At last, having walked enough through the noisy streets of Amritsar, we made our way to the Golden Temple’s entrance.
It was early in the morning and the picture we witnessed urged us to say “WOW!”. Snow-white complex, marble square in front of it and a clear sky with bright sun made a perfect combination.
In a minute, we will see this marvelous place with our own eyes. But before we had to satisfy certain demands necessary for visiting the sanctuary.
One of the compulsory conditions during your visit to the Sikh gurdwara is a covered head. It concerns not only adepts of Sikhism, but everyone, who enters. Opposite the central entrance (as seen in the picture above) volunteers give out orange kerchiefs with the Khanda (symbol of the Sikh faith). Anyone can get one for free, of course there are some enterprising Hindus offering to buy the same headwear in immediate closeness to the temple.
As an option, one can buy himself his own kerchief in souvenir shops nearby (or bring something alike from home). Also, you can try on a mandatory Sikh attribute – dastar (turban).
Naturally, the last option appealed the most to us. So, we committed ourselves to finding a shop to buy a fitting piece of fabric and construct a dastar from it. We bought two pieces of thin orange printed cotton fabric quickly. Right in the shop a seller wound something that looked like turban on Vadim’s head.
I managed to do mine by myself.
For Misha’s turban, we had to roam the streets in search of a green fabric (that’s how he saw his dastar). A young man, attiring Misha in turban, approached the task responsibly, hence Michael became the owner of perfectly laid folds of fabric on the head. We bought pieces approximately 2.5 meters (8 feet) long. It’s absolutely sufficient to cover the head. And later on in our trip the fabric proved useful, acting as shawls and scarfs, protecting from the sun and wind, and from the dust, as you could always wrap the lower part of your face.
The process of creating a dastar: the cloth is slightly moistened and stretched to form dense creases
For the beautifully laid turban Sikhs use 7 meters of fabric. But there also occur enormous constructions on the heads containing tens and even hundreds of meters!
By the way, per the Sikh tradition, a man, who first clad you in turban becomes your uncle. So, having got two new uncles, we, finally, went to the entrance.
Here, at the entrance, one must take his shoes off. You can enter the Golden Temple only barefoot. Shoes are being left at the cloakroom in exchange for a token with the number. A huge number of volunteers works at the Golden Temple. They serve the visitors and keep up the territory. Volunteering is one of the main principles of Sikh religion. That’s why a person taking your shoes at the cloakroom can be a teacher or an accountant.
Immediately before stepping onto the temple’s territory you are to wash your hands and feet.
All the necessities are present – soap and running water. Feet are plunged into the cool basin. And then, by the woven mats, we go inside – to the white beauty and enormous sacred pond of the Golden Temple.
The central part of the inner territory is occupied by the sacred pond – Amritsar (Pool of the Nectar of Immortality). In its middle stands the Golden Temple. Why Golden? Because its upper part is covered with 80 kilograms of gold.
To the Temple’s entrance across the water leads a bridge, on which hundreds of pilgrims wait in line to see the main Sikh sanctuary. It’s situated inside the building with golden domes. It is the Sikh sacred scripture, the eleventh guru of those faithful – the book “Guru Granth Sahib”. The last, tenth guru of Sikhs in human embodiment proclaimed, that after his death the eternal guru is to be served by “Guru Granth Sahib” (a collection of sacred texts). A bridge, leading to the Golden Temple symbolizes the path, dividing sinful from righteous.
Along the perimeter of the pond runs a cloister, where people can rest and listen to the calming melodies of prayers resounding.
Pilgrims perform ablutions in the waters of the spring.
In general, the atmosphere on the gurdwara’s territory makes you relax colossally. The din of the city, its stir and dust vanish in an eyeblink. Here you finally see the India you came to see! Inner tension, accumulated during the trip goes away. Here you experience peaceful atmosphere, pleasant music, clean marble floors, warmed under the sun, and sparkling inviting smooth surface of water. Here bright multicolored turbans flicker before your eyes and simple white men’s dresses shine, folds of saris rustle and bracelets rattle on women’s wrists. Being there is blissfully calm and joyous.
