Visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar : All You Need to Know

Created by Colleen Sims | Updated : 23 November 2023 |

I thought that everyone would have the Golden Temple on their India-to-do-list but we were surprised by how few foreign visitors made the journey to Amritsar. Indeed we only visited Amritsar because of this temple; and we visited the Golden Temple many times during our stay. 

Amritsar was our introduction to India. We spent an amazing few days here exploring, learning more about the Punjab and visiting what must surely be one of the worlds most beautiful temples.

colleen visiting the golden temple in Amritsar, walking beside the holy lake with the temple in the background

The Golden Temple in Amritsar

I first heard of the Golden Temple in 1984 when Operation Blue Star caused international controversy.  Indira Gandhi, India’s then Prime Minister, used the army to expel Sikh militants from the temple complex.  The operation resulted in considerable casualties and loss of life and inflicted much damage upon this sacred structure.  The event eventually led to the assassination of Indira by one of her own Sikh Bodyguards.

Today, my interest in the Camino de Santiago led me to explore other great pilgrimage sites around the world and I rediscovered the beautiful holy temple.

Why is Amritsar’s Golden Temple Famous?

Sri Harmandir Sahib, the Holy Golden Temple of Amritsar is one of the jewels of Punjab. It is the spiritual and cultural heart of Sikhism, and the Golden Temple attracts millions of pilgrims and visitors each year. 

The temple is not exclusively for Sikhs and anyone, irrespective of cast, creed, race or gender are welcome.

Some interesting facts about the temple according to the Golden Temple website :

  • The Golden Temple was founded in 1574 by the fourth Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das.
  • The temple sits within a sacred pool, known as the Amrit Sarovar; which gives the city of Amritsar its name. 
  • The Holy Lake was completed in 1577 and the Gurudwara (place of worship) completed in 1604.
  • Originally constructed of white marble, gold was added in 1830 and is 24-karat gold.  It was renovated in the 1990s using 500 kilograms of gold.
  • The ceiling of Harmandir Sahib is made with gold and precious stones.
  • The Sarovar or Holy Lake is 152m by 149m and a staggering 5 metres deep.
  • There are fish within the holy lake including koi carp, rohu, mrigal and katla. The fish are kept primarily to eat the algae and aquatic insects and to keep the water clean.
  • Within the Golden Temple and recited continuously by priests, is the Adi Granth, the holy scripture of Sikhism.
Fish swimming in the holy lake around the golden temple in amritsar

Where is the Golden Temple?

The Golden Temple is in the heart of the old centre of Amritsar in the Punjab region on northern India, just 33 kilometres from the Wagah Border between India and Pakistan.

The address is rather aptly : Golden Temple Road, Amritsar, Punjab, India

The Golden Temple is part of a Complex and when we first arrived at the address we weren’t sure if we were at the right place.  We were looking for the famous gold building sat within a lake. Or course it’s here but inside the complex.

Plan of the Golden Temple Complex in Amritsar
Golden Temple Complex Map from SikhiWiki Website

How Can You Visit the Golden Temple?

The Golden Temple is open to all.  There is no entrance fee and no special requirements.  To visit the Golden Temple you simply arrive.  Once you’ve removed your shoes, washed your hands and covered your head you can enter.  There is always a procession of people entering the temple so simply follow the line.

At the entrance are Sikh guards who will happily help with your head covering and assist if needed.  Cigarettes, alcohol and chewing gum are not allowed; you will be asked if you have any and they must be left outside the temple. Also, if you have a large bag you may be asked to open it.  Don’t feel concerned about this process, the guards are very helpful.

What Should You Wear to the Golden Temple?

The Golden Temple is a holy temple and a place of worship and pilgrimage and there are a few etiquette rules that you should follow.

  1. Dress modestly.  This applies equally for both men and women.  You will be expected to cover shoulders and knees.
  2. You will need to cover your head.  I carry a head scarf for this purpose and Gerry was provided with a head covering as we entered.
  3. You must leave your shoes and socks outside the temple, walk through a water bath and remain barefooted during your visit. 

