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Himalaya

Day 30: Amritsar

Amritsar, India 
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With two guardians of the temple. Their robes and spears symbolise the dual nature of the Sikhs: service and defence. In the background the Harimandir (Hari is God, Mandir is temple) has 1100lb (500 kg) of gold on its walls.
Michael Palin - HimalayaAn elderly gentleman with a long beard points in the direction of the Hari Mandir.

'Whatever you require from God he is giving you. That is what they are singing about.'

There is a brisk, businesslike pragmatism about the Sikhs. They don't seem over-concerned with the mysteries of belief.

Philanthropy, along with business enterprise and physical bravery, is a vital part of Sikhism and all their temples have a langar, a kitchen preparing free meals around the clock, financed through the one-tenth of their income that all Sikhs are expected to give to good works. It's a huge operation, with an estimated 50,000 meals prepared each weekday and twice that at weekends. The work is all done by volunteers, and any Sikh, whether surgeon or street cleaner, is expected to come and help chop onions or wash dishes. In the words of one of the ten holy Gurus on whose teachings Sikhism is based: 'If you want to understand me, come into my kitchen.' This we do.

The kitchen is spread through several buildings. One is entirely devoted to a chapatti production line. A rat skips nimbly out of the way as fresh sacks of flour are cut open and fed into the bowels of a slowly turning machine, which regurgitates the flour as dough. One group of helpers rolls the dough into balls, another flattens each ball out into a pancake, and another lays them out on hotplates the size of double beds, made from cast-iron sheets laid on bricks with gas fires underneath, and capable of taking a couple of hundred chapattis at a time. When one side is done the chapattis are flipped over in quick, dexterous movements of a long thin implement with a half-moon end. When the flipper is satisfied both sides are right he gives an extra strong flick, which sends the chapatti flying off the hotplate to land neatly on a pile on the floor. The piles are then removed and carried out to the refectory.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 30: Amritsar
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Amritsar
  • Book page no: 68

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