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Amritsar - a slice of heaven

USA | Monday, 23 March 2009 | Views [673]

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My last new place to explore on my trip was Amritsar. This place is famous for it’s golden temple built by the Sikhs and a close proximity to the Pakistan border. I have seen the temple in Bollywood movies and have heard about it from other travelers as well as the famous border closing ceremonies. I choose to do something a little more unique than spending my last few days in another mountain area with yogis (Rishikesh)– next time!


I took a bus that traveled on for 12 hours and found myself more comfortable and relax than ever. I’m not sure if I finally let go of the anxiousness of the unknown or what’s next but I sat on that bus, never looked at my guidebook once (true sign of comfort), watched out the window and made my way to my last stop w/o any interaction or help from another westerner. When I got off the bus I just started to walk, got a rickshaw to the temple, and then soon everything laid out in front of me like a red carpet!


Little did I know that the red carpet would lead me right to a slice of heaven.  I approached the temple that was a living active world with in itself. Pilgrims from all over India come and spend time at this place to pray and bath and serve and eat and receive blessings. On the outskirts of the temple is like a miniature city all built to serve the needs of the pilgrims and visitors. It includes gift shops, a nest café stand, places to store shoes and bags, places to make donations, and public sleeping and shower areas. In the public sleeping areas behind a guarded door there is a dormitory for foreigners. I was led there and warmly welcomed and given a bed in a shared room, a locker, and soon I am shown to the cleanest bathroom in India as well as an endless supply of hot water! After I set my stuff down, checked in with a traveler who was leaving (or he thought anyway) – Kernby from Canada – I did my normal wander around half dazed yet re-inspired routine after a long bus ride.


I quickly fell in love with the white glowing peaceful sacred ambience of the Golden Temple and its surroundings. All the people there were so kind, the music of the Sikh play, nobody is hassling you, smoking is prohibited, shoes are not allowed, and heads must be covered. When I walked through the washing waters and into the temple area words were lost for the amount of beauty and peace and amazement that flowed through my body. The glistening golden temple sits in the middle of a huge rectangle pool of holy water that is outlined by a marble sidewalk and magnificent buildings that hold smaller temples, alters and gathering places. There is a constant flow of people, families are moving around the outskirts of the holy waters, a line of patient pilgrims move slowly into the small temple to receive a blessing and sing and pray, other people stop and pray at various important sights along the edge of the waters, others sit and listen to the temple band, some are chanting, Sikhs are bathing, children are playing and there is a community kitchen that is open 24 hours a day that feeds over 40,000 people each day. This wonderland, the home of Sikhs, follow its spiritual philosophy of all is welcomed and they celebrate that God is in everything. With open minds and open hearts and huge smiles this place is ran on donations and love. Yes that’s right all the food, sleeping, showering, and praying is free!


One of my favorite parts of the Golden Temple is the Community Kitchen.  On my first day I wondered into the assembly line and was handed a tali plate (silver plate with sections) a bowl, a spoon, and smiles. I went with the flow a found my way up stairs and into a HUGE dining hall with no seats. Everybody sat in lines on the floor while people came around with slop buckets to fill the plates. Water and chapatti was provided too! It was just like anywhere else in India where the people were chanting the name of the product that they had to offer. I was in the room eating with at least 500 Sikhs (yes I was the only westerner) and on my way out I got to get a good look at the production. Each area had at least 20 people helping out: The dishwashing, garlic peeling, chapatti making, vegetable cutting, chai boiling, food cooking – 3 separate dishes - , plate collection, spoon collection, bowl collection, floor cleaning between each group, water gathering, and I am sure there is more that I forgot. Many times while I was visiting the golden temple I went to the kitchen and for one afternoon I had one of the best times I’ve had in India – I helped out!!!! I help make chapattis and peel garlic. And during breaks I took many photos and drank chai and through all of it I smiled and laughed and hugged and shared and enjoyed the genuine warm kind loving company of the Sikhs! It was a great experience to be part of the creation and energy of the food that will be served to all the Pilgrims. So much sincere love and joy is put into this temple and the food that it provides and feeds the spirit of all. Later I ate again and felt more connected than ever to the food I was eating and to those i shared it with. Once again I scratched beneath the surface of the tourist land and felt more apart of the Indian culture. I sat with the people as tours went through the kitchen and I felt like I was on the otherside and did not have much in common with the tourist except for the color of our skin. What a wonderous experience


Another great blessing that came out of this slice of heaven was a new friend – Kernby. He and I spent my first day enjoying the temple and the city that surrounds it. Our conversations consisted of love, and spirit, and desire for peace and a healthy earth. We wandered around the city, tried different street food and watched craftsmen make swords and sell balloons. The city was filled with great sweets, winding allies, friendly people, and more unique items. That evening was one of the best sunsets ever as we went beyond the borders of the temple and climbed onto a roof. Here we were looking down on the world of the Golden Temple feeling untouchable and lucky and we had the company of children that lived at the temple. The beauty and magic inspired us to write, the comfort tempted us to sleep on the roof, and the children chatted with us, shared tea and biscuits, and we flew kites with them at sunset! The next morning I woke for sunrise at the temple and reconnected with Kernby for another temple experience. We found our way inside the small golden building and sat and watched and breathed as pilgrims came in with offerings, songs, tears, prayers, hope and love. It was like being inside a timeless snowglobe filled with color and people shining and glistening and swirling in a magic bubble. We sat there for a long time. 


I quickly surrendered to the flow of the days at the golden temple and enjoyed the company of all the folks who help keep this place alive from the women who clean the bathroom and love to laugh and joke to the guard who stands at the entrance door to the dorm and ready to help and guide you in anyway. It was a lovely place that was warm and welcoming. Definitely one of my favorite places on my travels!

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