We didn’t try to get into the Golden Temple itself to see the sacred scripture. Mainly, because it would take a long time to stay through the line and we would have to leave all our photo equipment in the cloakroom. So, we just limited ourselves to external view. A larger portion of time we spent going around the pond – took a lot of pictures and posed for Hindus. Here we felt ourselves as movie stars – so many wanted to have a picture with white people. Towards the end of the day, such heightened attention began to tire.
Anyone can perform ablution in the sacred pond. The water is very-very warm in it. Sacred carps stick their heads out to catch a gulp of air. Even fish are hot! Children use the opportunity to bathe: as all children, they splash and dabble.
There is a separate construction for the ladies, where they can undress and plunge remaining unseen for strangers. But I still didn’t go there. I only wet my feet and washed my face, it was inevitably necessary to freshen up – the day was clear and hot.
Entirely “washed” in the spring became only Vadim.
Order on the Golden Temple’s territory is kept by sentinels. Clad by the Sikh tradition and armed with spears. They look very believable (as though from the picture in an old book of fairy-tales).
As a rule, they will remind you to fold your legs if sitting on the floor. One mustn’t sit with his legs stretched out, or dipped in the water while sitting on the “ghatas” (ritual steps leading down to water). Also, it isn’t polite to remain topless, even after bathing. So, consider wearing a light shirt, because you won’t be able to take it off no matter how hot.
It's worth coming to Harmandir Sahib in the evening, too. This time of day the heat drops a couple degrees and the lights turn on.
The Golden Temple is famous not only for its impressive beauty, but also for the free dining provided for pilgrims. This place is unique. Here absolutely everyone can get a meal: pilgrims, tourists, poor or rich, a Christian or a Buddhist. You may eat one time and then, if you want, one more. Nobody will control you or ask for money. During one day, up to 5000 people can receive food here!
During our first week in India our culinary discoveries didn’t bring us much joy. And if we weren’t hungry, we probably suffered from heartburn caused by Indian spices. So, we thought that we didn’t risk anything going to the public canteen of the Golden Temple.
In the canteen, as everywhere in the Temple, only volunteers work – all labor is done for free. Enormous number of people wash dishes, peel vegetables, bake, fry, boil and cook food. The volumes of food produced are gigantic. We took a picture of a cauldron where peas or lentil were boiled – a couple of grown-up men could easily fit in such a cauldron.
Due to this big production of food – the probability of eating something stale is minimum (not to say zero). Certainly, all dishes served would be very simple, because the main task here is to still hunger, not amaze. But probably you will be amazed, anyway. ☺
Before eating take the cutlery in the gallery leading up to the second floor. You’ll get a plate, a bowl and a spoon (if you can’t eat with your own hands) – all made from stainless steel. The dishes are shiny and clean. There is a massive noise in the gallery – all the dishes are sorted here.
Dining takes 20 to 30 minutes. As soon as the doors to the canteen open, people begin flowing inside and sit in rows.
Then all the guests are served with food from buckets and kettles. On the day we were there, the menu consisted of lentil soup, milk porridge with rice, boiled rice, vegetable stew with potatoes, chapatis and a dairy beverage “lassi”.
I remember, that I very much liked the milk porridge – it wasn’t spicy. ☺ Rice wasn’t bad. Lentil soup and stew didn’t go well alongside previous dishes, on top of that they were full of Indian spices. I enjoyed chapatti bread – fresh and nutritious. Lassi tasted as kefir and looked as whey. All in all, lunch at the Golden Temple went well and we got rid of displeased grunt of our empty stomachs for a while.
(Please enjoy the canteen slideshow)
After each subsequent group of pilgrims (a couple of hundred people) finish their meal, the room is cleaned and everything repeats. Those, who’s eaten, take the dishes to the washers.
As a gratitude for everyday free labor of all those people, you can voluntarily leave a donation, be it only a rupee or a million dollars. Look for a Donation Box on the territory for those purposes.
Our advice is unanimous: if you’re in the Golden Temple – try their food. It’s a good chance to have a decent meal.
Also, it’s possible to stay overnight at the Temple, also absolutely for free. For pilgrims and tourists there are hostel-type rooms. Comfort in there is minimal (but Indian budget hotels don’t spoil you with comfort, do they?), but you’ll get everything necessary for a couple of nights stay. Herewith, paying nothing.
And with this ends our visit to Amritsar and its marvelous Golden Temple. We set off to the India’s north – the state of Jammu & Kashmir, Indian Tibet, and the majestic Himalayas…