Heritage · Photography · Travel

Memories Of The Golden Temple, Amritsar.

Have you ever been to a place, saw the things you knew were there, then have your mind completely blown away by something you see unexpectedly?

“Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.”

Anthony Bourdain

Perhaps Anthony Bourdain knew best.

I was in Shri Harminder Sahib, aka the Golden Temple in Amritsar. It was meant to be a quick trip to recharge my soul batteries. My first glimpse of it was as I had known it to be- picturesque and serene.

Reflection And songs

Despite a pandemic, the devotees were out in full strength. I suppose such was the pull of the faith.

Our driver, Sardarji, doubled as our guide. In no time, we had zipped from the car park, tied our head scarfs (mandatory for men and women) and deposited our shoes. We walked bare feet inside and stood in a queue to enter the magnificent Shri Harmandir Sahib. It stood in the middle of a lake dominating the complex.

Shri Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar, India
The Golden Compass

Although the entry was staggered, yet it was packed to the gills. There was a floor above but no respite from the crowd there either. My hands kept tugging the scarf covering my head and mouth, anxiously.

All I remember being drawn to the beautiful maroon and gold floral patterns that glinted spectacularly on the walls inside while we jostled to find space. Sardarji beckoned us to follow him up a narrow staircase in the corner.

That was my ‘pinch me, I am dreaming’ moment.

We were on the roof, close enough to touch the golden dome. There were hardly any people up there and the view was matchless. You just have to take my word for it since I don’t have any pictures of it. I sat on the floor for a long time, letting the soft rays of the morning sun hug me. It was better than any meditation. It was blissful.

The next stop was the ‘langar’, a free community kitchen run by volunteers.

Eating with the others is a big part of the visit. Satiated, we had just left the langar hall when Sardarji was approached by a turbaned gentleman with a flowing salt and pepper beard. He offered to show all of us more of this place in return for whatever we deemed appropriate for his services.

Tip: Get the guide. We saw places we won’t have otherwise seen.

Volunteers rolling out dough to make chapatis in the kitchen of Shri Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar
Eat, pray and love -volunteers rolling out dough to make chapatis.

Mukesh Jain, our guide, walked with a limp and spoke with a slight stutter, but his childlike enthusiasm was contagious. He excitedly took us to the mega kitchens that churned out meals throughout the day.

We followed him inside huge lifts and climbed stairs to the different floors.

Food stores at the kitchen of Shri Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar
Kitchen Confidential

There were actually floors devoted to storage of raw material, food preparation, disposal of waste and cleaning. Much of it was automated and the army of volunteers made the process seamless.

It was mega in every way.

From the kitchens, we walked out to a lovely courtyard overlooking the sacred pool at a distance.

Shri Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar
The far pavilions

I was informed, this is the Ahluwalia Inn. (I have Dr Walia to thank for that piece of knowledge.)

Made of Nanak Shahi bricks (named after the narrow bricks of that era), they created brilliant patterns on the ceiling.

Nanak sahi bricks making a pattern on the roof at Shri Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar
The spiral!

A little distance away, a tiny grating opened into the ground that had steps disappearing into a gloomy cavern.

Mukesh Jain exuberantly gestured us to follow him. I felt like Alice, going down the rabbit hole.

It opened into the first floor of a massive brick-lined basement. This cavernous basement turned out to be an infamous lair and scene of action of the 1984 Bluestar Operation.

A window in the basement at Golden Temple in Amritsar
The world outside my window.

“I’m interested in memory because it’s a filter through which we see our lives…”

Kazuo Ishiguro

Its bullet chipped walls were a reminder of that dark time. Our guide gleefully narrated fascinating tales interspersed with rumours to make this place more than just an architectural marvel. Also there were stairs that went down, perhaps as far as the depth of an underground well but a strong padlocked door ensured we were unable to explore further.

A well inside the basement of the Golden Temple in Amritsar .
Deep water- a well in the basement.

I’m glad Mukesh Jain found us because I would have never seen this side of the complex. I’m sure not many of us know how to access it. At that time, we were literally the only ones loitering in the shadows, imagining the time gone by.

Sardarji’s parting words stayed with me. He said, “This is not my first visit to Shri Harmandir Sahib, yet it felt like I had never seen the place properly, till now.”

A bird’s eye view of Shri Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar
A room with a view.

I knew exactly what he meant. I had a peek into a world that transcended from a place of worship into a getaway that combined bliss and wonder.

