Based on the fast food shops in this part of the city, we realized that we would soon enter a new world. McDonald's, Subway and Pizza Hut have branches selling only vegetarian food. With a bit of luck, you can move on your way to the temple. We walked several times to the Golden Temple. And on a Saturday evening at 6 o'clock we could watch the fireworks during Diwali. You can only enter barefoot inside!
We walk on and familiarize ourselves with the rules that everyone in the temple must follow. Shoes and socks are not allowed in the temple. There are several places where you can leave your shoes for free. Feet and hands must be also washed before entry. There are sinks and a foot basin in front of the entrance. Inside, the head must remain covered. You can buy headscarves from some retailers for 10 rupees, or you can borrow one for free at the entrance. This is then already worn.
The consumption of tobacco and alcohol is also prohibited in the temple complex. Before you enter the temple, it is best to stow your backpack in a luggage room (left in front of the main entrance). Once we had passed the main entrance, I was pretty startled. Although I have seen the image of the temple several times before, the sight fascinated me.
The Golden Temple is in the middle of a rectangular pool, called the Amrit Sarovar (Nectar Lake). From this lake derives the city name of Amritsar. The water of the nectar lake is also considered sacred to the Sikhs. It is why many pilgrims clean the water. The golden light of the temple reflects in the water. The Amrit Sarovar is also surrounded by a broad path on which the pilgrims walk in a clockwise direction. On the outside, there is a palace complex.
The Golden Temple in the middle of the Amrit Sarovar is the center of Sikhism. It is actually called Harmandir Sahib (also Hari Mandir). Sikhi is a philosophy that addresses all people and preaches the unity of everything. Everything is one because everything came from one source, the creator.
Sikhism started with Guru Nanak Devji, born in 1469. His parents were Hindus, but from the beginning, he rejected the rituals of Hinduism. He always spoke only of the one creator and his love for it. Sikhism preaches that all people carry the same light from a Creator. It rejects the caste system altogether. The four entrances to the Golden Temple welcome people from everywhere. The background, caste, wealth, gender, religion, does not matter.
The dissolution of the castes is also symbolized by the fact that all men have the same surname of Singh. All women have the surname Kaur (princess). These got introduced by the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. The present guru of the Sikhs is the eternal guru in the form of the Shabd. It is also represented by the Granth. The Guru is thus called Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
The second time we rounded the Golden Temple, we went to the forecourt to relax a bit. Shortly thereafter, an old Sikh spoke to us. Finally, he invited us to a tour of the temple. Right at the beginning, he told us that all are same here regardless of age, nationality or religion. Who visits the temple together, gets treated like a brother or a sister.
First, he showed us a cooking place, where on a huge pot of vegetables get cooked on a fireplace. It can serve 2,000 people. Immediately afterward, we went to the dining hall. Here hundreds of pilgrims got served for free. Not only is the food free. The Sikhs offer free shuttle service between the temple and the train station. You can stay for free in the guesthouse. You do not have to pay anything to access any of the buildings including the Sikh Museum. That's what I call true hospitality!
After the dining room, we get to the roof. From here we could admire the temple complex from above. Besides, the proud Sikh told us about his culture and the history of the temple. Unfortunately, it was not always easy to follow the explanations. Still, we could take a lot.
After leaving the roof, we go to the places where the Chapati got prepared. There were two machines at one corner, each baking 5,000 chapattis an hour. On another side of the hall, several groups sat and made the bread by hand. We were also allowed to try it here, to roll out the chapatti dough.
In a neighboring room, we saw more gigantic cooking pots. Next, we see how people wash the cutlery and the thousands of plates. In a human chain the aluminum dishes get brought to the first cleaning station. From here, the plates go through the following process:
Throwing the leftovers into a large bucket. Plates get thrown backward, where the next Sikhs collect the plates in a huge container. Once the containers are full, the dishes get carried to a "car wash". Here there are several launderettes. Hundreds of pilgrims stand by these launderettes, washing the dishes. The dishes get carried from one wash to the next, so each plate gets cleaned several times. Towards the end, the dishes are getting cleaner and then it gets stacked.
