Tag Archives: Amritsar

The Golden Temple – Among the Most Positive Places in the World
The Golden Temple – Among the Most Positive Places in the World

www.ramblinarium.com

“Skip the Taj Mahal,” I tell them, “and head straight to the Golden Temple of Amritsar!”  They look utterly baffled as I share my honest response to their request for itinerary advice. Yes, I do think the Taj Mahal makes for the quintessential “I just went to India” photo, with the remarkable history-rich mausoleum and mosque as a striking backdrop.  And don’t get me wrong, it can indeed be quite fun to meet busloads of tourists from around the globe, displaying an impressive array of selfie sticks.

www.ramblinarium.com But with only a few weeks to see the colors, chaos and flavors of India, I implore you to visit the Golden Temple, the holiest Gurdwara (place of worship) of Sikhism and what I think is one of the most positive places in the world – a white marble oasis where the tranquil sound of continuous chanting and tabla beats is paired with the golden glow of a magnificent temple nearly floating in a mirror of still waters; where the vibrancy, positive energy, devotion and communal spirit of the colorfully dressed crowds embodies and announces holiness far more than any guidebook’s historical facts and descriptions could ever do.  It is alive unlike anything I’ve ever seen or felt; the energy is almost tangible. And dang, an all-volunteer-run communal dining hall serving 60-80,000 people on an average weekday is surely not to be missed.

www.ramblinarium.com www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com

When I first approached my train to Amritsar, I sensed I was up for a new type of adventure on my YOU WANDER WE PAY trip, all of a sudden seeing countless men with daggers and swords traveling in the same direction as me.   Little did I know then that this was kirpan (an iron dagger or full length curved sword), one of the “5 Ks,” or kakar, five items ritually worn by Sikhs, and I needn’t fear for a violence-ridden train ride.

www.ramblinarium.com From the moment I arrived and turned in my shoes at counter number 8, I was overwhelmed and over stimulated.  While not an uncommon experience for me in India, this instantly felt extraordinary, the loud buzz of Amritsar’s hectic streets quickly fading behind me as I was overtaken by beaming smiles, vibrant colors and the peaceful sound of chanting, flutes and string instruments whirring in the background.

www.ramblinarium.com www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com

As I dipped my first toe in the entrance’s waterway (all feet must be cleansed before entering,) I was approached by a tall man dressed in his chola, Sikh warrior attire.  My eyes drawn to his sword and distinctive (or so I thought then) curled moustache, I finally understood he was concerned I had put my shoes inside my small backpack, an absolute no-no for this sacred site.

www.ramblinarium.com It was once I descended the white marble steps into the Harmandir Sahib complex that I felt a complete and utter separation from the chaotic consumerist world just footsteps away, the sun shining its brilliant light on the white marble, golden panels and radiant kurtas and kurtis (Indian garments) of the thousands of beautiful people circling clockwise around the pool of holy waters, the pulse of the parade pulling me in immediately.

www.ramblinarium.com In a trance like state, I meandered the grounds, intermittently straying from the carpets to feel the refreshing chill of marble on my feet, partaking in a steady exchange of smiles and eye contact with the pilgrims leisurely encircling the concourse. While many tourists are uncomfortable being the target of constant staring in India, I delighted in the gazing game at the Golden Temple, locking eyes and sharing smiles with incredibly positive people eager to engage and share their upbeat energy.   I say fear not and join in as engaging can truly enrich your experience!  And what better time than while standing in the (always) long line to enter the gilded temple itself.  While some might dread what feels like a long wait, I relished in the opportunity to examine close-up the incredible clothing, jewelry and palpable spirit of the folks who excitedly asked me questions and wished to pose together for a selfie shot, the shimmering lake and golden reflection shining in the background.

www.ramblinarium.com www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com

From early in the morning until late in the evening, troves of colorfully dressed people magically add to the serenity of the Golden Temple, where women and men from all walks of life and religions are welcomed to worship equally, the temple’s four entrances representing this openness.  It is definitely worth checking out at all different times and shades of light. I’ve even spent the night!  The soothing hymns and gentle musical accompaniment continue with some pause throughout the clock’s hours, echoing across the sparkling lake where pilgrims gracefully remove their Sikh attire to ritually immerse themselves in the “pool of nectar,” almost always emerging with an impressive afterglow, reminding us of the waters holiness.

www.ramblinarium.com www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com

One of the sounds I love most is the clanking of metal cups near the courtyard’s corners, where contented volunteers use water and sand to ensure an unending supply of clean stainless steel drinking bowls for visitors to stay hydrated.  Amazing how quickly the time passed when on one of my visits,I seated myself on an empty stool, joining in the sand-washing routine with the rows of colorfully adorned women with whom I shared a language of smiles and head wobbling (I wasn’t yet at my current Hindi level, able to chat and sing a song or two!)

