Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Amritsar - The Golden Temple

I arrived in Amritsar around 10:30pm last night after one of the more interesting train rides to date.  A kind woman from the train made sure to coordinate the cheapest possible transport for me to the Temple where they have free rooms (for a small donation - very very small, as in just about $1) and free food.  As the last person to show up, there was only room for me on the floor but it was fine by me! I slept the best I have in the last several days of non-stop train travel.  Tonight I even have my own bed.  Perfection!

*My own bed.  Five star compared to sleeping on the floor on a thin duvet the night before. A pretty sweet deal for $1, no? 

This morning I began the day with free breakfast.  The machine that is the free kitchen is not only a sight to behold but provides one of the most interesting soundtracks I've witnessed so far.  Hundreds of people volunteer to help prepare and serve the food, wash the dishes, and clean the floors.  Metal plates, bowls and spoons are constantly in motion, water is always splashing somewhere, onions are being chopped, tea is being served, and amongst all these noises is the chatter of hundreds of people speaking and children laughing.  A fascinating place!

Preparing onions

Eating in the dining hall.

Deeeeeelicious FREE food and chai at the temple.  The first serving freaked me out a bit as it is delivered from a ladle out of what looks like a not-so-recently-cleaned slop bucket.  Despite appearances, it was actually incredibly tasty!  I was more than mildly addicted to the white stuff.  It was a kind of thin rice pudding with coconut bits and almond flakes.  What I wouldn't give for some of that right now! 

Thousands of people = thousands of dishes

After breakfast, I began my exploration of the Temple itself.  The Golden portion looks quite small on first glance.  It is set in the middle of a big, square pond (filled with holy water and koi) which itself is set within the square walls of a much larger courtyard.  The outer section has about 1/4 of the width covered with a columned walkway, topped with arabesque arches.  The remainer of this marble structure is open to the sun and breeze.  Hundreds and hundreds of people make their way around this square to reach the entry to the Golden Temple itself.

I wasn't sure if I would be allowed to go in as I am not exactly a practitioner of the religion, but I was able to freely walk around every room and quietly watch all the action, which was really interesting.  The Temple has three levels.  On the first is lush room decorated in red and gold where where men sit and sing songs of prayer while devotees toss donations into the holy space.  The music is absolutely gorgeous!  I was really struck by the peaceful atmosphere and stayed for quite a while to listen and people watch (and perhaps to take a cheeky photo or two!).

The second floor looks down onto the first and has several shelves with prayer books available for those who want to sit and read while watching the action below.  Every inch of this space is painted with beautiful flowers and text and is adorned with gold lacing and mirrors along with a stunning chandelier above the main room.

The last level holds a smaller shrine for people to visit but is mainly an open roof which affords a perfect view of the surrounding activity.  (If technology keeps up with me, I should be able to get some pics up soon!)

After my initial stroll, I went back to the hotel for a rest and ended up meeting some new folk.  I have been alone now a couple of days so it was cool to have someone to chat with again :).  I hit up the free food again for lunch - this time making sure to get a hearty cup of the delicious chai!- and then spent the afternoon in the  outer part of the temple, reading a bit, writing a bit, and chatting with all the people who wanted to take photos with me.  Didn't you know I am a celebrity?!  I am kind of a big deal here haha! It's really funny how many people want photos.  Most of them are adorable little kids who are super nervous to ask  but always speak in English and it's really sweet.  Some are annoying boys that I try to avoid but they seem to be everywhere.  The rest are old ladies who speak absolutely no English and just smile a lot and mime to me that they want a photo.  Those are the funny ones because they don't have a camera, they just want me to take a photo of them with mine and then show it to them.  That's it.  So funny! 

The most picturesque part of the evening was seeing the sunset behind the buildings.  It went down in exactly the right place to silhouette all the detailed architecture of the gorgeous building behind the temple. A wonderful end to the lazy, relaxing day I needed!

*Photos and captions added Sept 2, 2012.