The Holy Pool of Nectar – Amritsar
Amritsar which means the Pool of Nectar. The name is derived from the sacred pool around the Golden Temple. The city was founded in the year or 1577. It is the Sikh’s biggest spiritual and cultural centre. The main attraction of the city is the Sikh pilgrimage “The Golden Temple” also known as Harmandir Sahib. This temple was initiated by Guru Ramdaas ji, who was the 4th guru, and was completed by Guru Arjan Dev Ji in the year 1601. Sikhs from all over the world wish to visit the Golden temple.
Getting to Amritsar
Being a biggest sikh religious tourist destination, Amritsar is well connected with the major cities of India.
By Air : Raja Sansi International Airport is about 11 km and a 15-20 minutes drive from the city center. It’s one of the modern airports in India and quite adequate if not exactly exciting. Most flights are to Delhi, an hour away, but there are an increasing number of international connections: Jet flies to London, Air India flies to Toronto via Birmingham and Air Slovakia flies to Bergamo, Barcelona and Birmingham via Bratislava. There are also surprising numbers of flights to Central Asia (eg. Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan).
By train : Amritsar is an important railway station and is well connected to major cities in India through daily trains. Onward/return trains can be booked online, at the train station or, most conveniently, at the small booking office in the Golden Temple Complex. It’s advisable to book your return train ticket as soon as you arrive in Amritsar, or before if you know the exact date, as trains are often heavily booked.
By Road : Long-distance taxis are available from most places. It takes around 6-7 hours from New Delhi via NH-1. Amritsar is well-connected by bus to most major cities and the northern areas within a days drive. Pathankot is about 2.5 hours away, and there are daily direct buses to New Delhi, Jammu, Katra, Chandigarh, Dharamsala (once daily, -6 hours), etc.You can find Volvo buses from Chandigarh , Delhi and Katra to Amritsar.
The Golden Temple
The Golden Temple is the main attraction in the city, and the most important religious place to the Sikhs. It’s a stunning complex, and always full of thousands of pilgrims from all over India, excited to be at a place that they usually only see on television. The excitement to be here is infectious, and many people will be more than happy to tell you all about their religion and customs, and show you around the temple itself. Cover your head, remove your shoes and wander around one of the most amazing places in India. The complex is open almost 24 hours (from 6 AM until 2 AM) and is worth visiting twice: once during the day, once at night, when it’s beautifully lit up.
As you arrive near the complex, you will more likely than not be accosted by hawkers trying to sell you bandannas to cover your head. It’s not a bad souvenir for Rs.10, but there’s also a big barrel of free ones to choose from at the entrance itself. Deposit your shoes at the subterranean building to the left of the entrance, wash your feet at the entrance and head in.
This is the main entrance, sporting a distinctly Victorian clock-tower.
The giant pool of water that surrounds and reflects the Golden Temple. Sections (marked off by ropes) are set aside for (male) pilgrims wishing to bathe.
This is the Golden Temple itself, floating above the Amrit Sarovar, housing the sacred Adi Granth scripture which is recited out loud during the day. This is the most crowded point, accessible by a bridge from the edge of the pool, and entry here is regulated by guards.
Akal Takht, directly opposite the Harmandir Sahib. Meaning “the Timeless, this is where the highest council of Sikhs sits and deliberates. At night, the Guru Granth Sahib is taken to the Akal Takht.
Central Sikh Museum
Central Sikh Museum, 2nd floor (entrance on the right side of the main side of the main entrance). Devoted to large gallery of paintings, mostly showing the gruesome ways countless Sikhs have been martyred, and various knick-knacks from the gurus. Free.
All Sikhs are expected at some point in their lives to volunteer for a week at the temple, and everyone you see working here is fulfilling that duty. It’s likely possible that you can join in if you feel so inclined – you could start by chatting up the people outside peeling vegetables, or those washing dishes.
Amritsar massacre memorial
Jallianwala Bagh (Garden) is a short 5-minute walk from the Golden Temple, and is the site of the 1919 Amritsar massacre. On April 13 of that year, British Indian Army soldiers opened fire on an unarmed gathering of men, women and children. The firing lasted about 10 minutes and 1650 rounds were fired, killing 1579 people.
A memorial was built on the site and inaugurated by the then-President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, on 13 April 1961. To this day the bullet holes can be seen on the walls and adjoining buildings. The well into which many people jumped and drowned attempting to save themselves from the hail of bullets is also a protected monument inside the park.
Not to be missed is a trip to the Wagah Border between India and Pakistan, around 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Amritsar. The change of guard and retreat of troops is a much watched ceremony that takes place at the Wagah checkpoint every evening at sundown. You can get there by taxi (around 500 rupees), auto rickshaw (250 rupees), or shared jeep.
Most of the festivals that take place in Amritsar are religious in nature. Diwali, Holi, Lohri (bonfire harvest festival), and Vaisakhi (Punjab new year in April) are all celebrated there on a grand scale. Vaisakhi is particularly boisterous, with lots of bhangra dancing, folk music, and fairs. Major celebrations are organized at the Golden Temple on this occasion, and it becomes carnival like outside. There’s also a street procession. Other festivals in Amritsar include Guru Nanak Jayanti in November, and the Ram Tirath Fair, also in November a fortnight after Diwali.
Where to Eat
- The Golden Temple has a dining hall (langar) serving free basic meals to all… A definite must for visitors. Plates and spoons are handed out near the entrance, then follow the crowds inside and take the next vacant spot in one of the rows on the floor. Servers come by with large buckets of dal, chapatis and rice. Make sure to finish everything on your plate (wasting food isn’t an option here!) then take it outside to volunteers at the washing area. It’s inside the complex which means no shoes and cover your head.
- Crystal Restaurant, around the corner of Bhandari Bridge serves up great Indian, Italian, Continental and Chinese food.
- My Kind of Place offers fast food such as pizza, burgers, and chips. It offers Chinese & Continental food also.
- The Brothers or Bharavan the Dhaba, is place situated near to Golden Temple where you can eat traditional food or chinese, continental where you can enjoy taste of your choice at affordable prices.
- New Punjabi Rasoi, around the corner from the temple it’s one of the most popular restaurants in town and serves up great Indian food including tasty masala dosas. Meals Rs 40-60.
- Neelam’s, a few doors down from New Punjabi Rasoi, offers pizza and other basics. Meals from Rs 30.
- Pizza Hut, Yes, the American chain. about a 30 – 50 Rs Auto-Rickshaw ride from the golden temple. Most auto-rickshaw drivers know where it is, or can get directions. Good if your stomach needs a western meal for a change. Comes with customer service that one would expect in a four-star restaurant in the west.
- Kesar da dhaba. near golden temple offers good punjabi food made in pure ghee. Daal Makhni is truly Awsome Dont forget to try a glass of lassi after a heavy meal.
- Bubby Dhaba, opposite Golden Temple (Just opposite the main entrance of Golden Temple). serves authentic Punjabi food at a very reasonable cost and ideally located, just few meteres from the main entrance of the Holy Golden Temple
- You should remain aware and respectful of the Sikh religion anywhere near the Golden Temple complex.
- Inside the complex both men and women are required to cover their heads (scarfs are widely available throughout the town for Rs 10, or a box of them are free to use at the entrances to the temple).
- Smoking and alcohol are forbidden not only within the complex but anywhere within eye-sight of the temple. Lighting up a cigarette on the busy street out front may not seem strange but will definitely attract negative attention, as will spitting near the temple.
- Photography is allowed on the outside ring of the holy lake, but not inside the actual temple itself.