Saturday, February 09, 2008


After a couple days of Delhi, we had to get out! We headed north to Amritsar (our original destination after Pushkar) - home to the Sikh's holiest shrine, the Golden Temple. It is truly beautiful - simple, but ornate and somehow not gaudy (despite a lot of gold). It sits in a pool of water (err... nectar of immortality), surrounded by white marble buildings. To enter the complex, you have to remove your socks and shoes, and wash your feet. The marble floor is very cold! You must also cover your head.

People of all faiths are allowed to enter the temple (unlike many Hindu temples), so we crossed the bridge to have a look inside - more gold! With music filling the air, standing in line with hundreds of pilgrims was a really "spiritual" experience.

The real highlight for us though, was the meal in the community kitchen. Everyday, thousands of people visit the temple for a free meal of dal (lentils) and chapati (bread). Volunteers prepare the food, serve it and do the dishes. The idea is that everyone sits side-by-side, regardless of caste, religion, gender or race. It was another amazing experience.

Amritsar is also very close to the only entry-point to Pakistan. The nightly flag-lowering ceremony is somewhat of a spectacle and attracts hundreds of tourists (mostly locals). While the guards on both sides of the border march about (like John Cleese at the Ministry of Silly Walks), the crowds cheer and chant patriotic slogans. As the gates slam shut, everyone rushes in for a photo. It seemed more like a sporting event than an official ceremony.

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