Shimmering above a pool of water sits a small golden temple. Surrounding the water are white marble buildings, the better to highlight the beauty of the golden sanctum. The Golden Temple is the most famous Sikh Gurdwara in the world. No trip to northern India would be complete without a visit to the Golden Temple. Use our guide to learn everything you need to know to prepare for and enjoy your visit.
Have you checked out our Things to Do in Amritsar post? Our one-day itinerary features day and night visits to the Golden Temple.
How to Visit the Golden Temple
A Brief History
Founded in 1574, the Golden Temple, or Sri Harimandir Sahib, is the holiest Gurdwara (place of worship) in the Sikh religion and the most important pilgrimage site. The Golden Temple was also the site of violent Operation Blue Star in 1984.
The Golden Temple is not a single temple. It is a complex of buildings built around a man-made pool (sarovar). On an island in the pool, connected to the land by a causeway, is the actual gold-covered sanctum. The size of the temple complex stunned us. From photos, you think it’s just the Golden Temple. Nope.
What to Wear & Bring
Men and women must cover their shoulders, knees, and heads. No shorts! Bare arms are OK. You can bring your own headscarf, borrow one from the temple, or buy an inexpensive souvenir headscarf from any hawker or shop outside the Golden Temple.
White marble is hot! It’s hot at the Golden Temple with all that white marble. Maximize your comfort with light, cool clothing. Remember to carry a reusable water bottle.
Shoes are not allowed inside the Golden Temple. You can leave them at the free shoe storage outside the entrances.
Do not bring alcohol, drugs, meat, or cigarettes into the Golden Temple.
Timings & Entry Fees
One of the great things about the Golden Temple is that it is always open – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Fancy a late night visit – open! Want to see the Book Opening ceremony at 4:00am – open!
That said, if you want to visit inside the Sanctum Sanctorum (the actual gold-covered building), you need to go between about 2:00am-10:00pm. The exact timing varies by season. Check timing for your visit on the official website.
The Golden Temple is completely FREE to visit. Of course, a donation is always welcome.
Who Can Visit the Golden Temple?
Anyone can visit the Golden Temple! Sikhs welcome people regardless of religion, caste, race, age, status, or gender. The four entrances to the temple symbolize the openness of Sikhs towards all people.
Golden Temple Etiquette
The main entrance to the Golden Temple complex is at the end of Golden Temple Road. You will recognize the clock tower-like facade. This area is always bustling, but you do not need to queue. You can also enter from the side or back entrances. Regardless of where you enter from, the process is the same.
Check your shoes into the free shoe storage. Look for signs directing you to the “Free shoe depositing house”). If you are with other people, turn your shoes in together. You will receive a token in exchange. DO NOT LOSE THIS TOKEN! 100,000 people visit the Golden Temple a day. The attendants do not have time to hunt down your lost shoes.
Cover your head. You can wear a scarf you bring, borrow one from the baskets outside the temple, or buy a souvenir headscarf from any hawker near the Golden Temple.
Wash your hands at the sinks located near the entrance.
Walk through the pool of water to cleanse your feet before entering the temple. The water is changed frequently so it’s not as gross as you might fear.
Once inside, the Golden Temple does not have many unexpected rules beyond common courtesy. Sikh guards roam the complex enforcing the rules and ensuring general safety. Here are a few things to remember:
You may sit cross-legged beside the water tank, but do not put your feet into the water.
Walk clockwise around the sacred pool on the wide marble walkway.
Chewing gum, sunglasses, and photography are prohibited on the causeway and inside the sanctum. Sorry, that’s why we dont have any photos inside the sanctum on the blog!
Visiting the Sanctum Sanctorum
Some people visit the Golden Temple, but never actually go inside the Sanctum Sanctorum (the actual gold temple). Personally, I think this is a shame. You miss out on the up-close experience of people worshiping in the holiest place in their religion. Plus, the temple is just gorgeous up close.
Visiting inside the sanctum does require commitment. The queue to enter the temple can easily be one hour. On a busy day (Sundays are the busiest), the wait can be four hours. The line is not blissful or meditative. You will be standing the whole time in high heat pressed up against everyone else in line…literally pressed. Men raise and lower bamboo poles to move the line in orderly sections. All in all, the process works great, just slowly.
Mixed-gender group? On typically crowded days, men and women line up together; however, on extremely busy days, men and women are separated. Women with young children may be further separated. The women’s lines will move faster. If you’re visiting with a mixed-gender, decide ahead of time if you will meet in the temple, meet back on land, or all wait together in the longer men’s line.
The sanctum has two floors. The first room you enter houses the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib. The faithful become aggressive at this point. You will need to push through the crowd if you want to see the book too. Once you pass this area, the atmosphere relaxes. People sit outside, on the upper floor, or on the roof praying or waiting for family members. Up close, you can appreciate how much gold is on the sanctum. 750kg of it! Even the doors are golden with pictures of birds and flowers. On the upper floor, look up at the golden ceiling decorated with jewels.
When you are ready, follow the causeway back to the mainland. You will be offered Karah Parshad. Karah is made from whole-wheat flour, clarified butter, and sugar. You should accept it with hands raised and cupped. Then you can eat it. It was described to us as Gurdwara Gatorade. Not only is it considered sacred, but it’s a pick-me-up after the long process of visiting the Darbar Sahib.
Book Opening and Closing (Palki Sahib) Ceremony
If you are willing to wake up early, as in 3:00am early, you can watch the Sikh holy book Guru Granth Sahib be carried from its “bedroom” to the Sanctum Sanctorum in a special ceremony. Similarly, each night, the book is “put to bed” around 10:00pm.
If you want to visit the Golden Temple for the book opening or closing ceremonies, check the timing for the day of your visit.
A visit to the Golden Temple is not compelte without a visit to the community kitchen (langar). The kitchen is open 24 hours/day and feeds 100,000 people each day. Volunteers do all the cooking, serving, and washing up.
Returning to the temple? If you are returning to the temple after you visit the langar, please remember to wash your hands and feet again.
If you would like to eat, follow the crowd upstairs to get your plate and cutlery. You will be seated in shifts. Sit cross-legged on the long mats on the floor. Simple food of roti, dal, and vegetables is served piping hot.
If you would like to help prepare food, head upstairs, but bypass the food line. Instead, keep going until you see the kitchens. Someone will help you find a spot. Entry level positions are vegetable peeling and roti rollers. A donation is required if you want to make dal or vegetables.
We would love to hear about your visit to the Golden Temple. Let us know in the comments below!