My friend Manuela shares her experience of her visit to the Golden Temple Amritsar (also known as Swarn Mandir) in the Punjab.
Golden Temple: More than guys with turbans and a temple covered with shiny gold By Manuela Osorio Pineda
I’ve always considered myself as an ‘off-the-beat-traveler’ who craves visiting the remote little spots of a country to find its essence in the unknown and not so popular places; one that always preferred to stay in hostels or with locals through CouchSurfing instead of booking hotel rooms, and definitely the type who ‘hates’ scheduled tours and ‘you-have-20-minutes-to-go-get-a-profile-picture-and-come-back-to-the-bus’ orders … Although I have to say I’ve been there and done that. After all, you’ve gotta try things to know you don’t like them, right?
However, the so called landmarks of a place represent the culture and history of the countries and cultures, and as much as I hate the crowd and little Eiffel Tower and Taj Mahal turned into key chains, I’m also one of those charmed by the beauty and grandeur of the real castles, forts, monuments and temples; you’ve read about them, seen videos and thousands of pictures from every possible angle! But you haven’t felt them and never will, until you’re actually there. Ohh…. If those walls could talk!…
Living in India DEMANDS a trip to countless places like Lotus Temple, Ellora Caves, Amber fort and a crescent list of Architectural jewels and natural beauties from North to South and East to West; but since I ended up in the heart of the state of Punjab, my closer ‘MUST GO’ was just 6 hours away in the city of Amritsar; the magnificent GOLDEN TEMPLE. It was time to go deep into the history of Sikhism. The weekend trip sounded even more interesting with the possibility to visit Jallianwalla Bagh –a relevant place in the history of modern India- and the Wagah Border, boundary with Pakistan. HOW COOOOL WAAS THAT??!!!!!! Well… Maybe my parents didn’t find it that exciting at the beginning :S … But were open-minded enough to remember how the media distorts the reality most of the times, after all, we are from a country with a big stigma about violence and drugs, and know very well the meaning of the word ‘exaggeration’. Travelling around Colombia is a safe and wonderful experience nowadays.
But let’s go back to the story of my first official trip in Incredible India! The decision tovisit Golden Temple was wisely taken at 11 pm on a party Friday night in Chandigarh, and against all the predictions about the seriousness of our plan, neither rain nor the hangover stopped us from renting a van to Amritsar the next Saturday and fill it with our little international group of Indians, Polish, Colombian, Tunisian, Spanish, Mauritius and Brazilians. First expense of the trip: 800 Rupees to go and come back, but you can make it even cheaper by taking a local bus for 250 Rs from Chandigarh or 500 Rupees from Delhi.
The Golden Temple is BREATHLESS
Even though the curves and columns make the Sikh architecture impressive at any time, I feel the magnificence of the Golden Temple duplicates at night; the moment we left our shoes outside, washed our feet and step inside the complex, the chants and lights reflecting on the water invaded us with a huge feeling of peace. I had NEVER seen something like that! The white buildings surrounding the main temple reminded me of the stories of princess and deities that my parents used to tell me when I was a child, and there it was; the shiny construction ‘floating’ in the holy lake, the Harmandir Sahib, also known as Darbar Sahib or Golden Temple, the most important Sikh Gurdwara.
I suddenly remembered all my history classes while names and dates came to my mind; the Partition of India, its independence of the British domain on August 15 of 1947, the Operation Blue Star and consequent murder of Indira Gandhi. I must confess that before coming here my knowledge about Sikhism was limited; ‘the guys wearing turbans who were involved in the death of the first female Prime Minister of India’. What a shame!.. Same as associating Muslim people with the fanatic 9/11 or Germans with the Nazi Holocaust. ABSOLUTE NONSENSE!
The history of Sikhs
I can’t really talk about the history of a religion I’m still discovering and understanding, and which is extremely linked to the history of India and the partition of the country based on ‘religious demographics’ into Pakistan, Bangladesh and India; but to make ‘the story VERY short’, I’ll say Sikhism was named and officially established from the 15th Century in the Region of Punjab, when the Guru Nanak became not only a religious leader but a social reformer. The Sikhs have been related to warriors because they fought the persecution of minority religious communities during the Mughal Hegemony and because of the Kirpan, one of the five ‘articles of faith’ that baptized Sikhs should wear all the time and that can be a small dagger or a long curved sword.
But let the trip continue!.. After roaming around with open jaws, taking pictures from all the possible angles and fighting the feeling of being inside a dream, our little group divided into those who wanted to go to a hotel and those who wanted to sleep at the temple; yes! You can actually stay there overnight! Of course, I was in the 2nd group. So we said goodbye and found a spot on the green carpet that covers the corridors of the complex, but despite the friendly people around us and the beautiful view, we couldn’t sleep at all; the chants became louder and the night colder; it was time for us to find the famous ‘foreigners room’.
According to the principles of the religion, everyone is welcome to the temple without distinction of race, nationality or beliefs, and as long as he/she respect the basic rules of no smoking or drinking, removing the shoes -they can be stored at the entrance- and covering the hair with a scarf, which can be also provided inside the building. What could make this experience even better? Oh yes! FREE accommodation and FREE food.
Craving to know if we found the Foreigners Room and what happened the next day? Keep coming to Shalu’s blog and find out! But meanwhile, tell us if you had ever visited the Golden Temple and how did it go!
From Shalu: I hope you have enjoyed Manuela’s story of her visit to the Golden Temple at Amritsar. Here are some of her other stories just in case you have missed of her arrival from Columbia and moving to Chandigarh.