Sunday, May 1, 2011

Amritsar's Golden Temple

Sometimes travel means exploring some new place, learning how to navigate, and discovering hidden treasures all on your own. Sometimes travel means experiencing a new place with someone intimately familiar with that location. Saturday's trip to Amritsar fit into the latter category. When learning that Lindsay and I wanted to head to Amritsar with our American boss while she was in town over the weekend, our Indian boss who is both Punjabi and Sikh, volunteered to join the trip. While we could have easily made the trip alone, having someone so familiar with a place that obviously meant so much to him made it a truly memorable experience (and regardless of what you think, I'm not just sucking up here).

As is probably the case with most tourists in Amritsar, our first stop was Harmander Sahib, more commonly known as the Golden Temple. For those unfamiliar with Sikh temples, which is a group I was among until yesterday, covering one's head is mandatory for both men and women. Baseball caps don't count (I actually saw someone trying to enter the kitchen of the temple with a baseball cap and it was obvious by a volunteer's reaction that it wasn't an appropriate accessory. As a result, I had the pleasure of wearing a bandana on my head. I'll be the first to admit I look certifiably goofy with a bandana on my head. However, rules are rules.
Following the first rule regardless of how goofy I look
The second rule is that all visitors must wash their feet prior to entering. Even though I had walked through the shallow bath, I made the mistake of not walking directly into the temple. The guard hadn't seen me wash, figured I had tried to circumvent the rule, and made me wash again. Rather than protest and try to explain that I was clean, I simply walked back through the bath. It didn't seem appropriate to try to argue a technicality. After all, I was the visitor.
Following the second rule a second time
Immediately upon entering, the Golden Temple presents itself in the middle of a lake, connected by a walkway jammed with people waiting to enter.
First glimpse of the Golden Temple
We walked clockwise around the perimeter. One of the aspects of the temple I most wanted to see was the kitchen. Something I learned just earlier in the week thanks to a blogger I follow that produced a short video for the Smithsonian, is that every Sikh temple has a kitchen that offers free meals. The Golden Temple's kitchen produces some 100,000 meals per day. Any person, regardless of religion, gender, class or otherwise, can come to the temple and eats for free on the floor. As my India boss said, everyone sits on the floor, even if the Prime Minister (a Sikh) were to visit, he'd be right there on the floor as well. It's also worth noting that the food is actually served by volunteers to those seated. In other words, it's one of the few places in India you won't find a buffet.
Handing out plates at the kitchen entrance
Waiting area for the next batch of diners
After viewing the kitchen, we walked the rest of the perimeter and joined the back of the long queue to visit the inside of the temple. The line, which ended up being about an hour long, moved relatively quickly. Every three or four minutes they would allow fifty or so people into the temple. While the inside was crowded, there was still space to navigate and many people found a spot to read, reflect, or pray. Photos aren't allowed (which they took seriously as Lindsay learned when she attempted to take a shot before we entered but were fairly close to getting in when both a volunteer and a fellow visitor reacted adversely to an attempted shot) which you might expect in a place of worship. The interior of the temple is as impressive as the exterior with a ceiling of intricately carved gold.

I'm not an overly religious person and typically don't "feel" much when I enter a place of worship. The Golden Temple, I have to admit, was different. The place just seemed peaceful. Everyone was welcome, people made sure to remind me to watch my backpack when standing in queue, and they were serving thousands of people at the free kitchen. Its hard to imagine this was a place that hosted an unfortunate military action called Operation Blue Star only a quarter century ago. Regardless, I can't recall a more welcoming religious environment in my travels. To totally botch the opportunity for some sort of grand hyperbole, the place just felt "good".

For someone who's gone from thinking "Punjab" was simply the name of Daddy Warbuck's clean-shaven turban-wearing bodyguard in Annie to someone who just thought Punjab meant the best food in India (that's my opinion but it's safe to say it's an opinion shared by millions), Saturday's trip was an amazing glimpse, short as it was, into the region on India's eastern border.


  1. Truly awesome post! It is really very interesting and informative. Keep more updates.


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  2. There are various Tourist Places in Amritsar for the interest of tourists. It is an essential city in the History of Sikh religion. Golden Temple is a pilgrimage for Sikh community. Jallianwala Bagh is a historical landmark situated in the heart of the city Amritsar. Summer place of Maharaja Ranjit Singh is placed in the heart of the garden called Ram Bagh.

  3. Wonderful memories you have gathered here in this awesome post. Nice experience you have shared here, through this post. Thanks and keep sharing such valuable updates through your side.

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  4. Nice post. Golden Temple is one of the most important and key religious places for Sikhs in Amritsar. The budget hotels in Amritsar welcome warm heartedly to all the travellers coming all round the year to this city.