The Golden Temple in Amritsar is a very special, spiritual place. Even just for a day-time visit, it is really moving. We also went for the night-time meal and that was an incredible experience.
Before entering the temple, you must leave your shoes at the guard station. Then you clean your feet in the small flowing moat on the way in. You have to take a bandanna to cover your head too. Then you go up some steps and come down into the temple. The lake around the golden temple makes it look like it is on an island—an oasis of calm, spiritual energy. Walking around in the temple is great for people-watching. There is a very interesting group of people, many all in white with bulbous turbans and long wavy beards. One woman asked me to hold her baby which had just vomited. Many people wanted photos with us exotic foreigners. When we were there, there was also a man cleaning the water from a boat in the lake, but he was in the lake. What an interesting holy duty.
We waited our turn in the line going over the small bridge into the main temple hall. The paintings and decorations inside are fantastic. There are many people huddled in small groups praying and soaking up the spiritual energy. There were multiple stories in the temple and the second story was a sort of large indoor balcony looking down on the first floor. I seem to remember a magenta color and lots of gold, but photography isn’t allowed so I can’t share the scene too well with you. I also visited the small third floor, which felt like a more intimate sacred space. I stopped to talk to one group that welcomed me but was quickly reminded by another group that I was facing the wrong way- you can’t turn your back or your feet to the altar. After a short chat, I hurried along. I knew my group would be waiting for me outside. Sure enough, I was the last one to return.
Later in the evening, when we were given free time for dinner, others hurried to Subway and I grabbed my two closest friends and said we were going back to the temple for our dinner. They didn’t object. We turned our shoes in again, donned our bandannas, and went back in the main gate. To the left, there is a neon green sign above the kitchen. We headed as straight for it as you can when everyone wants a photo with a member your group. We washed our hands then sat to have tea. We think actually the tea might be the last part, but we enjoyed the sweet warm spiced drink first. Then we went to the main aisle-way leading into the building and each too a partitioned metal tray. We were motioned to go upstairs and pointed to a seat. There were rows and rows of seating. Hundreds of people were already inside. Men walked around with buckets of food and big ladles. Each dish of the meal came with a different man. They stopped before each pilgrim and scooped a generous portion into a divet on their tray. We ate in silence as the guide book told us we must, but smiled warmly at the other pilgrims dining and eagerly taking us in. The ladlers came around for seconds and seemed disappointed if you declined. From there, we followed the crowd with our dishes. We added them to MASSIVE tins of dishes. The dish-bowls might have been as wide as I am tall. They were truly huge.
We followed the direction that the dishes were going into the dishwashing area. We rolled up our sleeves and took a place on the line to help. It was really impressive to watch the men bring in the massive amounts of platters and bowls. It looked incredibly heavy. They would dump the contents into the massive basin full of water and surrounded on both sides by pilgrims with sponges at the ready. We plunged into the dish water too and helped with the cleaning. It was a nice way to say thank you for our meal. As we left later, I saw our dishes were passed to another crew. There were lots of different stations in the dish-washing area. Everyone was happily scrubbing away.
We walked around the rest of the lake rather than going straight back to the entrance/exit. Lots of people wanted photos with us and we obliged and chatted. We saw the sleeping quarters too- open to travelers. We admired the beautiful temple again. It glittered in the dark. There were fireworks on the far side of the temple too. It was a very humbling spiritual experience. Something about the temple just radiates positive sacred energy. It was definitely something I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to experience.