I'm in India. I feel tired to be honest. It's a good job I have the opportunity to rest for a few days. I rewind my memory, jolting to yesterday, riding to the Pakistan-India border, getting caught up with a load of super-rich Dutch classic car enthusiasts, sitting having a beer, contorting to film the border ceremony around hoards of people. Hindi is buzzing around the humid atmosphere of the internet cafe. Last night I cycled in the dark from the border to Amritsar, on the dark trunk road in the headlights of rickshaws and taxis, through chaotic, shop-lined streets, and eventually swept along in the crowd and traffic leading up the Golden Temple, where I am now staying.
Various people gave me directions to the temple, a middle-aged businessman on a motorbike, a turban wearing police-man, a young English-speaking student. I'm used to this process bouncing between clues and leads to my destination. I freewheeled then pushed my bike up to the entrance of the sleeping quarters next to the temple and was immediately ushered in by a man with an orange turban and long white beard, telling me to bring my bike. I wheeled it past reams of pilgrims and visitors beyond a door which read 'access only with permission'. I was in a room specially devoted to hosting tourists to stay at the temple.
I left my bike, took off my shoes, grabbed a buff to cover my head and allowed myself to be carried by the flow of people towards the temple. Places like this don't exist anywhere other than here. I wasn't shocked or stunned but most definitely hypnotized by the beauty, calmness and welcoming feeling of the place. Without thinking I ambled along with others. Most people are circling the temple I walked for while then sat and began to unwind and absorb this place.
The temple stands in the centre of the square body of water and is reached by a causeway. The light shimmers on the water. The air is a little hazy. There is a calm, relaxed atmosphere of people sitting, wandering, and praying. I sit for a while and watch little things happening like a little boy running past me to his father, a young man sitting facing the temple with a gentle smile across his face, groups of sari-enrobed ladies waddling past. There are windows with men sitting cross-legged for hours on end reading the Sikh holy book. I walk past feeling a little sorry for them but they look happy enough. I follow people onto the causeway towards the temple and hope I'm not doing anything out of the ordinary and standing out too much.
Inside there is a group of holy men playing instruments and reciting from the holy book in song. This is broadcast around the temple adding to the ambience. The music bubbles along and runs in and out of my consciousness. A group of colorful ladies are kneeling watching the men and many other visitors are surrounding the proceedings, praying, and shuffling around. The inside of the temple contains beautiful painted decorations and inlayed marblework. I stop for a second and run my finger across a decorative red flower against a white background. There are 2 floors, I climb the stairs staying with the steady stream of people. There is a mezzanine with a huge chandelier over the musicians below. People paying their respects and pray to the religious ornaments. It's a beautiful building, and I feel a harmony of interest and respect amongst the people. The praying always seems to baffle me a bit but I head on upstairs to the top floor. I guess it's a kind of submission.
There is an obviously important holy man with an extremely long beard and very large book being bowed to by a stream of worshippers. I stand and gaze down at the water then move back down and out of the temple. There are men dressed with a turban, sword hanging by the side, baggy trousers, tunic and long beard. It takes a while to sink in that this is the normal dress of these people. Their life is devoted to this philosophy. My first impressions are they are very interesting with wise, friendly and noble faces, a beautiful appearance.
Later I pluck up the hunger-fuelled courage to brave the clattering and intense chaos of the free restaurant. I walk in the entrance up marble steps and I'm handed a metal plate with 4 different sized indentations for different portions of food, a metal bowl (a bit like a dog's drinking bowl) and a spoon and I walk into the hall. Lines of people are sitting cross-legged and I'm shown to my place at the end of the row.
All kinds of people are here of all ages. I'm sitting next to an weathered, dark-skinned old man on one side, a student on the other and a line of school girls opposite me. The hall is full of bustling people. A man with a bucket of pea dhal comically dollops ladles full of slop into the large section of the utility-plates. I'm impressed with the efficiency and speed but thought they could try and spill less and pondered about the amount of dhal they must get between their toes walking in the dangerous slippy mess. Next there is a handful of sweet halva and I'm informed to hold out both hands to receive a couple of warm chapatis.
I chomp away scooping up the runny dhal and the halva. I'm impressed with the taste considering the scale on which they must make this stuff. Apparently they feed up to 40,000 pilgrims per day. My water bowl is filled, and I'm left very satisfied with this community eating experience and cross cultural and religious act of kindness and generosity. I returned to the sleeping quarters and shared a room with a English guy from Shropshire suffering from the curse of the India-belly and a Polish guy making a series of films about death. That's another story.
I just squashed a mosquito in the process of biting me and it's greedy supply of sucked bloody splurged a smear of blood across my palm. Is that my blood or a mixture of bloods? I flicked my hand to remove the flattened creature and it's squashed rear-end stuck grudgingly to the computer screen, causing a nasty mark. I then blew at the screen sharply to remove it, and eventually it made it's last flight out of sight.
What a bizarre existence. I've been taking so many photos and videos recently that I've got to that stage where I need a rest for a bit, but I'm always looking for compositions and pictures and I feel I've lost potential photos whilst I don't have my camera. However, the bonus is that when I feel like this it always drives me to take better photos when I can be bothered again. I'm off to amuse myself elsewhere. Goodbye. Pictures of the Golden Temple to follow, or just Google it.