There’s A Place In…Amritsar, India

Today’s post comes to us from Alana, a twenty-something traveler trying to figure out life one place at a time…and writing about it at Paper Planes.  You can see more stories and photos by following her on Facebook and Twitter.

When I went to India I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.  The entire trip was very spontaneous (I know how that sounds – a ‘spontaneous’ trip to India??) and not at all planned out.  I especially hadn’t planned for staying a couple days on the grounds of Darbar Harmandir Sahib, or the Golden Temple, in Amritsar.  In fact, I had never even heard of it.

golden-temple-saris-amritsar-india

Located in the northern state of Punjab, the Golden Temple is the holiest temple in the Sikh religion and – like most of what I saw and I did in India – was unlike any other place I have ever been to.  Tens of thousands (tens of thousands!) of people visit the temple each day to pray, listen to hymns and scripture, and bathe in the sacred waters surrounding the temple.  Heads must be covered – men and women – and no shoes are allowed.

While the temple itself is stunning, the three things that struck me most about staying there were the meals, lodging and staring.

It amazed me that we were at a beautiful, important holy sight and yet instead of taking photos of the gleaming Golden Temple people were getting in line to get a picture with a girl with gold hair.  I was even handed a newborn baby to hold while the young parents snapped away.  Awkward.  I had been starting to get used to the staring, pointing and sneaky cell phone cam shots that followed me everywhere in India, but here it was taken to a whole other level.

awkward-photo-amritsar

Free meals are provided continually throughout morning, noon and night as well as free hot chai 24/7.  When I arrived at the complex, the first thing I noticed was a loud, clanging racket that I couldn’t figure out.  Once I went to the dining hall for my first meal I realized the source of all the commotion…

meal-time-in-amritsar-temple

Hundreds of people are fed every 15 minutes or so.  You wait in a group until the hall doors open, then find a place on the floor with your tin plate, bowl and utensils.  Once the room is filled, several men start walking down the aisles with buckets of food – daal (lentils), rice, rice pudding and chana masala (curried chick peas) – and dump them onto your plate.  Others go around with baskets of chapatti and drop one or two pieces into your hands.  Once you’re finished eating, you pick up your plate and walk out to the cleaning station where at least a hundred people are volunteering to wash dishes.  Here was the noise: hundreds of tin plates, spoons and bowls being washed and stacked at the same time.  Constantly.  Since meals are continuous, so is the washing up and metallic clattering.

washing-dishes-amristar-temple

The temple complex also provides accommodation for pilgrims and tourists.  While there are hundreds of simple rooms available, people would end up sleeping under the stars in various courtyards practically on top of each other with a thin mat on the concrete.

Backpackers can find a hidden room off of one the many corridors that leads to a dim, dingy set of shared rooms where you sleep on cots lined up one right after each other and trust that the other travelers staying at the time will not steal anything.  Not for the fussy or squeamish – it is very close quarters and I woke up in the middle of the night feeling little bugs jumping on me – this space was (again) unlike anything I’d ever stayed in but, in a funny way, also stands out as one of my favorite places I’ve been.  While the outside is hot, loud, colorful and busy, as soon as you make it inside the door things cool down, it’s darker and quiet.  It felt like a secret hideaway where you found this very communal space shared by people all over the world.

backpacker-room-amristar-temple

If you’re headed to Amritsar:

  • There is a fee for some of the rooms available at the temple, but the lodging mentioned above is free.  Of course, at the end of our stay we made a monetary donation, or you can also volunteer your time – like in the kitchen.
  • The town of Amritsar itself doesn’t boast much, but there are plenty of accommodation options if the temple rooms are full.
  • Bring a scarf or handkerchief to cover your head.  These can also be bought around the temple.
  • Be prepared for a lot of staring and people asking – or not asking – to take your picture.
  • Be aware of ‘guides’ wanting to show you around…chances are they’ll try to corner you into paying them for their ‘services’.
  • Aside from visiting the temple, which could be done easily in a day, the other main attraction is to drive about an hour away to the daily border closing ceremony between India and Pakistan.  Get a group of people together to hire a car and driver (many are waiting just outside the temple grounds offering their services) and get ready for a confusing display of yelling, uniforms, marches and cheering.

Have you been to Amritsar? Would you stay on the temple grounds?

25 Comments

  • Maria says:

    Impressive that in an area with so little they do so much and everyone gets fed.
    Maria recently posted..Head TiltMy Profile

    • Audrey says:

      It would be quite the feat to feed tens of thousands of people in one day (and cook for all of them too), but it sure looks like they have it down to an art!

  • Callie says:

    Wow, what a place! That sounds nuts (in a good way). I’ve never stayed at a temple before but I’d go for it!
    Callie recently posted..CAUGHT MY EYE IN BANGKOKMy Profile

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  • Janit says:

    A lot of us donate to temples in India and free food for the poor in these temples ensures that our money doesn’t go waste.
    Its hot, fresh and quite hygenic too.
    Janit recently posted..Smiling Shopkeeper: Street Photography in Tbilisi, GeorgiaMy Profile

  • Amanda says:

    Very cool. I’ve heard of the temple before, but not about the constant meals!
    Amanda recently posted..Photo of the Week: Triglav National ParkMy Profile

  • brandy bell says:

    super info, Alana– even if I don’t find myself staying at the temple, it sounds like a great place to meet interesting people and make connections 🙂

    thanks for hosting the article, Audrey, good find!
    brandy bell recently posted..Me Travel Pretty One DayMy Profile

  • This is awesome and scary at the same time. Did you have to wash the plates too?

