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Guide to Visiting the Golden Temple

Amritsar’s Golden Temple, in the state of Punjab, northern India, is one of the country’s most spectacular sites. It’s natural beauty is hard to beat; the gilt-edged temple shimmers in the large pool of water that surrounds it. Also known as Sri Harmandir Sahib (Temple of God), the site is visited by over 100,000 people every day and is of the world's holiest shrines.

Amritsar means the "pool of the nectar of immortality" and was the name given to the tank around the Golden Temple which was excavated in 1577 CE. The city of Amritsar subsequently grew up around the pool.

It’s a breath-taking spectacle, full of colourful people from all faiths and nationalities. Be prepared for an intense experience and one of the friendliest places in India.

We've listed what you need to know about visiting the Golden Temple below.

What should I wear?

It’s worth noting that it’s always very hot at the golden temple so light clothes are advisable. Shoulders must be covered although bare arms are fine. Shorts should also not be worn.

On arrival at the Golden Temple, both men and women are required to wear a scarf over their head (don’t worry if you forget to bring a scarf as headscarves are sold outside at a very cheap price). All visitors must remove their shoes and wash their feet by walking through pools before entering the temple.

There’s no need to worry about your shoes getting stolen as there is a cloakroom in the Golden Temple specifically for shoes. If you’re in a group, all shoes are placed in one sack and checked in together.

Will I need to queue to get in?

You don’t have to queue to get into the Golden Temple, but be aware that the street leading up to the temple is bustling. It can also be busy around the shoe cloakroom.

The only place where you will have to queue is to get into the inner temple where the holy book is kept. Queue times can differ greatly depending on the time of day but allow for anything between 30 mins – 1.5 hours. The good news is there are fans along the causeway to help keep you cool.

Food

The immense logistical achievement of supplying meals to tens of thousands of visitors daily is one of the things that makes the Golden Temple unique. Meals are available in the Golden Temple 24 hours a day – anybody is welcome to eat there and there is no charge for doing so, although donations are accepted; the whole process is funded by donations alone.

Meal times are 12 – 2pm and 7 – 9pm; food is served in two halls in 15 minute sessions per group. On arrival at the Golden Temple, everybody is given a metal tray, cup, spoon and fork by a volunteer and sits on mats on the floor in either of the halls. The food is then served from large containers.

On average, 100,000 people are served meals each day. The food consists of lentil dahl, chapatti, yogurts and chai, and is simple but delicious, according to Heather in our sales team, who recently visited Amritsar. Leftovers are served during other times of the day.

The food served in the Golden Temple is seen as coming from God’s kitchen and therefore blessed and good to eat. The food is for rich and poor alike; all guests sit side by side on the floor, regardless of status.

Who prepares the food?

All food served in the Golden Temple is prepared by volunteers. Anybody can volunteer to help out; you don’t have to be a Sikh to do so.

There is no hierarchy in the kitchen, but jobs are always available for everyone. It's an incredibly organised process, especially when you consider the kitchen serves 100,000 people on average each day.

Are non-Sikhs welcome?

Pilgrims from all over the world, especially India and Pakistan, visit the Golden Temple every day. Despite India's wealth of cultures and religions which differ by region, everyone is welcome at the Golden Temple, regardless of faith. The temple is open from all four cardinal directions so that people can enter from any side, symbolising the openness of the Sikhs towards all types of people.

What is the holy book?

The holy book contains the Sikhism scriptures and is the 10th prophet for the Sikhs; the previous nine prophets were all people. The words of the holy book are chanted by three men throughout the day and played over loudspeakers. There are also two large screens within the Golden Temple, both of which have subtitles of the words being chanted in various languages, including English.

What happens when the book is put to bed?

Around 9.30pm each evening, the holy book is “put to bed”. Starting at the land end of the causeway, four men carry a palanquin, whilst chanting and saying prayers. On arrival at the Golden Temple, the book is collected, carried back and put to bed.

It has often been said that there is a religious fervour in the air when waiting by the pool of nectar for the procession to take place. Once the ceremony starts, visitors also comment on the magnetism of the book drawing you in as it passes.

What else can I do in Amritsar?

Jallianwala Bagh, the garden where Sikhs were massacred by the British in 1919, is worth a visit. The 6.5-acre garden is located near to the Golden Temple and was established in 1951.

The Wagah Border ceremony marks the closing of the border between India and Pakistan each day. During the ceremony, the Indian and Pakistani border guards conduct a choreographed routine, flags are lowered and the gates are closed. The ceremony takes place every evening at sunset and lasts approximately 45 minutes.

Our tips

  • Don’t be afraid to talk to people – everyone enjoys talking about their religion, regardless of where they’re from
  • Take lots of water, a headscarf and your camera (it’s fine to take photos inside the temple, but not in the inner temple where the book is; you can take your camera inside but you must leave it in your bag)
  • Visit twice if possible, once for lunch or dinner and once for the ceremony of putting the book to bed
  • Toilets are available for pilgrims at the back of the Golden Temple, near to the Information Office
  • Just go!

For further information about the Golden Temple, please read this blog written by Heather in our sales team.

If you would like to visit the Golden Temple, our Hill Stations to Kashmir, Passage to India and Karakoram Adventure: Kashgar to Kashmir group tours all include a visit to Amritsar. Alternatively, we can arrange a tailor made holiday holiday to India to suit your dates and requirements.