Founded in 1577 by the fourth guru Ram Das, Amritsar is home to Sikhism’s holiest shrine the Golden Temple. The gold-plated gurdwara glitters in the middle of its holy pool like a huge bullion bar, a sight that some visitors rate alongside the Taj Mahal – particularly after experiencing the surrounding old city’s frenetic lanes. In contrast to the old city, the internet cafés, hotels and eateries in Amritsar’s modern areas are as slick as the state capital.
The original site for the city was granted by the Mughal emperor Akbar, but another Mughal, Ahmad Shah Durani, sacked Amritsar in 1761 and destroyed the temple. It was rebuilt in 1764, and in 1802 was roofed with gilded copper plates by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and become known as the Golden Temple.
During unrest in Punjab in the early 1980s, the Golden Temple was occupied by separatists intent on creating an independent Sikh homeland. On the orders of then–prime minister Indira Gandhi, they were finally evicted by the army in 1984 in a controversial military action that damaged to the temple and fuelled violent Sikh-Hindu clashes in Punjab and beyond that left thousands (predominantly Sikhs) dead. Gandhi was later assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.