Welcome to Amritsar - A city that has seen, heard and felt so much. It has been through a lot of pain, happiness, separation, bloodshed, victory and much more. The feelings have been mixed and so is the history. These stories need to be told and passed on to next generations. The people who have survived the partition struggle have experienced emotions like no other. Even if we listen to or read their stories, we cannot ever understand what it actually felt like. But it’s not only the people who have stories, such extreme events can even make buildings narrate their sufferings.
Punjab (India), as a state, has been divided since independence in 1947 and lost some of its parts in Pakistan. The people moved on (because they had no choice) and started their lives again. But these buildings cannot, so they chose to spread the history.
One such prominent monument to be explored as part of Amritsar itinerary is the Gobindgarh Fort, which is at a distance of around 4 kms from the Jallianwala Bagh and 2 kms from Akal Takht
The history of Gobindgarh fort, also known as “Qila Gobindgarh," dates back to 17th century and has seen its rulers change many times within the 18th and 19th centuries starting with the Misl clan.
The fort was built more than 250 years ago, in the year 1760, by Gujjar Singh Bhangi. Initially built as a mud fortress, it was named as “Bhagian da Qila”. A local trader conspired against a minor ruler Gurdit S. Bhangi who was the descendant of Gujjar Singh, and encouraged Maharaja Ranjit Singh to fight against them. The Maharaja was already on the rise at that time. Getting an opportunity, he asked the Bhangies to surrender their giant cannon, called Zamzama, but they refused. Hence, he invaded the area and took over the fort defeating the Bhangies. The monument was reconstructed from 1805 till 1809 and renamed to “Gobindgarh” fort after the 10th Sikh Guru Shri Guru Gobind Singh. Amritsar was a major target for loots by the enemy. Hence soldiers were deployed in the fort at all times, to keep a watch and guard the city as well the holy Golden Temple, from the looters. The fort also had a tunnel that led to Lahore if one needed to escape from inside.
Since it was constructed as a mud fort, the Maharaja worked on making it stronger to protect the territory from invaders. The walls were double layered for better defence. French warfare practices were adopted and French fortification systems were put in place. The Nalwa gate, or the main entrance, could be reached after crossing the two-part outer gate. Every turn and area of the fort was enhanced to give a better view and limit any access without supervision. Kellar gate was the back entrance to the fort and was monitored equally. The fort also became famous as it hosted Prince Nau Nihal Singh’s, grandson of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, grand wedding in 1837.
The Maharaja ruled over Punjab for 40 years and soon after his death in 1839, the fort was captured by the Britishers post the second Anglo-Sikh war in 1849. The Britishers made their own enhancements to the fort as well. Since there was almost no threat of any further wars, the bastions which were earlier used for defensive fires were now used to house soldiers. These areas now provided accommodation and were covered with roofs. Some structures, like colonial semi-spiral staircase and a service staircase, cannot be dated back to their construction and there are no evidences to show the years when they were built.
The Darbar Hall was a typical rectangular double-story colonial design building with flat roof. Another building near the Darbar hall is thought to be used for purification of water by the process of chlorination. However, some views state that the structure was used as a “Phansi ghar” (the hanging place”). Built with modular bricks, the floor is concrete and cemented.
Zamzama, also spelled as Zam-Zammah, was a giant-sized cannon that was cast at Lahore. Hari Singh (the Bhangi chief) attacked Lahore, seized the cannon and called it “Bhangian di top”. A life-size replica of the same is kept at the Gobindgarh fort, Amritsar; while the original one rests in front of Lahore Museum, Pakistan.
During the independence struggle, the Indian Army took over the fort in 1947 and stationed their troops inside. The fort was used only for military purpose for a long time before being handed over to the Punjab government. The new watch tower built in 1874 and standing at fifty metres tall, was demolished by the Indian Army.
Located about 2 kms from the famous Golden Temple and 1 km from Amritsar Junction railway station, Gobindgarh fort was declared as a historical monument in 1964. The fort has almost been restored to its original condition and is a historical attraction in Amritsar. One can visit the site anytime between 10 am and 10 pm from Monday to Sunday. Witnessing the rule of the Misls to Maharaja Ranjit Singh to the Britishers to the Indian Army, the place has seen it all and has recently been opened to the public in 2017.
Allowing the present and future generations to see the past, many activities and shows are organized within the premises every day. The highlights are listed below:
The Kohinoor was safely kept under the guard of thousands of soldiers in this toshakhana.
It also housed gold, silver, and other precious jewels during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. This section has now been converted into a coin museum where you can see a variety of coins displayed.
2) Haat Bazaar
Haat Bazaar is a local market in the fort premises where you will find all Sikh and Punjabi traditional stuff.
The variety includes jewelry, juttis (Punjabi footwear), shawls, pidies (colorful thread-woven stools), phulkari (embroidery technique from Punjab) and much more. Punjabi culture is quite colorful and full of life, and you cannot help but absorb the liveliness while you are there.
3) Folk performances
Punjabi folk dances are vibrant and extremely energetic. Be it Gidda, Bhangra or Gatka, every dance form is a happy dance that rejuvenates one’s soul.
No one can resist the beats of “Dhol” and keep themselves from joining in! The performances are scheduled all day and tourists can be seen enjoying them with their occasional claps.
The Pagdi Museum (Turban Museum) in the Art Gallery section shows the different ways of wearing this headgear. It displays many unique ways the Pagdi has been worn since its inception till the modern times of today.
The Warfare Museum showcases a variety of war instruments since the old times. It also contains a replica of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s war clothes and sword.
5) Activities and games
Apart from the knowledge that you gain about the history of Punjab, the place also has multiple games and activities scheduled that you can enjoy.
There is something for everyone. Whether you are with family or friends, you are sure to have fun and spend some good time together participating in the games.
6) Light & Sound show
This light & sound show is set against the backdrop of colonial building and shows the history of Gobindgarh fort. The walls of the monument have a lot to tell if you let yourself immerse into their story.
The surround sound and projectors bring the character of the fort to life. It takes the audience back in time to see the events as if they were really present when the history was being created. The show is called “Kanda Boldiyan Ne” (Whispering Walls) and the timings are:
Whispering Walls (Punjabi): 08:15 PM
Whispering Walls (English): 08:45 PM
The 7D show, known as "Sher-e-Punjab," runs multiple times every day ensuring that everyone visiting the fort gets a chance to see the same.
The show is named after Maharaja Ranjit Singh (as he was called the “Lion of Punjab”) and presents the story of his life. He was a mighty ruler of Punjab and his reign lasted for about 40 years. He was the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire.
You get a lot of food options inside the premises. If you feel like having some Punjabi street food, head over to the Zaika Gali where you can choose to have anything from “Chaat” to “Golgappe” to “Kulchas”.
For a fine dine experience, choose the Kesariya Darbar where you can enjoy your meal served on your table within the royal ambience of the fort!
If you have the time, you can spend one full day in the Gobindgarh fort. The knowledge it holds within, the quality time you can spend with your loved ones and the traditions you get to experience in the form of food as well as culture is unmatchable. The place is one of the top-rated tourist places to visit in Amritsar, and it deserves the spot very well!