Maybe it’s because we’d just traveled three days by bus from a week of landslides and bad liquor. Maybe it’s because we’re not quite such cynical dickheads as we think. Whatever it was, we loved Amritsar. The sights are beautiful and the Sikhs are friendly. The streets are clean and the city is reasonably well-planned. The food is fine and the accomodations are — aha! We loved Amritsar because:
At the Golden Temple, room and board are free.
The actual Golden Temple itself is the holiest shrine to the Sikhs, since that’s where their favorite book, the Guru Granth Sahib, gets put to bed each night. Thus, throngs of turbaned men, saried women and their front-bunned young’ns make a pilgrimage here to check the place out, say hello to the book, bathe in the holy pool, pray and hang out for a few days — by the thousands, every single day of the year.
Naturally, all these pilgrims get tired and hungry, but that’s what the pilgrim dormitories and immense two-story, 35,000-eater-capacity dining hall is for. It’s a tremendous operation, and it’s entirely run by volunteers. Somehow, despite the endless 24-hour daily hordes — and the fact that it’s in India — it works. Beautifully. And, best of all, out of spiritual deference and the Langar tradition, it’s all free. Obviously, for Sikh and Hindu pilgrims, but since these folks are so durned nice, they let the Westerners in, too — so long as they cover their heads, shed their shoes and find a stretch of bed or floor to sleep on in the secret, guarded, No Admittance-labeled “Whitey Dorm”. We did, and we enjoyed three-ish days shaking hands, taking photos, wandering around and chowing down for free with the Sikhs.
Here are some photos of the place and how it works.
- Photos 1 – 10: The actual Golden Temple and its surroundings.
- Photos 11 – 14: Sri Guru Ram Das Niwas dormitory complex
- Photos 15 – 34: The Guru-ka-Langar Dining Hall
- Photos 35 – 42: The incredible official on-site Chapati-Making Factory (that must spit out millions of the flat doughy discs each year)