I have an eternal connection with Amritsar and I still remember I used to spend my summer holidays at my grand mother’s place in this city. Though we stopped visiting Amritsar after my grand mom’s departure for heavenly adobe. My annual visits to Amritsar stopped but this city has a special place in my heart. I have fond memories of going to Golden Temple Amritsar and getting the pure ghee’s (Clarified butter) hot “Kadda prasad”. I still have the taste of the yummy food of Amritsar in my heart, we used to eat from different places during our summer breaks. There is so much to remember and cherish about Amritsar. After many years I traveled to Amritsar twice in a span of 3 years. The first time I went with my Mom as she was missing the city of her birth and I decided to take her for a short break. The second time I went with my friends because I was looking for an excuse to visit Amritsar. During my recent trips, I realized that everything changed in last 2 decades, I had difficulty recognizing some of the places but still, everything felt familiar.
We traveled by Golden temple express from Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station to Amritsar, it is an overnight train. We had dinner in train and slept, next morning we wake up in Amritsar. I decided to stay next to Golden Temple so that it will be convenient for morning darshan. I had booked my hotel online through MMT. We reached our hotel in 15 minutes by Autorickshaw (Tuk Tuk) from the railway station. Our hotel was across the road from Golden Temple gate and after checking in we went for Darshan. Remember to cover the head with a scarf before going inside the Golden Temple Amritsar complex.
Golden Temple Amritsar –
Golden Temple is also known as Darbar Sahib and Harmandir Sahib. The name Golden Temple came from the color of the main sanctum, which is covered with gold and Harmandir Sahib mean everyone’s (Har) temple (mandir). Golden Temple Amritsar is open for everyone regardless of caste, religion or social stature.
The Sarovar (Pool) around Golden temple was built by Guru Ram Das in 1577 and foundation stone of the main sanctum was laid by Sai Mian Mir (A Muslim Pir from Lahore) in 1589. Guru Arjan Dass had placed a copy of “Guru Garanth Sahib” here in 1604 and it was opened for everyone. Golden Temple Amritsar is the most significant shrine in Sikhism.
It is believed that bathing in Amrit Sarovar (Pool) around Golden temple purifies karma and also have restorative powers to heal the sick. There is covered area for female devotees for bathing.
The main sanctum is connected with a causeway and the entry point to this causeway is called as Darshani Ḍeorhi.
There are queues to enter the main Sanctum and it can take 45 minutes to 1.00 hour. The main sanctum has two floors and “Guru Garanth Sahib” is seated on the ground floor. The upper floor is mainly used by devotees to sit and pray. It is connected by stairs inside sanctum and which is connected to a gallery. Photography is not allowed inside Golden Temple’s main sanctum. The atmosphere inside is spiritual with the live singing of prayers.
Other important places in Golden Temple Amritsar are Akal Takht, Dukh Bhanjani Beri, Clocktower, Guru Ramdas Langar and Sikh History museum.
Akal Takht is the main seat of Sikkhism from where top leaders of this religion issue edict or writs.
Dukh Bhanjani Beri (Jujube tree) is considered to be a sacred tree and it is believed that it contains miraculous healing power.
Guru Ramdas Langar is the community kitchen and dining hall. It runs 24×7 and serves food to more than 15,000 people per day. The kitchen service is run mostly with the help of volunteers. Each food service last for approximate 20 minutes. You have to take a plate, glass, and spoon from outside the dining hall. Inside the hall, everyone sits on the floor on cotton rugs, food is served by volunteers and you can take as much as you can eat but don’t take extra and waste it. After meals, carry the utensils and keep these in washing area outside the hall for cleaning. The food served here is vegetarian, which consist of Dal (Lentils), one vegetable, some Raita (Curd) and chapati, and on special occasions, sweets served with meals.
Sikh History museum is a good place to understand the history of Sikkism, it’s gurus and the traditions.
