Founded in 1577 by the fourth Sikh guru, Ram Das, Amritsar is home to Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the spectacular Golden Temple, one of India's most serene and humbling sights. Alas, the same can’t be said for the hyperactive streets surrounding the temple – few places can compete with Amritsar when it comes to congestion, air-pollution and traffic noise.
Amritsar is divided in two by a tangle of railway lines. The old city, containing the Golden Temple and other historic sights and bound by 12 medieval gates, is southeast of the railway lines. This is a fascinating area to explore, with a capillary network of narrow bazaars that seems to float between the centuries.
To the north of the railway lines, 'modern' Amritsar has grown up in haphazard fashion around a scattering of colonial-era boulevards. Gleaming malls and upmarket hotels stand testament to the prosperity of the city, but the hectic traffic makes this area hard to love at street level. Crossing between the old and new cities is best done by rickshaw or autorickshaw.