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