The Golden Temple at Amritsar
The Golden Temple at Amritsar is the seat of the Sikh Religion.
The instant image that comes to mind when you think of Amritsar is the Golden Temple, perhaps the most holy shrine for the Sikh Community. In fact the city derives its name from the Amrit Sarovar or holy pool of water which surrounds the Gurudwara’s main building Harmandir Sahib.
Located in Northwestern Punjab the city sits quite close to the Wagah border. The easiest way to get from Amritsar to Delhi is by driving down. There is also the option of taking the train but the drive offers a more festive feel. Although the Shatabdi is very convenient.
The history of the town is linked to the Golden Temple. The city of Amritsar was founded by Guru Ram Das in 1574. Guru Arjun Dev then had the foundation of the Darbar Sahib at the Golden Temple laid in 1588 by a muslim saint called Sain Mian Mir Sahib. Once the Darbar Sahibwas ready in 1604 the first volume of the Guru Granth Sahib was installed here. The Akal Takht was built by Guru Hargobind in 1609.
The city was attacked by the Mughals in the 16th century followed by the Afghans in the 17th century and by the British in the 18th century. Partition almost lost the city to Pakistan however it eventually stayed in India. The 19th century saw a bloody battle taking place between the Police and the Khalistan propagating militants.
The Harmandir Sahib or Golden Temple is a must see if you are in Amritsar. It is neat and clean and a well organized darshan. If you have the time and inclination try to eat at the langar there at mid day. It is a massive scale of mass feeding undertaken each day at the Gurudwara. The food is considered Prasad so please don’t waste any of it.
There are other historical Gurdwaras like Baba Bakala, Goindwal Sahib, Tarn Taran, and Baba Sahib which you can also head out to as excursions from Amritsar.
The Jallian Wala Bagh is an infamous place where the British Genreal Dyer led the massacre of pilgrims on 13 April 1919. More than 1200 people were injured and 379 died. Seeing the preserved bullet holes in the remnants of the walls is chilling to say the least.
The Summer Palace of Maharaja Ranjit Singh located inside the beautiful Ram Bagh garden is also worth visiting. The museum traces the Sikh history and culture beautifully.
Another popular excursion is to Wagah Border. The Wagah border is another unique attraction which draws hundreds to witness the changing of the guards. The flag hoisting and lowering takes place on both sides of India and Pakistan simultaneously which can be especially emotional for the more patriotic citizens.
Naturally there is plenty of Sikh religious parephenelia to be bought in the market just outside the Golden Temple.You can pick up the swords, daggers, the sikh religious bangle called a Kadha and a number of knick knacks with Guru Nanak printed on them. You can also pick up CDs with Shabad (Punjabi prayer) recordings and regular Punjabi music.
The Punjabi Juttis or embroidered leather shoes can be picked up from shops near the Hall Bazaar flyover. You can also pick up Warian which is spicy pulses and a local specialty. Go ahead and pick up a length of lace dress material here as well. The lace woven here is said to rival Chantilly Lace.
Besides the langar at the Golden Temple you can also eat at a number of dhaba (small eateries) shops around the market. There is also of course the Pizza Hut variety of multi nationals available as well. Do try the special Amritsari Fish. Other local favourites include Butter Chicken, Chicken Tikka Masala, Tandoori Chicken and hot butter naan right from the tandoor.
Places to stay
You can stay at Hotel PR Residency or the Ritz Plaza in the high budget hotels. Hotel Sarivar Plaza, Hotel City Heart, or Hotel Sapphire are good medium budget places. If you are on a shoe string budget you can try the free accommodation that is offered to pilgrims at the Golden Temple. The basic dorms and 3 bed rooms are located in Guru Ram Das Niwas behind the temple
Quick Facts About Amritsar
Distance from Delhi: 447 kms
Nearest Airport: Rajasansi International Airport (11 km)
Nearest Railway Station: Amritsar
Best time to visit: September to April