www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com www.ramblinarium.com

While the opulence and sheer brilliance of the two-floored temple’ s ornate and intricately carved interior, golden leafed canopy, exquisite flowers, reverberating music and enthralling (giant) Holy Book ceremonies stand out most in many visitors’ memories (no photography allowed inside), I find the incredible langar, communal dining hall to perhaps be as much of a crowing glory.   I am indeed thoroughly mesmerized by the unforgettable devotion which could practically be felt in the air of the astounding temple, its colors and sounds nearly hypnotizing, but when I stepped inside the volunteer-run all-vegetarian communal dining hall which serves 60-80,000 people a day, and caught my first glimpse of the thousands of stainless steel plates, I felt the most moved spiritually.

www.ramblinarium.com www.ramblinarium.com

Like a kid in a candy store, I gazed all around, taking in the sounds of clanking stainless steel dishes, the flow of beautiful people, the smell of freshly stewed dhal (lentils) and the incomparable, powerful positive energy, when I was suddenly handed a plate and embraced the incredible momentum which carried me through the dining hall experience.  A sea of colorfully clothed humans, we ambled up a flight of stairs, rounding the corner slowly enough to catch a peak at the action down below, and then entered an enormous hall where like dominoes, we seated ourselves one by one, in countless long rows, back to back and face to face with the adjacent lines of happy hungry beautiful souls.  Volunteers came around with giant pots and ladled us each healthy portions of dhal, stewed vegetables and a thick rice pudding called kheer.  Into our open hands, yet another volunteer dropped fresh roti and another rolled a metal cart of water from which we could fill our stainless steel bowls while still seated.

www.ramblinarium.com www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com

A similarly beautiful and delicious meal can be found at any Sikh temple, the simple idea being that everyone, regardless of social status or religion can sit on the ground together and partake in the same meal at the same time.  And what a delightful flavor of equality, especially in a country, incredible as it may be, which is laden with hierarchies and disparity.   The Golden Temple langar is open 24 hours, the food is delicious, never runs out, no one is ever turned away and almost everyone gets their hands dirty helping out.

Clank. Bang. Clink. Smash. Clank. I don’t quite know what words could do justice to the clatter and ruckus to be heard upon exiting the large hall, each of us turning in our plate, which then makes its way down an assembly line of volunteers, ending with a toss towards an elder Sikh man who uses two trays as shields, bouncing the trays into a bin which quickly overflows.  I stared in awe at the action, distracted only by the throng of volunteers lined up at rows of sinks, washing dishes, women and men in separate areas.   On my second visit, I jumped in, locking eyes and giant smiles with the radiant Indian women, while my hands wrinkled from over an hour in the soapy water.

www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com www.ramblinarium.com

Fascinated by this amazing operation that happens daily, I can feel devotion in the air.  “It takes tens of millions of dollars to run the langar” I’m told by Mr. Singh, the Sikh gentleman who joined me as I gazed in awe at the ground down below, my eyes tearing from the masses of onions being chopped by yet another beautiful team of volunteers.  He explained that many people chant “Wahe Guru” while volunteering, which literally means “wonderful teacher” in Punjabi, and refers to God, the creator of all.   Anonymous donors and scores of volunteers happily give of their time and money here, as part of their religious practice, expressing some of Sikhisms most important ethics, Singh explained, “sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humans.”

www.ramblinarium.com  

www.ramblinarium.com www.ramblinarium.com

 

A world of it’s own, I finally pull myself away from this communal heaven and rinse my feet to exit the langar, returning to the blissful courtyard where I continue to circle the ‘pool of nectar’. I take time to people watch and rest my feet in various spots along the way, always trying to replicate the seating positions of my Sikh counterparts so as not to point my feet at anything holy. During each visit, I am nevertheless approached by decked out men with swords, asking me to change my position, the encounter always somewhat mystifying yet magical.

www.ramblinarium.com www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com

That first afternoon, I eventually pulled myself away from the incredible marble and gold oasis, knowing I wanted to attend the famed Indian/Pakistan border crossing ceremony and taste the legendary lassies and ghee-rich parantha thali of the century-old vegetarian dive Kesar Da Dhaba.   Both are pretty awesome experiences which I highly recommend for your Amritsar visit, a dream city for serious foodies (we’ll save the grub for another post!)

www.ramblinarium.com www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com

Little did I know then that I would have been so wooed by the Temple that I would plan multiple more visits, two of which were more than 10 hours and one of which was overnight, where the scene of volunteers removing every ceiling fan and cleaning each blade, with glowing smiles on their faces was captivating.

IMG_8595

www.ramblinarium.com www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com

The transitions of light, slowing of the crowds, rolling up of carpets, continuous chanting, rituals for reading the holy book and endless display of volunteer work mesmerize me each time. I linger at the Temple, as if I can somehow store up the incredible, palpable, positive energy and somehow transmit it to those who regularly come to my mind – crime victims/survivors and colleagues I’ve worked with, family members, friends and others I’ve been simply moved by along my journey.

