What you need to know when visiting the Golden Temple. India is an immense and diverse country that offers so much for visitors. I have just returned for my fourth time and was wowed once again. My inaugural visit was in 2004 in Rajasthan, followed by an extensive trip in 2012 when I filmed a documentary, and a recent trip in 2018 to the northeast of India. This time I was back for a longtime coveted trip to Punjab, in the northwest. Why? I wanted to experience two things in Punjab; the amazing Wagah Border Closing Ceremony and the holy Golden Temple.
The Golden Temple known officially as the Harmandir Sahib, found in Amritsar, is the most holy site for the Sikhs. The temple broke ground in 1581. Sikhism is a religion that was founded in the late 15th century. Sikhism is based on the teachings of Guru Nanak as well as the nine Sikh gurus who followed him. Sikh translates as learner or disciple and the monotheist religion has a noble ethos of equality of all humankind while engaging in selfless service. The religion counts 25 million strong with the great majority being found in Punjab.
Sikhs are often recognizable, for many of them follow the five Ks. Those who follow the five Ks; never cut their hair (and typically cover their hair with a turban), wear a steel bracelet, carry a small dagger, wear a cotton undergarment, and carry a small wooden comb. The five Ks are a symbol and also form the external identity for those committed to Sikhism. Male Sikhs often share the same surname of Singh (lion) while women are known to go by Kaur (princess).
Amritsar is a typical Indian city in the fact that it is one million plus strong, hectic, overcrowded and noisy. The Golden Temple is located in the older part of the city. I headed over to the Golden Temple in my Uber, weaving through chaotic streets. On foot I ambled through a couple of very well organized and clean streets. I even passed an all vegetarian McDonalds (which came in handy for its crisp AC).
I passed the Jallianwala Bagh, a memorial to a horrific slaughter. British General Reginald Dyer in 1919 had his troops turn on a crowd of unarmed civilian protestors, killing over 400 and injuring over 1000.
To enter the Golden Temple, everyone is required to cover their head. Scores of people wonder the street outside the temple, selling bright orange bandanas for a cool 10 rupees. I slipped one on.
I then approached the Golden Temple and noted the vast white exterior walls. My pulse quickened. Thousands of people milled around. Near the temple is an adjacent building where I slipped off my sneakers and handed them to an attendant.
In my bare feet, I traveled over the white marble. Prior to entering the temple, you will dip your feet in a shallow pool of water for cleaning. I entered the main entrance of the temple.
My bucket list is never ending. The Golden Temple had been on this list for a long time. Overtime, it is possible to develop unrealistic expectations. But all concerns were washed away when I finally gazed up this incredible temple complex. A vast pool known as the Sarovar or Pool of Nectar is centered in the complex with a two-story golden sanctum that rests near the center of the pool. The pool is surrounded by a series of mostly white buildings and shrines.
I visited the Golden Temple three times. Once, immediately after sunrise, second, during the middle of the day (awful idea, brutally hot in September, and finally before sunset into night. If I had time, I would have visited many more times.
The centerpiece of the Golden Temple is the golden sanctum that seems to magically float in the Pool of Nectar. A long causeway connects to the sanctum. Twenty-four hours a day people queue to enter this revered sanctuary. Holy men with musicians sit in prayer as adherents crowd the sanctum.
The Golden Temple is extremely active place of worship, with thousands of people milling around. I found it shocking how few foreign tourists were visiting the complex. I never saw more than ten tourists a day.
There are two ceremonies a day, held in the morning and evening. The holy book known as the Guru Granth Sahib is placed in a golden palanquin surrounded by a large group of adherents who chant religious Sikh songs. The book is put to “rest” every night and then brought out at dawn the following day.
Within the complex is the Langar, which translates to community kitchen in Sikhism where free meals are served, and everyone is treated as equals. The meal is vegetarian and served to all who dine on the floor. The kitchen staff and servers are volunteers, and anyone visiting the temple may volunteer. Over 100,000 meals are served a day throughout the day.
Picking up your plate and utensils.
Cooking up some tasty morsels.
Enjoying the meal.
And finally cleaning up.
What To Know When Visiting The Golden Temple
Everyone needs to cover their head. You can bring your own head covering or purchase a bright orange bandana for 10 rupees.
You need to dress conservatively, no shorts or tank tops.
You must leave your shoes at the free, shoe check outside of the temple. This is something the staff is very strict at the Golden Temple. Do not try and bring them in your bag.
I had read prior to my visit that bags were not allowed. I brought my camera day pack on all three of visits without any issues.
I read with trepidation in this article that cameras were no longer allowed at the Golden Temple. To my relief, I was able to bring my large mirrorless Sony a7riii into the temple. Overall, I had no issues taken photos at the temple. There were a couple of times when I was asked not to take a photo, but was a bit confused of what the reason was. Absolutely, no photos are allowed within the gilded, golden temple, Harmandir Sahib.
You may also eat at the Golden Temple. Free food is served 24 hours a day. Over 100,000 people are served a day.
The Golden Temple is open 24 hours a day, and you can even sleep there if you wish.
Watch the closing ritual called sukhasan, the Guru Granth Sahib (the scripture) at 10pm is placed in its “bedroom”.
View the opening ritual called prakash, the Guru Granth Sahib (the scripture) at dawn is retrieved from its resting place in a ceremony.
What you need to know when visiting the Golden Temple.
What you need to know when visiting the Golden Temple
What you need to know when visiting the Golden Temple