Tale 4: Amritsar (Golden Temple) – By Nick Goslett

By Nick Goslett
The Goldem Temple Area

Miraculously the train from Haridwar to Amritsar had been reinstated and the taxi not being due until noon I could take my last yoga class with the wonderful Prakash. Pilates might just be replaced when I get home.The train journey was slated for 7.5 hours … in third class with no A/C. In fact the seat was really comfortable but almost all the fold down tables fold right down missing up to three of their four screws and the state of the carriages is just terrible. I have yet to see a carriage that looks as though it was made within the last 30 years. As luck would have it I had a window seat looking backwards. I felt as relaxed as I have been all holiday, looking out on the never-ending fields burgeoning with rice, maize, vegetables and tree plantations, and the occasional small town: hardly a building over two stories with multi-coloured washing drying in the sun and as the afternoon wore on more and more little square kites flying and sometimes challenging each other – all spoilt if there was a river or stream since it would be indescribably filthy. As the sun went down, so the full moon rose up right in my view and that was why facing backwards was a blessing. As I looked at the size of the people I wondered if all the sugar they consume (coffee is sugar with boiling water and some coffee, similarly chai) is causing an epidemic of diabetes. I looked up the global table when I got to the hotel – – and was pleasantly surprised by the UK and India (but rising quite fast) but horrified by many of the poorer countries. In the end the train took almost 10 hours and I felt quite jaded when I got into my hotel room nearing 1am. I finished Matthew Walker’s book Why Do We Sleep? (… and what will happen to us if we don’t!). Brilliant and incredibly interesting. I really do not know how evolution can have come up with such a plethora of interacting things which make up animals and us.


And so for the famed Golden Temple. I struck lucky by going to the Amritsar Tourist Office and obtaining the very last tourist map they had of Amritsar, and securing the services of a charming Sikh (Harbinder Singh) who was probably early forties, single and very touchy feely! The GoldenTemple is in the middle of a very large lake with a covered walkway to it and surrounded by beautiful white buildings (white for peace) and ice-cold marble. Breathtaking – At every Sikh temple they serve food free of charge to anyone, and in Amritsar that is 100,000 people per day. He took us round the kitchen with gigantic vats and what must be over 500,000 chapatis each day, half made by machine and half by hand. I took lunch there later on (reminding me of lunches at the Madurai ashram and the difficulty of eating cross-legged). The queue to get into the temple was two hours, too long. The Supreme Court building was full of Indian tourists: I saw some stairs and being inquisitive climbed them, and another two floors with a great view of the complex. And not an Indian had come up. I remain of the opinion that in general they are not inquisitive. This was true for the Indian software programmers we used at Deloitte: they would never think of wondering if what you had asked them to do was sensible.

The Golden Temple

A few points regarding the Sikh religion: it was founded by Guru Nanak in about 1469 who spent his life walking (they say) about 64,000 kms spreading the word. He loathed the caste system, the differentiation between men and women, thought the Hindus plethora of gods and goddesses was unhelpful and Islam too strict. Sikhism in a monotheistic religion but does not deny that other religions may have a point. After Guru Nanak there were nine more Gurus but the tenth reckoned that they now had enough scriptures that could be put together in one book which he named Guru Granth Sahib and no more mortal Gurus were required. He also created the Supreme Court (of Sikhism) which is at the North end of the Temple area and anything agreed at that place applies to all Sikhs anywhere in the world. He also decided that they should all have the name Singh which means Lion.The Punjabi men are tall and in their turbans and with their beards and moustaches they look very imposing and no wonder they proved to be great warriors. Maharaja Ranjit Sigh was the leader of the Sikh empire in the early half of the nineteenth and seems to have been a truly marvellous leader according honours to all the religions in his empire and not being at all blood-thirsty.


After lunch I strolled north through the old city with its windy little streets (often totally clogged with tuk-tuks bicycles and carts) and markets often with themes: a bangles market, a kitchen utensils market, a colossal cloth market, a bamboo scaffolding market and, in a very narrow little area, people mending (or hacking?) mobile phones. Thence up to an area that was once the palace gardens. The rose garden is still extant with many groups of older men playing a game called Tri Card which looked like a complicated cross between rummy and shithead. In a large area given over to about fours games of cricket, I chatted to one team (the bet was 500 rupees, about a fiver) about what they would do and job prospects. One (a rather good fast bowler) professed to be off to university in Canada but another said that the economy was going down the pan and the reason … just too many people. I returned to the temple complex as the sun was going down: many kites were flying, I guess some being half a mile up. As the sun set, the wind died and the kites fluttered earthwards. It reminded me of flying kites with the boys on the banks of the Ganga in Varanasi.


As I look at the places I visit, I can see some signs of moving into the 21st century but with so many people, so much of the infrastructure in terrible condition, and their economy being affected by Chinese imports and their inability to be precision manufactures like the Chinese, I am not too hopeful.I had a meal at a rather fancy restaurant for the first time (a main course at an outrageous four quid) and a Kingfisher, well two actually. I still think the curries we cook at home are so much better.


This morning I was back at the temple before sun up (under a glorious full moon) to beat the queue to get into Golden Temple … which I did but as I was nearing the building, a half hour prayer session ensued during which we all sat cross-legged, and many played with their mobile phones. Inside it is more gold, with loud singing and tabla playing to great affect and much prostrating in narrow doorways.

The Goldean Temple Complex

The last place to visit was the large Gobindgarth Fort built by Ranjit Singh. I chanced upon an English couple with a guide (a local Pentecostal priest) and they let me join them. Both about 60, she, Sally, is the HR Manager for the UK Navy in Gibraltar. In April, she waved at who she thought was a friend; it was Keith whose wife had died of cancer two years ago and had just gone to the south of Spain for a break, and the rest is history: cohabiting down there, engaged in Agra with a very impressive diamond ring, So sweet!


After lunch (and having retraced my steps to the Fort to retrieve my camera) I went to see the Wagah-Attari border ceremony. About 25,000 Indians watching in a state of great excitement and national pride a completely fatuous and ludicrous ceremony with soldiers marching around as if Morris Dancers on speed, the Master of Ceremonies being an army guy which jumped up and down, got them all chanting and whipped them into a frenzy. I could not wait for it to end … and in fact I didn’t!One bit of good news is that many tuk-tuks are now electric. They can do about 100 kms which is enough and cost 1000 rather than 2500 pounds. They do not seem to cope as well with hills.

The Ludicrous Changing of the Guard


Tomorrow I fly to Delhi and the next day back home … and a bath! I hope you are all OK after the Big Storm.Lots and lots of love

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