Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Burness Corner: The Golden Temple

The latest in the series of snippets from the blog of my erstwhile travelling companion, Burness, as well as a short interview, on his views on a World Wonder. This time: the Golden Temple


Burness's Blog

Our train to Amritsar was delayed and we didn’t arrive until about 2am. The purpose of our visit was to check out another one of Nev’s wonders, the Golden Temple. The Golden Temple is the holiest place for Sikhs in the world, it’s like the Mecca for Sikhs. We initially planned to stay at the Golden Temple, you can stay there for free, we thought this would be a good way to immerse ourselves in the wonder.

After trekking for a while trying to find the free beds we stumbled upon a building with a massive room full of over a hundred bodies sleeping on the floor on makeshift mattresses. There were some Sikh guys in charge of the sleeping arrangements, who greeted us and ushered us away to a small room for westerners. This room was even worse, it was tiny, packed with double beds and had super bright strip lighting which seemed to be permanently switched on. After suffering from severe lack of sleep over the last few days and extreme fatigue I just couldn’t handle it, and I could see not even Nev was keen. We managed to check into a guesthouse nearby and finally got some decent rest.
Nev left early in the morning, he was, as he always when he’s close to visiting a wonder, very excited. It’s funny to see him sometimes when he’s on the verge of visiting one for the first time, he seems agitated and can’t sit still, and he starts speaking at about a million miles per hour which can make it difficult for any locals he tries to communicate with. I awoke with the weirdest sensation, I didn’t know where I was, it felt like I was at a nightclub, with disco lights but no music. When I finally opened my eyes, I saw Nev sitting on his bed gazing proudly at his newest model, a Golden Temple complete with flashing, multi-coloured, LEDs.
For the first time in days I felt well rested and nearly back to normal. And I was very hungry. One great thing about the Golden Temple is that you get free food, 24 hours a day. We thought we’d combine my first visit with lunch. Before entering the temple you have to leave your shoes behind at a booth at the entrance, and you also have to cover your head. It was wet, and cold, and walking about barefoot in the muddy, chilly rain water wasn’t very pleasant.

After a quick tour round we went to the food hall. It’s quite an impressive sight watching the preparation of the food. It’s like a factory process, one group of people peels peas, while another group chops garlic, while another group peels potatoes etc. When we got in line, one person handed us a metal Thali style plate, the next person gave us metal bowl, and the final person gave us a spoon. We were then ushered into a room where everybody sat in a line on the floor, with up to a couple of hundred being able to be fed at the same time. When we sat down the Sikh volunteers started dishing out the food. They marched up and down the lines at a fair pace with buckets of Dal, veg curry, rice, chapattis and tasty rice pudding stuff. They then gave us a dollop of our requested food as they speedily walked passed. The food was great!

When we left the food hall we gave our plates and bowls to another line of Sikh volunteers, one would empty the contents by hitting the plates of the side of a bin, then he would pass them onto another guy who would separate the plates from the bowls and chuck them into separate bins ready for washing. The washing detail was something else, there were lines of people standing at sinks, making an almighty racket, bashing and clanging the metal plates as they worked. Speed is paramount when you are trying to feed the masses, and watching the carefully coordinated operation of food preparation, serving and cleaning was a sight to see.

Our time in Amritsar was dominated with visits to the Golden Temple, partly because we didn’t eat anywhere else during our time there.

The Golden Temple is impressive, it glitters in the sunshine and is dazzlingly bright. The surroundings add to the splendour, with the temple situated right in the middle of a lake with a small footbridge. The main complex is a brilliantly white building with four minaret looking towers on each corner. The only thing counting against the Golden Temple as a candidate for a world wonder is that it’s pretty small. It is unique and iconic, has a great history, with lots of gory battles being fought by the Sikhs who have been persecuted for hundreds of years. But it just isn’t big enough to really stand out.

The experience was great though, and fairly emotional. They have loudspeakers perfectly placed throughout the temple complex, where you can hear pleasing music whilst walking around the lake and the near vicinity. I thought it was a tape recording until I walked across the footbridge and into the Golden Temple for the first time. I was surprised to find a group of Sikhs performing in the middle of the temple, playing sitars, weird Indian type accordions and singing.

If you hadn’t already guessed, I was a big fan of the free food. Not just because it was tasty, but I liked the concept that if anybody is hungry, no matter who they are, they would be fed. It reminded me the of the hippy ideals during the summer of love in San Francisco. But at the Golden Temple they’ve been doing this for hundreds of years, with some prominent and wealthy Sikhs volunteering in the food preparation. I also liked the fact that they provided accommodation. If our train wasn’t so late, and I wasn’t so shattered when I arrived, I would have liked to have slept in the main room with the hundred or so other people. The concept of the free accommodation for Sikhs is really about equality. Everybody is the same and everybody on a pilgrimage to the Golden Temple should sleep in the same room, both rich and poor sharing the same floor space. I like this ideal, but I also like having some privacy and a hot shower. So if I did take advantage of the free accommodation I probably would have only stayed there for one night.


Interview

Had you heard of the Golden Temple before travelling?

Yes. I'd planned to go there during my fist visit in India and was disappointed I couldn't squeeze it in.

What were your expectations?

High. My big brother raved about it and I'd seen photos and it looked pretty awesome.

What was your first impression?

I really liked it. It was glittering gold and there were a lot of pilgrims, it looked very spiritual, and great food.

What did you like most about the Golden Temple?

Free food. The food was amazing, and.I liked the whole feeding the masses... if anyone's hungry they can get food for free, it doesn't matter who they are, everybody is treated he same. And the food was surprisingly good. Everyone was very friendly in the temple, and i thought the whole factory process of peeling vegetables, preparing food, serving it, and washing dishes, was an impressive sight to see. All the volunteers going out their way to feed the hungry was restored my faith in humanity... well, that's a bit too strong, but you now what I mean. In terms of the actual building, I liked the history, there were lots of gory battles to make the story interesting, and the whole spiritual atmosphere, very peaceful. Looks pretty cool too.

What didn't you like about the Golden Temple?

Having to walk barefoot in the freezing cold wasn't much fun, especially after it was raining. But that's the only minor thing I didn't like about it. The whole experience was fantastic. As far as the building... it's a bit small.

Would you regard the Golden Temple as a World Wonder?

Basically with the above point, its just a bit small for me. It's not big enough, and it’s just not improbable enough, the building doesn’t have that wow factor basically.

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