Seeking Sikhs

I spent 2 nights in Amritsar, Punjab, sleeping at the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikh religion (which was started in Punjab). Throughout my time India, I have found Sikhs to be very personable and non-agressive. Still, I was sort of dreading this experience; it was something really I wanted to do, but I was reluctant to descend the Himalayas into the 43 degree heat (that’s almost 100 F), the crowds, the hassle, and the pollution of India. But staying at the Golden Temple was very peaceful despite the hazy, stifling smog, filled with intensely spiritual (and amazingly dressed!) pilgrims chatting and praying on the marble walkway around the temple. The Sikh religion preaches equality regardless of caste and creed, and thus allows non-Sikhs to stay at the temple and to dine together in the large, welcoming dining room where volunteers work 24 hours a day, generously preparing food to feed pilgrims (and foreigners).

The fashionable Sikhs

The fashionable Sikhs

And now for a quote from “The Places In Between,” which I just reread for the second time. The first time, in New Zealand, I was drawn to the descriptions of the author’s trek over the high passes in Afghanistan. During my second reading, I focused on his reflections of the diverse people he met in the seldom-trodden land:

The more tired and bruised I was the more I wanted to get away from such places. But that night in the barracks had felt like a homecoming, a moment of transformation. There was nothing pompous in the way the men had spoken to me. I had savored the hot rice, the firm floor, the shelter from the wind , anmd the companionship. I had felt how proud the men were of what they could provide and how lucky I was to share their space. They treated me as though I belonged and I had felt that I did…I no longer needed to explain myself to my hosts- that I was at last entitled to sit alongside them and share their food- and I loved that night and those men for it.”

Volunteers work hard to peel potatos for a massive portion of alloo masala

Volunteers work hard to peel potatos for a massive portion of alloo masala

Indeed, I felt enormous gratitude to the kind Sikhs who welcomed me to their holy temple. And Punjabi music rocks! In the countries I’ve been to that enjoy blaring their local rock tunes, (Bolivia, Cambodia, Thailand), I usually find myself annoyed, willing to strangle someone for an iPod. But I found myself jamming along to the local Punjabi Bhangra.

Night time is lively but peaceful around the golden shrine

Night time is lively but peaceful around the golden shrine

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~ by ceciliabien on August 8, 2009.

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