What an amazing last day in India I’ve had – never did I image that I would be held up by an elephant or have such an enjoyable day hearing a Sikh military history. My day started with a trip to Attari, I had been invited by Colonel Attari who had read about my visit and on the advice of Peter Bance I accepted his kind offer.
So with the sun shining I set off with Bir Inder Singh Sidhu. Attari is situated 3km away from the Indian/Pakistan border at Wagah. Just before reaching Attari, we passed the impressive India Gate monument to General Sarder Sham Singh Attariwala on the Grand Trunk Road.
General Sarder Sham Singh Attariwala has gone done in history for his fierce loyalty to the Sikh Empire, leaving his village aged 60 to fought for Maharani Jind Kaur at the Battle of Sabraon in 1846. Following his death, his body was returned to Attari on the back of an elephant and his wife committed the last known satee at the funeral. Today the memorial contains a small museum, a guest suite along with several samadhi and a Gurdwara. There is also a large tank built for the wedding of Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s grandson, Prince Nau Nihal Singh and General Sham Singh Attariwala’s daughter, Bibi Nanaki Kaur. The memorial is run by a family trust and has aspiring plans to turn the site into a fascinating visitor attraction. Every year on 10th February a Martyrs Day celebration is held to honor General Sham Singh, it’s now on the state level function list and attended by a range of VIPs every year. General Sham Singh is now classed as a national hero and interest from local schools is rising. I was greeted by several members of the Attari family, all of whom are involved in the trust, the caretaker, resident priest, several journalists and quite a large pack of dogs!
Inside the museum there are a series of images relating to the family’s story and the General. On one panel featuring the Durbar of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, Sham Singh is circled, you can clearly see his prominence at court.
I also came across a memorial plaque and reference to Sardar Surat Singh who was awarded the Victoria Cross. I’ll be adding this reference to our Thetford Remembers Project. The family come from a distinguished line of soldiers and continue to play a part in the military today.
Following the museum visit, I was welcomed into the small but beautiful Gurdwara, to hear the priest read from the Guru Granth Sahib. Very generously I was allowed to take as many photos as I wanted to use with our school sessions. As with most of my visits, I was given a gift for the museum, my collection from this trip has grown to quite a collection.
Much to my amusement when we were leaving the priest hopped on his motorbike – I had to take a photo! I was asked if it’s normal to see priests on motorbikes in the UK. Not normally armed with a sword was my reply!
Next stop was the family havelies, the original fort dates back to the 18th century, and is now divided into individual homes for the family. I was able to see the actual sword that belonged to General Sham Singh, a huge privilege as it normally only comes out for display on special occasions such as Martyrs Day. I suggested the museum has a replica made as I feel certain that visitors would like to see it. The family was very generous inviting me into their homes, and it was great to see how they were all working together as a team. The family have a small archive, amongst the letters was an invitation from Princess Bamba Duleep Singh.
Unfortunately it was soon time to leave; on our way back the most peculiar thing happened. We were held up by an elephant! As we approached the India Gate an elephant appeared from the right hand side of the gate at the stood right in front of the car much to my amazement. I was thrilled to see one close up on my last day as I’ve heard so many stories about Maharajah Ranjit Singh using them as transport whilst I’ve been here. Never one to miss a photo opportunity, I hopped out and asked if I could have a pic taken.
Finally, to finish my visit I really had to go to the Golden Temple and see it lit up at night. I was mesmerised as I stood looking at the Sanctum Sanctorum shimmering on an inky black pool. It was quite busy when I arrived, people were standing and sitting around the holy tank joining in with the hymns and generally enjoying the serene atmosphere. I felt it was the perfect ending to my first trip to India, I’ll be leaving with a full notebook of work to do with the museums I visited and the promise of a return to the many new friends I’ve made.