The Golden Temple of Amritsar in Punjab is truly a wonder, and not simply because of the beautiful and elaborate solid gold upper storeys of the Harmandir Sahid, the structure at the centre of the complex seen here in the background. It is a huge site – a square of gleaming white marble colonnades surrounding a central man-made lake, or tank – and is without a doubt one of the cleanest, most stunning places in the world. The perfection of the architecture and the standard to which it is maintained is immediately apparent. Upon entering through one of the four temple gates (symbolic of the openness of the Sikhs to all who wish to visit, irrespective of religion), the blinding white marble is just as striking as the shining gold.
This was without a doubt one of the highlights of my first visit to India. I flew in first thing in the morning, after an overnight stay in Delhi en route from Darjeeling. I had not had anywhere near enough sleep and felt a little overwrought, which actually heightened my experience, intensifying the emotional response to the magnificence of this site. There was so much to be appreciated here – the chanting and music which played throughout (on without a doubt the best P.A in India), creating a peacefully exotic atmosphere; the spear-wielding, turbaned temple guards; the gorgeous, colourful clothes of the Indian visitors, so luminous against the white backdrop; the dreamy reflections in the water of the lake, and the almost cloying niceness of every single person I met.
Apart from the impressive appearance of the place, I was astonished to learn that the temple feeds up to 40,000 people each day, for free, through the efforts of volunteers. This involves using around 12,000kg of flour a day, and the number of people fed can rise as high 100,000 on religious holidays and weekends. This seemed to coincide with how nice everyone was. I had several locals approach me, all wanting to make friends and talk to me. This is not uncommon in India, but the locals around the temple in Amritsar seemed somehow to be the sweetest people I’d ever met and I actually was left feeling terribly guilty when I finally made excuses and walked away from them.
Originally I intended to stay in the town, but ended up just visiting the temple for four hours before taking a bus north to McLeod Ganj. It was a short, but sweet visit and the temple has left indelible images in both my mind and camera.
This photo is taken from just outside one of the gates, looking back into the temple. I chose this one for its various vignettes – the man inquiring of the temple guard, the cleaner, the woman taking the photograph and the man in the striped shirt who may or not be accompanying the man in the white turban. It reminds me fondly of the different people who visit the temple for different purposes and of the people who look after and maintain the place.