Punjab travel guide

In 1947, Partition split the province of Punjab up, giving a portion to India and a portion to the newly created Pakistan. It was a traumatic, violent episode in the region’s history, but today, India’s Punjab is a joyful, inviting place. History and religion hold hands everywhere you go, from the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamasala, to the Raj-remnant Shimla and mystical Rishikesh. Punjab state itself is the homeland for India’s wonderfully welcoming Sikh community. It’s dotted with gleaming temples, with the 16th century Golden Temple in Amritsar its mind-blowing centrepiece.
Famous for the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab also deserves a high five for its Bhangra, festivals, food and fantastically friendly welcome.
In its inner sanctum, priests and musicians chant from the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book, while elsewhere in Punjab, frequent festivals bounce to a soundtrack of Bhangra beats. Butter chicken is a famous foodie speciality, as are syrupy gulab jamuns. It’s a heady mix. In fact, forget just sightseeing – a visit to Punjab is about immersing the senses and opening the mind to magical, memorable experiences.
Discover more in our Punjab travel guide.

Punjab map & highlights

The larger Punjab geographical and cultural region is known as ‘The Land of Five Rivers’, and much of it lies within Pakistan. In India, the Punjab region includes the states of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and, yes, Punjab. It’s an established destination for travellers, with most organised tours roaming from the hot, fertile plains of Punjab into the cool and lofty Himalayan foothills. Tours often begin in Delhi, with long distances on trains or bumpy roads unavoidable on a typical fortnight’s itinerary. Amritsar to Rishikesh in Uttarakhand, for example, is best done by sleeper train, while sensational scenery makes up for six hours on the ‘toy train’ from Kalka to Shimla.

Our top Punjab Holiday

Punjab holiday, mountains & mystics

Punjab holiday, mountains & mystics

Mountains remote villages Golden Temple

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Travel Team
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1. Amritsar

In the heart of the fertile plain known as India’s ‘bread basket’, Amritsar is the centre of Sikhism in India. Its famous Hari Mandir, or Golden Temple, is surrounded by a sacred lake and reached by a white marble causeway – it’s a serene, beautiful and incredibly welcoming place. In the Old City, wander the rambling bazaars, perhaps picking up some famous Punjab juttis (embroidered leather shoes).
Dharamsala & McLeod Ganj

2. Dharamsala & McLeod Ganj

Most travellers to Dharamsala come to see the town the Dalai Lama fled to from Tibet in 1960. In fact, he and the Tibetan Government in Exile are based 3km away in McLeod Ganj. In both, though, prayer flags flutter and monks stroll between monasteries. Visit the Norbulingka Institute, dedicated to Tibetan art and culture, and the Tsuglag Khang complex, for His Holiness’s temple.

3. Mandi

On the banks of the Beas River and with over 80 shrines and temples built by Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists, Mandi is one of the most beautiful spiritual hubs in Himachal Pradesh. Explore its sunken garden and market, spend time at the bathing ghats or hike to hilltop temples outside the town. Mandi is also the gateway to the Kullu Valley, a hotspot for adventure sports.

4. Rishikesh

Famously visited by the Beatles in 1968, Rishikesh is a magnet for yoga fans and seekers of spiritual enlightenment. Temples and ashrams line the eastern bank, mostly to the north around Swarg Ashram, a vegetarian and alcohol-free enclave. In the evening, stroll along the holy Ganges with sadhus (holy men) and pilgrims as temple bells ring and the nightly Ganga Aarti river worship ceremony begins.

5. Shimla

The Raj’s summer capital, Shimla sits at over 2,000m, making it cool and pleasant when temperatures sizzle below. As well as amazing views of the Himalayas, highlights include Mall Road, Shimla’s popular shopping strip, the Viceregal Lodge where the partition agreement was drawn up and Christ Church. You can also join the monkeys milling about Jakhu Temple or stock up on wooden crafts at Lakkar Bazaar.
The Toy Train

6. The Toy Train

The UNESCO World Heritage-listed ‘Toy Train’ connects Kalka to the Raj summer capital of Shimla in the foothills of the Himalayas. This narrow-gauge line is just 76cm wide and rises to more than 2,000m above sea level at its highest point. It takes six hours to travel along, but the sleepy pace gives passengers a chance to enjoy the dramatic views over mountains and villages.
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: szefei] [Map intro: marksquared] [Amritsar: Ken Wieland] [Dharamsala & McLeod Ganj: Lisa Tully] [Mandi: Travelling Slacker] [Rishikesh: Fred Hsu] [Shimla: Bharat Justa] [The Toy Train: Mikko Koponen]