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Amritsar – a different world inside a temple

Written by 18 August 2009 6 Comments

Amritsar came to me like eyesight to the blind.
At one point during my traveling years I decided that I was not interested in temples, museums and sights in general and I regularly skipped those pages of my travel guide in favor of markets, neighborhoods and cafes which is what I enjoy and consider a better testimony of a culture as it exists in the present. For that very reason I had long dismissed the golden temple in Amritsar, along with the Taj Mahal in Agra, as 2 places I was in no hurry to see. Thankfully, in the case of Amritsar, a prophet in the gestalt of Matthew, a handsome Irish travel guide told me about the true nature of the golden temple and spoke so warmly about it that his enthusiasm infected mine. 36 hours after meeting Matthew we boarded the bus to Amritsar.

Upon arrival in the city we checked into what must have been the most unpopular hotel in town. The guys at the reception seemed to have “thugs” written on their forehead and had nothing but smeary frowns for us. Not a good start. We dropped off our stuff, had a fight over nothing and left to find a place to eat. Walking through the small alleys we agreed that the atmosphere was strange and very unlike the India we had come to know. After finding an OK food place, and having thalis, and cleared the air about our fight, we decided to part ways for 2 hours until meeting again at 3 to take a taxi together to Wagah, where we wanted to witness the Pakistani-Indian border closing ceremony we had heard so many good things about. Caroline took off to see sights while I hung out online for a while before entering the golden temple for a sneak peek. I’m not all that good at describing feelings of awe without sounding like a total cheese ball but I was really taken by the atmosphere, the building and the people. I’ve always been quick to pick up other people’s emotions, something I blame on being a Pisces, so any boy band concert, airport arrival gate or, like in this case, place of pilgrimage are great hangouts for me because there is so much happiness and excitement in the air that it makes me feel right at home.
The golden temple is the holiest of places pilgrims from all over the world seek out as a destination. It belongs to the Sikh, a religion which I don’t know much about other than that they’re not allowed to cut their hair and the men wear turbans. I’ve always taken a particular liking in Sikh men who are often tall and strong and their beards make them look masculine. Just my type. This is only one of of many (more important) reasons to come here and I’ve listed a few to encourage you guys to go see for yourselves.

1. The golden temple is not just a building, it’s thriving with life.
An estimated 40.000 people come here every day and although it’s a Sikh temple, everyone is welcome because the Sikhs appreciate people having other beliefs.

2. You can sleep here for free.
The temple provides free accommodation in a dorm for tourists. This is perfectly safe and may well add to the intensity of your experience.

3. You can eat here for free (donations are appreciated).
In a huge room people sit on the floor in rows on carpets after being given a dish and silverware. Then people go around with buckets of dhal (a tasty and typically Indian lentil dish), bread, a sweet puree I don’t know the name of and water. Caroline and I agreed this to be one of the most wonderful experiences of living culture from an insider’s perspective we’ve both ever had (you can tell, those lentils were very good).

4. The smiles.
The Sikhs are very proud of their religion and this temple and we’ve felt warmly greeted by staff and visitors of the temple alike. Photography was no problem and many people actually asked us to take pictures of their children.

5. The Pakistan-India border closing ceremony at Wagah.
Just 30km north of Amritsar is Wagah, where the India’s border to Pakistan is located. Every morning and evening there is an incredible ceremony here celebrating the opening and closing of the border. It looks a bit like a “show off” between tall and handsome soldiers in fun costumes from each side of the border. Indian women are dancing and people are shouting things to greet their Pakistani neighbors. A heart-warming and fun experience. This is a free event, just grab a taxi from Amritsar (400 rupees) for a return trip here. It’s on from 5.30 to 6 and westerners are seated in a reserved-seats section.

 Amritsar   a different world inside a temple
People relaxing in the area surrounding the golden temple.

 Amritsar   a different world inside a temple
The temple by night

 Amritsar   a different world inside a temple
Everyone entering the temple needs to cover their hair. Bring a scarf of your own to avoid getting one from the guards as it may look like Caroline’s here.

 Amritsar   a different world inside a temple
Anyone can sit and eat dhal (lentils) and chapati (bread).

 Amritsar   a different world inside a temple
All day long food is served to those wanting to eat. Lentils are produced in huge pots and served out of buckets.

 Amritsar   a different world inside a temple
The tourist dorm inside the temple. Only foreigners may stay here.

 Amritsar   a different world inside a temple
The closing ceremony attracts many local and foreign spectators every day.

 Amritsar   a different world inside a temple
Indian women are dancing at the closing ceremony of the Indian-Pakistani border.

pixel Amritsar   a different world inside a temple




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6 Comments »

  • Panos said:

    great pics,
    would love to be there…

  • Suz said:

    This is amazing!!

    Since two years Iam planning to go to India, but here is soo much to see. I don’t know where to start. Did you in fact eat the food offered in the temple?

