Amritsar

Overview

Introduction

As the holy center of the Sikh religion, Amritsar, India, a 16th-century Punjabi city near the Pakistani border and 255 mi/450 km northwest of Delhi, is a good place to go for insight into the Sikh culture. The religion's adherents don't cut their hair. The men are easily identified by their turbans, beards and silver bracelets; the women by their salwaar kameez, a dress-and-pants combination that has become popular throughout the country.

Amritsar's main attraction is the beautiful Golden Temple made of white marble, bronze and gold leaf. To enter the temple, you must don a traditional headscarf, wade through a shallow pool (a purification ritual) and merge with the mass of bodies that circle the embankment around the holy structure. The temple sustained damage when it was the site of a bloody battle between Sikh and government forces in 1984, a conflict that also led to the assignation of then-prime minister Indira Gandi at the hands of her Sikh bodyguards. Lunch or dinner at the langar, the communal temple cafeteria, is a must—the food is safe to eat, delicious and wholesome. After eating, many visitors choose to literally clean their plates by joining the dishwashing assembly line on the ground floor.

Nearby Jallianwala Bagh memorializes hundreds of Indians killed when British troops opened fire on unarmed villagers in 1919.

Depending on the current political situation, the India-Pakistan border at Wagah can be worth a look: The guards on both sides take part in morning and evening military rituals that are symbolic of the violent relationship the two countries share. India is investing 1 million rupees for upgrading tourist facilities at the site, which is also a stopover for the bus running from Amritsar to Lahore. Other sights include the Baba Atal Tower and many beautiful gardens.

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