There is a shoe storage area just outside the complex.  Once you arrive at the main clock-tower entrance, you will see to the left the kiosks where you can leave your shoes.  It’s very efficient and safe, you are given a token for when you collect your shoes at the end of your visit.

Top Tip : Do not leave your shoes anywhere other than the official shoe stand; you may not see them again if you leave them elsewhere.

with visiting the golden temple in Amritsar you need to leave your shoes at the shoe stand as shown in the picture; you'll be given a small token

When is the Golden Temple Open and What’s the Best Time to Visit?

The Golden Temple is always open: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You are welcome to visit at anytime. 

We visited the temple 4 times during our time in Amritsar and I’m honestly not sure that there is a best time.  However, there are some times that are more quiet and other times when you can watch ceremonies such as the opening or closing of the holy book.

We visited early and the light was wonderful; the opening of the holy book takes place before sunrise usually before 4:00am in the morning.  If you would like to see this ceremony and watch the sunrise there are fewer people in the complex and this is a good option.

We also stayed for sunset but it was busy; if you stay longer for the closing of the holy book ceremony at around 10pm the crowd will be smaller.

One day we visited during rain showers and there were less people within the complex and we also felt that lunchtime seemed less busy too.

Whenever you visit you will be wowed by the temple and the lake but if you prefer less crowded times it will help if you can adapt your schedule to accommodate this.  But regardless, this is one of the most important religious sites in the world so expect it to be busy.

Gerry sitting beside the holy lake when we were visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar at sunset

Is Photography Allowed in the Golden Temple?

Cameras and phones are allowed but there are places where you are not allowed to take photographs or video and these areas are clearly marked. 

Within the Hamardar Sahib, the actual Golden Temple and on the causeway leading to the temple, there are very clear signs prohibiting photography.

As you walk around the lake you are fine to take pictures, although they do ask that your phone is on silent and camera shutters are quiet.  However, there are some places where it is inappropriate to take photographs, such as where pilgrims are bathing in the holy lake. 

As a rule of thumb, you should ask before taking someone’s photograph; I make eye contact and hold up my phone, folks will generally give a small nod or decline but it’s never a big issue.  When we volunteered in the Langar, I asked if I could take a photograph of the kitchen and it was declined. 

We had no issues taking photos from and around the Parikarma, the marble circular walk-way around the lake; indeed many other people were doing the same.

Top Tip : Expect to be asked for your photograph. I have lost count of the number of times we have been stopped on our travels.  At first I found it odd. The very first time in Flores in Indonesia I said no and you know that ‘no’ has stayed with me as I wish I’d said yes.  These days we just smile and have the photo taken; it’s led to a few happy conversations (and baby holding).

Colleen and Gerry beside the holy lake and the golden temple in Amritsar

What is the Langar?

The official name for the Langar or community kitchen at the Golden Temple is the Guru Ka Langar.  It is famous for the number of meals that are served daily and is the largest Sikh community kitchen in the world.  It’s thought that on an average day between 60,000 to 70,000 meals are served (that’s like feeding Old Trafford football stadium every day!)  On days like Diwali, when we visited, that number can reach 100,000; that’s like feeding Wembley stadium!

All are welcome to eat.  There is no charge although you can make a donation (there is a separate area within the complex for donations).  Because the meals aren’t gluten free we opted instead to volunteer in the kitchen.  If you would like a meal, just you follow the signs for the Langar, it’s near the men’s bathing area.  It is well signed. 

As you enter you’ll be handed a large silver tray for your food.  From here you just follow the crowd but there are many volunteers around.  People sit in lines cross-leg on the floor; prince and pauper sit and eat together without distinction.  Servers arrive with the food and you can eat as much as you wish.

We explained that we wanted to work.  They were a little surprised but they did understand and led us off to the kitchens.  We were stationed at the sinks; washing the large silver tray-like plates.  Dishes are washed 4 times and we were on station number 4, giving the final rinse before the dishes were taken to drain and dry. 

It was hard work, the number of plates, bowls and spoons is incredible and be prepared to get quite a soaking as items are moved along the lines.  The girl next to me was very chatty and made sure we did what was needed.  When her shift ended she told us that we should stop too; we’d been there for over an hour.  We were rewarded with special Diwali sweets that tasted much like fudge. It was a great experience and I thoroughly recommend you offer your services when you visit. 

