TO INDIA A group of 5 of us made the journey down to the border at Wagga, 20 km east of Lahore. Linda and I, along with 3 Dutch people – Tom, Robert, and Tinka – spent about 20 minutes at the Pakistani customs office, then walked through the no-mans-land to the Indian side. Formalities there were quite fast, and we caught a bus from the border to Amritsar.
Also on the bus were Madeline and Barnabas, our Australian friends from the Lahore hostel. At the Amritsar bus station, taxi drivers, rickshaw pedlars, and tonga owners vied for our custom and the 7 of us ended up piling aboard a tonga [horse-drawn cart] for the half-mile trip through the flooded streets to the bustling area outside the Golden Temple.
We were directed by an English-speaking Sikh to the hostel around on the Eastern side of the temple complex, and we were welcomed by many others as we made arrangements to stay in a couple of the spartan but warm rooms. The hostel1 complex consisted of a square building of three stories enclosing a central courtyard with a washing block at its centre. The colour scheme was grey and white, and against this background, the colourful turbans of the men made a beautiful and interesting picture.
After settling in, we all took off our shoes and covered our heads then went over to the kitchen hall where we sat cross-legged in a long line of Sikhs and ate a small meal of vegetable curry – served out of a bucket – and chapatis. When our meal was finished, we walked up the marble concourse leading to the “square pool of nectar” at the centre of which, reached by a causeway, stands the Golden Temple itself.
We walked around the edge of the pool to a narrow causeway paved with white marble and walked out to the temple about 50 metres from the edge of the lake. The outer walls of the temple we’re covered with beaten gold and ornately worked with designs and icons.
Inside we were directed to sit in a corner of the red plush carpet, and we watched transfixed by the scene. Three musicians were playing and singing, and a priest seated behind a huge book read silently from its pages. A continuous stream of worshippers came in, pressed their noses to the floor in front of the altar, then stood and bowed with their hands pressed together in front of them.
Outside the temple itself, we were invited to climb up onto the roof where another priest sat reading in a smaller room while a skilled painter worked on restoring the ornate floral designs on the wall. The Sikh men who had shown us the way up to the rooftop talked to us at length about the way Sikhs have been treated and about the 1994 siege of the Golden Temple.2
In the evening, we ate a small meal at a nearby cafe then retired to our room in the complex with the plaintive sound of the prayer singing echoing up from the temple.
1Visitors to the Golden Temple can stay for free in the temple’s hostel complex and eat for free at the complex’s canteen. People of all faiths are welcomed at the Golden temple.
2To read more about the Golden Temple, check out this Wikipedia entry.