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The Golden Temple and Amritsar

Lindsay Houts Modified: October 24, 2013 at 9:20 am •  Published: February 14, 2013

We’re leaving Moga today for Shri Ganganagar, where we think we’re staying in a hotel. It’s comical how little we actually know about our schedule. We went to the Golden Temple yesterday, and it was beautiful. I took about 300 photos. Here’s a few of them!

Until a few months ago, I had never heard of the Golden Temple (or Harimandir Sahib, its official name). Now I’ve stood in the water that surrounds it.

The Golden Temple, so named for its gold covering, has more than 100,000 visitors every day — more than even the Taj Mahal. It’s the most important and holy temple of the Sikh faith, and Sikhs come from all over India (and the world) to visit it.

All creeds, races, and sexes are welcome to worship here. The Sikhs (usually easy to identify male members because they typically wear a turban) welcome all, and this was especially evident for us because the Rotarians who escorted us to Amritsar were all Hindus.

If you’ve never been to a Sikh temple, here’s what you can expect:

  • Shoes and socks are removed and left at a coat check-like counter. Except it’s not a coat check, it’s a shoe check. Some temples charge for this service (a few rupees), but the Golden Temple does not. Your feet will be pretty grimy when you’re through. The locals may judge, but I’ve taken a wet wipe to my feet after every temple.
  • Hands are washed after removing shoes, and feet are washed by walking through a water basin as you enter the temple. Make sure to roll those pant legs up.
  • Everyone, regardless of gender, must cover their head as a sign of respect. A simple handkerchief or cloth will do, but a baseball hat wouldn’t be acceptable.

In the U.S., when we think of India and places tourists visit, the Taj Mahal comes immediately to mind. Very few Indian have asked us if we’ve visited the Taj, and many who we’ve met have never been themselves. What people have asked us every day for the last 17 days is if we were going to see the Golden Temple.

The line to enter the temple is long. Not waiting-for-a-table-at-Eischen’s-on-a-Saturday-night long, but three or four hours long. We lucked out, though, and our hosts were able to move us to a VIP entrance and bypass the wait. As we walked past hundreds of people standing still, waiting, waiting, we listened as they chanted along with the prayers that were escaping from the temple.

Cameras aren’t allowed on the bridge or in the temple itself, so I can’t show you the amazing detail of the gold, marble, and precious stones. We stood around the outside of the temple, waiting as the prayers ended, and tried to take in as much as we could.

I walked the perimeter of the Koi-filled water (the Sarovar), watching as people bathed themselves and their children. Sikhs believe that the water is holy, and washing in it purifies them. We were told that anyone could wash in the water, though I only saw men undressed to their underwear. I stepped into the water (I had my shoes off already, so it seemed like the next natural step) and my main takeaway was that it was absolutely freezing cold.

We had lunch at the temple with hundreds of other visitors. Every Sikh temple serves simple meals to anyone who wishes to eat.

It’s a fine-tuned operation. First plate, then spoon, then bowl. You walk into the hall and sit on the floor, the idea being that all persons are equal, all seated at the same level, and all eating the same food.

The rice pudding was killer. In a good way.
The rice pudding was killer. In a good way.

The rice pudding was killer. In a good way.

Here are some more of my favorites from the day:

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