Punjab, with its fertile farming land, is one of India's most prosperous states. Home to bhangra music and the brotherhood of the Sikh religion, it has a distinctive and lively culture. To get a real taste of Punjab, it's necessary to venture out of the cities to discover the simplicity and charm of rural life. Visit these tourist places in Punjab to experience the best of what the state has to offer.
AddressAtta Mandi, Katra Ahluwalia, Amritsar, Punjab 143006, India
Amritsar, the spiritual capital of the Sikhs, is a must-visit place due to the exquisite Golden Temple. It attracts pilgrims from all over the world, and looks particularly arresting at night when it’s beautifully lit up with its imposing pure gold dome illuminated. The memorial at Jallianwala Bagh near the Golden Temple is one of India's top historical sites and is also worth seeing, along with the new Partition Museum dedicated to preserving the experiences of those affected by the 1947 Partition of India. Amritsar is renowned for its street food as well, making it a foodie's delight! Plan your trip there with this Amritsar travel guide.
The Wagah Border, between India and Pakistan, is a popular side trip from Amritsar. Everyday of the year, just before sunset, a flag lowering ceremony takes place there as the border is closed for the day. It starts with high patriotic spirits from both sides of the border and lasts for about 45 minutes. Here's more information about it and how to best experience it.
AddressRock Garden of Chandigarh, Sector 1, Chandigarh, 160001, India
Capital city Chandigarh is a modern-day planned city that's different to any other in India. It lacks chaos and color but has some interesting attractions. The highlight is the extraordinary 25 acre Fantasy Rock Garden, open daily. Artist Nek Chand used all kinds of urban and industrial waste, as well as local stone, to personally create a multitude of quirky sculptures (including more than 2,000 statues) over 20 years. It's junk art at its finest! The city's other off-beat attractions include the iconic Open Hand Monument (located in the UNESCO World Heritage Capitol Complex) and a 56 foot tall replica of Paris's Eiffel Tower (located in Leisure Valley, in front of the Government Museum and Art Gallery). If you enjoy nature, visit Sukhna Lake (which has paddle boats), and the city's various parks and gardens as well. There's a Rose Garden with 1,500 varieties, and a Bougainvillea Garden. The convenient and inexpensive Hop On Hop Off Bus stops at many of these places. Chandigarh has also been undergoing a hip transformation in recent years, with the opening of a number of microbreweries (try Malt & Co at the Piccadilly Hotel, and Hops N Grains at Sector 9 in Panchkula) and the luxurious Oberoi Sukhvilas hotel.
Anandpur Sahib, about 2 hours north of Chandigarh near the Himachal Pradesh border, has been an important pilgrimage place for Sikhs for hundreds of years. Known as the "Holy City of Bliss", it was the birth place of the Khalsa (Sikh brotherhood). The historical gurdwaras (temples) are magnificent, along with the surroundings. Anandpur Sahib is flanked by a 17th century fortress, and framed between a towering mountain range and river.
Visit during Baisaki to catch the carnival like celebrations that take place there. However, the most impressive display of Sikh fearlessness can be seen during Hola Mohalla, held during the Holi festival. It's one of the best places to celebrate Holi in India. Instead of throwing colored powder, be prepared for testosterone fueled mock battles featuring sticks, knives, axes and swords. One of the best places to stay is Bharatgarh Fort heritage homestay (yes, it is inside a fort!) about 20 minutes away in Rupnagar.
Farms and Farmsatays
Farming is at the heart of Punjab, and the state has some outstanding boutique farmstays where you can experience rural living (and at the right time of year, even frolic among the yellow mustard fields like in a Bollywood movie). It's possible for guests to participates in farming activities and go for tractor rides. Punjabiyat, about an hour northeast of Amritsar, is a unique tribute to Punjabi culture with four cottages surrounded by fields. Farmer's Villa is conveniently located about 20 minutes north of Amritsar. Citrus County is set on a sprawling kinnow orchard in Hoshiarpur, about 2 hours east of Amritsar and 2 hours northeast of Chandigarh. It has luxury tents for glamping. Kailash Farm is also popular (and less costly) in Hoshiarpur, and is great for families. Prakriti Farm, about an hour from Chandigarh, is another recommended option with luxury tents and huts.
Located not far from Ludhiana, the village of Kila Raipur hosts the renowned Rural Olympics every February. This spectacle has earned world-wide recognition. The adrenaline-pumping bullock cart race is the main attraction. Other events that are big on entertainment include a tractor race and a tug-of-war. You'll also get to see some really bizarre activities such as people lifting bicycles with their teeth, pulling cars with their teeth or ears, or riding a bicycle ringed with a burning tire, and other daredevil stunts.
AddressOld Moti Bagh, Moti Bagh, Patiala, Punjab 147001, India
If you want to explore the royal Punjab of the past, Patiala offers a glorious insight into the history of 18th and 19th century Punjab, particularly the Malwa region. Located southwest of Chandigarh, this medium-sized town was once an independent Sikh kingdom and one of India's richest princely states. You'll be greeted by regal monuments, gardens and parks. The main attractions are a temple devoted to Goddess Kali, Moti Bagh Palace (which houses an excellent art gallery), and the immense 10 acre Qila Mubarak complex with its series of palaces, inner fort, audience hall, and museum. It's a rare and remarkable example of Sikh palace architecture in India.
Patiala is also famous for the generous Patiala peg of whiskey, salwar suits with loose pants, pagdi (traditional turban), and paranda (colorful hair decorations for women). Slip-on leather footwear, known as the Patiala jutti, is another hot item that you can shop for in the bustling local markets. Stay at Neemrana's Baradari Palace, a wonderfully atmospheric and centrally located heritage hotel. Quite a few scenes from the Bollywood movie Bodyguard were filmed there.
Off the Beaten Track: Harike Wetlands
AddressNihalpur, Punjab 143412, India
Did you know that Punjab has the largest wetlands in northern India, situated where the Beas and Sutlej rivers meet about two hours south of Amritsar? It hasn't been developed as a tourist destination, so it lacks facilities and often falls under the radar of many visitors. However, it's a prominent breeding ground for migratory and resident water fowl, with more than 360 recorded species. Boating isn't possible without special permission but there are trails, accessible by vehicle (drive your own or hire a jeep in Amritsar), that offer fine bird sightings. Entry is free and the Harike Wildlife Office issues permits. November to February is the best time to go. It's an appealing destination for nature lovers looking for peace.