While planning for this trip we had in a mind a place which we could visit in a day and which should offer a variety of places to visit. Amritsar excelled on all those accounts: it had one of the holiest religious places, a memorial which reminded the atrocities of British rule in India and a military ceremony on Indo-Pak border. We reached Amritsar in the morning by a direct train. The name Amritsar loosely translates to a "Pond of Nectar", which can be attributed to the holy tank which was dug as instructed by the fourth Sikh Guru Ram Das. The district of Amritsar had five holy ponds, one of which surrounded holiest Sikh shrine, The Harmandir Sahib, also Darbar Sahib and in common conversation referred as Golden Temple or Swarna Mandir. Fifth Guru Arjun completed the construction of Harmandir Sahib and installed Adi Granth, the holy scripture of Sikhism in it.

Main entrance to Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar

We entered the main compound of Harmandir Sahib. This religious place is different from most of the other places in a way that while at other places you have to climb some steps to reach to sanctum sanctorum, here it situated at a lower height compared to the surroundings. Also, the Gurdwara has four entrance, signifying that Sikhism is open for all regardless of their belief, region, race etc. When entered from the main gate you see the Holy Pond, the Gurdwara situated in the center of the Pond. Taking a dip in Holy Pond is considered to be auspicious. Those colorful fishes swimming in the Pond looked very beautiful. 
queue from Akal Takht to Golden Temple

After taking one or two round of the Pond we went inside the Gurdwara. It was connected by a causeway. Facing the causeway on opposite side was the Akal Takht, literally meaning The Throne of the Timeless One. It is the temporal seat of Khalsa and was built by sixth Guru Hargobind. Having the Gurdwara and Akal Takht in vicinity symbolises the connection between spiritual and worldly activities. There was a large queue of pilgrims waiting to enter the Gurdwara, but we were told that it was nothing as compared to days when a good part of the Pond’s perimeter gets occupied by the queue. With a place having a footfall of more than hundred thousand per day, maintaining such high level of cleanliness should have been a great effort. We saw volunteers picking pieces of cloths and paper from the pond using a large stick. 

Inside the Gurdwara, it was soothing and peaceful as expected from a holy place. The number of visitors was huge to allow one to stay there for long. Guru Granth Sahib was installed here by Guru Arjan. The Gurdwara is gold plated from outside which gives it the common name: "Golden Temple". Then we went to the top floor of the Gurdwara, which is normally prohibited at other religious places. Also, if you like Shabad or Kirtan, the recital of Holy Text that appears in Guru Granth Sahib, this place will give you something to remember for a long time.  I still remember when I went there, ragis were playing:

"Jis ke sir upar tu swami,

So dukh kaisa paave
Bol na jaane maayaa madmaataa
Marnaa chitt na aave"

from the roof of Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar

After visiting Gurdwara, it was time to go to the langar area. We have heard that the food offered here is very tasty. Especially the kheer was very tasty. Offering food to such a large number for the whole of the year is no small feat in itself keeping in mind that most of the work are done by volunteers. Langar serves one more purpose : the feeling of equality. Every person irrespective of his background has to sit on the ground with other persons and have the same food offered to others. Guru Amar Das started Guru Ka Langar or Community Kitchen when he was the third guru. The whole process was very organised. 

We also went to the Central Sikh Museum situated near the main entrance. In this museum, we looked at a glance the history of Sikhism. Right form the foundation of Sikhism to recent events, it described all of them. Names, statues, tales - all of them you can see when you move from one room to another. Also, on display were old weapons with which Sikh wars were fought. Established in 1960’s, the museum also housed a library. The wooden comb (Kangha) of Guru Gobind Singh, Arrows, and Bow, Iron Chakras (circles) to be worn on the turban by a warrior and an iron jacket made of wires (Sanjoe) are among the precious collections of the museum. 

Soon we left Harmandir Sahib for Jallianwala Bagh.

See Amritsar : Golden Temple in Pictures, also. See photos of Amritsar on Flickr here.