The top of our list when traveling to India was to visit Punjab and witness the Golden Temple of Amritsar. The Golden Temple of Amritsar, or Darbar Sahib or Harmandar Sahib is Sikhism’s Holiest Site
But this temple welcomes everyone to enjoy its beauty and spirituality. It doesn’t matter your race, faith or culture. Everyone is welcome.
Visit The Golden Temple of Amritsar
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Amritsar is located in Punjab and is 460 km from Delhi. We spent 12 hours on a slow train in general class where locals welcomed us offering food and even their seats to make us more comfortable. We knew this trip was going to be special before we even arrived.
Men and Women must cover their heads out of respect before entering the Golden Temple. Long pants and shoulders should also be covered.
Like many other holy places around, shoes are not allowed in the temple complex. But this temple has a little twist to walking barefoot. Before entering you walk through a foot bath to ensure your feet are clean.
The Golden Temple temple is free to enter.
In my humble opinion, I think the Sikh Religion is probably one of the least understood religions on the planet. We learned quite a bit during our time at the Golden Temple. And we’d like to share what we learned about Sikhism there.
Founded in the 15th century by Guru Nanak’s frustration with the caste system and rituals of other religions, Sikhism was formed to be all-inclusive. Much of the religion is also based on science.
The Sikh religion is a democracy and anyone can rule it. You don’t have to be born or ordained as the head of the religion, you are elected to a committee. If people are not happy with your work, you can be replaced in the next election.
The Sikhs are all-inclusive and that is evident at The Golden Temple. The people at the Golden Temple were happy to share their views and to explain their religion to us. As more people explained Sikhism to us, we began to understand its meaning.
The Holy Tree at The Golden Temple
One of the holi sites at the Golden Temple is the Holy Tree. One of the most revered Sikh Gurus, Baba Budha Ji laid the foundation of the Golden Temple after sleeping under a shrub.
In 1506 he camped under this exact tree that is still standing today. And many people stop to pay their respects.
The Holy Tank
He also constructed the moat, known as the holy tank that surrounds the temple. It is filled with holy water and people bath in the tank to wash away sins and keep illness away.
Men bathe in the open, but women have a private area where they bathe in private. Once people have bathed, they then walk across the most to enter the central temple, the Harmandir Sahib
The golden temple itself – Harmandir Sahib, is surrounded by other milky white temples and the moat. It is not a large temple, but it is stunning,
Built in 1577, the temple’s dome is gilded with 750 kg of pure gold.
It has lasted through the ages, but only because the Sikhs continued to rebuild it after it was destroyed by Afghan armies and the Mughal Empire. It was in 1809 that it was finally rebuilt by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and covered with gold foil which gave it its name The Golden Temple.
A marble walkway surrounds the temple protecting it on all four sides.
We had never felt so welcomed anywhere in India.
Many people were happy to have us visit their shrine to Sikkhism and to experience their way of life. They stopped to take photos with us. They stopped to talk to us and to tell us the history of Sikhism and they stopped to simply welcome us to their home.
Punjab is filled with some of India’s wealthiest people and when they heard that we were from Canada they knew our country well. Many people we met actually lived in Canada and were back in India visiting relatives.
Others told us how they told were going to Canada to study or how they have relatives in Canada and had been to visit.
The conversations were not the usual “Where are you from?” “What is your name?” exchanges we normally have in India. In Amritsar, we engaged in full discussions about Sikhism, India, and, life Canada.
Visiting the Golden Temple
It is easy to spend hours at the Golden Temple. Located in the center of the city of Amritsar, the complex is large and can be seen from everywhere.
As you walk around the marble walkway, the soothing song of the musicians and priests singing from the holy scripture; the Guru Granth Sahib play from the loudspeakers.
Don’t worry, Sikhs don’t believe in noise pollution, so the speakers are set at a comfortable volume. They are respectful of not having the sound travel far from the complex walls.
Navigating Through the Huge Crowd
After a few hours, we finally made our way to the causeway that leads to the entrance of the Golden Temple itself, the Harmandir Sahib. The crowd was thick but orderly and we slowly made our way across the Tank to one of the four entrances to the temple.
Once we reached the temple, the pushing and shoving began to get inside. We couldn’t understand the hurry since you are allowed to spend as much time as you like. But I guess people were excited to see the inside of what we waited so long for in the queue.
The main level has musicians with holy men sitting in the middle. They are in a constant state of playing and singing from sun-up to sundown. They take turns reciting in two-hour intervals.
The book is on display under a white cloth and people throw money into the center as if their life depended on it.
The Clock Tower
We walked up to the other two levels and spent time enjoying the view while others around us prayed and listened to the words.
From the temple, we had a beautiful view of the clocktower. From up here the Golden Temple of Amritsar was peaceful and we felt almost tranquil.
100,000 People Eat at the Golden Temple Each Day
There is no charge to enter the temple. Visiting the Golden Temple is free and they will even feed you for your efforts of coming to visit. The Golden Temple dining hall feeds up to 100,000 people a day from the free kitchen that is run by volunteers.
It’s an amazing feat in its own right, but what is even more amazing is that this has been going for 450 years without missing one single day.
No matter what your position in life, everyone eats together on the floor. You may find yourself sitting beside a celebrity, royalty, or the president. It doesn’t matter who you are, you will all be treated exactly the same.
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The food is clean and delicious and the 450 years of practice is evident as they feed thousands of people at once in a matter of 10 minutes.
Dahl, chapati, ghee, and aloo gobi are on the menu and cooked to perfection.
Once you are finished, you scoop up your stainless steel tray and take it to the wash station as the next wave of pilgrims file in. It is a fascinating experience and one not to be missed.
Our Time at the Golden Temple of Amritsar
Dave and I aren’t normally excited over temples, but this one is incredibly impressive and beautiful. In our opinion, it is the number one must-see temple in India.
We made sure to revisit the temple at different times of the day to enjoy its beauty and different energies at different times of the day. Night time is not to be missed. The temple glistens under the lights and the mood is calm and quiet.
Golden Temple at Night
At night the temple takes on an entirely new atmosphere. While life goes on as usual with people bathing in the tank, chants coming from the temple, and people walking around the outside of the moat there is a peacefulness at night.
Seeing it at night is awe-inspiring. The temples lights reflect in the water creating a serene scene. It seems quieter and more relaxed at night yet everything continues as it always does.
Even the food is still served in the food hall as volunteers continue to arrive for their shifts.
The Golden Temple of Amritsar is a sanctuary in this hectic land known as India. It was certainly our favorite destination in the country. It was a more genuine experience, more of a pilgrimage site than a tourist destination.
More Things to see in Amritsar
It’s worth spending a few days in Amritsar to take in other experiences besides the Golden Temple. The Golden Temple drew us Punjab, but Amritsar is home to a famous border ceremony at the Wagah Border.
Each evening the Pakistan and Indian army put on an elaborate show while closing the border.
Another important temple in the city of Amritsar is the Durgiana temple, a Hindu Temple with similar architecture to the Golden Temple.
And a visit to Hall Bazaar is a must for doing your shopping in a vibrant Indian market. Located right next to the train station, you can’t miss it when arriving or leaving Amritsar.
There are many things to do in Amritsar, albeit, the Golden temple is the highlight of any stay in Punjab.
If you are going to make the long trip to India, make sure to add The Golden Temple to your itinerary. We loved it more than the Taj Mahal.
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