On approaching the holy Har Mandir Saheb, popularly knwon as the Golden temple, in Amritsar, Punjab, the meditative melodies of the Sukh Mani Saheb (The Psalm of Peace), and Asa di Var (Texts on ideal behaviour) float through the morning quietness filling the whole ambience with religious ecstasy. The singing of hymns and recitation of Gurbani coupled with the poetic beauty of the Golden temple, create a celestial atmospehre, awakening a dormant chord of humanity. Standing elegantly in; the pool of nectar also called the Ramdas Sarovar, the Darbar Saheb, the ultimate religious place of Sikhs, enshrining the holy Granth Saheb (The Scripture), symbolises the presence of God on earth. Its reflection in the water all around it is simply captivating.
The interior of the Darbar Saheb is breathtakingly beautiful. The walls are inlaid with semi-precious stones, in floral patterns, frescoes and glasswork. The intricate Minakari (inlay) work in between, add colour to the walls. A marble causeway leads across the pool from Darbar Saheb to the marble parikrama or circumambulation. The Parikrama has four entrance gates - the Ghantaghar, Baba Atal, Saraiwla and Thada Saheb. The holy structure was built by the fifth Guru of the Sikh faith, Guru Arjun Dev. It attracts tourists and devotees from all religions and from all parts of the country and abroad.
The four gates of the Golden Temple open outside to the markets flourishing under the blessings of the Har Mandir Saheb. Being the biggest trading centre in northern India, Amritsar has many famous Katras or Bazaars (markets) all around the Golden Temple. The narrow winding lanes of Katras are like a maze, with very little sunshine penetrating them. At places the lanes are extremely narrow. But one is struck by the surfeit of colour in these lanes- of colourful parandas (Threads worn by women in their plait) or bangles. There are so many of them, it seems one is walking through a rainbow. The magic of colours- red, purple, green yellow, blue, golden -overpowers one's senses and one is instantly reminded that - "Yes, this is Punjab, vibrant and colourful".
The famous Guru Bazaar, or commonly known as gold Katra, supplies gold to almost the whole of northern India. There are more than 2500 shops in the katra. A shop here could be a big showroom or a small box-like place in a corner.
The most interesting feature about this katra is that the upper storeys of the buildings, which look like houses from outside, are in fact a large wholesale and production market of gold ornaments. Each building has a minimum of 40-50 shops in it, making gold ornaments.
The gold wholesalers and karigars (artisans) are also spread in the next katra - the Bazaar Kesarian -equaly famous for steel and brass utensils. The shops displaying different varieties of utensils, shining brightly under electric lamps, run into hundreds. Steel never looked so dazzling and beautiul as it does in Bazaar Kesarian.
Close to the Darshani Deodi ( in Golden Temple complex, actually from the side of Akal Takht, is the entrance called Saraiwala, right outside this entrance), is huge bazaar for artificial jewellery. The merchandise looks so genuine and original that one can esily be fooled here, for the whole place looks like a real gold market.
There is no end to the katras in Amritsar, but the most famous of all of them is the Papad-Warian Bazaar - Katra Kathian. One smells the place even before one reaches there. Rows and rows of fresh Papad and Warian ( made with pulses)-all-home-made- are ready for sale. With not much competition so far, the Amritsar businessman guards the secret of technique of making them so delicious and peppery too!
Next to it is the Mishri Bazaar - the dry fruit market. It is believed that dry fruit from Afghanistan also reaches here. The rows of huge sacks filled with different varieties of dry fruits give the place a rather dull look. But it is soon forgotten when one reaches the next market Katra Mohan Singh Full of Chooda's- bridal bangles- the small lane exudes a romantic aura. The red and cream of the bangles with specks of gold are a must for all Punjabi brides. These are sent to other states also for sle.
When one reaches the last shop on the exterior in Katra Mohan singh, one is once again facing the splendour of the Har Mandir Saheb, now shining brightly in the afternoon Sun.
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