The temple of Amritsar, also known as the Harmandir Sahib or Golden Temple, is the centre of the Sikh faith. Most Sikhs will visit the temple at least once in their lives. It's the most prominent of the various Gurdwaras, which are places of worship for Sikhs. As is usual for a Gurdwara, the temple is built with four doors, one on each side. This symbolises the way Sikhs are welcoming to people of all faiths and the temple itself is open to everyone.
The original temple in Amritsar took almost 20 years to build at the end of the 16th and start of the 17th century. The present temple, in the same location, was built in 1764. It's made from white marble covered in gold leaf, hence the name, used more commonly by Westerners, of the Golden Temple.
Unlike Hindu temples, the temple of Amritsar is built on the lower ground level. The design of the temple combines aspects of both Hindu and Muslim architecture and can be viewed as the first example of a distinct Sikh architectural style. It's surrounded by a sacred pool of water and approached by a marble causeway. Visitors will normally begin or finish their trip by following a clockwise path around the pool, a journey known as the Parikrama or Pardakshna.
The temple houses the original manuscript of the Guru Granth Sahib, the main religious text of the Sikh faith. It's displayed on a raised platform and Sikhs will cover their heads and remove their shoes when in its presence, also bowing their heads in respect. Visitors to the temple, including non-Sikhs, are also expected to remove their shoes, cover their heads (head scarves are available) and to be seated while listening to Gurbani, the readings of Skih texts. Alcohol, tobacco and meat are all no-nos in the temple.
As well as the temple itself, a surrounding complex includes a visitor centre and the Central Sikh Museum though bear in mind the museum contains some graphically violent imagery. You can also visit Guru-ka-Langar, a dining hall where volunteers provide a simple but free meal to anybody, regardless of faith. The busiest days at the temple come on major Sikh occasions, most notably Vaisakhi in April. This is when Sikh's celebrate the formal founding of the Panth Khalsa, the body made up of all initiated Sikhs. The occasion also acts as a form of harvest festival.
The temple has been the centre of controversy. Believing the temple to be a base of a movement working for a secession from India, prime minister Indira Gandhi ordered an armed attack on the temple. This led to her assassination several months later by two of her bodyguards.
The area immediately surrounding the temple is officially blocked off to motorized vehicles, so you'll often need to walk the final 10 minutes or so. Amritsar itself is well connected by most forms of transport to the rest of India, while within the city rickshaws and taxis are the most common way to get around. There's some accommodation within the complex itself, though many visitors prefer hotels in Amritsar near a railway station or airport.