The Punjabi city of Amritsar is India's most famously Sikh city. It is also, at less than 30 kilometres from the Pakistani border, a self-appointed guardian of national pride. The importance of Sikhism to Amritsar is evident in its beautiful Golden Temple. This temple, Sikhism's most holy gurdwara, draws visitors from all over the world. Some come to worship, others just to wonder and some to partake in the Guru Ka Langar: a free community meal served each day by volunteers.
Indian pride in the nation is clear to anyone lucky enough to witness the "Beating the Retreat" ceremony at Wagah. It all looks highly confrontational, with both Indian and Pakistani soldiers competing at high-stepping, shouting and facial hair growth. However, nowadays it is largely for show and although the crowds on both sides of the border enter into the event with spirit, it is all very good humoured.
Things to Do
Many of Amritsar's most famous sights centre around the complex of the Golden Temple, so called for the golden coating covering its surface. However, beyond the complex, the bustling bazaars of modern-day India awaits.
Visit the Golden Temple
Properly known as Sri Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple is iconic. It is also Sikhism's holiest gurdwara. Sikhs from all over India and beyond visit to pay obeisance but this temple is equally welcoming to people of all faiths and of none. It also contains one of the world's largest free kitchens, providing up to 100,000 people a day with bread and daal.
Pay respects at the Jallianwala Bagh
This garden was the scene of the 1919 Amritsar massacre, when British troops fired on unarmed pilgrims. The memorial to the several hundred dead is in the shape of an eternal flame and attracts locals and visitors alike.
Meet the Lion of the Punjab
Maharaja Ranjit Singh is the so-called "Lion of the Punjab", whose armies successfully fought the Mughals for control of much of northwest India. A large museum, the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Panorama, pays homage to the warrior and some of his most famous battles through the medium of an enormous diorama.
Calendar of Events
Spirituality and patriotism both hold firm places in the hearts of those who call Amritsar home.
Beating the Retreat ceremony at the Wagah border. Just outside the city is the border with Pakistan. Every evening, crowds gather on both sides of the border to witness the 45-minute border closing ceremony. Indian and Pakistani soldiers perform an elaborate dance-like drill routine that ends with the lowering of both countries' flags.
Guru Ka Langar. This is the free community meal served daily in the Golden Temple. Tens of thousands of people, both Sikhs and non-Sikhs, are provided with a vegetarian meal of roti (bread) and daal (lentil soup).
Baisakhi. The Sikh New Year, or Baisakhi, is celebrated with special poignancy in Amritsar. In 1919, it was those celebrating Baisakhi who were slaughtered by British troops. Nowadays, festivities are thankfully more cheerful. As with many things in the city, the Golden Temple is the centre for public feasting, bhangra dancing, fairs, music and much merriment.