We made the trip to Amritsar in the state of Punjab specifically to see one thing - the incredible Golden Temple.A Sikh gurdwara, completed in 1784, it seems that this is not on the tourist path, unlike the Taj Mahal. Admittedly it is out of the way, but for us, it was a logical stopover on our way to Himachal Pradesh and up to McLeodganj, home of the Dalai Lama.
I have spoken alot about heat since being here in India. Well, I now have a new benchmark for what the body can take as far as bearing the heat goes. The moment we stepped out of the airport in Amritsar and headed towards our taxi, I almost passed out. More humid here, I am not sure. But different - not the dry desert heat that we had almost become used to, this was horridly oppressive. We made our way by beaten up taxi in the firey afternoon sun with the AC bearly sputtering any relief. We came upon detour after detour on our way to our hotel and snailed through the horridly conjested and noisy streets. If there is one thing I could remove from India, it would be every single horn in every single car, rickshaw and motorbike. The sounds, which are unending, pierce into the eardrums and shatter ones nerves. (Especially if one has not done ones yoga practice that morning!) Over an hour later, nerves frazzled, body temperature soaring, we came to a stop outside the Golden Temple complex. Our hotel must be close. Alas, I was wrong. The driver had brought us to the wrong hotel. I pointed this out, trying to keep my cool, literally and figuratively, when I caught a glimpse of it in the distance - over 500 metres away. I gave our driver a questioning look, trying not to appear exasperated. The kids were nattering constantly, like annoying bees around my head "Mom ... Mom!! Whats going on, its so hot ... I can't do this Mom. Mom!! Their voices coupled with the deafening and constant honking and crush of people was undoing me. We had been up since 4:30am to catch an early flight, that ended up being delayed by over 2 hours. We only just made our connection in Delhi. We were all totally exhausted. Jordan awoke that morning in tears, crying that he could not get up, that he wanted to sleep for "a hundred years". I had an inkling that the day ahead may be a challenging one. Our driver began gesturing us to walk, him empty handed, us loaded down in the heat with what seemed like three times our bags actual weight. "WOULD IT NOT HURT YOU TO HELP CARRY SOMETHING!" I yelled at him silently. "Just here ... Just here!" he kept saying as he lead us down laneways and through the crush of traffic and people. It was not "just here" it was far, very far. I felt rage rise up inside of me while the kids continued to yell out their complaints to me, as if I could do something to ease the situation. I hated India at this point. All of it. It was all pointless - the noise, the people, the smells, their ridiculous rituals and their dam heat. I wanted to yell, scream, cry ... right outside the gates of the Golden Temple. Right in the middle of the thousands of worshippers who were graciously making their way in. Calmness, peacefulness and wisdom in their eyes. And me, almost a fully fledged basket case amongst them, barely able to move another step. But something carried me on, maybe it was Guru Ram Das, maybe Yogi Bhajan, maybe just knowing that I had no choice. After what seemed like hours, but was only really about 10 minutes, we had arrived finally at our hotel. I looked up and saw filthy windows and years of dried up pigeon poop everywhere. I asked to see our room, the one I had reserved and my heart sank. It was tiny, cramped, musty and dirty. No windows. Hot. I could not do this tonight. I asked for the best room they had, which I knew would still not be good, but it had to be better than this. I did not care how many ruppees I had to pay for it. The thought crossed my mind to find another hotel, but could not navigate the streets again. We were given their "Executive Delux", and this one at least had a window and was a little bigger. AC worked. I could see the tip of the Golden Temple through years of filth and pigeon poop that covered the oustide window. Pigeons crashed the window constantly. This would have to do. I collapsed on the bed and the kids navigated the old TVs remote control through the static.
After a couple of hours rest, I gained some composure, got cleaned up and we all realised that we had not eaten for hours. I looked at the dusty, stained menu on the bedside table and reluctantly browsed its contents. I did not want to know where this food may originate, but the thought of going anywhere to search for a meal was too daunting. And besides, I wanted to be at the Golden Temple for sunset, just an hour away. So, I ordered some room service and hoped for the best. The thing about India is that it never ceases to surprise. In 20 mins, a meal fit for a king arrived at our door. A five star meal in a one star hotel. Delicious Vegetable Tandoori with Paneer and the most incredible Dahl Makani I have tasted. Crispy, fresh butter Naan. We devoured our meal and set off, refreshed, to the temple.
Upon entering the Golden Temple compound, you feel the energy here immediately. Calming, beautiful, profoundly spiritual energy. True to Sikkisms inclusive nature, everyone is welcome here. The four entrances to the Holy shrine, from directions, signify that people from every walk of life are equally welcome. Proper dress and a covered head is expected. Shoes must be taken off and the feet must be washed. I have to say here, that pictures of the temple do not do it justice. It needs to be seen with naked eyes. The style is a blend of Hindu and Islamic. The golden dome is said to be gilded with 750 kg of gold and represents an inverted lotus flower - a symbol of a Sikhs aim to live a pure life. Chanting poured out the loud speakers that surrounded the holy lake. Chants that I recognised from my study, practice and teaching of Kundalini Yoga, (which came through the Sikh faith and espouses many of its virtures.) As opposed to other temples we have visited, this one felt familar somehow. I felt connected.
We arrived just as the sun was setting and the low light threw a deep glow to the temple. We made our way inside and spent some time enjoying the moving chanting that fills the space both inside and out. Hundreds of dedicated worshippers, praying, meditating and bringing offerings. I wanted to just sit smack in the middle of them and close my eyes too. I wanted to chant. I wanted to be still. However, travelling with two children, as wonderful as it is, does not always allow these luxuries of stillness and of going within. I have to get up very early in the morning to indulge in that kind of space. We made our way to the walkways surrounding the lake and there we sat. The boys sensed that I needed some quiet, still time - and they sat patiently with me, taking it all in. They were also moved by the awe inspiring sight in front if them and were very respectful. They let people take their picture. We were the only Europeans from what I could tell. They respected my wishes to remain until dark, so we were there over two hours. I would have stayed for hours more, but to two pre-teen boys who have been dragged through temple after temple, I did not want to push my luck! My soul was satisfied. The days challenges melted away. I loved India once again.