For me “Pani di chabeel“ or water points are another interesting point in Golden Temple Amritsar. They serve water to everyone with love and affection, believe me, the water of these points is one of the sweetest I had in my life. People do the do the cir-cumambulation (Parikarma) of Golden Temple and it is considered a good karma. The surrounding area is very clean and usually you see people sitting around the Amrit sarovar and praying. There are volenteers in area doing cleaning and helping people.
At night Golden temple looks beautiful with lighting.
Reconstruction of Golden Temple Amritsar –
Two major reconstructions were done to date.
i.) Ahmad Shah Abdali an Afghani ruler attacked and blown up the temple in 1762 but Sikhs reconstructed it between 1776 to 1786. In 1809 king Ranjit Singh taken over the temple and renovated it with marble and copper. In 1830 Ranjit Singh donated gold to overlay the sanctum with gold foil and hence the golden structure came in into existence.
ii.) In early 1980’s the Golden Temple Amritsar and Akal Takht was occupied by militant groups. These groups built the bunkers and observation posts inside the Golden temple. In June 1984 the then prime minister of India Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian army to run an operation against militants. This operation is known as “Operation Blue star” and during this many soldiers, militant and local people were killed in the cross firing. The Akal Takht was severely damaged during this operation but it was rebuilt between 1986 to 1999.
Special Daily Ceremonies –
Guru Garanth Sahib (The holy book) is considered as a living guru. There are two ceremonies every day, one before dawn and another at night. If you are in Golden Temple Amritsar then attend at least one of the ceremony to understand the tradition of Sikhism.
i.) Every day in the morning before dawn Guru Garanth Sahib is brought to the main sanctum with a ritual called “Prakash” (Light) from its bedroom in Akal Takht. It is carried on head and palanquin to the main sanctum with chanting.
ii.) At night after the prayers, Guru Granth Sahib is closed and brought back to its bedroom on head and palanquin. It is then tucked into a bed in Akal Takht.
Place for staying –
There are a lot of hotels in Amritsar for each budget. If you stay in Golden temple’s periphery area then keep in mind that nonvegetarian food is restricted within 1&1/2 Km radius of it.
Golden Temple Amritsar also offer the free place for sleeping to everyone depending upon availability. For foreigners, they have a small hostel with 3 rooms, which is free of cost.
Jallianwala Bagh –
Jallianwala Bagh is 2 minutes walking distance from Golden temple. Its famous for the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre by Britishers before Independence. On Baisakhi 13 April 1919, the British army under the command of general Dyer fired with machine guns into a crowd of peaceful protesters. There was only one exit/entry gate to Jallianwala Bagh and soldiered lined in front of it before firing. Hence restricting the exit. There were a couple of houses, which have gates opening in the park. Some people managed to escape from these gates but hundreds of people died and thousands of people got injured in this firing. There was a water well inside the park and many people jumped in this to escape the bullets but they died due to drowning. Many people died in the stampede. The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre was one of the cruelest incidents in India’s independence struggle. The history attached to Jalliawala Bagh makes it one of the iconic places to visit in Amritsar. Over the year this memorial is developed and few new structures are added in the park. Some of the bullet marks and bullets inserted in walls are kept intact as a reminder of what happened on that fateful day.
The Attari Wagah border’s “lowering of flag” ceremony is very popular and colorful affair at India-Pakistan border. Same day afternoon we went for this ceremony.
Some popular food and places for eating in Amritsar –
Brother’s Dhaba, they serve vegetarian Punjabi food.
Makkan is popular for fish tikka.
Kesar da Dhaba for proper dinner. They serve amazing non-veg food.
Bhai Kulwant Singh Kulchian Wale, for aloo pyaz (Potato Onion) kulcha (Stuffed baked bread in a clay oven).
Amritsari Kulcha and Sweet Lassi are two must have things when in Amritsar.
How to reach Amritsar –
It is well connected with all major cities in India by Indian Railways and the frequency of trains is very good.
There is an airport in Amritsar and many airlines operate flight from different cities in India (Even an international flight)