While I don’t dispute that the Taj Mahal deserves to be top of the list for sights to see in India, I’d like to give a big shout out to Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple, which is well worth a side trip from Delhi before or after journeying around the more famous Golden Triangle.
The Golden Temple is in Amritsar, the biggest city in the Punjab region and the centre of the Sikh religion. The city’s name means Pool of Nectar and comes from the sacred pool of water that surrounds the temple. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place so little wonder that Sikh pilgrims flock to their spiritual home in large numbers, particularly at weekends.
Whether you’re a pilgrim or a tourist you observe the same rules, so shoes come off, feet are washed and head is covered before entering the complex. Once inside you simply meander slowly around the marble walkway that surrounds the pool and marvel at the Hari Mandir (the actual temple) that glistens in its midst.
To get into the temple you queue across the Guru’s’Bridge causeway which can take a while but its not the sort of place to go if you’re in a hurry. You’ll get much more out of the visit if you embrace the pace. As well as the main temple there are other buildings and temples around the complex, along with a garden and a large kitchen and dining hall where a simple meal of chapatis and daal is dished out to thousands of people every day.
A visit to the Golden Temple was pretty much the main reason for my trip to India (Michael Palin sold it to me in his Himalaya TV series) and it really didn’t disappoint. I’m not a particularly spiritual person, but walking around the Golden Temple felt good for my soul and was a hard place to leave. Saying that it wasn’t all peace and contentment. At one point my friend and I decided to sit at the water’s edge to try and really feel at one with the place, but within seconds we were being asked to feature in photos with young Sikhs. There weren’t many Westerners there that day and we found that whenever we stopped moving we were very much in demand!
Apart from the Golden Temple, I didn’t think the city of Amritsar had a huge amount to recommend it, so I’d suggest keeping it to a one night stay, rather than the two that I did. From Delhi the easiest way to get there is by train. And though the horror stories about Indian trains are true, but its possible to have a perfectly comfortable and fairly quick journey if you can afford to pay a bit more for the Shatabdi Express.
It takes about six hours so you can get an early train from Delhi and get to Amritsar around lunchtime. Depending on how close to the temple complex you are staying, you could pay an initial visit that afternoon, but be sure to ready to head off by around 4pm to see the closing of the Wagah border, the other must see sight when in this area.
Around 30km from Amritsar, the Wagah is easy to reach by taxi and if you arrange a guide through your hotel, he’ll get you into the best seats to see the extraordinary spectacle of the India/Pakistan border being closed. It’s the only road crossing between the two countries and every day about half an hour before sunset and sunrise, guards on either side parade and preen before flags are raised or lowered and the gates are opened or slammed shut.
Every day thousands of people turn out on both sides of the border to cheer on their guards and chant the name of their country along with a few well chosen insults at those on the opposite side. It really is the most amazing sight and even more amazing to think it’ll all happen again with just as many people the following day.
For you though, the following day offers plenty of time to spend appreciating the stunning Golden Temple and maybe taking a walk around the town, before saying farewell to Amritsar and getting the late afternoon train back to Delhi.
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