Suitcase and World: The Golden Temple of Amritsar. Harmandir Sahib.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Golden Temple of Amritsar. Harmandir Sahib.

magine a building that is constructed of white marble overlaid with gold leaf and which stands in the center of pool of fresh water fed by the Ganges River. Well, imagine no more because that building exists and it is the Harmandir Sahib, otherwise known as the Golden Temple, in Amritsar.

I arrived into Amritsar at about 2pm yesterday and after checking into the hotel, had Aman take me to the Golden Temple. Traffic in Amritsar is as insane as it is in Delhi. I don't know if it's always like this or whether it was because it was Gandhi's birthday and therefore, a holiday that brings all Indians out of their homes. In any event, I was glad it was Aman behind the wheel and not me.

Aman pulled into a parking garage. I thought street traffic was insane. Car parks are a nightmare!  One lane going in turns into four lanes.  Cars parked in lanes, on the ramps.  Two cars parked in a spot sized for one.  Cars parked askew.  What a mess!  But this is India and somehow it all works out and there is no road rage.

We walked about 3 blocks to get to the temple.  The streets were so crowded it was impossible to even walk in a straight line.  I had to dodge to avoid slow walkers, peddlers, cars, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, you name it!

Just before we got to the temple, I had to Aman to buy me a head scarf.  Believe it or not, I left my scarf in my bag back at the hotel in Delhi.  *sigh*

Head scarf appropriately tied around my head, we entered into the temple complex.  We left our shoes behind, washed our feet and entered into the temple.  It was so crowded, I could barely walk in.  Crazy.   I pushed my way forward but there were so many people that I could barely get an unobstructed view of this magnificent monument.

I decided that I had not come all this way to see this special place and not be able to fully enjoy it so I told Aman that would leave and come back the next morning.

That night, when I was chatting with the waiter while I was eating dinner.  I told him about my visit to the Golden Temple and about the crowds.  He told me the place is always crowded - even in early morning and late at nigh.  My heart sank.  I will have to endure masses of people.   I had really been hoping for another experience like the one I had to the Taj Mahal where I was the only person on the compound for a good 10 minutes before anyone else arrived.  Apparently no chance of that happening with the Golden Temple.

After what the waiter told me, I decided there was no point in getting up early so I called Aman to tell him to come by the hotel at 8:30am.  I would sleep in. 

Aman showed up on time and we returned to the carpark.  It was relatively early on a Sunday morning so there was not much traffic on the roads or crowding the carpark.  Aman left me at the car park and I made my own way to the temple.  We agreed to meet back at the car in an hour.

I headed on my way and arrived at the outer entrance to the temple complex.  I left my shoes at the holding place, walked over to the entrance, washed my hands and feet and headed inside.

The temple was still crowded but nowhere as bad as yesterday afternoon.  It was ever so magnificent as sight as I have ever seen.  The walls had taken on a brighter, much more golden yellow shine.  The whole building looked like a giant carved ingot of gold.  It was stunning. 

There were men of all ages bathing in the waters of the Pool of Nectar.  Others were gathered at the edges, either preparing to take a dip or just emerging from the waters.

Loud speakers blared out the daily hukamnama.  The sound of the hymn being recited reminded me of listening to the Islamic call of prayer but I was not in a mosque but in a Sikh temple.

Hemp mats lined the route for pilgrims to walk around the Pool of Nectar.  I joined the pilgrims and walked the mat which circumvented the Pool of Nectar.  Every few feet, a devotee was prostrating in prayer - men, women and children alike.

For others, it seemed like their first visit to the temple - lots of people having their photos taken with the temple in the background.

Tucked into the corners of the complex were areas where water was being dispensed to anyone who needed a drink.  In some places, small groups were congregated to listen to a sermon being delivered.

In the shade of the covered walkways, there were people gathered to just chat or to escape the heat or to catch a quick nap.  It's a bit of a disconcerting sight to non-Indians but it's not atypical to see an Indian just laid out on the ground, fast asleep. 

I had hoped to make it inside the temple to see the Guru Gobind Granth but it was just too long a line and it was several bodies wide.  It would have been long wait and I only had an hour so I had to pass up the opportunity. 

I also had to pass up the langar.  At one point, I walked pass the kitchen and I could smell the dal cooking.  It was enticing but no time to enjoy a communal meal.

Even without seeing the Guru Gobind Granth or enjoying the langar with other Sikhs, it was memorable visit as there were plenty of interesting things to see.

Between the crowds, taking photos and videos, and just soaking in the atmosphere, it took a bit longer than an hour to make it all the way around the pool.

I eventually made my way back to the car park and to Aman.  As we drove off, I reflected on the fact that as I walked through the Golden Temple,  I was pretty much the only non-Indian person in the crowd. Truly a shame because anyone who misses out on seeing the Golden Temple of Amritsar has missed out on seeing something very, very special.