Tuesday, 7 June 2016

One of the highlights of my internship in India was visiting Amritsar.

We got up at 3 AM on Wednesday to get to Dharamsala to get our bus at 5 AM. It’s about a 6 hour ride but on a government bus, which means its literally like rows of benches and super crowded. Amritsar itself is just a typical busy, dirty, dusty and underwhelming Indian city but it’s also home to the Golden Temple, the holiest site in Sikhism, the religion of most Punjabis. The Golden Temple is AMAZING and so beautiful, its like stepping into another world when you get inside the complex. You approach the complex and everything becomes marble and immaculately clean (weird) and you have to check your shoes and socks (they aren’t allowed inside the complex even inside a bag) and cover your head (men too) and then you walk through this shallow pool of water to wash your feet and then into the temple complex.

It’s full of people 24 hours a day but it’s also so peaceful and quiet, except the hushed sounds of lots of silent people milling around and praying and the gurus inside the temple singing/chanting prayers over this loudspeaker. I spent hours just sitting on the marble on the edge of the water (which is holy water and the men bathe in it in their underwear and the women can too but they have to go in this covered section). Then you can get into the line to go into the temple itself and you get inside and it’s so crazy and ornate (also warm, I cannot even imagine what it’s like in there in the summer) and when you get out of the temple they spoon a scoop of this stuff that looks kind of like dark brown oatmeal into your hand and it tastes like sugary whole wheat flour mush and you’re supposed to eat it and then rub the oil from it on your face. 

We stayed there for free, they have what are called “niwas” which are giant hostels essentially that are free for Golden Temple visitors. You just walk into this giant courtyard just next to the temple complex and if you’re foreign this really nice Sikh guy comes over and brings you to the “foreigners room” which is basically a small section of the niwas that is a bit more private. There’s one big room with a bunch of cots and then four or five smaller rooms off it that each have three cots in them, we stayed in one of the smaller rooms (challenging to get four people onto three cots). There’s a bathroom with a tap and sink and bucket to shower in the big room but then for the toilets you go out into the courtyard and there two-story toilet “halls” with the most toilet stalls I have ever seen in one place. The whole place is full of giant rooms with cots and there are so many people that at night the whole courtyard is full of people just sleeping on blankets on the ground

The most amazing part of all of this is the Langar (which just means food in Punjabi) hall. You enter through the temple complex and you walk through another foot pool and then you walk up and a guy hands you a plate and then another guy hands you a spoon and then another one a bowl and then you shuffle into this enormous room with really long thin mats lined up in rows and you sit down on the mat and then these guys come around with baskets of fresh chapati, buckets of dal (lentils) and subjee (Indian mixed vegetables) sometimes rice and then either something similar to what they give you when you leave the temple or like a sweet rice pudding type thing. It’s totally free, and you just eat as much as you want and then take the plate down and hand it to someone and they pass it along this assembly line to like 100 people who are doing dishes. And next to that there are 100 people cooking in these absolutely enormous vats. Apparently something like 40,000 pilgrims eat there a day. I loved it, the food was incredible - I ate every meal there.

The whole temple, niwas, langar experience was absolutely incredible, I loved it so much.

Part of Naddi's team in the Golden Temple

Kyla Korvne - USA
Women's empowerment Project Manager/ Centre Coordinator in Naddi

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