Gerry working in the Langar at the Golden Temple, washing dishes in the kitchen

The Langar is not the only place you’ll be offered food.  As you walk around the lake you may also be offered water to drink from a small silver cup.  We decided against the water as we had no idea if it was filtered; although we know the cups are well washed!

You may also be offered Karah Prasad.  If you would like to try this, you’ll find it offered at the opposite end of the lake from the Langar, to the left of the Golden Temple. 

Karah Prasad is a sweet flour based like cake which has been blessed by the Guru.  It’s considered impolite to refuse but an English speaking lady helped me to explain why I couldn’t accept.  Gerry very much enjoyed his so we recommend that you give it a try.

Karah Pradash - a cake like wheat and sugar treat offered at the golden temple in Amritsar

What to Expect When Visiting the Golden Temple

First expect the Golden Temple to be busy.  This is one of the worlds great centres of pilgrimage and it has a lot of visitors.

Once you have removed your shoes, washed your hands (there are sinks just before the clock-tower entrance) and walked through the water bath, you will enter under the giant arches and get your first glimpse of the Golden Temple. 

You’ll walk down a flight of stairs; they are marble so be careful with wet feet.  And be aware that for some people the first glimpse of the temple is hugely significant and some pause and pray.

At the bottom of the stairs you’ll notice carpet type areas where visitors walk around the Holy Lake in a clock-wise direction.  This marble walk-way, called the Parikarma, completely encircles the holy lake.  Simply join the throng and start walking.  You can leave the carpet and stop and read the displays and take photos at any time. We even sat beside the lake and just watching the proceedings. 

The atmosphere within the complex is calm and peaceful and very welcoming.  A fellow visitor stopped to talk to us during our first visit and he informed us that the temple is not painted gold, nor is it gold leaf or gold plate.  It is covered with sheets of heavily embossed and decorated gold. He also gave us advice on what to see; you will find many people offering assistance.

Music or Kirtan, which is devotional music a bit like hymns, is played through speakers.  I was so surprised to see that it is performed live, by musicians who sit within the temple itself.

Candles around the holy lake at the Golden Temple in Amritsar

Bathe in the Sarovar of The Golden Temple

The lake that surrounds the Golden Temple is called the Amrita Saras, meaning pool of Nectar and it is from this that the city’s name is derived.

Pilgrims visiting the Temple will often choose to bath in the holy waters, believing that the Sarovar has healing powers.   All are welcome to take a dip, there is an area near the Langar entrance for men and a private enclosed area for woman to bathe more discreetly.

When we spent the day with Tarsem’s family in the Punjab Village, they told us that we should bathe in the lake.  They described the process and how for women there is a separate concealed area, where you can change and dry and dress after.  There’s no need for a swimming costume, although you can if you wish; most folks bathe in their underwear.

I was seriously temped to do this after they explained the process as it sounded really special.  However, when we next returned to the temple it was so so busy that it was just too crowded; I wish I’d done it on one of the previous visits.  If you’re thinking that you would like to bathe and the women’s area is quiet then just go ahead.  You may wish to take a small towel with you to dry afterwards.

Men bathe and change behind a small screened-off area on the main walk-way.

lady in the holy lake and the golden temple amritsar

Walking Around the Holy Lake

If you prefer not to bathe you can still enjoy the walk around the holy lake.  We took this path several times, each time discovering something new.

People walk in a clockwise direction.  It is possible to walk in the opposite direction but you are going against the flow and you’ll find it much more comfortable to follow the crowds.

As you walk you’ll discover many sacred spots, with some inscriptions in English.  Take time to stop and read them and just enjoy the spectacle unfolding before you.  It would be too easy to simply walk around without really taking everything in.  Allow plenty of time for your visit so that you don’t need to rush.  If you have the space in your itinerary, visit more than once at a different time of the day.

lady taking a photo of a sikh man in a large turban visiting the golden temple

Visiting the Gurdwara : The Golden Temple

The actual gold temple is called Harmandir Sahib, translated it means abode of God.  It is sometimes called Darbar Sahib (exalted court) or Gurdwara (place of worship).  I have seen it called the Sanctum but only on English sites. 

