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Irene's Adventures

India - Amritsar

INDIA | Thursday, 19 August 2010 | Views [677] | Comments [3]

I arrived in Delhi and just getting off the airplane the heat hit me.  When I walked outside the airport BAM!  The hot air just hits like walking into a blast oven.   The wind was no relief.  Instant sweat.....    I had a jumper plane to catch to Amritsar, where Len & Michaela met me.  They were laughingly apologizing for having me start my journey in Amritsar, as they said I would be thrust into India, rather than being eased into it.


They had already booked me into a little hotel just minutes away from the Golden Temple, which we went to immediately after I dropped my bags in my un-air conditioned room (overnight temperature was 36C) The fan offered some relief, but  I buckled the second night and paid the double-the-room-price to have the A/C turned on.

The Golden Temple is the most holy of temples to the Sikhs.  People will travel 3 days by train just to see it, to bath in the sacred pond surrounding it, to bow and pray, and to enter into it.  It is a pilgrimage that every Sikh strives to do in their life. 

First of all NO shoes allowed within the temple.  They have a wonderful system of a shoe check exactly like a coat check we are all familiar with – free.  You walk through a man-made stream of clean water at the temple entrance to make sure your feet are clean.  Second, everyone, men and women, must cover their head.  Then down the white marble steps to the temple area, which is kind of a courtyard setting.  The Golden Temple is situated in the middle of a square water area, the Sacred Pond.  The water is encircled by a 10 meter wide white marble walkway, with intricate patterns of colored marble within the white marble.  The walkway is surrounded by the white marble outer courtyard building.  It is amazingly clean.  We saw a guy with a razor blade scrapping bird poop into a towel.  There are people constantly sweeping and mopping to maintain the cleanliness.

Men are stripping down to their underwear (Sikh men have special underwear) then place their dagger into their turban and enter the water to bathe.  It is sort of a self-baptism to wash away inequities.  The women have two walled off areas in which to bathe.  It is easy to recognize that this is not just a haphazard affair, but very serious business.  Many men and women are bowing, forehead to stone, praying.  There are guards with long spears making sure everyone is obeying the rules of the sanctuary.


There are musicians who sing the scriptures 24 hours a day; it is broadcast over the entire Temple complex.  The music and singing is absolutely beautiful.  It is soothing and enchanting with the beauty of the smooth white marble, the Golden Temple reflecting off the water, the masses of people slowly meandering along the causeway,  the myriad of colors in the sari’s, the medieval attire of the guards.  Every now and again everyone in the entire complex literally stops and begins singing along to an obviously very poignant prayer; ending in a bow, then carries on as usual.

The Golden Temple, in the center of the Sacred Pond, has a continuous line-up to enter.  The bridge leading to it is covered with cloth canopy and has dozens of fans blowing down on the people, to offer relief from the heat.  Guards control the number of people allowed into the Temple at any given time, so you stand for quite a while.

In the centre of the temple is what I would call priests praying over the beautiful gem studded box that contains the Scriptures of Sikhism.  I almost felt sacrilegious taking up space like a gawking tourist while the locals were jostling for position just to get closer and closer, carrying small leaf offering bowls. 

Upstairs there are scripture books for anyone to use.  There were people tucked into every nook and cranny reading  and praying.  There was another area where a ‘priest’ was waving a yak tail and more people were going forth, very briefly, for what appeared to be some sort of blessing.  The third floor had yet another ‘priest’ who is constantly reading scriptures, with people sitting and reverently listening.  The third floor was surrounded by an open air walkway.  The Temple is not very big, about 40 x 40 feet, hence the restriction on the number of people able to enter at a time.  Apparently, there is not a good time to go when the crowds are not thick.  As I said earlier, it is every Sikh’s wish to go there; and they do, in droves.

