Amritsar: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday visited the famed Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine, in this Punjab city during a trip that lasted less than three hours.
Harper was accorded a warm red-carpet welcome by Sikh religious leaders at the Golden Temple complex when he arrived with a big entourage.
Dressed in a black suit and a blue tie, Harper covered his head with a white cloth-scarf. He was accompanied by Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal all along during the visit to the shrine.
Inside the sanctum sanctorum, called the Harmandar Sahib or Darbar Sahib where the holy book Guru Granth Sahib is kept, Harper folded his hands and bowed in obeisance.
Harper was given a saffron-coloured scarf as a 'siropa' (traditional religious offering) that was put around his neck by a Sikh priest.
Harper, who entered the Golden Temple complex just around 1 p.m., remained there for almost 50 minutes. He was first taken around the shrine 'parikrama', accompanied by several security personnel in plain clothes, shrine task force volunteers, political and religious leaders from Punjab and a large entourage from Canada.
A huge posse of media from Canada and India was present to catch every moment of the Canadian prime minister's visit to the Sikh shrine.
Two rows of entry and exit points of the sanctum sanctorum were kept empty for the VIP visit while regular devotees were allowed to use one entry row.
Harper, who is on a three-day visit to India and spent barely three hours here had a single-point agenda in coming to Amritsar. He arrived at the Rajasansi airport here and was received by Badal and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) president Avtar Singh Makkar.
He drove straight to the shrine from the airport.
Tight security measures were in place at the shrine since morning. Over 3,000 Punjab Police personnel and central security forces were assisted by officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to ensure foolproof security during the visit.
Scores of SGPC task force volunteers in traditional religious robes formed a ring around the prime minister and other VIPs during the visit.
SGPC officials said Harper put off a visit to Hyderabad to come here.
Canada is home to a large population of immigrants from Punjab, especially Sikhs. A number of members of the Canadian Parliament, ministers and officials and other influential people in Canada have roots in Punjab.
Canada owes its prosperity to Punjabis: Harper
The Canada government has already announced that Punjabi will become one of the country's officially recognised languages in 2011.