Golden Temple

Trip Start Oct 01, 2005
Trip End Mar 27, 2007

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Flag of India  ,
Friday, June 16, 2006

The Golden Temple is the holiest site of the Sikhs. The stunning white marble complex is built around the gold roofed temple which is in the middle of a sacred pool attached by a walkway. It is a powerfully serene and spiritual place. Antonia (my new, very cool, temporary travel partner)and I check in our shoes, cover our heads and walk through a shallow trough of water to cleanse our feet prior to entering the complex. At the top of the white marble stairs I first see the temple with the sun beating down on its intricately decorated roof. As I descend the steps towards the sacred pool, I hear the gentle and continuous sound of priests chanting prayers. Thousands of Sikhs are praying, cleansing themselves in the sacred waters or just walking around the marble pathways. A teenage boy - SSS - Sikh Super Stalker - asks us for our picture. Initially we refuse but then concede. This kid followed us all day with his camera out, sat next to us when we ate food in the communal dining room, and somehow reappeared after we had left the temple to grab a autorickshaw.

I had heard that all visitors to the temple, if they so desire, are housed and fed. It is true and is an incredible act of generosity and community. After being handed a metal plate and bowl we enter the enormous dining hall and with the guidance of several "hosts", follow an orderly (very atypical for India) winding line of people to our places on the long strip of cloth serving as the seating area on the floor. Holding my hands in front of me, palms up - this open motion supposedly allows God into your life - I am handed some chapati. A man then comes barreling down the aisle with a huge bucket of dahl and a ladle. Everyone gets some dahl dumped on their plate. Then comes the rice. Then comes the raita. Then I begin feasting with 1,000 other people. Antonia only partakes in the chapati. Once finishing what is a delicious meal, we walk out and drop off the plates, bowls and spoons. Everyone is milling around the eating area - there are women seated on the ground peeling vegetables, men cooking food in huge vats over fire pits. We soon become the center of much attention from friendly families, smiling and shy little children and people wanting their photographs taken. SSS is still lurking in the distance.

At night we return to the temple. It is lit up and the gold roof reflects across the waters of the sacred pool. The water pleasantly cools the evening air - a great respite from the heat of the day. Along the cool marble pillared arcades and walkways, people are relaxing to the sounds of the priests chanting. Many have fallen asleep while a few cleanse themselves in the sacred waters. Barely able to keep my eyes open, I leave the cathartic temple complex and return to the noisy streets of Amritsar - without SSS.
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