IMG_8596

www.ramblinarium.com www.ramblinarium.com

www.ramblinarium.com

 

www.ramblinarium.com The Golden Temple is delicious medicine for the soul, a humbling, almost magical and truly inspiring experience.   I think of Singh’s words about sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humans, and understand the power of these ingredients for creating the indescribable, almost palpable positive energy I experience there.  An all-natural, renewable energy our world could us a lot more of!

 

www.ramblinarium.com

Continue reading The Golden Temple – Among the Most Positive Places in the World


A day of travel, food and spirituality in Amritsar (India)
A day of travel, food and spirituality in Amritsar (India)

Golden Temple, Amritsar India Golden Temple, Amritsar India

This weekend I went to Amritsar to do some research for our India Someday clients. The religious city in Punjab is famous for three things—the Golden Temple, delicious food and the Wagah Border.After a lot of exploring (and a lot of eating!) we’ve come to the conclusion that this is definitely one city you do not want to miss!

The Food

Indian Food, Photo by Pradeep Rungta Indian Food, Photo by Pradeep Rungta

Amritsar is a food lovers paradise. From the moment you wake up, the amount of food you will manage to eat would be quite a revelation even to your own self. The alu puris (potato curry served with deep fried Indian bread stuffed with cottage cheese) and the chole puri (the same bread served with spicy lentils), are great for breakfast. Kanha sweets or Munim di Hatti at Lawrence Road are probably the best places to try these. For lunch either pay a visit to the Golden Temple Langar (we’ll get to this later) or visit Kulcha Land where for just INR 50 -100 they serve great stuffed kulchas and lassi. If you do have some place left for dinner head to Bharwan ka dhaba or Kesar ka dhaba, for some rajma (red beans) and rice or tandoori roti and veggies. If you have not noticed yes there is a slight bias, I am vegetarian.

North Indian food in general is a little heavy on the stomach, but eating in Amritsar is so much fun you will not stop. On every corner of every street there is something being cooked. From alu tikkis to fresh fruit juice, it’s all so tasty and delicious that I cannot stop raving about it. There is lots of butter, lots of fatty foods and loads of proteins and lentils, and the few days you’re there I would suggest throwing any diet out of the window.

Barring the taste the best part of eating in Punjab is the people. Punjabis are a jolly and lively bunch of people who love only one other thing more than eating—feeding someone else. So enjoy your meals hot and served with loads of love and smiles :).

The Golden Temple

Golden Temple, Amritsar India Golden Temple, Amritsar India

The serenity and the beauty of the Golden Temple is mesmerising. People often compare visiting this temple to visiting the Taj and I can guarantee that it is equally spectacular, probably even more so. Continuous chants, the stillness of the water, the thousands of people providing service for nothing in return, and the ornate beauty of the Temple itself all adds up to make a visit here really and truly special. I would recommend also signing up and helping to cook in the Langar. The temple itself has a long line to enter no matter what time of the day you visit.

Side note: A langar is found in every single Gurudwara or Sikh Temple, and is a part of their religious beliefs. It is a 24 hour open kitchen. The food is free to all guests without any discrimination(you can donate a small sum of course and you should!). The entire kitchen is run by volunteers who work in shifts and anyone can be a part of this team. The food is healthy and nutritious and filled with love :).

You should visit the temple in the morning and at night when the religious book is taken back into safe keeping, around 10 pm. If you interested in reading up more about Sikhism and the history of the golden temple click here

Golden Temple, Amritsar, India Golden Temple, Amritsar, India

Service at the Golden Temple Service at the Golden Temple

Wagah Border: India’s patriotic pilgrimage

IMG_20140930_171827616_HDR

Palpable in the air of Amritsar is the feeling of patriotism that is invoked when you visit the Jallianwala Bagh or the Wagah border. As sad and haunting as the tragedy of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre is the Wagah border is on the other end of the spectrum, yet both are connected by a heady sense of history and Indian strength. Every evening at the Wagah border (the only road entry point between India and Pakistan), you can witness a fun and competitive Beating Retreat ceremony or the ‘raising/ lowering of flags’ ceremony.The passion with which the soldiers on both the sides fulfill this duty is incredible. Shouting, singing, the thumping of the feet, drums, dancing and trying to out do the other side makes for a surreal experience. 

The British massacre at Jalianwala Bagh, India A violent and bloody massacre by the British took place at Jalianwala Bagh, India

Staying in Amritsar

The stay in this city is not very expensive, the lower range budget hotels like Akaal Residency are clean simple and good value for money. And you even have a few unique options like Virasat Haveli. But here I would recommend staying at a higher end property as you do want to go back to an empty shell after the hustle and bustle of the narrow streets. My pick would be a stay at the Hyatt in Amritsar, they have nice cozy rooms and the service is impeccable.

Verdict

In conclusion all I would like to say is that if you have the time then you have to visit Amritsar. If you do need help in seeing how you can fit Amritsar into your trip, let us know and we at India Someday can help you plan your trip.