Arriving at the Golden Temple in Amritsar immediately felt different from the rest of India.
A few of the main focuses of the Sikh religion are equality among all humans, generosity, selfless service, cleanliness, facial hair, devotion, and connection to God. This was immediately apparent with the marble tiles that made up the streets surrounding the temple and the lack of garbage littering them. The people were all extremely kind and interested in us, many just interested in interacting with us, while MANY wanted selfies. Also, I don’t think we saw a single man with a turban that didn’t have a beard.
Then there was the Golden Temple itself, which is completely breathtaking all on its own. Beautifully unreal architecture surrounded us and the sacred water of the pond surrounded the 750 kg of pure gold that made up the Golden Temple that has been standing, in all its glory, since 1577. The entire temple area is sacred and we were able to sense this beyond what just our eyes were telling us. Just standing there in the temple you could feel it within yourself. My soul was telling me how special this place was.
Part of what added to the magic was the way the entirety of the Golden Temple functioned. It provides free food and housing to anyone and everyone 24/7 365 days of the year. Thousands of people are served every day and it’s all done by volunteers. We all thoroughly enjoyed the chaos of moving with the mob of people into the dining area. Then sitting on the ground with rows and rows of people while being served food that was always delicious (especially the rice pudding!). A few of us got the opportunity to serve food to the people while others got the opportunity to make it. A few of us also got to see the pots that are used for the cooking, which are as big as hot tubs.
Washing dishes was another aspect we all really enjoyed. Being squished into the line of other dishwashers while not being able to hear anything above the clanking of hundreds of metal plates, bowls, and spoons, was exhilarating while also calming. You’re washing dishes as fast as you can, getting soaked in the process, but you are also in a somewhat meditative state as the repetitive task continues. You make friends in the process, despite your complete inability to speak Punjabi, the local language, and you’re also surrounded by every possible color of sari and turban (the explosion of colors always adds to the indescribable atmosphere in India).
We were also lucky enough to arrive on the huge holiday of the birthday of the first Guru in Sikhism. Thousands of people travel to the Golden Temple for this day. Celebration filled the air, decorations filled the streets, and fireworks filled the night. I was very grateful for this beautiful chaos.
We also got to see the Indian-Pakistan border closing ceremony in Wagah. There was lots of chanting, high kicks, mohawk-like hats, and country pride. With both sides doing things in synchronicity, it almost looked like a strange dance. We saw a very interesting side to the very complicated relationship between the two countries, with all the rivalry, we also witnessed a brotherhood.
All in all, although our stay at the Golden Temple was shorter than we would have liked, we greatly enjoyed the time we got to spend there. We found a great appreciation for the Sikh religion and all the values it holds, we saw true and powerful selfless service, a few of us got to take a holy dip in the waters of the temple, all of us got to take in the beautiful and dazzling sights of the temple as well as feel the sacredness intertwined there, and we were all grateful for the extreme friendliness and generosity of the Punjabi people. Our visit to the Golden Temple was filled with more magic than we could have imagined.