Anandpur is identified as the place where the political Sikh nation was born, where Guru Gobind Singh forged a mass of peasants into a martial race.
Yet the story of this dramatic change in the character of Sikhism did not begin with Guru Gobind Singh, but with the death by torture of Arjan Dev, the fifth Guru, in 1606, at the hands of Jehangir.
The Mughal Emperor erroneously believed that Guru Arjan had offered political support to his rebellious son Khusrau.
His cruel death was meant to have served the dual purpose of stemming the alarming growth of the Sikh faith and the influence of the gurus.
But it had the reverse effect. For the first time in Sikh history, the sixth Guru, Hargobind spoke of the responsibilities of defending the faith, with a sword in hand if need be.
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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 his beheading by Emperor Aurangzeb’s men, his son, the tenth and last guru of the Sikhs, Gobind Rai, established the Sikh military headquarters in Anandpur Sahib, conceptualising the Khalsa and reshaping Sikhism into the form we are familiar with today.
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A fair share of the credit for this conversion should go to the Mughals for the persistent persecution of the gurus, which made the young Gobind Rai determined to fight for his beliefs by all possible means and train his followers to defend the faith.
But to Guru Gobind alone goes the credit of ensuring the faith survived and flourished, baptising his followers into one family – the Khalsa.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Anandpur Sahib is a pilgrimage centre revolving around Sikhism. Every one of its winding little streets seems to contain historic gurdwaras commemorating emotive events in the evolution of the Khalsa.
Most of the time, Anandpur is a quiet town; but during major festivals, such as Hola Mohalla, Baisakhi and Diwali, lakhs of people land up here. 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-gurdwaras 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 gurdwara complex sprawls much further. This is where the guru performed the first baptism ritual on Baisakhi day in 1699.
On the feast of Baisakhi, at Kesgarh Sahib, he stood before the congregation, drew his sword and demanded volunteers for a sacrifice. One by one, five men volunteered.
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The guru then led each of these five into an enclosure and emerged each time with a sword dripping blood. But the guru had just slaughtered a goat each time and not the five men.
He then came out and declared that the panj pyare (blessed five) would form the core of the new community – the Khalsa, or ‘the pure’. They were then baptised in a ceremony in which they drank sugared water stirred with a doubled-edged sword, and were given the name ‘Singh’.
They drank from the same bowl to signify the casteless community they were now a part of. Guru Gobind Singh then expounded the principles of the Five Ks (kesh, kara, kanga, kachchha, kirpan) and forged the force that would sweep Punjab.
The gurdwara here is, as usual, built in white marble and located on a hill that dominates the town. 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.
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There is also a Baroquelooking 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 gurdwara is the holy well, Baoli Sahib. The gurdwara itself is not more than 50 years old.
There is no trace of the old structure in Qila Fatehgarh Sahib. However, there is a gurdwara 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–Bhora Sahib goes through the old bazaars that spread out under the skirts of Kesgarh.
This part of the town is redolent of age; the gurdwara complex also looks older. It is a great place to pick up Sikh literature or music, 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, delivered the funerary oration. Bhora Sahib is built around a basement where Guru Tegh Bahadur used to meditate.
A third, important gurdwara in this same complex is Damdama Sahib, built around the residence of Guru Tegh Bahadur. The platform in front is where Guru Gobind’s investiture took place.
WHERE TO STAY AND EAT
Mandi Board’s Kisan Haveli (Tel: 01887-232650; Tariff: ₹800) offers rooms with good views.
Other popular options include hotel Holy City Paradise Inn (Tel: 232330; Tariff: ₹1,150-2,500) near Kesgarh and Hotel Taj (Tel: 236000; Tariff: ₹1,000-2,000) on the Nangal-Chandigarh Road, which has 21 rooms.
The Kikar Lodge (Tel: 251001, Cell: 09478964971; Tariff: ₹ 8,000-11,000, with meals) 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 may also stay at Kang’s Nirvana Resorts & Spa (Tel: 01884-241872; Tariff: ₹3,500-7,000), 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.
AROUND ANANDPUR SAHIB
Kiratpur Sahib (10 km)
The same Bilaspur family that sold Anandpur Sahib to Guru Tegh Bahadur had gifted some land bordering their kingdom to the sixth Guru, Hargobind.
The guru named the land Kiratpur and built himself a retreat here. Guru Hargobind died here in 1644.
The next guru, Har Rai, also lived here, though he was forced to leave Kiratpur within a year due to clashes between the maharajas of Bilaspur and the Mughals.
He returned and spent the rest of his ministry here.
Today, the road to Kiratpur is bordered by the green waters of the Nangal Canal.
Sikhs from all over the world come here to perform the last rites for the departed, in the waters of the Sutlej river. The Gurdwara Patalpuri Sahib, an enormous building, marks the spot where Guru Hargobind and Guru Har Rai were cremated.
And Gurdwara Shish Mahal commemorates a spot where the sixth, seventh and eighth gurus all lived between 1635 and 1665.
Ropar (40 km)
Ropar, or Rupnagar, is a little trading town that seems to have been around forever. Between 1929 and 1955, the ASI excavated and found an extraordinary treasure trove of the remains of six different civilisations here. An ASI museum houses these finds. You can also get to the dug out area itself and take a look at some of the larger structures.
Heritage Haveli (Tel: 01881-301000, Cell: 09356999991; Tariff: ₹3,500-4,500) near Tata Pasco on Chandigarh-Ropar Road, is decent. Hotel Sahil Palace (Tel: 222033; Tariff: ₹1,200-3,500) and Lily’s Motel (Tel: 227511; Tariff: ₹1,500-1,800) have restaurants.
When to go Anandpur is always pleasant as its elevation makes it cooler than the plains of Punjab Location In the northwestern corner of Chandigarh Air Nearest airport: Chandigarh Rail Nearest rail: Anandpur Sahib.
Tourist/ Wildlife Offices
Punjab Tourism, Punjab Bhawan, Copernicus Marg, New Delhi. Tel: 011-23384943, W punjabtourism.gov.in
Haryana Tourism, SCO 17-19, Sector 17-B, Chandigarh Tel: 0172-2702955-57
Punjab Tourism, Near Water Lily Restaurant, DC Road, Ropar. Cell: 09814657056, STD code 01887
Harike Bird Sanctuary
Range Officer (Wildlife), Harike. Cell: 08872317800
Divisional Forest Officer, Amritsar, Tel: 0183-2585480
Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife), Ferozepur. Tel: 01632-279412, 222312, STD code 01851
Haryana Tourism, Sultanpur National Park, Contact: Rosy Pelican TRH, Tel: 0124-2015670/ 207
Chief Wildlife Warden (Haryana)
Panchkula, Haryana, Tel: 0172-2583682, STD code 0124
Haryana Tourism, Neelkanthi Krishna Dham, Thanesar. Tel: 01744-291615, STD code 01744