I had dreamed of visiting the fabled Golden Temple of Amritsar, located in the state of Punjab, for years. So when it came time to narrow down our list of places to visit during a short 2 week stay in India, I insisted we make the long trek from Kerala to Amritsar.
Bizarrely, there are almost no direct flights from anywhere below Mumbai in the south, to Amritsar in the north. It is almost mandatory that you suffer through an 8 hour layover when flying from the bottom to the top of the country. So we booked an evening flight, and used the layover to sleep at a hotel close to the airport.
We arrived in Amritsar before noon, and the differences between Kerala and Punjab were glaring. Kerala, ‘God’s Own Country’ as it was often referred to by its residents; is lush, fragrant, and warm. Amritsar in contrast was dry, rough, and chilly. Just a half hour’s drive from the border with Pakistan, Amritsar is no great beauty as you approach on the highway. But as the cab penetrated deeper the heart of the city, the crumbling facades of ancient buildings enchanted us.
After checking into our hotel we hot-tailed it to the Temple to get our first glance. We stayed there for hours, until dusk, soaking in the atmosphere. This temple welcomes people of all faiths, and does not segregate visitors according to their gender; unless pilgrims wish to bathe in the holly water surrounding the Temple. (There are designated male and female bathing areas).
Every person we spoke with on the Temple grounds was lovely. Many believers took it upon themselves to guide us through the Temple complex, and explain the customs of their faith to us.
The Golden Temple itself is stunning and worthy of the effort it takes to get there. As the day progresses and the light changes, the sky and waters surrounding the Temple glow and meld together like an Impressionist painting. If you get the chance, go. Once you set eyes on it, you will know you made the right decision.