The holy city of Amritsar is situated in northern India in Punjab State; capital of the Sikh religion. The most famous attraction is undoubtedly the Harmandir Sahib, aka the Golden Temple; in fact the pool surrounding the religious masterpiece gives the city its name, which means ‘holy pool of nectar’. Amritsar makes a perfect winter getaway and a great chance to inject some traditional culture and heritage into your trip.
Harmandir Sahib – The Golden Temple
Amritsar is most famous for the spiritual home of the Sikh religion; the Harmandir Sahib or as is more commonly known in the west, the Golden Temple. In fact this shrine is so highly cherished that it receives more visitors than the Taj Mahal! The shrine frequently receives more than 100,000 visitors during just the week. The Golden Temple is an absolute must on your things to do in Amritsar list!
Construction was finished in 1604 AD and the temple has always been an important Sikh Gurdwara. Originally commissioned by the 5th Guru of the Sikhs, the temple has been added to over the centuries, most notably the gold facing which was added in the early 19th century by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Today the Golden Temple is on the tentative UNESCO World Heritage List, pending inclusion.
The sheer size of the temple is astounding and the intricate architecture is absolutely stunning. It is also incredibly busy at all times, despite being open nearly 24 hours a day as pilgrims arrive from all over the world to worship here. Visitors are reminded to be respectful; take your shoes off and cover your head.
Enter visit the main entrance, the Ghanta Ghar and note the surrounding pool that gives the city of Amritsar its name, the Amrit Sarovar. As well as the main Harmandir Sahib temple, the Sikh council also resides here. The Central Sikh Museum is also located here where visitors can browse an extensive gallery of paintings and traditional Sikh artefacts.
Visit the sombre Jallianwala Bagh gardens which is where the 1919 Amritsar massacre took place. On 13 April 1919 British Indian Army soldiers killed 1,579 unarmed people here. Today a poignant memorial marks the spot which was commissioned by the former President of India in April 1961 by Dr. Rajendra Prasad. Look around and you’ll see the scars of bullet holes in the walls and the well which many jumped into in a vain attempt to survive also features a monument to the dead.
Wagah Border, Changing of the Guard
Visit the Wagah Border and witness the traditional Changing of the Guard ceremony, a real throwback to the days of colonial rule. Wagah Border is the only road crossing from Pakistan into India and the elaborate ceremony takes places every night just before sunset. Soldiers from both Pakistan and India have enacted the military display since 1959 and Michael Palin covered the ceremony in his BBC travel series. It’s busy but so worth it.
Take in the Hindu Durgiana Temple whilst in Amritsar, whose name comes from Goddess Durga. Also known as the Lakshmi Narayan Temple, this was built in the 16th century and is located just outside the Lohgarh Gate. Built by Guru Harsai Mal Kapoor and based on the Golden Temple, this is also home to smaller temples within such as the Bara Hanuman and Sita Mata Temples.
Explore Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Summer Palace which is located in the Ram Bagh Park. Today the palace features a museum housing oil paintings, miniatures, ancient coins and traditional weapons all from the Sikh period.
For more details, read our guide to India.