Just a few months ago, my wife and I embarked on trip to Amritsar with the main purpose of visiting and spending some time in the very revered Harmandir Sahib or the Golden Temple as it is more popularly known as. We had been on a very rushed trip once before, but this one was meant to be a better planned and more relaxed trip. While the primary purpose of the trip was to visit the holy site, we were pleasantly surprised by the few sidelights, albeit significant ones that we experienced.
Connections from Delhi to Amritsar is of course plentiful and easy. Flights from Mumbai too are direct and convenient. There are train connections too. We chose to fly from Mumbai as we got reasonably priced tickets.
We landed in Amritsar mid-morning and were in our Hotel in less than half an hour. We had chosen to stay at a hotel close to the Golden Temple Complex. As it turned out, it was just a 15-minute walk away from our hotel. There is a wide variety of accommodation available in the vicinity of the temple complex catering to differing requirements and budgets. And with our experience I would strongly suggest that you find accommodation close to the Golden Temple.
From the entrance onwards, the temple complex is a pleasant experience. Maybe about half a kilometre from the gate to the main temple. Well paved footpaths, wide and free of encroachments makes it easy for everyone to make their way at their own pace to the temple. As you get closer to the temple it becomes a no vehicle zone, making it even more convenient. Most of the walkway is lined with shops selling ready to eat food items, clothing, footwear, masalas and of course varieties of wadis & papads.
As we approach the temple precinct, there is a certain spirituality that seems to envelope us. People are quieter, seem quite reverential and are moving about rather sedately. Once you wet your feet as a sort of purification and start descending into the temple compound, one is hit with the view of the Gold encased inner sanctum. It’s a very overwhelming sight, especially as the fading sunlight from the setting sun bounces off the golden hues, even as the lights get turned on for the evening in the temple
The inner sanctum is enclosed by the holy tank with a wide walkway surrounding it. The compound wall is really a structure of covered spaces which are used as restrooms, offices etc. We had entered the temple in the early evening and walkway was cool to the touch. Can imagine how hot it must be when the sun is blazing down on it during the summers. Of course, on those days the sevadars and kaar sevaks (volunteers) roll out mats to make it easier for the seekers to walk to the inner sanctum. All around the temple there are volunteers and staff who are trying their best to be helpful. Gentle and kind mostly, though they do need to be firm at times.
We are finally in the queue to enter the sanctum sanctorum. There is an eager sense of anticipation in us. All of us waiting to get in are calm, but one can sense a certain impatience to be inside. As we make our way inside, the sense of impatience gives way to a sense of peace. Of mind and body. The head priest is seated there gently swishing the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs. To the accompaniment of kirtans (recitation of holy verses) being played live. It’s very uplifting and fulfilling at the same time. Our time inside is brief as more devotees start moving in, but fulfilling nevertheless.
Outside the sanctum sanctorum, we slowly walk around on the walkway again. This time taking in the sights and stories that are available around the parikrama. Many of us will surely remember Operation Bluestar and there is evidence of all the actions and reactions that must have happened on those fateful days. We also make our way to the langar, the free food that is available almost the entire day to whoever wishes to partake. It’s a simple fare of rotis, vegetables, dal and some kheer prepared by volunteers (with some help from an automated roti maker that churns out 20000 rotis per hour to cope with the large numbers of rotis that are consumed daily). 50,000 devotees eat at the langar on a daily basis and these numbers may go up to 100,000 on special days. Volunteers take care of the cleaning and washing too. It was a wonderful experience to see the serving and clearing happening in a seamless manner
We finally leave the temple with a promise to ourselves that we will be back… God willing. On the way back to our Hotel we do a little bit of shopping – wadis, papads and masalas. And grab something to eat – awesome samosas and kachoris. The big highlight in the temple complex is a sombre visit to Jallianwala Baghâ€¦now a memorial to all the lives lost needlessly. A 100 years ago almost to a day.
The other very interesting visit for us was to the Partition Museum located at the edge of the Temple complex. It was a very revealing and insightful visit for us. There is so much about the Partition that is just glossed over in our school history books. The exhibits there helped us understand a lot more about the process and impact of Partition. Again a very sobering experience it was.
How could I close this piece without giving the Kulchas of Amritsar their due? We enjoyed some awesome Kulcha varieties served with some delicious chole. Nothing like anything we had eaten before or elsewhere. Good, consistent quality Kulchas are available across the city and the locals claim that it’s the water in Amritsar that makes the difference. And that nothing you can do outside the city can deliver the same quality and taste. One more reason to come back to Amritsar for sure!!!