It was exhilarating.

WQWWC: Exploration

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Getting away

Friendly Friday

40 thoughts on “Memories Of The Golden Temple, Amritsar.

  1. Oh, how I love this post! It fits beautifully with the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge this week: Getting Away! And it’s just the place I love to go — colorful, mysterious, interesting, and different from the life I lead in Tennessee. You had me at that first quote by Anthony Bourdain. But you kept showing me places I’d love to see. My favorite photos are of the people rolling out dough and standing beside sacks of provisions. But your colorful glimpses from courtyards intrigued me as well. Thanks for participating in the challenge and giving us a sweet getaway to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m ecstatic, Rusha. Thank you for your heartwarming commentary. I took so many photos of the kitchen and the two that made the cut here were snapped in a jiffy. So you can imagine how thrilled I am that they caught your eye. Happy that my post offered you a glimpse of India. It is everything you said it is.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Stunning images and beautifully written. You really took us with you, amazing post. And all the more appreciated in these days when overseas travel is off the cards!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sheetal, you exploration left me spellbound. Wow! That blue light, all the brick, the food preparation and all those volunteers. From start to finish this post shouted everything that makes exploration great. Super double wow! Picture me with my mouth open in wonder.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ok Marsha , you flatter me and it works! I’m on cloud nine with a smile, a mile wide . Thank you for checking out my post and for leaving such a wonderful comment. To many more adventures, cheers!

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    1. It was an amazing experience, Janet! I certainly had no idea that I would do anything beyond paying my respects at the gurudwara. So you can imagine how exuberant I felt by the the time the trip ended. Thank you for dropping by and connecting 😊.

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  4. Good morning Sheetal
    Lovely morning read, when spirituality marries the spectacular, the results are stunning. Your narrative is as lucid as the lake waters and I could hear the echoes of gurbani in your words.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ma’am you really explored Shri Harmandir Sahib well.I have visited it so many times earlier but never been around. Your beautiful narrative has inspired me to be there soon and be a part of the gurbani recitals and gain a new insights and perspectives to ‘The Golden Temple.’

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jigyasa, it’s a pleasure reading your comments. Trust me , I’m walking on air. Shri Harmandir Sahib was a magnificent surprise in every way and I’m happy I was able to convey all that I felt in this post. Thankyou for reading and for commenting. Have an awesome day!

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  6. Oh, what a marvelllous trip, what experiences and such memories…I think “Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown” says it all!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow Sheetal, an amazing place and some glorious images. I loved the seldom-seen areas you were able to capture thanks to your guide and agree whole-heartedly one has the best of adventures when accompanied by a local guide with intimate knowledge. Thanks so much for sharing a place I’ll likely never see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The whole trip felt surreal, Tina. In the first place I had no idea that guides existed in gurudwaras, a first for me. That’s why we had our driver, Sardarji with us to show us around. Also I’m still scratching my head as to why the guide approached us out of the many. Serendipity, I guess. It all turned out very well for us. Happy you enjoyed this virtual trip to Amritsar with me, Tina.

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  8. I’m so glad I found this post via the Lens Artists Challenge, it really resonated with me. It’s experiences like this, when you really connect with a person and/or a place, that stay with you long after other travel memories have faded, don’t you think?

    Reading about your fortuitous meeting with Mukesh Jain made me wonder if you’d like to also link this to this week’s Friendly Friday Challenge, which is focusing on the people we meet on our travels: https://www.toonsarah-travels.blog/friendly-friday-meet-cheikh-a-guide-in-senegal/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sarah, thank you for your words of appreciation. Yes, meeting Mukesh Jain, our guide made the trip even more special for we got to see places I had heard only stories of. His enthusiasm and joy was contagious!

      Also , what an awesome theme for the Friendly Friday Challenge ! Linking it to your post . Thank you for the heads up.

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    1. It was an pleasure walking around this grand palatial gurudwara, a place of worship for the Sikhs, Jo. I too had watched a documentary about its mega kitchen said to serve anywhere between 50,000 to 60, 000 meals daily. Google says it goes up on peak days. So you can very well imagine my delight that I got to see it all in person and then some more. Happy you enjoyed this tour too😊.

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  9. Who wouldn’t want to visit Golden Temple after reading this? You simply make it come alive. And that beautiful camera work, it just enhances the experience.

    Liked by 1 person

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