Although Punjab’s Sikh heritage is the most famous aspect of the region’s history, architectural excavations have revealed that more than 4000 years ago the area was part of the Indus Valley civilisation established by the Harappans. Buddhist relics have been excavated at sites associated with the later Mauryan dynasty in Sanghol, near Ludhiana, while the Kurukshetra district contains 360 historical sites within a 92-sq-km radius. The Mahabharata mentions Punjab’s land and its people, while Valmiki is believed to have worked on the Ramayana in Sri Ram Tirath Ashram near Amritsar.
While the Indian campaigns of the Persian king Darius and Alexander the Great reached Punjab before faltering, the more successful Mughal invaders regularly surged through the area. Panipat became the battleground where regional domination was won or lost over the next six centuries.
During the 1947 partition of India, Punjab saw horrendous carnage that left hundreds of thousands of people dead. Later, in 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s highly controversial decision to forcibly remove Sikh separatists – who were championing for an independent Sikh state (to be called Khalistan) – from Amritsar’s holy Golden Temple, ignited bloody Hindu–Sikh clashes. In the same year Gandhi was assassinated at her Delhi residence by two of her Sikh bodyguards.
With more and more local tourists, hotels can fill up, particularly at weekends and during holiday periods.
At the beginning and end of the cooler, drier October-to-March period there is heavy smoke in the air from local farmers burning their fields.
Learn to pronounce Sat sri akal (hello in Punjabi) and you’ll have rickshaw drivers punching the air with glee.