Amritsar has changed since I was last there. It has been updated, modernized. There is now 4 storey car park and a huge open air mall which spans 2 of the main connecting streets leading up to the Golden Temple. The shops are secluded by a light brown and maroon façade, the names of the shops painted in the same text and there is not a neon-in-your face light to be found.
Of course, you don’t need all the glitz and glamour. The Golden Temple is it….all rolled into one. From the moment you wash your feet in the foot bath, there is a transformation and you are hooked. The balmy evening, the marble, the vast amount of people, to sounds of the music rising from the actual temple. It is luring and enticing.
After taking the initial photos, we began to stroll watching the devotees praying, and dipping themselves in the water to enhance their spiritual experience. My companion from Australia thought we should also have the complete experience by eating at the temple. At first I was reluctant initially thinking it was for ‘poor people’ and didn’t want to take their food. How wrong was I? As soon as were within cooee of a line we were handed a plate, bowl and spoon and ushered along upstairs. There was no return. We entered this big hall which had sitting mats in a long line and was told to sit down. The place was full; people all sitting cross legged on the floor eating. There are two dining halls, upstairs and downstairs with a combined seating a capacity of 5,000 people.
A man with a bucket full of Dahl, walking up and down the aisles put a large ladle full on our plates, next came a man with the Rotis (Indian flat bread) and handed one or two to us, then came vegetables (it was a turmeric colour with a bit of potato) followed by the piece de resistance, kheer (a sweet rice in milk). I was fascinated to learn that the largest Roti (flat bread) making machine can churn out 25,000 rotis an hour.
Water was bought along in big vats on wheels, had bike handles and a brake system when pull opened a value poured water into your very own bowl. Ingenuous really, no hard work needed, just someone to walk up and down working a brake like system. Whilst I’m not a lover of India food, it tasted good and my friend said it was the best he had tasted since he came to India.
After finishing our meal, we were then directed down to where we put our plates, which we handed to the plate scrapping area which in turn is then taken to the plate washing area. This was about 10 rows of men, women and children with their hands dipped in soapy water washing the vast amount of plates. The plates are washed 5 times before being used again. All the Volunteers were happy, it looked as though it was also a spiritual experience, all service to the greater good…..I thought in a land of divisions and castes, and this was one place where this had been laid aside.
Next stop was the kitchen. Giant vats full of food were standing, attendants dipping buckets and filling them then hurrying off to the serve straight to the plates. This is a kitchen that can feed up to 100,000 people per day. The sheer scale of this operation which is all run by devoted volunteers prepare and serve the food every single day of the week and as I saw it with love and devotion. It is the largest free kitchen (or known as the langar) in the world.
I also discovered that ever since Guru Nanak who was the first guru of the Sikh people started the tradition in 1481 and still serves free food to (mainly on Sundays) in Gurudwaras throughout the world. The Golden Temple being the most holiest of all Gurudwaras serves daily.
Eating at the Golden Temple was a highlight; I saw selflessness at its best, the hearts and souls of the devotees who came to volunteer and help and did it with such pleasure. What a remarkable and amazing place, I for one was completely blown away by the whole experience. Something so simple as eating a meal but once you know the story behind can change your perspective of a place forever. In this case the Golden Temple will always hold a special place in my heart, heat or no heat.
Sharon Thrupp and Ray Baker from Back Track Adventures travelled to Amritsar courtesy of Ekno Travels www.eknotravels.com.au #eknotravels