Situated in India’s northwest corner, the city of Amritsar is a major cultural and economic hub in the heart of the Punjab state. The city of just over a million people is perhaps best known as the sacred center of the Sikh religion, a spiritual movement to which 27 million people devote themselves. Amritsar is also known for its savoury cuisine, carpets, and fabrics, and historically — as the site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. From temples to tea, food, and scenery, there is a lot to absorb when experiencing Amritsar.
The Golden Temple
Officially known as the Harmandir Sahbib, the Sri Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) is a beacon of Sikh spirituality, and also the religion’s most meaningful and significant shrine. Every day, more than 100,000 worshippers descended on the site to offer prayer. The Temple is not just for Sikhs, however, and certainly not just for Indians. Discrimination is non-existent here, as visitors of all denominations and backgrounds are warmly welcomed — a fitting symbol for one of the world’s most inclusive religions. In fact, the Golden Temple is one of the most visited sites by non-Indian residents in the country.
A glittering golden beacon, the temple is surrounded by a large pool of water. It will not only rob you of your breath with its beauty but lend an intense and profound experience to anyone willing to open themselves to its sacred grace. That’s real gold plating the massive marble structure, and yes, you can bathe in the surrounding holy pool, also known as the Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar).
Dress in light clothing, cover your shoulders, and budget a good three hours to give yourself time to soak it all in.
Where to Eat — For Free!
Like most of India, there is always an incredible culinary experience just around the corner in Amritsar, but the city also offers up an altogether unique experience you won’t find anywhere else — the largest free kitchen in the world. The Guru Ka Langar, located in the Golden Temple itself, feeds 75,000 people on a normal day, and up to 100,000 on weekends and holidays.
You’ll sit elbow to elbow with men, women, and children from diverse backgrounds, enjoying wholesome, simple vegetarian cuisine prepared up by hundreds of volunteers. The entire experience is a reflection of the generous, open and inclusive nature of the Sikh faith. The communal kitchen is open around the clock, and no one is turned away. The huge amount of food consumed on a daily basis is only made possible by the kindness of donations, so if you are able to do so, pay it forward.
Where to Stay
Amritsar’s accommodations offer something for traveling tastes and budgets of all kinds. You can find a safe, clean quarters for under $20USD per night in some areas, with prices increasing slightly as you get near the city center.
For those seeking something luxurious when experiencing Amritsar, the Hyatt Amritsar offers a plush, 5-star accommodations complete with all the modern amenities you can imagine. The Hyatt Amritsar is situated snugly in the center of the city, just a 10-minute journey from the Golden Temple.
When You Leave
Amritsar offers up many more must-see sites, such as the Akal Takht, and for those interested in history, the Jallianwala Bagh. When it’s time to move on, be sure not to miss the Wagah border crossing, home of the famous changing of the guard along the India-Pakistan border, a stunning ceremony which marks the nightly closing of the border between these two contentious countries. Public buses to the border are easily caught from Amritsar, or you can hire a private car for around 200R ($3USD).
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