Amritsar and Golden Temple Travel Guide

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••• Golden Temple, Amritsar. Vishwaneet Singh / Getty Images

Amritsar was founded in 1577 by Guru Ram Das, the fourth guru of Sikhs. It’s the spiritual capital of the Sikhs and gained its name, meaning "Holy Pool of Nectar", from the body of water around the Golden Temple.

Getting There

Amritsar's Rajasansi Airport has direct flights from Delhi, Srinagar, Chandigarh, and Mumbai. However, northern India (including Delhi and Amritsar) suffers from fog in winter, so flights can often be delayed during that time.

An alternatively option is to take the train. There are plenty of services from major Indian cities. From Delhi, the Amritsar Shatabdi will get you there in six hours. You can also travel by road. Regular bus services run from Delhi, and places in north Indian. Travel time from Delhi by bus is around 10 hours.

Tours to Amritsar

If you'd like to visit Amritsar on a tour, check out this private three day tour to Amritsar from Delhi. Travel to Amritsar is by first class train. The tour includes a visit to the Wagah Border and is easily bookable online.

When to Go

Amritsar has quite an extreme climate, with very hot summers and very cold winters. The best months to visit are October and November, and February and March. If you don't mind feeling a little chilly, December and January are also good times to visit. The temperature starts climbing from April, and the monsoon rain arrives in July.

What to Do

The exquisite Golden Temple is what makes this otherwise unremarkable Punjabi city special.

This sacred Sikh shrine attracts pilgrims from all over the world who come there to pay their respects and do voluntary service. Incredibly, the number of visitors per year rivals the Taj Mahal in Agra. The main temple looks particularly arresting at night when it’s beautifully lit up, with its imposing pure gold dome illuminated.

The temple complex is open for almost 20 hours, from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. It's well worth two visits -- during the day and night. Heads must be covered and shoes removed when you enter the temple.

Take a Tour

Going on a Heritage Walking Tour of Amritsar is recommended.  You'll be guided through the narrow lanes of the Old City.  On the walk you'll get to see historic mansions, traditional trades and crafts, and captivating architecture with intricately carved wooden facades.

Jagaadus Eco Hostel also organizes interesting and reasonably priced tours in and around Amritsar. Choose from a tour of the Golden Temple, a food walk, a village tour, and tour to the Wagah Border.

Amritsar is renowned for its street food. If you're a foodie, don't miss this Amritsari Food Trail Walking Tour offered by Amritsar Magic.

Festivals and Events

Most of the festivals that take place in Amritsar are religious in nature. Diwali, Holi, Lohri (bonfire harvest festival), and Baisakhi (Punjab new year in April) are all celebrated there on a grand scale. Baisakhi is particularly boisterous, with lots of bhangra dancing, folk music, and fairs. Major celebrations are organized at the Golden Temple on this occasion, and it becomes carnival like outside.

There's also a street procession. Other festivals in Amritsar include Guru Nanak Jayanti in November, and the Ram Tirath Fair, also in November a fortnight after Diwali.

Where to Stay

If you'd prefer to stay close to the Golden Temple, some reasonably priced budget options are Hotel City Park, Hotel City Heart, Hotel Darbar View, and Hotel Le Golden.

For a heritage hotel with charm, head to the WelcomHeritage Ranjit's Svaasa. This boutique Ayurvedic spa retreat is housed in a 200 year old mansion, just off Mall Road (around 10 minutes drive from the Golden Temple). Room rates are 6,000 rupees upwards for a double. If you'd prefer to stay in a guesthouse, Mrs. Bhandari's Guesthouse receives good reviews. It's situated in a peaceful area surrounded by garden, and has a swimming pool. Double rooms are available from around 2,000 rupees per night.

Alternatively, Amritsar also has a couple of groovy new backpacker hostels.

Travel Tips

Amritsar is divided into old and new parts of the city. The Golden Temple is located in the old part, which is full of bazaars, only 15 minutes from the railway station. A free bus runs regularly (every 45 minutes) from the station to the Golden Temple. When you visit the Golden Temple, you can join the pilgrims for a free feed of common food from the kitchen, called "Guru Ka Langar".

Side Trips

Not to be missed is a trip to the Wagah Border between India and Pakistan, around 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Amritsar. The change of guard and retreat of troops is a much watched ceremony that takes place at the Wagah checkpoint every evening at sundown. You can get there by taxi (around 500 rupees), auto rickshaw (250 rupees), or shared jeep. Alternatively, take this Tour of the Beating Retreat Ceremony at Wagah Border including Dinner.