What to expect when visiting the holiest Sikh Gurdwara
Amritsar was not on our visit list before we left for India, however my auntie’s friend said we HAD to visit the Golden Temple, known to Sikhs as the Harmandir Sahib. For a place heaving with people making the pilgrimage from across the world to bathe in the sacred waters, everywhere felt so calm, peaceful and truly spiritual. This guide will share everything you should know before visiting, so you know what to expect at one the most sacred places on Earth. Its a place you definitely shouldn’t miss!
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What Should I Wear?
The same as any temple, you should dress conservatively. Shoulders and knees must be covered (no tank tops or shorts), but dress light, it gets VERY hot! Both men and women are required to wear a head scarf over their head. Don’t worry if you forget a scarf, there is a box of free headscarves at the door, and they are sold at very cheap prices around the temple. You will remove your shoes and leave them in the cloakroom to collect after your visit. You’ll then walk through pools to clean your feet at the entrance to the temple, and then you’re ready to witness the beauty!
A Food Experience
Getting into the food hall building
A big question I asked myself before visiting is whether it would be frowned upon for us to eat in the community kitchen as we aren’t Sikh. This is 100% NOT the case! The Golden Temple itself is a symbol of human brotherhood and equality. We quickly found that out when everyone in the hall was chatting and laughing, we made so many friends! That said… prepare yourself for CHAOS at the entrance to the Langar hall (this is where you get your plate and spoon)!! There’s no queue to get in to the actual grounds, but there are BIG “queues” (pushing) to go inside the golden temple itself and the food hall (see below outside the grounds vs. entrance to the Langar hall).
Entering the Food Halls
Stand your ground in the queue or you’ll never get in! Follow the crowd towards one of the 2 food halls where you’ll be put into groups. You’ll likely have to wait in the corridor for one sitting to finish before yours. Everyone sat down and waited patiently behind a barrier to the food hall for about 20 minutes/ half an hour. It’s a little cramped, and when one person stands up to go into the hall, get ready to do the same or you’ll be stuck on the floor! If you’re visiting with someone make sure you stick by them at this point if you want to sit next to them! It’s almost like musical chairs to get a spot on the carpet. Everyone rushes to get the best spot with their family/ friends, hectic but actually quite fun!
On average, 50,000 people are served each day! On holidays/ religious occasions, the number often goes up to 100,000. Free hot meals, also known as langar, are served 24 hours a day; food is served in 15 minute sessions per group, meaning about 10 minutes to do a quick sweep after sittings. Several volunteers will come around with lentil dahl, chapatti, yoghurts, rice and water. If you finish something within your 15 minute slot they’ll keep the food coming! The immense logistical achievement of supplying meals to tens of thousands of people is what makes the Golden Temple unique, an experience you CANNOT miss!! The food served is seen as coming from God’s kitchen and is blessed for rich and poor alike; all guests sit side by side on the floor, regardless of race, creed or class.
TIPs: When receiving your chapatti, don’t reach out for it! Simply hold out your hands for it to be placed in by the sewadar. To say yes/ thank you to something place your hands together in the ‘prayer/ namaste’ position. These are both signs of respect (just follow what everyone else is doing!)
You can leave the hall whenever you please and make your way back downstairs. There’ll be volunteers/ sewadars near the exit collecting your plates and spoons. Make their lives easy and eat all your food (wasting food can also be considered disrespectful)!
When Should I Visit?
Amritsar experiences really hot summers and really cold winters, so shoulder months are the best time to visit (October/ November or February/ March). We visited in September and whilst it was still very hot it was bearable! You should also visit the Golden Temple twice! Visit in the day and experience meal time, the clear sacred water with beautiful fish and also to get some iconic views of the temple in the light.
Then head back again at night to see a totally different side to the Golden Temple. The pure gold dome is illuminated and its reflection glitters on the water below. The grounds feel even more peaceful at night, with everyone winding down and reflecting on their day.
This was one of those unplanned ‘golden’ experiences whilst travelling for us. We’re so glad we were spontaneous and just went! You’d be a fool to skip this place on your journey! It truly is the most magical, memory making experience. Check out our guide on how to spend the best 24 hours in Amritsar.