If you’ve heard of Amritsar, it’s probably because of this place…
The beautiful Golden Temple; an oasis of calm in a flurried city . Around 30 million pilgrims visit the temple each year and yet astonishingly it is still has an aura of peacefulness. We arrived in Amritsar, as always, after a long car journey. As cars are unable to access the area surrounding the temple, we walked with our bags through the busy town centre to arrived at a small hotel just 5 minutes walk from the temple. We decided to drop our bags quickly and headed towards the Sikh place of worship.
The temple houses the largest Langar (put simply, a free kitchen) in the world. As part of the Sikh religion, the kitchen serves hot vegetarian meals for up to 300,000 people everyday, regardless of faith, religion or background without charge. The food was basic but plentiful and delicious and upon leaving, we had the opportunity to help to clean some of the dishes in return for what we had been given. I know now that the tray that I ate on was probably the cleanest from which I have ever eaten, they were washed none short of 10 times!
Under a blanket of darkness we then walked silently along the marble pathways surrounding the water before sitting to watch bathers bless themselves in the holy liquid. Later, as the queue died down, we approached the main temple eager to glimpse the interior. There are so many lights adorning the temple that there are often power cuts and darkness frequently engulfs the streams of people entering the temple. We were fortunate enough to arrive at a time of prayer which despite making the temple extremely busy, showed the temple in a new light; a beautiful amalgamation of colour and chanting.
Many of the visitors sleep in the surrounding arches or on the floor outside and this custom is welcomed as local hotels are often expensive. Despite being tempted, we made our way back to our nearby hotel. Unfortunately, due to a lack of air-con and 40C heat, little sleep was had and I woke up feeling a little narky with a very cloudy head. Not wanting to inflict my bad mood on others, I decided to take myself off alone in the morning. I often like to have a little alone time, especially when travelling in big groups to clear my head. I made my way to the McDonalds (very cultural, I know) and ordered some pancakes. Everything within the surrounding area of the golden temple is vegetarian and I found it intriguing that McDonalds could have a whole vegetarian restaurant here yet almost zero vegetarian options in the UK. Despite wanting some alone time, a lovely Indian couple could not resist the opportunity to chat to a solo British traveler. After I’d politely declined twice and they asked a third time, fearing that I was about to cause some offence I accepted their offer and ate breakfast whilst discussing the Beatles and where best to live in the UK.
I then decided that I would revisit the Golden Temple again and attempt some meditation, inspired by Conor who had recently checked in to a meditation retreat on a Thai Island. I deposited my shoes outside, washed my hands and feet and wandered towards the far side of the temple. I found a spot on the cool marble floor, crossed my legs and closed my eyes. I’d like to say that I was able to completely relax but unfortunately I was very aware of the curiosity other visitors found in me and even more aware of the small children who desperately wanted to touch my skin! Despite this, the awe of the Golden temple and the vast silence that surrounded me made me feel calm and relieved some of my earlier tension.
After sitting for around an hour, I made my way back into Amritsar to walk through the market and back streets where I was able to pick up some trinkets and souvenirs before meeting back up with my friends. Amritsar itself is a friendly, peaceful place with shops selling some of the most inticate footwear and jewellery that I have ever seen. The highlight however really is the Golden Temple and is the main reason why most people visit so a few pieces of advice are listed below:
- Bring a scarf to cover your hair, and some hair clips. Both men and women alike must cover their heads here as a sign of respect. My scarf slipped on one occasion which caused embarrassment for myself and the gentlemen that asked me to replace it – clip it on to avoid this!
- Eat dinner at the Langar and help to wash the plates afterwards. The food is delicious and it will restore a little faith in humanity to see everyone eating together and sharing the workload afterwards.
- Keep voices low and technology (cameras, phones) to a minimum so as not to disturb the peace.
- Visit the interior part of the temple in the evening, the queue is often quite long and it could be tough in the midday heat.
- Spend a little alone time surrounding the water; this is the perfect place for a quiet moments reflection in what can sometimes be a chaotic country.
If you’re planning on visiting Amritsar or have any other questions, please leave any messages below or tweet me, I’d love to chat to you!