Amritsar, Part 1: Golden Temple

We arrived in Amritsar after a 9 hr train ride in a fancy first class train compartment.  Without AC.  Which meant the windows stayed open and we didn’t sleep much due to the train horns blowing or worse, the sound of a train whooshing by on the next track.

We were approached by about 5 rickshaw drivers, each offering to take us to our hotel.  The cheapest?  A cycle rickshaw driver … 40 rupees.

We hadn’t ridden in a cycle-rickshaw yet.  And I don’t think I’ll ride in one again — at least in a large city with cars and trucks zooming by.  I resorted to the “if I don’t see it, it doesn’t bother me” approach of ignoring all of our near-death experiences.  Although we asked to be taken to our hotel the cyclist tried to take us to another place.  I thought this would not happen — who would want to bike across town only to be told to please take us to our destination?  I was wrong.

Eventually we ended up at our hotel, Hotel Sharma.  It was walking distance from the Golden Temple and recommended by the Lonely Planet.  The price was decent and the room was fine, sort of.  The mattress on Brandon’s side of the bed was nearly non-existent but he improvised and folded in half to ensure decent sleep.

We visited the Golden Temple twice: during the day and at night.  I’m the first to admit I didn’t know much about Sikhism before our visit to Amritsar.  Sikhs – the men wear turbans, carry a dagger, and after 9/11, Sikhs were wrongly targeted as Muslims and were victims of hate crimes. 

We learned that the Indian state of Punjab is home to around 75% of the world’s Sikhs.  Sikhism started in the 1500s by Guru Nanak Dev who was unhappy with Islam and Hinduism.  He believed that family should be more central to life, that the caste system should be eliminated, and that God is universal (disclaimer: this is my basic read of Sikhism.. it’s more complex than this).  The Sikhs are very open to all religions and allow all visitors in their holy site, the Golden Temple.  The only requirement is that you must remove your shoes, cover your head, and leave any drugs/alcohol/tobacco outside the gates. 

We readily obliged and circumabulated the complex.  It was beautiful.  I kept thinking about how we missed out on seeing the inside of St. Peter’s in Rome due to the closure for mass.  The Golden Temple is the equivalent in Sikhism.  Anyone can partake in the free meals they offer there, as well as as the free dormitories (we skipped). 

We checked out the Sikh museum and learned how oppressed the Sikhs have been over the years.  They seem to pride themselves on being incredible fighters and their museum honored everyone who died for the cause.  We also visited another museum across from the complex that recalled a massacre by the British in the early 1900s. 


Golden Temple during the Day
We decided to return to the complex at night the next day.  It was equally as stunning, in a different way.  Even though it was 10pm, the place was still crowded.  We met an Irish traveler who was staying at the Temple who said there were people there at all hours.  Apparently all Sikhs endeavor to spent at least a week of their life at the Golden Temple, in service to the complex. 

Look forward to the next blog post about our trip to the Pakistan border.  We caught a share jeep with 8 other people with a trusty Sikh driver.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the dagger… how do they get through airport security. 


Golden Temple at Night

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