The Golden Temple of Amritsar; A Must Stop in India
The Golden Temple of Amritsar or Sri Harmandir Sahib as the sprawling complex is formally known is the holiest Gurdwara of the Sikh religion. We travelled all the way from Delhi to the state of Punjab where the city of Amritsar lies just to witness its famous temples glistening golden walls. It turned out to be one of the most memorable stops on our six month tour of India and here are the 10 reasons why you too should include a visit to the Golden Temple on your Indian itinerary!
1. To have your breath taken away
We arrived in Amritsar in the very early morning after an overnight train from Delhi. Being tired and a little weary we were definitely not prepared for our first encounter with the Golden Temple of Amritsar. Hidden in the middle of four long marble white walls, you cannot actually see the Golden Temple until you pass through one of the four gates.
We entered through the Chowk Ghanta Ghar entrance which takes you under a beautifully ornate archway, down a few steps and out onto a marble walkway. Here we were greeted with the Golden Temple in all its glory.
With a cloudless blue sky above us, the marble white walkway almost blinding in the sunlight and the pure gold domes literally dazzling before us we both stopped in awe.
After travelling of Asia it is sometimes hard to get excited about another temple but the Golden Temple of Amritsar absolutely blew us away.
2. To learn more about Sikhism and its people
Travelling around India we had expected to see more signs of the Sikh religion and its people, however, making up just under 2% of India’s population it was not easy to find. On top of that, 76% of India’s Sikh population live in the state of Punjab. Thus, a trip to Amritsar and the Golden Temple is a fantastic way to get more acquainted with this fascinating religion.
The essence of Sikhism is completely reflected in the atmosphere and tone of the Golden Temple; it is all inclusive and anyone from any where and any religion is welcome.
Wandering through the temple and observing the many pilgrims that flock here we found in our own minds many questions about Sikhism to which we sadly didn’t know the answer. It was incredible learning those answers by striking up conversations, doing our own research and simply by just experiencing the aura that emanates from this symbolic temple.
3. To soak up the atmosphere
Whether you are religious or not the atmosphere inside the Golden Temple is undeniable.
There are hundreds of people circling the walkway at any one time yet it was always so utterly peaceful. Over the speakers there is the constant rhythm and chant of the musicians and religious leaders reciting the holy book from the inside of the temple. Yet, this is not intrusive or loud and simply adds to the overwhelmingly enchanting feeling in the air.
4. To feel peace
With such a wonderful atmosphere it was easy to sit along the edge of the tank or under the shady arches that surround the Golden Temple and just watch the world go by.
We are not religious or particularly spiritual but the nature and ideology of the temple as well as its obvious physical beauty had a completely calming effect. We sat for hours over our two days there, mostly in silence and felt what we can only describe as a feeling of peacefulness.
5. To be awed in the inner sanctum
As if gazing at the outside of this stunning temple wasn’t enough visitors are also permitted inside.
The queue to enter the inner sanctum of the Golden Temple is always slightly daunting but one thing we will say is that it is definitely worth the wait. We recommend arriving in the queue early to avoid standing for too long in the hot heat of the day.
The inside of the temple is beautifully adorned and decorated from floor to ceiling and will no doubt leave you in awe. On one level you can view in person the musicians and people reciting from the holy book and on the upper floors you can stand and look out over the golden domes to the mesmerising views below. It is clear how special a place this is and how much it means to the people who come here by their shows of adoration and offerings.
We guarantee that standing atop the Golden Temple is a moment that you wont forget.
6. To dine in the Langar
Getting a glimpse of the Golden Temple is not the only amazing experience to be had within the complex as no visit is complete without dining in what is known as the Guru Ka Langar or Community Kitchen. This is where an average of 75,000 people go each day to eat food prepared and served all by volunteers.
For Sikhs the preparation of food and sharing it amongst the community upholds their belief in the equality of all human beings.
As you enter the Langar you are provided with a plate, bowl and cup before making your way with the crowd upstairs to the main Langar Hall. Everyone sits on the floor in rows and waits to be served. It is an incredible feat serving so many people each day but what made it even more amazing was that the food was absolutely delicious. You can see the big vats of curry and dahl being stirred and its a wonder how they make such huge quantities still taste so delicious.
It is completely free to enter and dine in the Langar but of course donations are always well received if they can be given. We ate in the Langar a couple of times and each was a completely fascinating experience that should not be missed.
7. To sleep in the temple complex
In keeping with the welcoming nature of Sikhism, as well as offering food, they also offer accommodation. Pilgrims from all over India and indeed the world come to Amritsar just to lay eyes on the Golden Temple and many of them stay within the temple complex itself.
Amazingly you do not have to be Sikh to stay within the complex and there is even a dormitory called Shri Guru Ramdas Niwas dedicated to foreign travellers. It is a very basic dormitory so if you are used to more luxurious travel then this may not be for you but if, like us, you are more than happy to sleep anywhere especially for the experience then you should definitely check it out.
It is, however, not really for the luxury that you stay here but for the experience of waking up amongst the throng and buzz of thousands of other pilgrims all readying themselves for their own unique visit to the Golden Temple.
8. To meet local people
By eating in the Langar, sleeping within the temple complex or simply just wandering the temples surrounding marble walkway you are more than likely to fall into conversation with the people here.
Whilst the Golden Temple is a popular tourist spot you are still an obvious minority yet we have never felt so welcome. People were intrigued to know where we were from and how we were enjoying our visit to their holy place. Not only did we take the usual selfies but it seems people were happy that we were there and interested in their home, religion or place of worship. We met not only locals but Sikhs from all over India!
We only wish we’d taken more of our own selfies with them…!
9. To catch the sunrise and the sunset
Visiting the Golden Temple at any time of day is a memorable affair however for that little bit of extra special then try visiting at sunrise and as the sun sets. The Golden Temple looks different at each time of day with its sparkling walls changing colour from the early misty morning light to the late afternoon glow.
Once the sun sets, be sure to stick around as the Golden Temple is lit up amongst the darkness; it is something spectacular.
10. To take time to reflect
Lastly, after everything we have mentioned; the spirituality, the peacefulness, the atmosphere and the overwhelmingly welcome people we found the Golden Temple a perfect place to sit and reflect on what we had witnessed and learnt from our travels in India so far.
India is a place, we believe, that whether you think it will or not will change you. There is something about this country that cannot be described or put into words but must be felt and in many ways the Golden Temple encompassed this feeling all in one place.
So, take a little time and see how it has changed you…
Things to remember when visiting the Golden Temple Amritsar;
- Dress conservatively; this is an extremely sacred place and should be respected
- Cover your head at all times within the temple complex (bandannas are provided for men)
- Remove your shoes; shoes can be stored for free before entering the temple and you must wash your feet as you enter
- Do not carry large bags; these can be left in luggage storage outside
- Cameras are permitted but photos are not permitted inside the Golden Temple itself
- Be respectful; its a wonderful place to see and observe but remember it is also a place of great significance for those visiting so try not to stare or take photos of people who do not wish to be photographed
We hope you find it as special a place as we did!
C & J x