I’m in India and I feel tired to be honest. It’s a good job that I have the opportunity to rest for a few days. Yesterday, riding to the Pakistan-India border I got delayed by load of super-rich looking Dutch classic car enthusiasts. After finally crossing I sat at a small kiosk and had a beer whilst waiting for the famous border ceremony to start.
Hindi is buzzing around the humid atmosphere of this internet cafe. Last night I cycled from the border to Amritsar in the dark in the chaotic headlights of rickshaws and taxis, along 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. There was a middle-aged businessman on a motorbike, a turban wearing police-man and a young English-speaking student. I’m used to this process now catching clues and signs that lead me to my next destination.
I freewheeled and then pushed my bike up to the entrance to the sleeping quarters at the temple. However, I was immediately ushered elsewhere by an orange-turban-wearing man with a long white beard who told me to bring my bike and go with him.
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 (stretchy multi-purpose headwear) to cover my head (as was the rule) and allowed myself to be carried by the flow of people towards the temple.
I cannot believe that there are other places in the world that are like this one. I wasn’t shocked or stunned but I was most definitely hypnotised by the beauty, calmness and welcoming feeling of the place. Without thinking, I ambled along with others. Most people were circling the temple. I walked for while then sat. I began to unwind and absorb the place.
The temple stood in the centre a square body of water and which was 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; a little boy runs past me to his father, a young man sits facing the temple with a gentle smile across his face, groups of sari-enrobed ladies waddle past.
There are windows with men sitting cross-legged who look like they have been there for hours. They are 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 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, reverberating and adding to the ambience. The music bubbles along and runs in and out of my consciousness. A group of colourful 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 marble-work. 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 are paying their respects and praying to the religious ornaments.
It’s a beautiful building, and I feel a harmony of interest and respect present amongst the people. The praying feel a little baffling to me but I think understand the need to submit to a greater entity.
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 gaze down at the water then move back down and out of the temple. There are men wearing turbans, swords hanging by their side, baggy trousers, tunic and long beard. It takes a while to sink in that this seems to be their normal dress. 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. I’m also handed 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 a weathered-looking old man with particularly dark skin on one side, a student on the other and a line of school girls opposite me.
The hall is with bustling people. A man with a bucket of pea dhal comically ladles dollops of the stuff into the large section of the utility-plates. I’m impressed with his efficiency and speed but I thought they could try and spill less. I pondered about the amount of dhal they must get between their toes walking in the slippy mess. Next there is a handful of sweet halva and I’m informed that I should hold out both hands to receive a couple of warm chapatis.
I scoop up the runny dhal and the halva and happily munch my food. I’m impressed with the taste considering the scale on which they 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 an English guy from Shropshire suffering from the curse of the Delhi-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 left 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 landed on my computer screen, causing a nasty mark. That is karma for you.
I’ve been taking so many photos and videos recently that I’ve got to that stage where I am feeling a little saturated with it. However, I’m always looking for compositions and pictures and I feel I’ve lost good shot 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 next time.