Shubhra Krishan finds salvation for the senses and the soul in the holy city of Amritsar.
The Golden Temple had been on my wishlist for many years. Finally, I booked myself on the Swarn Shatabdi Express from Delhi to Amritsar, and a comfortable six hours later, I was in Amritsar. Pleasant surprise: Amritsar is a very clean city with wide roads and a charming sense of order. And a hearty meal of chana masala, paneer kulcha, and sweet lassi at the Bharawan da Dhaba, owned since 1912 by the Vij brothers (‘Bharawan’ means Brothers in Punjabi), tells you why this city has a reputation as the food lover’s Mecca in Northern India. Prepared with pure desi ghee, the food at this Dhaba is truly incredible, and I would say it alone is worth a trip to Amritsar!
It is late in the evening by the time I step into the holy portals of the Temple. People everywhere. Turbans, bandanas, scarves in myriad hues. So much colour and bustle. The air is so charged with positive energy you can almost feel the particles on your skin. Some kar sevaks(volunteers) are sweeping away dust with quiet efficiency, while others are busy laying out the elaborate langar that feeds more than 35,000 people every single day.
Like everyone else, I wash my feet in the little pool of water at the foot of the stairs, and just a few seconds later, have my first glimpse of Sri Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple. It is a place of sublime beauty. I cannot not take my eyes off the gold-plated building with its copper cupolas. Up close, the white marble walls encrusted with precious stones are even more exquisite—their intricate floral patterns reflect a unique merger of the Islamic and Hindu styles of architecture. Verses from the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book), are etched on the marble; and though I am not familiar with the script, I know their essence—love your fellow human beings.
It is a little past 10.30 in the night. The air suddenly fills with the sound of cymbals and chanting. On the Guru’s Bridge across the sacred lake, there is a burst of activity. I watch, fascinated, as an ornate, heavy palanquin encasing the Guru Granth Sahib is held aloft by male devotees. It will now be carried to its “bed” in the Akal Takht, the seat of the Sikh parliament since 1609. I learn that the Palki Sahib is a nightly ceremony, each man shouldering the palanquin for a few seconds before passing it along, forming a human conveyer belt. Everyone is part of the emotional ‘journey’ here.
Afterwards, I settle down by the cool waters of the sacred lake, watching them shimmer with reflected gold. A few feet below where I sit, fish leap in the holy waters. My fish-like-restless mind is slowly stilled into an incredible, long-longed-for sense of peace. How fitting the name ‘Amritsar’ or ‘pool of ambrosial nectar…’ is! The journey back is equally comfortable—the Swarn Shatabdi leaves Amritsar a little past 5 in the evening, depositing you in Delhi six hours later.
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