Why the Golden Temple beats the Taj Mahal: A Photo EssayYou simply can't miss visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar on your travels in India. It's official name is actually Harmandir Sahib (which means the abode of God) but the Golden Temple name is commonly used by tourists due to the temple being covered in real gold. The Golden Temple is the most important Gurudwara and the holiest place for Sikhs that draws millions of pilgrims and tourists every year. The Golden Temple is located in Amritsar (which translates to the tank of nectar of immortality) in Punjab in North West India and is simply one of the most beautiful sights I've seen in my life. The Golden Temple and the colourful people and pilgrims who visit this scared place are so photogenic - I spent 6 hours here one day from late afternoon until well into the night photographing the building and the people and chatting to them and just soaking up the serene atmosphere here.
Here are some of my favourite photos from the Golden Temple that will make you want to visit Amritsar now!Just Wow! My first glimpse of the beautiful Golden Temple! The Golden Temple is the jewel of a much bigger complex called Harmandir Sahib that contains more shrines and monuments, a museum, dinning hall (langar) and pilgrims accommodation. The Harmandir Sahib was built to be a place of worship where men and women from all religions, caste and all walks of life could come and worship God equally. This is why it has four entrances in the North, East, South and West, to demonstrate that people from all four corners of the earth are welcome here. The Golden Temple is all it's glory. The Gurudwara dates back to 1577 and was founded by the 4th Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das but the present-day gurdwara was rebuilt in 1764. The temple is mostly made out of marble but it is gold plated with real gold which gave it it's English name - the Golden Temple. The water that surrounds the gleaming central shrine is known as the Amrit Sarovar (which means Pool of Nectar) It is surrounded by a marble walkway and the water is said to have special properties and healing powers so pilgrims come here to take a dip in the holy water. The Golden Temple is open to everyone but all visitors must remove their shoes, wash their hands and feet and cover their heads before entering. If you don't have a scarf there are little orange headscarfs that you can borrow at the entrance and the water you walk through to cleanse your feet is lovely and refreshing on a hot day! The Golden Temple is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. It's beauty lies not just in the building itself but in the people and pilgrims who visit, the volunteers who keep the place running and the special serene atmosphere of this place. Pilgrims and people from all over India enjoy just relaxing and spending time in this special place. Gazing over the water at the Golden Temple is a perfect spot for prayer, contemplation and meditation The Golden Temple is the holiest place for Sikhs who are distinctive due to the turbans they wear (because they don't cut their hair for religious reasons) They also always carry a sword. One of my highlights of visiting the Golden Temple was the people, everyone was so warm and welcoming. One young man showed me around the temple and then declared his love to me and wanted me to move in with him and his parents. When he said his parents house was close to the Golden Temple and that we could come here every night I was a little tempted - it is a romantic place but it all felt a bit rushed to me as I'd only known him for 15 minutes but thats India for you! It's worth visiting the Golden Temple at several times of the day to see the light cast new and beautiful shadows on the building. Sunrise and sunset are especially spectacular times. The temple is also patrolled by these Sikh guards and its feels a really safe, relaxed and peaceful place. The main event is at the end of a long floating causeway and close up you see the marble on the lower half is adorned with flower and animal motifs similar in style to those seen on the Taj Mahal. The shimmering upper half is covered in intricately engraved gold panels and topped by a dome gilded with 750kg of gold. At busy times you may have to queue for so some time on the causeway to get inside. Inside the opulent but quite small temple the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book, takes pride of place while priests and musicians chant continuously and quite mesmerisingly. Due to the small space devotees have to move through quite quickly but after taking some of the sacred water they sit around outside. Photography is prohibited inside but I found this online to give you an idea. Another one of the things I loved and found really inspiring about the Golden Temple was the way in which an army of volunteers keeps the place sparkling clean and serves up to 100,000 vegetarian meals free everyday, all day and to everyone who visits. There is also a station serving free sweet and milky chai. The guys from Jugaadus Hostel http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Jugaadus-Eco-Hostel/Amritsar/84915where I was staying also showed me around the kitchens. It was really impressive how they could prepare so much food with only volunteers and quite basic facilities. A really inspiring display of the generosity and kindness of Sikhs. The Golden Temple also looks beautiful at night, one day when I visited it was illuminated with thousands of bulbs but now I can't remember exactly why, perhaps it was a special occasion or Sikh festival. So many people wanted to take family photos with me, every 5 minutes I would be approached and asked to be in family's photos which I was happy to oblige as its a nice way to start chatting to the local people who were all too happy to tell me more about their religion. But this is what it normally looks like at night. I liked it here so much I went every night and its still beautiful but a little less bling. The holy book is treated with such reverence. There is a ceremony every morning and night when the book is moved from the temple and then put to bed in the Akal Takhat which also contains a collection of sacred Sikh weapons. The ceremony is really interesting to watch, it happens at 5am and 9.40pm in winter or at 4am and 10.30pm in summer. As well as the free meals there is also accommodation nearby for pilgrims but for many it is their dream to spend the night in sight of the Golden Temple. The atmosphere was really peaceful as people bedded down for the night taking care not to point their feet in the direction of the temple and I would have loved to spend the night here myself with them if I'd have known. At about 11 pm I finally left the Golden Temple after spending over 6 hours here. I soaked up my last glimpse of this magical place through the arches and hope I'll be back one day. The Golden Temple is one of the most beautiful sights I've seen and is one of favourite places in all of India and I think its even better than the famous Taj Mahal!
So why do I think visiting the Golden Temple is better than the Taj Mahal?Of course, the Taj is stunning and deserves it's hype as the most beautiful building in the world but the Golden Temple's architecture is no less spectacular. But what makes the Golden Temple stand out and why, in my opinion, it beats the Taj is because whilst the Taj is a masoulem and a tourist attraction, the Golden Temple is a living breathing place of worship - not just for Sikhs. Everyone is welcome here to feel the special atmosphere and serenity around the pool and the army of volunteers who keep the place sparkling clean and prepare, serve and wash up after 100,000 meals everyday that are given out free to everyone who visits are truly inspirational. The Golden Temple is a truly special place, one that has left a massive inprint on my heart and one place that you simply have to visit for yourself to really appreciate it.
Have you been to the Golden Temple? How did it compare to the Taj Mahal for you?Also check out my other posts on Amritsar - there's much to see here than just the Golden Temple! Including the Wagah Border Ceremony nearby and the most bizarre temple I've ever seen.
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