The golden temple of Amritsar is one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in India and, for me, one of the essential places to see in this country.
I visited the temple in 2023, during my trip through Asia with no return date, and it was a destination that impressed me. The organization, the atmosphere, the decoration and the contrast between the peaceful life inside the temple and the chaos of the city, was an experience that impressed me greatly. So much so that, if I had a few days to explore India and had to choose just one temple to visit, this would undoubtedly be the one I would choose.
- How to reach Amritsar
- Guide to visiting the Golden Temple
- Accommodation in Amritsar
- Other places to see in Amritsar
- Sikhism and the Golden Temple
You can reach Amritsar by train from different places in India. Depending on where you are, you will have to make some transfers, but in general it is a city well connected to the main capitals in the north.
If you are short on time, you can also fly from any city in India. These are the main flight offers to Amritsar.
Guide to visit the golden temple of Amritsar
To further enjoy your experience at the temple, it is recommended that you book a guided tour that provides you with a little context. Anyway, the golden temple of Amritsar is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and you can visit it on your own for free.
Below I give you some useful information
- How to access the golden temple of Amritsar
- What to see in the temple
- How to sleep there
- How to eat in the temple
How to access the golden temple of Amritsar
The temple is accessible to everyone, regardless of age, gender or place of origin. It is open all year round 24 hours a day and you do not have to buy any access ticket to visit it.
In fact, even outside the Amritsar railway station there is a free bus (it is always very full) that will take you directly to the temple. Although if you have a lot of luggage, it is more comfortable to hire the services of a tuktuk.
It is also important that you cover your head and do not wear suspenders or shorts to visit the temple.
What to see in the golden temple
The golden temple is a group of buildings whose protagonist is the golden temple. This is located in the center of a lake bathed by the waters of the sacred river and is linked with a walkway to the “walls” of the building.
There is no specific order to tour the temple and you can spend a whole day simply walking around and observing the pilgrims and the thousand and one things that happen in its different areas. For example, the “preachers” reciting the holy book, the pilgrims bathing in the waters of the lake, the small museum of Sikh religious art and, finally, the golden temple, where the Granth Sahib, the sacred book of Sikhism, is located, exposed uninterruptedly.
This area of the temple is the most visited and for which queues usually form, but it is the goal of all pilgrims, so it must also be the goal for those of us who simply go as visitors.
Accommodation in Amritsar
The golden temple of Amritsar is an example of hospitality. All visitors have the right to sleep in the temple and eat there completely free of charge.
Most pilgrims sleep in a fairly crowded area of the palace, so they end up resting lying on the floor, but for travelers there is an area set up with shared rooms that consist of several beds and closets with locks to store your backpack.
The dormitory is free, but it is recommended to leave a donation as a thank you and for the maintenance of the temple.
The beds are quite close together and there is no privacy, so it is not the best space if you need a good rest, but I recommend spending a night or a couple at the temple to get the full experience.
For the rest of the days you spend in Amritsar, you can find much more comfortable rooms here.
Eat at the temple
The golden temple serves thousands of meals a day, all prepared by volunteers who work at the temple or are on pilgrimage.
To eat at the temple you will only have to wait a few minutes before entering the dining room, where they give you a tray and tell you where you should sit (you eat Indian style: sitting on the floor with your legs crossed ).
Then they serve you food, which is always the same: rice, lentils, bread and dessert; and you can repeat as many times as you want.
Honestly, it is admirable that thousands of people are managed to feed every day of the year without stopping, and it is exciting to see how people get involved so that this system always works in the best way.
Other places to see in Amritsar
Amritsar is the capital of Sikhism and many of us come there attracted by what is said about the golden temple, but the city is also known for the changing of the Wagah-Attari guard.
Any motorcycle taxi or tuktuk driver can take you to the border with Pakistan, where the changing of the guard is celebrated every afternoon as if it were a festival. Contrary to what it may seem, it is a very entertaining show in which there is Bollywood music and many spectators who liven up the atmosphere.
On the other side of the border you can see how Pakistanis also come to witness the changing of the guard and the contrast between the two environments is quite curious.
Furthermore, although the city of Amritsar is chaotic and overwhelming, it has a lot to offer. If you want to take advantage of your visit to the city to see the memorials and temples hidden in its streets, it is a good idea to book a guided tour, this way you will avoid having to deal with taxi drivers and people who sell themselves as “guides.”
Where to sleep in Amritsar
Although sleeping in the golden temple is an experience that I think you should not miss, the truth is that if you need privacy, it is best to rent a room in one of the hotels in the city.
Sikhism and the Golden Temple of Amritsar
The founder of this religion is the guru Nanak Dev: The first of ten gurus who succeeded each other until the last of them ended the vicious circle of envy and conspiracies by declaring the group of writings called Granth Sahib as the last guru.
