Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the last great Sikh ruler. The ones who followed him ruled over much smaller kingdoms and were, more or less, puppets of the British government. Ranjit Singh ruled his fairly large empire from Lahore, now the capital of Pakistan's Punjab.
Being the devout Sikh that he was, he had Gurdwaras constructed at several sites of historical importance to the Sikhs. He also renovated or rebuilt several existing ones, including Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) at Amritsar.
Several of the Gurdwaras I visited during my trip, had been built during Ranjit Singh's time and are grand structures.
Gurdwara Dera Sahib at Lahore has been built right next to Ranjit Singh's samaadhi, near the outermost wall of the Lahore fort, at the spot where Guru Arjan Dev, the sixth Sikh Guru, was tortured by the Mughals in order to persuade him to give up his faith. This spot was located on the banks of the river Ravi. The river has long since changed its course.
The Gurdwara has gold-plated domes and walls covered with white marble, but the Maharaja's tomb definitely scores over it in terms of grandeur. Its ceilings are covered with intricately designed mirrors and inlay work.
There are a number of other Gurdwaras (including Shahid Ganj Bhai Taaru Singh), as well, in Lahore, dating back to Ranjit Singh's time and are excellent specimens of the architectural style of that period.
The Gurdwaras at Nankana Sahib (Guru Nanak's birth place) are all very beautiful. The grandest of them all obviously though, is Janamasthan Sahib. The splendid facia of the building has to be seen to believed.
I noticed stones at Gurdwara Punja Sahib at Hasan Abdal and at Kartarpur Sahib, bearing inscriptions crediting the Royal House of Patiala with the reconstruction/renovation of these buildings. I was fairly impressed by the style of construction of these buildings as well.
Now, all of these buildings were built before 1947 and hence the partition of British India into India and Pakistan, since when these have been out of bounds for Indian Sikhs, like myself, except for the one or two occasions each year when the Pakistan government grants special visa to a certain number of pilgrims. This has obviously been causing a certain amount of distress among the Sikhs in India and every member of the community prays every day for a chance to visit these shrines.
There is however, in my opinion, a positive side to this. I think it is only because of the fact that these beautiful buildings are in Pakistan that these have been preserved, more or less, in a pristine state. Had these been in India or had there been no partition of British India, I am sure all of these would also have been covered in white marble like most Gurdwaras this side of the international border, nearly all of which look almost alike nowadays.
I fervently hope that the British Sikhs, who have formed an association for performing kar sewa (religious service) at these shrines and who have much easier access on account of their British passports, will restrict themselves to improving facilities for pilgrims and will help preserve these historical structures for posterity.