AMRITSAR, India - India's stunning contrasts were once more in evidence as Prime Minister Stephen Harper concluded a three-day tour of the emerging South Asian economic giant.

While investment and trade were the ostensible touchstones of Harper's first visit to the Indian subcontinent since coming to power four years ago, tours of a pair of very different temples Wednesday served to provide the Conservative prime minister with some Indian multicultural bonafides on the home front.

"This trip is the culmination but it's also the jumping off point," Harper said in a brief wrap-up interview with two Canadian reporters chosen by the Prime Minister's Office.

"It's the culmination for a lot of that we've been doing for the past two or three years to really try to rebuild and build up our relationship with India and get it on a different plane."

That would be a Conservative plane, judging by the spectacular and politically savvy choice of sites for Harper's final two photo opportunities of the visit.

Harper began the day at the BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple, a majestic sea of tranquility off a busy New Delhi highway that boasts of being the largest Hindu temple in the world.

The ornate, solid stone edifice and manicured grounds were built over a five-year period ending in 2005 and includes a discreetly hidden Disney-style ride that floats visitors through a guided educational tour of the country's rich cultural, spiritual and intellectual history.

"Isn't this wonderful?" the prime minister said at the site, gesturing at the massive temple. "This is all new, gentlemen. Did you know that? It's not ancient, it just looks ancient."

Harper later said he took the advice of the Hindu swamis and prayed for world peace, which he added is "hoped for probably more strongly here in India than just about anywhere."

He then flew an hour northwest of the capital to Amritsar, the country's Sikh heartland and home to the famed Golden Temple.

The prime minister's visit to the sprawling 15th-century temple grounds attracted dozens of Indian cameramen and photographers, who along with curious onlookers turned the tight perimeter around Harper into an angry roiling mosh pit.

The prime minister's official photographer was among the many casualties roughly manhandled by zealous temple security in a wild moving scrum, set against the backdrop of the glittering gilded temple.

Hindus and Muslims make up the majority of India's pluralistic society, with Sikhs just a small fraction - but a large and politically active Sikh population in Canada makes the Golden Temple an attractive destination for Canadian politicians. Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien visited the site in 2003.

About a third of Canada's Indo-Canadian populace is Sikh, according to the 2006 census, with Hindus comprising another 27 per cent.

The Golden Temple has a long, bloody history - most recently a violent clash in 1984 that led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the bombing of an Air India flight out of Vancouver a year later.

A total of 329 people died when the jumbo jet went down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ireland.

Latest From ...