* Prices may differ from that shown
I'll be frank here and point out that I was glad when my first visit to India, comprised of 3 weeks in total, was over. I stayed in a village with relatives in the Punjab for part of the time, and travelled around North India for the rest of it. On our final day in India I was more than glad to leave- in fact I was yearning to be back in Britain. My parents however had other ideas. The airport we had to fly back from was in Amritsar, and this, they pointed out, was 'near' The Golden Temple, which none of us had visited before. They meant 'near' in Indian terms though, as it was actually more than a 3 hour drive away. I reluctantly agreed to visit the temple with them, though it meant getting up at a ridiculous hour as our flight was due to leave at 6am.
The Golden Temple is predominantly a Sikh 'gurdwara' (place of worship). It was built in 1574, and it is called The 'Golden' Temple because the outside of the temple and the floors inside it are coated with real gold. The temple is considered holy because the original and ancient religious text of Sikhism, the Guru Granth Sahib, is kept there.
The Golden Temple was built at the instruction of Sikh leaders in order to welcome and provide sanctuary for all people, and there are four entrances to the temple to represent this. The temple is surrounded by a large lake which contains holy water. As with many religious places in India, people entering The Golden Temple have to remove their shoes and wash their feet before entering, and cover their heads as a sign of respect. Headscarves for men and women are provided outside the temple for those who turn up without any (which we did), and they cost just a few rupees (less than a few pence or cents). There are pools of shallow water at each of the entrances, and stepping in them constitutes washing one's feet.
After my negative experience of the Taj Mahal (see my review of it if you're interested), I was not prepared for what Amritsar had in store for me. I was tired and I just wanted to return home. But The Golden Temple really woke me up, as it was simply breathtaking beyond words. It also constituted one of the easiest and least stressful experiences I had during the 3 weeks I spent in India. Anyone who visits the country can tell you how chaotic and stressful it can be, and how the oppressive heat only makes things worse. I cannot be thankful enough, then, that we visited The Golden Temple before leaving.
It was roughly 4am, and yet here was a mass of people, hundreds upon hundreds of peaceful, mindful Indians, starting the day or week in their usual way. Almost all of them were kneeling or sitting in prayer, heads were bowed low and families were simply sitting quietly overlooking the lake. The atmosphere felt meditative, and I was deeply touched by the peace I felt there. In fact I had not experienced such peace like that in India at all, or indeed anywhere else in the world. We had intended to look around the temple, but instead we ended up sitting silently with everyone else, taking in the beauty of the lake and the temple.
A short while later, people walked by carrying the sacred text, the Guru Granth Sahib. Others stood up and stretched out their arms to touch it as it went past. I had never seen such reverence before, or such genuine worship, en masse. I was grateful to leave India with this view in mind, as it is a side that can be difficult to see on the bustling streets of Delhi or the chaotic roads of the Punjab.
If you're going anywhere in North India, I highly recommend visiting The Golden Temple, even if it's at the expense of seeing something else, for example, the Taj Mahal. The Golden Temple offers a glimpse of India that tourists such as myself often overlook, yet I won't ever forget my experience of visiting it, and I would even like to visit it again.
The most revered religious center in Sikhism.