    It seems sooo exciting!

  • Katja (author) said:

    hey suz, yes we did eat the food! twice! and it was very tasty. yum yum

  • Ankur said:

    Hi Katja,

    I am happy i read your posting about India nd your experience///and i know you are happy about it… i wanted to share some thoughts about life/god/beauty/smile/reasons/fights with you after reading your amritsar trip. if you get time do read it..

    XlovEX

    Whenever you feel beauty ~ in the rising sun , in the stars , in the flowers , or in the face of a woman or a man ~ wherever and whenever you feel beauty ~ WATCH ~ One thing will always be found : You had functioned without mind . You had functioned without any conclusion ~ you had simply funcitoned spontaneously . The moment gripped you and the moment gripped you so deeply that you were cut off from the past .

    To live without the past is innocence ~ to live without conclusions is innocence ~ to function out of the state of not knowing is innocence ~ and the moment you funtion out of fuch tremendous silence which is not burdened by any past ~ out of such trendous stillness that knows nothing ~ the experience that happens is beauty …..

    Innocence is the door ~ through innocence you enter into beauty

    “Life is neither dependent nor independent, life is a continuum of interdependence. It is beautiful whenever you are, it is lovely to be whatsoever you are.”

    This is the way of meditation: encountering the present in all its tremendous beauty, just being in the present. Inside, the mind stops. Outside, the world changes totally. It is no more the ordinary world you have known before. In fact, you have not known it at all. Your mind was distorting everything, your mind was creating fantasies. Your eyes were full of fantasies and you were looking though those fantasies. They never allowed you to see that which is. If the mind is gone, even for a moment, suddenly the whole existence explodes upon you.

    (i can feel your feelings at wagah border when woman are dancing,your feelings at a selfless world inside golden temple …imagine how beautiful that is even if its not a 7 star treatment….but again can not measure it in starratings..its priceless.)

    “When you become deeply engrossed in something, all of a sudden you will hear a sort of music ringing within you. This is the music of peace. At times when you are listening to good music this absorption can happen. You forget yourself for a moment; for a moment the past and future disappear and you are drowned in the sweet sound of music. Live in the present and you will experience that moment of peace all around you: at times such a moment comes in love, at times in the beauty of nature. These are the moments you experience peace.”

    You say that in heaven there is eternal beauty. The eternal beauty is
    here and now, not in heaven.”

    “If you are beautiful deep within you, only then can the beauty flow from you. Only out of beautiful life, a beautiful painting is born.”

    To see the beauty of the flower you need silence not analysis; beauty can never be understood through analysis.”

    Reason is not the only door in your Being, there are deeper doors in your being. Can’t you feel the beat of the heart? When you look at a lotus flower and you feel the beauty, is it reason? Can reason prove that the flower is beautiful? Reason has not even been able to define what beauty is.

    For the rational mind there is no beauty. But you know that beauty exists, and when you see it you are overwhelmed by it. The rational mind says there is no beauty, this is just an illusion, a projection, a dream.

    Beauty exists. But reason has no way to approach it, it is felt from the heart. Love exists: that too is not through reason, that too is felt from the heart. When you fall in love can you justify it rationally? Can you say what love is? Nobody has yet been able to i feel.

    God is all these experiences together: the experience of beauty, the experience of good, the experience of love, the experience of truth. All these experiences happen through the heart. The totality of these experiences is called God.

    To me, beauty is far more valuable than truth. Truth is only an aspect of beauty, a face of beauty. Beauty is God himself. Religions should be very artistic. And aesthetics to me is like ethics was to the old religions: aesthetics is my ethics.
    If you are in love with beauty you will not do anything wrong – that is enough safeguard – because to do anything wrong you will have to do something ugly. The man who loves beauty will not be able to assert a lie, because a lie is ugly. His sensitivity towards beauty will certainly prevent him from doing many things that he could have done if he were not sensitive enough.

    Once you have started seeing the beauty of life,
    ugliness starts disappearing.
    If you start looking at life with joy,
    sadness starts disappearing.
    You cannot have heaven and hell together,
    you can have only one.
    It is your choice.

    “Art is a conscious effort to create beauty, to discover beauty, to make your life more joyful, to teach you to dance, to celebrate”.

    with all my best love….you celebrate life with GlAMCANYON!!

    :)

  • Sundeep said:

    Nice pictures – Great to hear of your travels to Sri Harmandir Sahib Ji. Thanks for the insight!

  • Anu said:

    Hey Katja it’s glad to see when someone came to our temple and write something about it. I am a Sikh and you know what this free food is called Langar and it is served not only in Golden Temple, It is served in all Sikh’s temple (Gurduwaras) and it’s free and for your information did you notice that every Guduwara has four doors which means that the doors are opened for everyone from all four directions.

    Don’t forget to write how it was I am waiting to see what you will write.

    Take care :)

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