The host of the hostel was nice enough to find us accommodation in a different hostel at that time of night. Conveniently, it was right outside the gates of the square which holds the Golden Temple. He even got us an autorickshaw to transport us to the other hostel. Once we were there, completing the formalities, taking a shower and finding our beds took a couple hours and we fell asleep by 1:30 or 2 am.
We met a solo traveler at the hostel, a 40-year-old Japanese woman who was traveling through India. She works for a year, saves up and travels to a country for three months. She has been doing this for almost a decade. As someone who has always wanted to do that, I was completely in awe of this petite woman following her dream. I believe starting that journey is what is difficult for me and if I have the confidence (and some money) to travel solo, I might get into the groove and keep doing that even when I am old and grey.
After a few hours of sleep, we walked into the gates of what I am going to call, the Golden Temple Square. It was a few kilometers of space filled with monuments, shops, hotels and restaurants, bustling with tourists and locals alike. Walking through the square and getting to the Golden Temple was a journey in itself of various colors and smells. Just outside the temple, as you step onto the mosaic flooring, you can see that there is a counter where you can sign in your footwear.
We didn’t notice that counter and my friend suggested we leave our footwear with the others strewn about. I think you can tell where this is going, but for the purpose of the story, I’ll come back to that later. The temple is located at the center of the mosaic square.
We access the temple through an arch and down a flight of stairs. As we climb down the stairs, the temple appears so much closer than it actually is as my eyesight aligns with its height. At the end of the stairs, the place opens into an expanse and the Golden temple stands shimmering in the sunlight, true to its name.
We walked around the temple and basked in the glory of it all. The designs on each structure were breathtaking. The designs on the structures were nothing short of pure work of art.
The entire area was kept clean at all times; when I say clean, I mean pristine. Apparently, even the Sikhs who visit the temple help in keeping the place clean. We saw a Sikh man gather up dust accumulated on one of the staircases onto his palms and carry it away. They are very serious about cleanliness. Also, you should never sit with your legs stretched out, it is disrespectful. You are only to sit cross-legged within the temple premises. Even when you are sitting on a step with your feet in the water, a temple guard will come and politely ask you to not do that.
The largest langar in India can be found at the Golden Temple. Typically, langar feeds up to 40,000 people a day and on religious holidays and weekends, it can feed upwards of 100,000 people. It is only vegetarian food, so as to accommodate people with dietary restrictions. Langar is available 24 hours a day and there is a team constantly cooking in the kitchen to feed every soul that enters the temple. The Golden Temple kitchen has been featured in Mega Kitchens of India National Geographic Channel as well.
A couple of friends were waiting in line to get into the temple’s main building where langar is served. On a usual day, you will have to wait almost 6 hours to get into the building. But, according to a local, if you get there early like 3 am early, then the wait will be reduced to within 2 hours. Once you get to the Golden Temple, you should definitely enter the main building and have langar. It is just something one must do. Once inside the building, you can even climb up one floor and take a look at the rest of the buildings in the square. The experience very spiritual and something everyone should experience.
A couple of my friends had already seen the place and didn’t want to stand in line for hours again, so we decided to stroll around outside the temple, maybe get some breakfast. When we went to gather our footwear, mine was missing. I just knew it in my gut that something like this would happen. Typical. The new sandals that I especially bought for this trip were stolen by some guy, who I hope trips and falls on his teeth. I had to walk barefoot to the nearest store and get authentic Amritsar footwear that had embroidery on it. It was cute so… glass half full?
We asked the footwear store owner where we can get good chai and some breakfast. He pointed in the direction we came from in the morning and asked us to take a small left lane to Prince tea shop. It is pretty famous with everyone there and you can ask for Prince tea shop and they will show you the way. I have to say, that was some excellent chai.
We also got chole bhature in a tiny dhaba nearby, which was super crowded and we had to eat standing at the end of the room before a table become unoccupied. We can’t visit Punjab and not drink lassi, so we grabbed a glass after breakfast. True to the place, it was the best lassi I have had in a long time. It was creamy and the quantity offered is big enough for it to be a meal in itself.
Our next visit was to the Jallianwala Bagh memorial, located 200 meters from there. We got to the see portraits of the people involved in the events and protests, and we got to read the newspaper articles and laws that were passed, which eventually led to the massacre of our people. It was a dark page from history, reminding us about the struggle our people had to go through to get where we are now. Just imagine if we never made it here, made it free, what would our lives be like now. I don’t think there is a comforting answer to that question.
While waiting for my other friends, I did a little shopping. I got four Patiala pants and a pair of earrings. Although we can get patialas in Chennai, North India has the best-stitched ones. If you plan on getting something, you should be ready to bargain. That advise stands true no matter where you are shopping in the world. We also got souvenirs from a sword shop, which are plenty in Amritsar. Since the airport doesn’t entertain knives longer than the palm of your hand, we asked the owner to send us the knife via courier. We gave him the address and paid for it and he had it couriered to us later.
Once everyone gathered, we exited the square to get some food. We went into a Punjabi Dhaba whose name board is visible from the memorial entrance to the right. Prior to paying obeisance to the Golden Temple, it is better to have vegetarian food, hence you will not find non-vegetarian food joints anywhere near the Golden Temple. Even the McDonald’s located within the square is pure vegetarian.
My friends and I had rotis, kulcha, butter mushrooms, and gobi masala. Everything was super delicious. We can’t leave punjab without another glass of lassi for all. We got some lassi to take away from the restaurant and walked back to the hostel. We had to catch the 4:30 pm train to Delhi, so we had a couple hours before we had to scuttle. Only after we sat down at the hostel did we realize how much we needed the rest. We just talked, relaxed and left for the railway station an hour later. The Shatabdi train trip was pleasant and we reached Delhi railway station at 11:45 pm. Our plan for the next day was to visit Agra and we were catching a 2:00 am train to Agra from Nizamuddin railway station. We took a cab from Delhi station to the Nizamuddin station. Our train was late by 30 minutes so we had time to kill.
We got some chai at the food court right outside the station while waiting for the train. Our train will reach Agra around 7 am, and I started checking the visit timings for the Taj Mahal. I am glad I did because that led me to the information that the Taj Mahal is closed for visits every Friday for prayer. You guessed it, we were going on a Friday.