For a unique interaction with the cultured Sikh people, include a visit to the 500-year-old city of Amritsar on your India itinerary.
Situated in the north-west, in Punjab State, and close to the Pakistani border, Amritsar is easily accessed by air or rail and is blessed with a balmy climate. Whilst the city is devoutly religious, it is also full of action, as it is India’s key trading centre with the Middle East.
Stay at Amritsar hotels to find out more about the Sikhs, whose religious creed holds that all people are equal, and take in Amritsar’s many fascinating attractions. If you don’t have time for everything, be sure to make time for three of the best: the Golden Temple, Akal Takht and the Wagah Border.
The Golden Temple
Spectacularly constructed in marble and plated with real gold, the Golden Temple is one of the most marvellous architectural sights on this planet. Known to the Sikhs as Harmandir or the ‘abode of God’, it is located at the end of a causeway that juts out onto a sacred pool called the Amrit Sarowar, meaning ‘pool of nectar’. Access is gained via the outer complex from any of four directions. These entrances represent the idea that any person, from anywhere in the world, is welcome to enter.
Choose to relax and enjoy the solace of the temple’s famous ambience, or get involved by helping to serve food as a ‘seva’. If you find yourself working up an appetite, you have two options. You can either treat yourself to some of the scrumptious, freshly-cooked Sikh delicacies available at the many stalls on-site, or partake in the unusual experience of joining thousands of others as they enjoy a free meal prepared in the ‘langars’- the kitchens.
The Akal Takht
A majestic five-storey marble building crowned with a golden dome, the Akal Takht is situated opposite the entrance to the Golden Temple. Whilst the religious heart of the Sikhs lies in the temple, Akal Takht is loosely translated as the ‘throne of the timeless one’. From here, the Sikhs’ leaders, overseen by the Jathedar, issue commandments and hold court hearings to ensure that followers adhere to the religion’s behavioural guidelines.
Inside the Akal Takht, the sounds of Sikh hymns and exquisite interior design exude tranquillity. Learn more about religious history by observing the many interesting displays found in the museum. Military history buffs definitely shouldn’t miss the evening display of ancient Sikh weaponry.
The Wagah Border
Grab a taxi and take the 30-minute trip from Amritsar to the Wagah border crossing between India and Pakistan. Every evening, in a grand display of patriotism, the border gates are opened and closed and the flags of the neighbouring countries raised and lowered.
This event takes place at about 5:30pm and it’s best to get there an hour early to ensure a seat. If you want the best view, then book into the VIP area. Otherwise, settle for a seat in the tourist section. You’ll need your passport and don’t forget appropriate sun protection, the setting rays can get pretty intense. Travel light, as all bags are forbidden and, whilst cameras are allowed, security is very tight. Personal items such as cigarettes can be confiscated.
Don’t be afraid to join in with the crowd, as they roar with nationalistic pride when their flag becomes the object of attention. The more time you spend in India, the more you’ll realise that the real joy of travelling there is participating, rather than merely observing.