The largest city in Punjab and the centre of the Sikh faith, Amritsar is a fascinating and tangibly spiritual destination. It is both a bustling Indian city and a serene place of pilgrimage, and few fail to be moved by its splendour.
At the heart of the city is the magnificent Harmandir Sahib, more commonly known as The Golden Temple. This richly gilded shrine rises from the middle of an artificial lake, the Amrita Saras, which translates as Pool of Nectar. Visit in the early hours and the temple is bathed in the soft glow of the morning light, its reflection shimmering in the waters. The evenings are the best time to listen to the music and recitations of the Granth Sahbib, the holy book.
Scores of turbaned Sikhs come to worship and bathe in the sacred waters with most people trying to come at least once in their lifetime, not just from within India but all around the world. The deep spirituality that surrounds the temple and the hum of devotional chanting is something that touches all who visit and just taking a seat around the pool and soaking up the atmosphere is one of the best ways to appreciate this very special place.
Although Amritsar is a popular and peaceful destination now, its 20th-century history is one marred by violence, including the 1919 massacre by British troops and Operation Blue Star, a military operation ordered by Indira Ghandi which ultimately led to her assignation in 1984. Just 29km to the west lies the border with Pakistan, where every night the gates are closed and the flags of both countries are lowered amid much pomp and ceremony; a reminder that despite its troubled past, this is a vibrant pocket of India where tolerance and inclusion are some of its defining features.
WHEN TO GO
The best time to visit is between October and March. September and April are considered the shoulder months when it is very hot in the middle of the day but mornings and late afternoons are lovely. From the end of December until the middle of January, mornings and evenings can be foggy and nights cold, but during the day the weather is great for sightseeing.
What to do
- Visit the impressive Golden Temple
- See the chefs in action at the community kitchen, where at least 80,000 people are fed every day
- Visit the Jallianwala Bagh memorial site in honour of the victims of the infamous massacre carried out by the British in 1919
- Join the crowds for the 'lowering of the flags' ceremony at the Wagah Border, that separates India and Pakistan