When you visit the complex you should allow time to visit the actual gold temple; if for no other reason than it’s a beautiful building.  But it’s also a fascinating glimpse into the world is Sikhism and devotion.

You need to queue to enter.  Sometimes the queue is very long.  However, when we arrived we were directed to a special gate.  If ever we felt like awful queue-jumpers this was the day.  We tried to join the back of the queue but the guides were having none of that.  They opened the gate and we were ushered up to the golden doors.

This took us to the causeway that leads to the temple. There are two queues, ladies and mixed. It’s not that ladies have to be separate but there is a great deal of pushing and shoving and up-close-and-personal so some ladies prefer to avoid this.   

Once in the line you pass through sections and the queue is filtered little by little to avoid overcrowding.  Do expect a lot of pushing and close contact here as you move along the queue.  Once inside the atmosphere is much calmer.

I was so surprised to discover musicians performing the Kirtan or hymns that we’d heard during our visit.  Three men sat on the floor playing gold instruments; two resembling an accordion and one on drums.  It is beautiful music and I could have stayed for ages just listening. 

Inside the temple is lined in gold and silks and jewels and you can walk up the stairs to look down on the guru and walk even higher to visit the roof of the temple.  Photos aren’t allowed inside and whilst some people did, we opted to follow the rules.

There is no time limit on your visit so stay awhile and enjoy the very special atmosphere.

View from the roof of the golden temple, the decorative domes are covered in gold

Book of The Palki Sahib : The Opening and Closing of The Holy Book Ceremony

If you’re an early bird and would like to witness something special then set your alarm and head to the temple in the wee small hours.  From 3:30am (depending on the time of year and the sunrise) you can witness a ceremony called Prakash.

In the morning, the priests carry the Holy Book from its night time home in the Akal Takht to the Golden Temple.  As the book is moved, lines from the Guru Granth Sahib are read aloud.

If mornings are not your choice then you can witness the evening ceremony.  Sukhasan is performed every evening, at around 9:30pm (depending on the time of year) when the Holy Book is returned from the temple back to the Akal Takht building.

The book is carried in a special Gold ‘throne’ adorned with garlands of flowers.  The ‘throne’ is hoisted on to shoulders and devotees can assist with carrying the weight. 

If you want to visit the Golden Temple for the book opening or closing ceremonies, check the timing for the day of your visit.

Closing of the Holy book ceremony at the Golden Temple in Amritsar

Places of interest Around the Temple Complex

The Information Centre

The Golden Temple Information Centre is located next to the main entrance on the Clock Tower Side of the lake.  Here you can find information about the Golden Temple history and more about the Sikh Religion and also find out about the guided tours offered.

Central Sikh Museum

Central Sikh Museum offers an exhibition of artwork, paintings, sketches and artifacts of Sikh gurus, saints, warriors and other prominent Sikh leaders. It also houses a collection of coins, ancient manuscripts and is home to a library.

Dukh Bhanjani Beri

As you walk around the lake you will walk by the Dukh Bhanjani Beri Tree.  This old Jujube tree is considered sacred and it is believed it has miraculous power.

According to legend, the leper husband of Bibi Rajani was cured by taking a dip in the pond near the tree and as a result the tree was named as Dukh Bhanjani, translated as eradicator of suffering.

Queuing to visit the golden temple, along the causeway.

How much Time Do you Need for Visiting the Golden Temple?

This very much depends on whether you are making one or two visits.  We planned two visits but ended up returning every day. 

  • Allow an hour to walk around the Lake; if you only plan to visit once I recommend you do this walk twice as we missed things on our first circuit. I would also recommend that you make a return visit at a different time of day as the light very much changes the appearance of the Golden Temple.
  • Allow at least an hour to queue and enter the Golden Temple.
  • Allow time to bathe; how long you spend is up to you but most people have a quick dip.  30 minutes should be enough time.
  • We spent an hour working in the Langar Kitchen; Allow addition time if you wish to eat in the langar.
  • If you wish to visit the Museum and Visitors Centre allow another hour.

