Monday, January 25, 2010

From Cold to Worse - Amritsar,Punjab

After a five hour train ride from Agra to Delhi, we reunited with Matt and prepared for the cold overnight twelve hour journey to Amritsar. Even though the windows were closed, we had blankets and I personally was wearing the following; a button up shirt, two long sleeve shirts, three tee shirts, a scarf, a toque and a hoodie - we froze. I believe the temperature was minus two degrees that night.

One by one we came out of our hypothermia and tried to regain some movement from cold muscles. When Matt went to retrieve something from his bag he saw to his horror that it had been stolen while we slept. If that was the worst thing we all would have been happy. The most unfavorable part of this deplorable action was the thief absconded with Matt's passport as well. Now the mood of the group has plummeted and plans have unfortunately changed.

Once off the train, Monique and I headed in to town and Jen and Matt booked the next train back to Delhi. From one ugly twelve hour train ride to another. Something I would only wish upon the thief. Now it was just Monique and I.

Amritsar is a cool city with the holiest of Sikh shrines, The Golden Temple, were tens of thousands visit everyday. To enter the grounds of the temple you must abide by three rules, check footwear, wash hands and feet, and keep head covered. Since it was freezing out, my toque didn't leave my head for days. Once inside there is a massive holy tank (Amrit Sarovar - pool of nectar) that dominates the area andis surrounded by a marble walkway with the actual temple in the middle. The temple is gilded with 750kg of gold! One cannot help but stare at it in a stunned state at first. Indians don't mess around when they build their monuments. Nothing subtle about em.

The temple is even more spectacular at night lit up with an equally bright refection in the water. Walking around you notice, stern but friendly guards holding grand spears patroling the compound ensuring that all obey the rules, traditional Punjabi music echoing throughout the complex at a unusually soothing level, and four priests constantly reading from the Guru Granth Sahib (their holy book) . All of this happens non-stop from 6AM to 10PM. Once in side the actual temple you realize the music is being played by musicians sitting next to the Guru Granth Sahib which is covered by a pink shroud. Pilgrims bow, pray and give offerings.

Two features of this complex stood out for me. First, the temple has doors on all four sides representing the acceptance of all people regardless of caste, creed or race. People would freely come up to me and talk to me about the temple and answer any questions I might have. This was different from other holy sites I'd been to. The other feature is the canteen in the complex. It serves free meals to anyone who walks in. The canteen distributes 40,000 meals a day in a massive show of generosity and logistics.

Since all are welcome and there is no charge (unlike the exorbitant Taj), I managed to enjoy the serenity of The Golden Temple five times. I didn't even realize how often I was going until Monique questioned me about it. I certainly enjoyed Amritsar. All the people we came in contact with were helpful and delightful.

"As every thread of gold is valuable, so is every moment of time."
John Mason

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