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You won’t be in Amritsar long before you understand what it is that draws 10,000 pilgrims here every single day. The Golden Temple is not only a marvel to behold, with its amazing dome clothed in 750kg of gold, but it is also the holiest shrine in Sikhism. It’s a place of serenity and spirituality that will leave you lost for words.
It might seem odd to call a huge gold-plated temple a monument to modesty, but actually, it’s true. Also known as Sri Harmandir Sahib, the temple has four entrances, symbolising the openness of the Sikh religion towards all others. What’s more, the architect planned the temple at a lower level than the city to remind people to be humble in front of the Guru.
The Golden Temple is a great starting point from which to dive in at the deep end of Sikh culture and spirituality. In the inner sanctum, priests and musicians chant from the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, from dawn till dusk, creating an intense and mystical atmosphere. Outside, the temple is surrounded by the Sarovar, a huge pool of water, which – for some – is even more sacred than the temple itself and is said to have rejuvenating powers.
The temple is also a point of pride and sadness for Sikhs. It has been rebuilt time and time again after becoming a target of persecution under the Mughal empire, and it was during one of these rebuilds that the gold foil overlay was added. As recently as 1984, there were clashes between the Sikh community and the Indian government within the temple complex. You can learn more in the Sikh Central Museum on site.
Amritsar is a heady cocktail of beauty, history and spirituality, and nowhere is it more concentrated than in the Golden Temple. You’ll be blown away.
The most important thing to know about the Golden Temple complex is that there is so much more to it than the temple itself. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the main attraction won’t keep you gazing in wonder all day, especially with its spectacular displays - check out the daily installation and return of the Sikh holy book. You can see this ceremony at 5am and 9.40pm in winter, and 4am and 10.30pm in summer. In between times, take a moment to soak up the beauty of the larger temple complex. The stunning shrines and monuments are spectacles in themselves. And no trip is complete without a visit to the Central Sikh Museums collection of paintings, old weapons and ancient manuscripts.
With all that blissful wandering, you might find you’ve worked up an appetite. And you’re in the right place. Here, in the huge temple langar hall, you can break bread – or roti, at least – with thousands of pilgrims, for free, over a delicious vegetarian plate of lentil dal prepared by volunteers for the religious community and the needy. Eating is part of the spiritual experience. Talk about soul food. For many, though, the real joy of the Amritsar experience is found in its name, which comes from Amrit Sarovar or ‘holy pool of nectar’. The phrase refers to the huge man-made pool of water that surrounds the Golden Temple, believed to possess healing powers. Legend has it that a dip in the holy water of the Sarovar will cure all ailments – worth a punt, maybe?
Some will find their joy in the majesty of the inner sanctum, some in the sensual delight of Punjabi cuisine. But for others, there’s magic in the simple beauty of the sunset shimmering in the holy waters of this most beautiful city.
The Golden Temple is the perfect addition to any holiday to India. Add Amritsar to the Classic, Heritage or Tigers base itinerary and a trip to this awe-inspiring temple will be included in the Base experience pack. Keen to begin making your trip to India your own? Head over to the itinerary builder now.
Amritsar is divided into old and new parts. The Golden Temple is located in the old part, 15 minutes from the railway station. You can pick up a free shuttle bus from the station to the temple, but they can be crowded during peak times. The best time to visit is the second week of April, when Sikhs celebrate the founding of the Khalsa during the festival of Vaisakhi.
It depends on the time of year, but the temple is typically open between 3am-10pm. The information office is open from 8am-7pm.
It’s free – yippee! You won’t have to queue to enter the complex, but there will likely be a queue for the inner sanctum, which could take between 30 minutes-1.5 hours. Cameras are permitted, but you can’t take pictures in the main hall. If you want to share a meal with others in the langar hall, food is served in 15-minute sessions between noon to 2pm and 7pm-9pm.
While everybody is welcome, it’s important to observe the rules and courtesies. You’ll need to remove your shoes and wash your feet in a small pool of water before you enter the temple. You’re also expected to dress conservatively and cover your head as a sign of respect. And just in case you’ve arrived scarf-less, you can buy one cheaply outside the temple entrance.
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