Amritsar was founded in 1577 by Guru Ram Das, the fourth guru of Sikhs. It’s the spiritual capital of the Sikhs and gained its name, meaning "Holy Pool of Nectar", from the body of water around the Golden Temple.
Getting to Amritsar:
Amritsar's Rajasansi Airport has direct flights from Delhi, Srinagar, and Chandigarh. However, northern India (including Delhi and Amritsar) suffers from fog in winter, so flights can often be delayed during that time. A better option is to take the train. There are plenty of services from major Indian cities. From Delhi, the Amritsar Shatabdi will get you there in six hours. You can also travel by road. Regular bus services run from Delhi, and places in north Indian. Travel time from Delhi by bus is around 10 hours.
When to Visit Amritsar:
Amritsar has quite an extreme climate, with very hot summers and very cold winters. The best months to visit are October and November, and February and March. If you don't mind feeling a little chilly, December and January are also good times to visit. The temperature starts climbing from April, and the monsoon rains arrive in July.
The exquisite Golden Temple is what makes this otherwise unremarkable Punjabi city special. This sacred Sikh shrine attracts pilgrims from all over the world who come there to pay their respects and do voluntary service. Incredibly, the number of visitors per year rivals the Taj Mahal in Agra. The main temple looks particularly arresting at night when it’s beautifully lit up, with its imposing pure gold dome illuminated. The temple complex is open for almost 20 hours, from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. It's well worth two visits -- during the day and night. Heads must be covered and shoes removed when you enter the temple.
Most of the festivals that take place in Amritsar are religious in nature. Diwali, Holi, Lohri (bonfire harvest festival), and Vaisakhi (Punjab new year in April) are all celebrated there on a grand scale. Vaisakhi is particularly boisterous, with lots of bhangra dancing, folk music, and fairs. Major celebrations are organized at the Golden Temple on this occasion, and it becomes carnival like outside. There's also a street procession. Other festivals in Amritsar include Guru Nanak Jayanti in November, and the Ram Tirath Fair, also in November a fortnight after Diwali.
Amritsar Side Trips:
Not to be missed is a trip to the Wagah Border between India and Pakistan, around 28 kilometers (17 miles) from Amritsar. The change of guard and retreat of troops is a much watched ceremony that takes place at the Wagah checkpoint every evening at sundown. You can get there by taxi (around 500 rupees), auto rickshaw (250 rupees), or shared jeep.
Amritsar Travel Tips:
Amritsar is divided into old and new parts of the city. The Golden Temple is located in the old part, which is full of bazaars, only 15 minutes from the railway station. A free bus runs regularly (every 45 minutes) from the station to the Golden Temple. When you visit the Golden Temple, you can join the pilgrims for a free feed of common food from the kitchen, called "Guru Ka Langar".
The Hotel City Heart offers value for money very close to the Golden Temple, with rooms starting from $30. Hotel Indus has fantastic views of the Golden Temple from its rooftop. Rooms are on the small side, and start from $35. For a heritage hotel with charm, head to the WelcomHeritage Ranjit's Svaasa. Room rates are $125 upwards for a double. If you'd prefer to stay in a guesthouse, Mrs. Bhandari's Guesthouse receives good reviews. It's situated in a peaceful area surrounded by garden, and has a swimming pool. Double rooms are available from $35.