Restoration of Punjab’s Nurmahal Sarai has brought new life to this centuries-old monument

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Visiting India and Punjab in particular is always a great experience. There is so much to see and do. India’s history and historical monuments are just amazing. I remember when I was in college, we used to have our college groups go on organized tours to visit various historical places. This interest has continued to motivate me to visit various historical places whenever I get a chance to visit India. This includes religious, historical and other places of interest.
A few years ago, my wife and I travelled by train to Nander, Maharashtra, where Guru Gobind Singh ji inspired a recluse Banda Bahadur to come to Punjab and lead a movement to end prevailing violence against the Hindus and Sikhs and initiated massive land reforms in the Punjab. From there, we visited Bider, where Guru Nanak Dev ji helped the community address the problems relating to water quality and shortage. Then we travelled to Hyderabad another city with a rich history.
A few years later, on a visit to India, we had the opportunity to visit Patna Sahib, birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh ji and other historical places like the Bodh Gaya and ancient Nalanda University. On another visit it was a pleasure to visit Delhi, Jaipur, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri etc. About five years ago, on another visit to India I decided to spend four /five days in Delhi/New Delhi and visit and revisit some of the historical and religious places there including The Lotus. On our latest visit to India from end of January and beginning of April this year (February-March, 2023), I decided to spend more time in the Punjab and focus on the local historical places. My hometown Pharwala (in Jalandhar District) is very close to two historical towns –Bilga and Nurmahal
Bilga is considered to be the largest town in the Punjab. It is home to a large number of freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for India’s independence. Also, Bilga was visited by the fifth Sikh Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Arjun Dev ji on his way to get married in nearby Mau Sahib. At that time, Bilga is reported to be a collection of a few huts, jhuggis / (kullis) that used to burn every year. The residents of Bilga treated Guru ji with a great deal of reverence and served him and his wedding party well. Before leaving for Mau Sahib, Guru ji blessed the residents of Bilga. As a result of Guru ji’s blessings, this town has flourished and has become well known all over the world. Guru ji’s robes and other articles have been carefully preserved and displayed at the Gurdwara sitting in the centre of the town. It is an honour to visit this Gurdwara and pay our obeisance to Guru ji. Not very far from Bilga is Nurmahal.
Named after Nur Jahan, wife of Mughal emperor Jehangir, Nurmahal has a rich history. This town’s historical Sra (Sarai) is very famous all around. At one time, this historical monument was neglected. It had a police station and a school within it. However, during the past few years, the Archeological Survey India (ASI) has done an excellent job in refurbishing this monument. The police station and the school are long gone. The Sarai looks great in its current state.
The serai measures 168sq m externally. It has octagonal towers at the corners. The western gateway, called Lahore gate is double-storied and built in red sandstone. Its front is divided into panels ornamented in sculptured relief. There were figures of angels, lotuses, nymphs, lions, elephants, birds, peacocks, men on horseback, etc. The scenes represented by many of these had scenes of elephant fight or four horsemen playing Chaugan.
My family and I would often go to Nurmahal to do shopping etc. While they were busy with their shopping, I would enjoy spending time strolling in the Sarai. There was always a steady flow of visitors all of the time I was there. Next time I visit India I will certainly enjoy spending more time visiting this Sarai and other places of interest. Like numerous trips before, this trip also proved to be a very enjoyable experience for me. I look forward to the next trip, hopefully next year.
(Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist).