Sunday, December 14, 2014

Visiting the Golden Temple at Amritsar

Amritsar is the holiest city of the Sikhs and houses the Golden Temple which is the representative of God for all Sikhs. After a lapse of many years, I visited Amritsar recently. Having come from Singapore I booked an AC sleeper on the Golden Temple Mail (formerly known as the Frontier Mail from the days of the Raj). The Golden Temple Mail reaches Amritsar early morning and I had a taxi from the Mangoes Hotel (a 3 Star) waiting. It’s a small lovely hotel and has a buffet breakfast thrown in, but perhaps the break fast menu could have been worked out better.
After breakfast I hired a hotel Taxi to take me around. The driver a cut surd (This is a term used for Sikhs who cut their hair) was affable and informed. I asked him why he had cut his hair and he told me as a driver a turban was a handicap and so he had cut his hair. But what surprised me that almost 40% of the Sikhs in Amritsar had cut hair and turbans were far fewer than I had seen earlier. I drove to the Golden Temple. I am afraid the approach to this holy shrine needs a lot of improvement. Maybe a conducted tour of the temples at Bangkok for the powers that control the temple (SGPC) would be a good idea. That will give them an idea how the holy shrines are maintained spick and span. The approaches and roads definitely need to be spruced up. In fact there is too much garbage lying around. There is a lot of construction activity going around the temple and one has to walk carefully to reach the entrance to the temple. But once you enter the temple the sight is awe inspiring. The central dome surrounded by a sarover (Pool of water) is lovely with the gold plated domes shining in the sun light. These domes were plated with 24 carat gold by Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler of the Punjab. Visiting the temple is an elevating experience which also houses the Sikh museum. At one end the Akal Takht (Temporal Throne) is still unfinished, as a reminder to operation Blue Star - the Army operation to flush out the terrorists holed up in the Temple in 1984. The Gurudwara has a 24 hour kitchen that serves free food to thousands around the clock. Called the 'Langar' it is unique to Sikhism. A visitor will find tens of Americans eating at the Langar. Going around the temple one can see the association of the army with the temple from the days of the Raj, as tens of small slabs carry names of regiments and soldiers who have donated money to the temple. Visiting the temple is an enlightening experience and one can realize that the Gurus created a classless religion. Unfortunately Hindu practices have crept in and caste in Sikhism is again to the fore. But I will recommend a visit to Amritsar and the Golden temple for any tourist coming to India. No visit can be complete without it. Published on 5 October 2012 on Experts Column