We have already noticed that no employees do the work. But that the pilgrims themselves clean their plates. We also stood by the washbasins and washed the dishes. This did not affect my fascination for this parallel world. Every day about 80,000 people got fed for free, which works by pulling everyone together. Everyone helps with cutting vegetables, baking bread or washing dishes. This gave me a sense of community as if I was part of a huge family.
We come out to the Amrit Sarovar. The temple fills up more and more and more. Often we get interrupted by young pilgrims who wanted to take a picture with us. But that was not a problem for us. It was a lot of fun to chat with the Sikhs who explain the significance of the sanctuaries. The openness of the Sikhs is overwhelming.
We visit the Akal Takht (the seat of the temple administration). There we drink a glass of mango shake for refreshment. After the tour, we ate dinner and finally looked for a place to sleep. We walked along the Amrit Sarovar. Many pilgrims had already pitched their camp on the way. We found a small square on a pillar and lay down on the marble floor.
We had brought a sleeping bag so we could lie a little bit softer. So nobody stole anything, our backpack served as a pillow. Everywhere in the temple are warnings of pickpockets in the temple complex. If you also want to sleep right in the temple, you should secure your valuables as well as possible.
The night was relaxing. The floor is comfortable and we get awakened at 2:30 am because the temple is being cleaned. We found a new corner to sleep in. But at 4:45 am a security guard woke us up by beating the ground with his spear in front of our heads. Even if we were ready that was worth it. Even at night, the temple has a magical aura and we would not have seen it if we had stayed elsewhere. Around the clock, life in the Golden Temple is ticking. Even the kitchen is open 24 hours a day.
Only the Golden Temple on Amrit Sarovar gets closed for a few hours at night. Most travel guides say the temple remains closed from 10:00 pm to 04:00 in the morning. Since we tried to sleep, we do not know the opening times exactly. The mood in the evening and early in the morning was something I did not know until then and still can not put into words. In any case, I can only recommend everyone to spend the night in the Golden Temple.
Alternatives to the night in the temple
Our favorite for an overnight stay in Amritsar was to sleep right in the temple. If you do not want that, then, of course, there are two more convenient options:
Overnight at the guesthouse:
The temple administration has a guesthouse, where visitors can spend up to 3 days free of charge. There are private rooms and dormitories. The requirements you have to meet are low with no tobacco, no alcohol, or no sex. If you want to take advantage of the hospitality of the Sikhs, follow these simple conditions. After all, you will spend the night in sacred territory. If you do not want this, then please take the next option. There are accommodations located on the side of Bathing Ghats. A donation is also requested here.
Accommodations next to the Temple Complex:
On your way, to the temple, you will get approached by locals who want to sell you a room. Prices start at 350 rupees for a double room. Whatever accommodation option you choose, get up early before sunrise. From 5 o'clock you should be in the temple. The atmosphere is exciting even if you saw the sunset from the temple the night before.
Inside the Golden Temple of Amritsar
When I talked about the Golden Temple, I meant the whole building complex. In fact, the Golden Temple is only the building on the Amrit Sarovar, which is accessible via the bridge. We did not look at the sanctuary until the morning because we thought we would not have to queue that long. But there we were completely wrong. The queue in front of the Golden Temple is always long. We had to wait about two hours to get inside.
Inside, verses from the Adi Granth, the sacred book of the Sikhs, get recited throughout the day. The vocals are also accompanied by musicians. The whole thing gets transmitted in the entire building complex. Now we could watch the ceremony live. But, the scramble was huge. I have to say that visiting the interior was the highlight for me. It was interesting how the priests leafed through the huge pages of the Holy Book.
When someone first told us that everyone in the temple is like a family, I thought that was an empty phrase. But meanwhile I realized how serious that was and feel very connected to the Sikhs. The Sikhs have shown me how open-minded you can be to strangers. I am grateful to them for this unforgettable time.