Finally, you will need to queue for your shoes before and after your visit, and you’ll need to wash your hands and feet so allow a little extra time for this before entering.

Colleen visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar at dusk

How to reach the Golden Temple In Amritsar

Amritsar is easily accessed from Delhi and Chandigarh.  India has an excellent rail network and there are daily flights and coaches too.  We also found that hiring a private driver for the day isn’t hugely more expensive than the train.

Airport

We arrived from France in Delhi and continued onwards to Amritsar.  Sri Guru Ram Das Jee International Airport is 11 kilometres from the city centre. There are daily flights with Air India, Indigo and Vistara.  Check Skyscanner to book flights.

Train

There are several daily trains leaving from Delhi and from other stations north of Delhi. The journey from Delhi is just over 6 hours. Initially we planned to travel by train and considered breaking our journey at Chandigarh.

To see what trains are available check using 12Go; we have used this site to book many trains and buses. We only choose trains with EC – Executive Class seats or Class 1A sleepers. This does restricted our options but we feel happier. If you’re more confident than us then there are more train options with lower class seats.

Coach

We booked our onward travel from Amritsar to Mcleodganj with the Golden Temple Volvo Express’ booked again using 12Go. Sadly, it was cancelled at the last moment and instead we decided to use a private taxi which was also remarkably affordable.

Tuk-tuk or Taxi

If you arrive at the train or coach station or you fly to Amritsar Airport, ask your hotel to arrange for a pick-up. Alternatively you can use UBER when you arrive; we have used UBER extensively in India.  It saves a lot of haggling over the fee and they know in advance where you are going. 

Alternatively, take a look at Viator and book one of the highly rated taxi and transfer companies.

The entrance to the golden temple at night, light up in blue

Hotels near the Golden Temple

There are two hotels that we know and would recommend for visitors wishing to be withing walking distance of the Golden Temple.

City View With Garden

We stayed at an older style hotel 5 minutes walk from the temple and the centre of town called City View with a Garden. It is a simple hotel but the location was good It’s clean and comfortable and the staff were very helpful.

Budget Hotel : CITy view

★★★★★

  • good budget choice in an good location
  • comfortable bed and hot showers
  • really helpful manager and staff

SureStay Best Western

This is the closest hotel that we saw to the Golden Temple. It offers a lot of comfort, big modern bedrooms and bang in the middle of town. There are a couple of Best Westerns in town so make sure you choose the right one; the link below is to the one in the centre of Hall Street.

Mid range Hotel : surestay Amritsar

★★★★★

  • best location in the centre of town
  • big modern bedrooms
  • excellent price considering standard of hotel and location

The Last Word : Visiting the Golden Temple In Amritsar

Visiting the Golden Temple was a very special experience and for us the perfect introduction to our three months travelling through India.  We spent 4 days in Amritsar but you can see the sights in 2 if time is short; take a look at our post for the perfect 2 day Amritsar Itinerary to find out more.

For us the Golden Temple was a must-see destination, we planned our trip to ensure that we visited. It didn’t disappoint. It’s a stunning building and a beautiful sanctuary.

The Golden Temple during Diwali with fireworks over the temple and the lake
PRefer a Guided Golden Temple TOur

★★★★★

  • Expert tour guides who can explain all aspects of the Temple
  • Perfect for first time visitors if you’re short of time
  • Tour can be customised

Discover More About Amritsar And India

If you’re visiting Amritsar or India and you’ve found this useful then you may be interested to read my other posts :

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Whenever you travel, you should have a great travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve ended up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal, Japan and Ireland! Every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

TrueTraveller : We have this policy and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions.

Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

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Colleen in Salamanca on the Via de la Plata

Hey I’m Colleen. I’m married to Gerry, we’ve three fabulous kids and been living in France for almost two decades. I fell in love with Spain in the 1980s and I’ve walked 1000s of miles along the Camino de Santiago. Now we’re exploring and walking the world and I can’t wait to share what we’ve learned!

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