sahib. However, there is a gurudwara of more recent construction. Qila Lohgarh Sahib encompasses the wide plains on the banks of the Sutlej canal where the annual festival of Hola Mohalla has been held since 1701. It has a faux fortress wall that was obviously built at some point in the last few decades.

The walk from Kesgarh Sahib to Sisganj Sahib and Bhora Sahib is the most interesting. It goes through the old bazaars that spread out under the skirts of Kesgarh. This part of the town is redolent of age the gurudwara complex also looks older. It is an excellent place to pick up Sikh literature or music, as well as consecrated weapons and other artefacts.

Sisganj Sahib is where the severed head of Guru Tegh Bahadur was brought from Delhi for cremation in 1675. This complex contains a raised platform where Gobind Singh, then nine years old, delivered the funerary oration. Bhora Sahib is built around a basement where Guru Tegh Bahadur meditated.

A third, important gurudwara in this same complex is Damdama Sahib, built around the residence of Guru Tegh Bahadur. The platform in front is where Guru Gobind&rsquos investiture took place.

None of the buildings here are architecturally as splendid as those in Amritsar. These were working forts and gurudwaras ­&ndash and many of them were demolished and reconstructed. It is the events associated with this area that make the locale so special.

Where to stay and eat
A good option to stay here is Mandi Board&rsquos Kisan Haveli (Tel 01887-232650 Tariff INR 800 www.mandiboard.nic.in/ach-kisan.htm). IT has 12 rooms with good views. Other popular options include Hotel Holy City Paradise Inn (Tel 232330 Tariff INR 800-2,250) near Kesgarh and Hotel Taj (Tel 236000 Tariff INR 1,000 newtajhotel.com) on Nangal-Chandigarh Road, which has 21 rooms.

The Kikar Lodge (Tel 251001, Cell 09478964971 Tariff INR 8,500-11,500, with meals www.thekikarlodge.com) is about 14 km from Anandpur Sahib in Village Kangar, Nurpur Bedi. The lodge has a restaurant, spa, swimming pools and lots of adventure activities. You can also stay at Kang&rsquos Nirvana Resorts & Spa (Tel 241872-73 Tariff INR 3,500-7,000nirvanaresortsindia.com), 40 km away on Mahilpur-Una Road in Jaijon Doaba.

A few independent restaurants, some hotel eateries and, of course, many langars offer simple, wholesome food. Nonvegetarian cuisine is available in a few hotels near the bus stand.

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