Writing from: Pushkar, where there are more camels then you’d feel comfortable with.
The GoldenTemple is a glittering (literally thanks to the dome being covered in pure gold) Sikh temple containing a marble temple in the middle of a sacred pool with a pillared marble walkway all the way round.
Before I got here I knew nothing at all about the Sikh religion, except maybe for the fact it’s the one with the turbans. Two days later and I feel like the stories of under-tree sitting gurus, very bloody battles, people holding on their severed heads to fight through the hordes of infidels and die on sacred ground, riders leaping off cliffs horse and all, and everyone being equal and welcome, have pushed other knowledge out of my head to make room.
Shoes off and heads covered (I was accosted by a whole crowd of Sikhs outside the temple who stood around giggling as a small boy, with arms much stronger than his skinny frame let on, tied my head scarf on so tight I worried I may have to surgically remove it after. “Are you happy?” one of the men asked me after. I smiled and nodded, the scarf making this a slightly painful action)
we waded through a trough of sacred water (clean feet for the temple floors) and down the marble steps into the firework-hazy sunshine and the magnificence of the temple.
Sikhs bent to touch the floor as they entered, others lowered themselves into the sacred pool, hundreds queued along the walkway to the domed temple in the middle of the lake. The air was a babble of conversation and laughter, tiny turbaned and scarfed little ones tottered about, candles were lit around places where gurus had once sat, it was a hive of religious happiness.
We met Jas, or Frankie as they call him back home, a Canadian Sikh staying at the temple (anyone can stay for free for three days, then for dirt cheap after as long as they leave booze and fags outside). He took us under his Sikh wing, and was so intent on teaching us all there was to know about the religion he was so obviously proud of that M and I spent far longer than we wanted to in the rather grisly at some points (painting of man being sawn in half by the enemy, photos of the bodies of martyrs along with insets of them alive and smiling) temple museum.
Jas took us into the temple’s communal free dining room, where all classes and faiths are welcome to sit down and eat free food (a gift from god). We saw cross-legged on the marble while our trays were filled from buckets of dal (lentils) and roti (flat bread) in a style I have only ever seen in prison dramas (some ends up on the floor but most on your plate), and munched away to the stares of most of the diners (Mr Tea was almost fed to death when the woman next to him misunderstood his “enough dal/roti thank you” and demanded they pile more on his tray).
He also took Michael and I into the main two-tier temple, the walls inside covered in painted birds and flowers, with beardy men singing constant prayers and reading from a book so big I could have climbed into it and disappeared.
That evening we joined the hundreds who sat barefoot and scarfed around the pool and watched a seemingly endless (is it over yet? Hang on. I think we have found another box of rockets! Yay!) fireworks. Whole families from very well behaved tiny ones with giant brown eyes reflecting firework sparks and wiry grandmas steadying themselves on my shoulders as they passed (then giving their daughters a cheeky I-touched-the-white-one smile).
The whole day has that holiday-tinged tremble of excitement about it. People came up to us alllllllll day to shake our hands and ask where we were from. We were in so many photos we started to feel a bit famous, people were amazed and overjoyed we had come to spend the day with them. My favourite bits were one very small girl in pigtails coming to tell me her name and ask mine, and beaming light a roman candle when I told her that her name was very pretty (and yes, I have forgotten it, true to form) and it was nice to meet her, and also a teenage girl shyly walking beside me suddenly bursting out with “Hello. How are you?” and replying she was very well and Happy Diwali to my enquiry back before running off to her friends.
I went to bed with marble-floor sore feet, bits of gunpowder in my eyelashes, and occasional pre-sleep smiles on my lips. Good lord I am sappy.