    I love the 24/7 Hot Chai perk. 😉
    Natalia | Always Trekking recently posted..Top 3 Recommended Detours – Cycling Across KoreaMy Profile

  • Susan @ Caribbean Vacation says:

    I never try an Indian food. but still I’d love to go and enjoy my every minutes in India. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful experience.

  • Abby says:

    That sounds like an incredible experience. That’s awesome that so many are able to eat and sleep there. Your pictures are awesome as well!
    And that’s pretty funny about people taking pictures of you. I’ve heard that the paler and blonde women both get lots of attention in India!

  • Excellent write up… Amritsar is one of my favorite in Punjab….
    wandering soul recently posted..Rock Climbing at Dhauj, HaryanaMy Profile

  • Amritsar is so nice place. Interesting post. I had never stayed in a temple but I’d go for it. Thanks for sharing this post.

  • Chandra says:

    A good place to visit We backapckers see before us the beauty of life.Staying places immaterial.

  • Amritsar is a historical city and the most famous landmark of this city is Golden temple. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple is made from gold and is very beautiful. I visited this place back in 2012 and enjoyed the community food, traditionally servered here.

  • Shivani Sehgal says:

    Nice blog thanks for sharing. India is also known as land of devotees. Golden temple is the famous landmark of Amritsar. There are many other famous temples in India. We can get whole information about all the temples in India here: – India Temples

  • This place has always fascinated me, and I’d love to eat – if not sleep – inside the temple. Talking about authentic experiences here…
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  • Jag&Ranj&Veer Rayat says:

    Harmandir Shaib is a beautifil place. Full of stories like the story of Rajni. Rajni was the daughter of a king. She was married to a leper because she felt that god was her provider and not her father. To test her resolve her father married her to a lepper. When Rajni visited Harmandir Shaib she placed her husband by the water surrounding the temple. When her husband the leper was sitting on the banks of the water, he saw a pair of crows dipped down in the pool and flew away with their colour changing from black to white. Seeing this he concluded the sarovar did not contain ordinary water, so he made up his mind to bathe in the water. He reached near the pond and took a dip in the water. The exact same spot where this took place is still marked at the Golden Temple, this spot is known as Dukh Bhanjani Beri and this incident took place in 1884. When he came out of the water he was astonished to see himself healed and healthy. He was no longer a leper. He walked as a youngman and sat under the shade of the Ber tree. When Rajni returned she was unable to recognize him. When the youngman convinced her telling her the whole story; Rajni felt very happy. They met Guru Ram Dass Ji (the third sikh Guru present at that time) and told him the whole story. Guru Ji was pleased to hear it and mentioned that the sarovar (holy pond) was the same holy place about which Gum Amar Dass Ji (the second sikh Guru) had foretold. When the people of the area heard about the appearance of Netar pond they rushed to see and have a bath in it. The tree under which the leper was sitting came to be known as Dukh bhanjani Beri as it relieves the pains and afflictions one is suffering. Thousands of pilgrams visit the Beri every day.

    If you can you should also read about Baba Deep Singh Ji. In the early years of the Golden Temple and when the temple had been invaded by the mugals, Baba Deep Singh Ji walked for miles with his severed in the palm of his hand. His head was severed in a dual and as his head fell from his neck to the ground, his companion in battle reminded him of his promise to meet at the Golden Temple. So Baba Ji picked up his head in one hand and a sword in the other walking miles. As the mugal army saw this sight they ran throwing down their swords. Eventually, Baba Ji made it to the Golden Temple where he placed his head in the walkway of the temple.

  • Iveta says:

    Another interesting place in India to see, thanks for sharing:)

  • I am going to visit Amritsar this July. Thanks for supplying the information. 🙂

  • anil_traveller says:

    Lovely post Alana. While the Golden Temple too has the highlight of my trip in Amristsar, I was equally smitten by the food, the aloo parathas from Kesar da Dhaba in particular.

  • Nikki says:

    I can’t believe it is 10 years since I was last here! We also stayed in the temple and like you say it was quite the experience and one of my favourites. Can’t wait to go back to Amritsar, and India in the new year. Hoping to buy a few more pairs of my favourite shoes too!

  • Mantaran Kahlon says:

    I have been to Darbar sahib so many times as its only 70 KM from my native town. one thing i like about your blog is you explained everything very clearly, nice work cheers!

  • Jimee hopes says:

    Interesting Post! I have gone many times to Harminder sahib.The spirituality, Food and gathering of all religions people always impress me and force to go again. Along with it, there are so many places in India, which soothe your body and mind. The incredible sights and sounds that India has to offer, the people, the culture, the colourful costumes, the rich food, the age-old customs steeped in millennia-old traditions.The only thing which you need to have good experience of travel is proper guidelines. And yes, We Maavalan travels meticulously developed custom private tours that will enhance your experience when you travel to India. Get in touch to have more information 🙂

  • This temple is also known as Golden Temple, one of the holiest places in the world has four gates which are the symbol of respect and teach us that all human beings are equal. Here at Golden Temple, the person belongs to any religion, caste or creed remains equal.

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