Asia, Destinations, India

Superlatives at Amritsar’s Golden Temple

June 22, 2011

The sublime Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

It was one of those moments where my brain didn’t quite trust my eyes.

Was this place for real? Could there really be such a building in such a setting, one where the whole place almost seemed to shiver like it was as insubstantial as vapour?

It sounds a little superlative but in all honesty, a visit to Amritsar’s Golden Temple is to experience the sublime.

The Golden Temple at Amritsar

I’d left my shoes in the care of the stand at the entrance to the temple in exchange for a small tag printed with a number, washed my feet and covered my hair. I thought I was ready to experience the Harmandir Sahib (the Punjabi name for the temple).

Turns out nothing can quite prepare you for your first glimpse of a building made from gold, its reflection shimmering in a holy moat of water.

(Ignore the tacky sunnies. There weren’t very many to choose from when my other pair broke in Rishikesh.)

Appropriately covered for a visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar

Enjoying the view at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

Completed in 1604, the Golden Temple is a place of worship for people of all faiths and from all walks of life, although it was built by and is a central aspect of the Sikh faith.

Surrounded by a huge lake of “immortal nectar”, pilgrims come to stay at the temple in simple accommodations and to bathe in its holy waters. Every day, the temple feeds around 35,000 pilgrims for free. Anyone can stay at the temple, or drop by for a meal – foreigners and Indians alike.

A pilgrimage to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

Pilgrims bathing at the Golden Temple in Amritsar

Although the temple was packed, the atmosphere was serene. The grounds are quite large and it takes a good twenty to thirty minutes to walk all the way around.

Local tourists were just as awed by the temple’s beauty as us foreigners…

Local tourists photograph the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

…although my foreign face occasionally stole the attention from the main attraction! (I promise I no longer own those sunglasses)

Making new friends at the Golden Temple in Amritsar

I honestly think the Golden Temple is my favourite place in all of India so far. It might be blasphemous of me to admit, but I found it more spectacular than the Taj Mahal.

Guarding the holy waters at the Golden Temple in Amritsar

The Golden Temple is more than just an attraction. The Taj is a tomb, a beautiful tomb to be sure, but its beauty is merely preserved for people to wander through and admire.

The Golden Temple, on the other hand, is a living, breathing, working place of worship and sanctuary.

And that’s what makes it more memorable.

The Golden Temple at Amritsar, India

The Practical Stuff

Visiting the temple

Any rickshaw driver or taxi driver in Amritsar will take you to the Golden Temple, even if you asked to go to the mall (yep, true story!).

Entrance, even for foreigners is free. Ignore the touts who try to sell you headscarves on the way to the entrance. If you don’t have a scarf with you the temple guards will cover your hair for you for free. A hat is not a suitable head covering. Obviously your shoulders and legs should also be covered.

Leave your shoes at one of the stands – they’ll look after them for free, and there seemed to be little chance of them being stolen. Yes, it’s gross walking across the street with no shoes but you have to wash your feet before you enter the temple anyway.

As with most buildings in India, don’t take lighters, cigarettes or chewing gum unless you want them confiscated. Your bags will be searched.

Getting there

The Golden Temple is located in the centre of the city of Amritsar. Amritsar is about ten hours from Delhi by train – it’s a great jumping off point for the Indian Himalaya.

Tips

Remember that Amritsar is a dry town, so no alcohol is sold. There are also no eggs allowed to be sold near the Temple so you’ll have to forgo your daily scrambled eggs or omlette while you’re in the area.

However, the space-cadet ganja-smoking grandpa who seemed to be the caretaker for my guesthouse and enjoyed interrupting card games by throwing all the cards into the air was surprisingly (ha!) able to find us a few bottles of beer.

 

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15 Comments

  • Reply Parmjit Singh June 22, 2011 at 9:03 am

    A fantastic write-up! I’m so glad you had such an eventful trip to the Golden Temple. If you’re in the UK over the summer, you may want to pop over to the Brunei Gallery where the will be an exhibition ‘The Golden Temple of Amritsar: Reflections of the Past’ featuring early imagery and eyewitness accounts, plus some evocative archive film footage and talks by international speakers. The event runs from 14 July to 25 September. Take care!

    • Reply Megan June 23, 2011 at 12:03 pm

      Thanks Parmjit! I’m not going to be in the UK this summer but the exhibition sounds excellent! Thanks for letting me know about it.

  • Reply jade June 22, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Wow… this place is gorgeous. I totally know what you mean about awe inspiring- my mouth dropped open at the first couple of shots.

    • Reply Megan June 23, 2011 at 12:04 pm

      It was just stunning, Jade – it looks even more amazing in person. It seriously doesn’t look real.

  • Reply Mike Lenzen | Traveled Earth June 23, 2011 at 1:53 am

    Thanks for introducing me to another awesome place I’d never heard of before. This place looks amazing, and free food!

    • Reply Megan June 23, 2011 at 12:04 pm

      No problems Mike – that’s what travel blogging’s all about!

  • Reply Wendy June 23, 2011 at 5:07 am

    Awesome photos! What a wonderful piece of architecture!

    • Reply Megan June 23, 2011 at 12:05 pm

      Thanks Wendy! The Golden Temple is definitely a must-see for travellers to India.

  • Reply Heather June 24, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Very pretty photos of you and fantastic photos overall. You know India is next on my international wish list so I can never get enough of reading about it. This will be on my must-see list. And I still want to a few spare moments to head to the library soon!!

    • Reply MeganRTW June 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm

      Aw, thanks Heather. It should definitely be on every traveller’s India itinerary – it’s up there with the Taj Mahal.

  • Reply Kris Koeller June 25, 2011 at 3:44 am

    Wow, great photos. Looks amazing!

  • Reply Travel India June 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    Golden Temple in Amritsar is a place frequented by Sikhs all round the year. Countless pilgrims visit Golden Temple to pay homage to the holy shrine. Golden Temple is also known as Hari Mandir meaning Temple of God.

  • Reply Flights to Amritsar July 27, 2011 at 8:39 am

    Amritsar is among the most ancient and attractive metropolises of India. Really nice pictures of Golden Temple. I have visited many places in the world and the golden temple Amritsar definitely comes in the top list of my favourite places.

  • Reply emma January 7, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    I went to India wanting to explore Buddhism, Hinduism and Yoga, little did I know that it was the Golden temple that really sang to my heart. It’s a living experience of the Sikh philosophy, a utopian community beyond your imagination………….

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