We went to the on-site community kitchen to eat.  That may sound pretty basic; it was anything but.  The Sikh’s feed 60,000 people – a DAY!!  It is all free.  People come to volunteer their time in preparing, cooking, serving and cleaning up.  It is very impressive to see and experience.  You enter a court yard in a constantly moving mass of humans.  Remember this is about 2000 people at any given time, so you really have to keep the process moving.   You quickly grab a steel plate from an attendant, and then grab a small bowl from another, then a spoon.  You get to wait a few minutes while the previous crowd is eating and clearing out. Then they quickly herd you in and you sit in long lines of rattan rugs, on the floor.  Even before everyone is sitting, there are men going along with large buckets of dal, kheel , vegetable curry and chapati’s; glopping it into your plate.  Someone goes along with a huge kettle and pours water into your bowl while he walks by.   Glop, glop, glop... splash... munch, munch.....  Get up and go because they are already coming along with buckets of water and squeegees to clean it all up for the next batch.  In, eat, out in 15 minutes flat!!!  Talk about a fast service soup kitchen. 

 As you leave you turn your plate in at a station with some men taking the plates and whacking them into a HUGE vat to knock the excess food off (the noise is almost deafening), then handed to others to wash, with others quickly grabbing stacks of plates and putting them into huge wire bins to dry and used for the upcoming batch of people.  This goes on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year since the early 1500’s.  They say they don’t charge because it is God’s food, not theirs.  You can leave a donation if you wish.  The water is good to drink, as we saw a massive water filtration system just off the kitchen.

The information office gives free gift wrapped packets of information on whatever you want to know about the philosophy of Sikh’s, and politely answer whatever questions you have.

We also went to the site where 2000 Indians were massacred in 1919 by the British, for holding a peaceful demonstration.  Anyone who has seen the movie “Ghandi” will remember it.  They have turned the empty lot into a beautiful park with signs reminding people that they are walking on the blood of 2000 innocent people, please be respectful.....

The streets are filled with hordes of people, horse drawn carts, scooters, bicycle rickshaws, tuktuks, the odd cow – cars are the minority.  Everyone is moving, moving, moving, and there is not one street light or stop sign.  The major intersections look like mayhem, but once in it you can see how it all makes sense.  It is all about paying attention to where you are and where the other guys are; zip, swerve, and skim by millimetres, honk (how they love to honk, and HONK, and HOOONNNKKKK) and through the intersection you go.  No worries.

The people are not shy in the least.  We are constantly being asked to pose for pictures with them.  In most cases not even asked.  They just sidle up to you and someone is snapping a photo.  Or they want you to take a picture of them.  Simply show them the image and off they go, happy as ever.  Parents tell their little ones to come shake our hand and say hello.  People will come right up and stare at us, or ask us questions like “Where are you from”  “How do you like India” “What is your profession” “What is your cell number”  “How many children do you have”    While we were having our chai after the free meal at the Temple, some people came and sat behind us to have their picture taken with us.  Before we knew it there were at least 10 people posing with us. 

 That same evening we were having supper in a restaurant and there was a bit of a skirmish outside the glass doors.  As we were sitting right by the doors we turned to see what was going on.  Suddenly someone noticed us and they all stopped whatever skirmish was going on and all turned and stared at us.  It was hilarious!!  It was like we were suddenly the attraction of the evening.

I must address the filth in the streets issue.  Yes, there is a lot of rubbish in the streets.  However, it does not look like there is any infrastructure in place to deal with garbage removal.  Considering the narrow alley-like streets, I’m not sure it is even possible.  But in all fairness, I’ve noticed that individual shop owners sweep their little spot.  They put it in a neat little pile for scavengers to go through.  The rest, unfortunately, gets spread around with the wind and rain.  Not much different than our parks and roadways in Canada; India also has over 10 times the population of Canada – think about that next time you toss a gum wrapper on the street - and we DO have a waste disposal system in place!

First impression of India – HOT!! 

Second impression – the contrasts and contradictions are amazing, disconcerting, and wonderful. 

Third impression – the women’s saris look like 2 crayola boxes got drunk and had kids!!  WOW!!  Beautiful!!

McLeod Ganj (Dharamsala) next.....




Irene thank your for this treasure!

  Garrette Aug 28, 2010 12:23 PM


Irene, Thanks for the notes and pics. Hope you are having a great time!

  Rob Aug 28, 2010 11:37 PM


Very entertaining. Keep up the very descriptive blogs and pics.

  Don & Zona Aug 29, 2010 1:37 AM

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