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Himalaya

Day 30: Amritsar

Michael Palin - HimalayaThere is a strict dress code for the Golden Temple. First of all the head must be covered at all times. Scarves of various colours are readily available for non-Sikhs, either from any one of the 17 young lads who converge on you as soon as you pull up outside, or more cheaply from one of the stalls inside the forecourt. Shoes and socks must be removed. By the time we have deposited them at special lockers (a lady takes mine, something that would never have happened in Pakistan), we look like a line of pantomime pirates. Hands must then be washed at marble-lined public basins and bare feet passed through a trough of water at the bottom of the steps.

The combination of the heat of the day, the constant crowd moving in and out and the carrying of film gear makes all these preliminaries rather a trial, but the sight that greets us when we finally reach the gateway arch banishes thoughts of discomfort, at least for a minute or two.

The Golden Temple itself, called by Sikhs the Hari Mandir (God's Temple) sits, like a great glittering barge, in the centre of a huge tank of water, with one narrow causeway (jammed with people throughout the day) connecting it with the promenade and the dazzling white ancillary buildings that enclose it on all four sides.

Four gates, one on each side, symbolize the inclusivity of Sikhism, the temple's openness to all, irrespective of religion, caste, creed or sex. The four equal entrances are not all that distinguish it from other religious buildings. Instead of climbing to an altar, the stairs to the Golden Temple lead downwards to the holy place, an encouragement to approach with humility.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 30: Amritsar
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Amritsar
  • Book page no: 66

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