Amritsar Golden Temple
The Golden Temple of the Sikhs stands was build in the capital of the Sikh state Pinjab: Amritsar. For the Sikh Punjabies, the Golden Temple is what the Vatican is for the Catholic world or the Jokang Temple in Lhasa for the Tibetans. It's the center of their religion. I went twice to Amritsar. The first time I was there briefly, the second time I spend 3 days in the temple. What did I do there?
I didn't visit the Golden Templein search of enlightenment. I was just curious what Sikhism was and I thought there would be no better place then Amritsar to learn something of Sikhism.
At the moment I went into the temple, I didn't really know much about Sikhism. I read somewhere that the Sikh religion had taken "the best of Hinduism and Islam" mixing and shaking it and voila, a new religion was born.
That could obviously not be the whole truth. So what is Sikhism? It was founded in the 15th century in Punjab. Sikhism is based on on the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev and ten successive Sikh Gurus.
The word Sikh comes from Sanskrit and is usually translated as "disciple" or "learner". So what do you learn? The main idea of Sikhism is the belief in a Universal God. Salvation can be reached through personal meditation on the name and message of God. Sikhs consider God as the universe itself.
As Sikhs were very disciplined, tough warriors with no fear, they were recruited by the British colonial army and made made it to high rankings.
And still into modern times, you will find Sikhs in every layer of the modern society, from craftsmen to bus drivers (I remember an exceptional crazy driver with a wild beard and even wilder eyes who drove his bus totally nuts but got no accidents whatsoever, and he was a funny guy).
The Golden Temple
The Amritsar Golden Temple complex was a total revelation to me. Compared to Christian churches and Muslim Mosques, the atmosphere here was relaxed, in some ways very comparable to what I had experienced in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. Many were sitting around the pond, chatting, eating and discussing. And at the same time I saw plenty of people in meditation.
Three times a day there were free vegetarian meals distributed. Everyone was welcome to join. It was an amazing and peaceful experience. No one tried to convince me of their beliefs, it was just that people were happy to see non believers interested.
Accommodation was free although foreigners were separated from the locals. The foreigners had their own dormitory, which was guarded.
Inside the temple musicians were playing 24 hours. The music, I felt was not only beautiful but also hypnotizing. However, I was not allowed to stay long in the temple, many other people wanted to visit. The best time to visit seemed to be quite early in the morning when the pilgrims had not arrived. Further on the day it was an endless row of people going and coming from the temple.
So what did I do those three days? Nothing much, I was most of the time sitting somewhere at a quiet place observing people, reading a bit, chatting with some Indians. It was an enlightening experience and when I left, I felt fresh, ready for my next leg of the journey. But to be honest, apart of the Golden Temple I had not seen anything else in Amritsar.
Getting there and stay
Amritsar is located on the historic Grand Trunk Road (which leads all the way to the border with Afghanistan to Peshawar. So transport by road, but also by train to other major cities in India is not a problem. There are buses to Jamu for further into Kashmir and you can go all the way to Dharamsala, the residence of the Dalai Llama.
Personally I would everyone encourage to stay in the Golden Temple, it's free (remember I am Dutch!), though you are expected to pay the temple some money. Alternatively you can choose one of our hotels hostels and guesthouses:
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Jaisalmer is nicknamed the Golden City as the fort in the sunset has a golden colour, an effect reached by the sandstone of which the fort is made of.
Continue to Kashmir or Dharamsala
You can continue traveling from Amritsar into either Kashmir or to Dharamsala. Both are easy to reach.