Amritsar

Saturday 10 February 2018

My flight from Bangalore landed in Delhi at 12.30am and after a lot of faffing around collecting my bag and dropping it again, I made it to the lounge at about 2am.

My next flight is at 5am. I tried a bit of sleep and managed maybe near an hour, in about 10 minute bursts.

The plane started boarding at 4.10am – and a chance for some sleep!

I’ve never been North of Delhi before.

I’m very excited about Amritsar.

The plane left at 5am and was less than an hour. Landing at 5.50am. I slept the whole way.

The state of Punjab is home to the majority of India’s Sikh community. 57% of the population here are Sikh.

The taxi took around half an hour to drive into the centre of the city. It was quiet, as it was only after 6am. And we arrived just before 7am. Driving through one of the old city gates (there are 12).

Rather annoyingly after a night of no sleep, the hotel claimed to have no rooms available. Even though I offered to pay. Which is odd because people arriving after me were found rooms….

So I couldn’t sleep. Or shower.

Nothing else to do than wander around the city.

I’m staying in the middle of the old city.

It was still quiet. Newspapers being assembled on the sides of the street. And a sea of turbans and head coverings moving towards the golden temple.

The city is dotted with many gurdwaras (Sikh temples), with the most famous and holist being the Golden Temple.

I eventually found the way. It wasn’t quite where I was expecting it to be. There were supposed to be four entrances, but I couldn’t find them. And eventually ended up at the main entrance.

You had to leave your shoes at a shoe drop room (for free). Then walk along a marble floor to the entrance. They had just been washing the ground so it was wet and very slippery. So luckily there was a strip of carpet you could also walk along.

Your head must also be covered. I brought a scarf with me, but they were giving out free orange squares that you could tie around your head also.

Next you walk through a small puddle of water (to wash your feet). Then down some stairs into the main complex.

Here, is the golden temple, surrounded by a large pool of water. The ‘pool of nectar’, which was built in 1577. And a marble walk way surrounding the whole pool.

At one end, people were bathing in the waters. Separate areas for men and women. The water is considered sacred. Must have been pretty cold. As the air was only about 10 degrees. I was chilly just walking around.

One set of stairs lead away from the marble walkway and to the Guru-Ka-Langar. The temple kitchen.

Here, the kitchens cook free food for everyone. 70,000 people eat here every day. It is ran by volunteers. Anyone can come and volunteer their time – to cook, clean vegetables, make chapatti, wash dishes, or serve food. Or you can donate money.

People were sitting out the front, peeling onions and garlic. And to one side, a train of people washing dishes. One man offered to show me around. He didn’t want money. Nor was trying to con me. He was just being nice. A rarity anywhere in the world, so I was a bit apprehensive.

But he took me into the kitchens. Showed me the rice being cooked. The lentil dal cooking outside, on a wood fire. They cook for 6 hours! All in huge pots.

There is a machine churning out chapattis. But also a room of women, rolling them by hand.

If they don’t come out the exact right shape and size, they are discarded and fed to the cows.

It was really cool.

The golden temple itself is a blend of Hindu and Islamic architectural styles. It has flower and animal motifs in the style of pietra dura (which is the same seen on the Taj Mahal). The temple topped by a dome gilded with 750kg of gold.

The queue to go inside the temple was long. So I didn’t join it. Inside the main temple, priests and musicians keep up a continuous chant from the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book) thought out the day. This was being broadcast across the whole complex. This book is brought in every morning at 5am. Then at 9pm there is a closing ceremony to move it back into another area for the night.

I spent longer at the temple than I had intended. It was approaching 9am and I was supposed to be starting a walking tour at 9am in another part of town. So I headed over there. And luckily it was running late anyway – and it was only me!

We walked around the old parts of the city. Looking at old buildings – intricately carved in wood and brick. Balcony’s hanging over the streets. Paintings on the walls. And passageways leading between houses, above the street.

We stopped at a couple of street food vendors. Jalebi (a sweet). And some chole (chickpea curry with a fried puff) and a semolina and jaggery sweet. Small eateries are popular here – known as Dhabas.

The streets were a maze. One market leading into another. An area of tea, books, wedding bracelets, vegetables, pasta, popadoms, chutney, metal works – making everything from mini snake statues (and rings!) to the tops of temples. And dotted randomly between were various temples.

Many small stalls were selling the 5 items which are important for Sikhs. A metal bracelet, a wooden comb, simple underwear, a sword.

Every corner offered something different. Really cool.

The walking tour ended at the Jallianwala Bagh. This area is a courtyard now a garden, with some monuments being preserved. You enter through a small passageway. In 1919, after many protests, a British officer ordered his soldiers to shoot on unarmed protesters. They were trapped in an area with high walls and nowhere to escape. Over 1,500 Indians were killed here. Over 200 bodies were found in a well here – which is still in place. And bullet holes can be seen on parts of walls which have been kept and marked.

It was now about 12pm. I popped into Mac Donald’s to use the bathroom – it was a vegetarian only one! I didn’t eat anything, but should have done, just to see!

I headed back to the golden temple. Now in full daylight. And a lot more people. It was so crowded in some areas you couldn’t move.

I headed back to the Langar. I wasn’t going to eat here, but decided that whilst I was here, I would try it. I made a donation at the donation stand.

At the doorway, a series of men are handing out plates, a small bowl and a spoon.

Then you head to whichever dining hall is open. There are several – on the various floors of the building. We were moved to the first floor. But the hall was full. So we had to wait outside.

We were waiting about 15 minutes. The queue behind was huge. It must have been back out onto the street.

When we were allowed in, it was a scramble. Everyone making their way to the rows of carpet laid out on the floor. You sit on the floor and the men come around with containers of food, dishing out to everyone.

You get chapatti, lentils and a vegetable curry. There was also rice, soaked in milk, but I didn’t get that. The food was really tasty.

Another man comes around, with a machine, pouring water into the small bowls. It’s purified water so was apparently fine to drink.

When you are finished, you head back downstairs and hand your plate, bowl and spoon to more men. Then the chain of washing begins. Well organised system.

I wandered back around the temple area. The queue for the inner temple was now even bigger than before. A massive sea of people before even reaching the queue. So no way I was joining that.

So I went back to the hotel at about 1.30pm to check into my room.

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