This book brings together all the teachings and prayers of the gurus and is the only spiritual guide for the Sikhs.
But what ideas does this book contain and what teachings did the Sikh gurus proclaim in their time?
Sikhism is a complex philosophy that, as a young man from Punjab who was hanging around the temple confessed to me, “not even I understand, but which basically consists of the belief in one God and the opposition to all cruelty and injustice.”
If you dig a little deeper, it is easy to realize that, although the idea of a single God does not sound distant to us, the concept that the idea of God encompasses for the Sikhs recalls an oriental mysticism that is still strange and incomprehensible to ears like mine. , who have only been in India for six months.
To begin with, the God of the Sikhs can be known if one decides to explore one’s own soul about him. Through prayers, readings, teachers’ explanations and meditation, one can discover the infinite that resides in each of us and recognize the nature of one’s own ego. In short, perceive reality as it is.
This does not sound very different from what the Hindu sadus proclaim, however the guru Nanak Dev marked the distance with Hinduism when he opposed this religion not only denying polytheism, but also sati.
According to this Hindu custom, widowed women had to be cremated next to their deceased husband. Guru Nanak Dev saw in this custom an incomprehensible undervaluation of women, since both the soul of man and woman come from the same God.
But the guru not only questioned Hindu traditions, but also pointed out the error of ascetics in wanting to distance themselves from society to follow the spiritual path. Neither celibacy nor asceticism is useful for the spiritual path of humanity. Liberated people must commit to society; that is, serve and guide it without departing from it.
Seen this way, it is understood that the Sikh gurus were, in addition to spiritual guides, businessmen and heads of families.
Nation or religion?
The feeling of the Sikhs as a nation is derived from this relationship between spirituality and social life.
In 1711 the Sikh republic was founded in the heart of the Mogul empire. It was a bad time to follow any religion other than Muslim and that is why Guru Gobind Singh decided to create the Khalsa.
This group of men would be in charge of defending religious freedom, protecting the Sikhs from the torture and persecution of the Muslim emperors and opposing any cruelty and injustice. This great warrior family defending the Sikh religion has survived to this day, although not without alterations, because although they continue to be the defenders and propagators of the Sikh religion, they are no longer an army organized under the orders of a guru.
To belong to the Khalsa one must be baptized. According to the kind man at the temple’s tourist office, the ritual involves reading the Granth Sahib, taking a bath in the lake that surrounds the temple, and drinking a concoction mixed with a knife.
From that day on, the baptized person must agree not to cut his hair (as a sign of his respect for the work of God), to wrap it with a turban; to wear a regulated type of underwear and a silver bracelet (to show their loyalty to marriage and the Sikh family) and to carry with them the same knife used to mix the concoction (as a sign of their willingness to fight against injustices and tyrannies) .
The golden temple
The Sikh nation spread to Afghanistan in the mid-19th century, but when the British arrived they ended up being annexed into their empire. When India gained independence, the new government promised the Sikhs that no constitution would be passed that did not take into account their vast territory and their ability to make political decisions within it. Finally the Sikhs had to settle for the state of Punjab, whose religious center is Amritsar.
In this city, founded by the guru Ram Das, the golden temple was erected, which is not only the most important pilgrimage center of the Sikhs (especially after China recognized as its own the lands where the waters that bathe the temple), but it is also the perfect setting for a foreign eye to enjoy the religious rituals of Sikhism.
The golden temple is visited 24 hours a day and 365 days a year by Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, Jains and hundreds of other followers of other religions whose names I do not know.
The music only stops playing during the first two hours of the morning so that the interior of the temple is cleaned with milk. During the rest of the day, you can watch devotees bathe in the sacred waters surrounding the temple and preachers recite the ancient battles of the gurus near the Akal Takat, the building where the weapons of the last guru are kept as relics.
But the center of attention goes to the interior of the temple, a small, beautifully decorated enclosure that is the scene of the jostling of devotees eager to glimpse the sacred book.
The temple is an oasis in the middle of the chaos of the city. The amalgamation of tuktuks, cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, shops and restaurants contrasts paradoxically with Guru Nanak Dev’s first impression of Amritsar. According to him, this was the perfect place for spiritual development because of its tranquility.
If he were to set foot on its streets again today, perhaps he would not find any way to associate contemporary Amritsar with that of his memory, but he would sigh with relief to see that, at least, there is still a last bastion of peace concentrated in its religious center. . And Sikhs come to him, dressed in colorful turbans, to help cook the more than five thousand thalis daily that are served to pilgrims.
Perhaps he would smile with satisfaction to see that some even visit the temple every morning to purify themselves in the waters of the lake, and that the book containing his teachings is always open, always being read.