Golden Temple Amritsar |Stay |Sewa | Langar
Golden temple, Amritsar, or anything in Punjab was not on my mind instead Kashmir was. After scrapping my plans of going further north from Mcleodganj, I decided to use that time to travel west and ended up at this beautiful temple.
My journey had taken a spiritual theme unexpectedly anyway and I decided to go all for it. After completing the project in Kodaikanal, among other places I visited Varanasi (a place to experience life and death in close quarters), Kasar Devi (where Swami Vivekananda is known to have meditated), Rishikesh (in time to listen to Spiritual guru Mooji), and Mcleodganj (to make it to His Holiness Dalai Lama’s teachings).
Harmandir Sahib, also known as Golden temple, is the holiest shrines in Sikh religion. The sanctum is covered in gold foil and that is where it gets its’ name from. The sanctum is surrounded by a manmade lake (sarovar) which is sacred as well.
Rules to follow in the temple:
- Everyone’s head should be covered at all times irrespective of the gender.
- No tobacco inside the temple
- Go bare feet (no socks either, there are sections where one is expected to dip their feet in the water before entering the temple)
- Clean your hands and feet before entering the temple
How to Reach:
There are direct buses to Amritsar from Mcleodganj but the one that I got to know of was at 5 in the morning from Dharamshala which meant leaving my place at 4 a.m.. So I took a bus to Pathankot and from there took another bus to Amritsar.
The bus to Pathankot left at 2:30 p.m. from Mcleodganj and we reached our hostel in Amritsar at around 11:15 p.m. There are probably are buses to Pathankot earlier during the day. We didn’t enquire and ended up waiting for an hour for this bus to start as we barely would have saved any time taking a bus to Dharamshala then another bus to Pathankot.
I don’t start that late during the day usually, I did this time only coz I was being accompanied by a guy I had met in Rishikesh in my hostel. Life in public transport is much easier when you’re accompanied by a guy.
I was so thankful for this company each time I saw a bunch of loud guys entering the bus making sure everyone noticed their presence. How I hate travelling alone in Indian buses!
Staying in the Golden Temple:
This is the website that one can use to book accommodation in advance. http://www.sgpcsarai.com
The rooms can be booked for a maximum of two days and the charges are for double bed room – 1100/night in Saragarhi Niwas
These rooms are much nicer like a regular hotel room.
Apart from this sleeping arrangement there’s also another building right behind the community kitchen area called ‘Shri guru Ramdas ji Niwas’ which is the building with dormitories are. I also noticed some private rooms in here but not sure if they are booked in advance. There seemed to more people in each room than it could accommodate.
Dormitories for Foreigners:
There is a dormitory only for foreigners where one can take a bed upon showing the passport and valid Indian Visa. The dormitory is on the left side just before the main big hall of this building. There’s a sign on the door that reads ‘FOREIGNERS’ in white paint, one can’t miss it.
The hall and corridors are full of people and so is the female ward which is where I was directed to when I asked if I could stay in female dormitory. It was a hall with carpet. There were mattresses and blankets in a corner.
Upon giving an id proof they give the keys to a locker. It’s recommended that one keeps all their belongings in the locker as things can get stolen while one is sleeping. I was reminded at least 5 times to do this by the lady staff there so I obliged. I put my day bag in this locker and carried only my phone and wallet to the temple. My shoes went in as well, I walked around bare feet.
Apart from this building, many people sleep inside the temple in the corridors. I saw all kind of people sleeping in there from young group of friends to elderly couples. It looked they came from all economic stratas as well.
I was not too sure of sleeping by myself with all my stuff under my head so I chose to sleep in Ladies ward in the building right outside.
One of the reasons I was hesitant about staying in the temple was as soon as I arrived in Amritsar my periods started bringing in pain that made me want to cry. My toilet concern was put to rest as soon as I used it.
There are western and Indian toilets. It was cleaner than some of the hostel toilets I have had the misfortune of using. The floor was dry, there was running water in the tap, soap containers had soap in the them and they didn’t look like they were sitting there collecting germs since the beginning of time. Carry your toilet paper though.
*Western toilets were not functioning as well with the ass spray out of place.
**Restrooms are separate for men and women
There wasn’t a shower but there’s a bathing area with running water in taps. Bucket bath is possible here.
None of the electrical points work in the evening. They probably do in the morning but I didn’t check as I went back to my old hostel after spending about 4 hours at the temple in the morning.
Other accommodation options:
I stayed for 3 nights in a hostel which was a 10 minute walk from the temple. I was not sure if Indians are allowed in the dormitory. By the time I learned that there are other sleeping arrangements for Indians, I was down with cold and fever so continued to stay in the hostel and went to the temple on my last night in Amritsar.
There are multiple hotels/ guest houses in close vicinity of the temple.
Langar (Food on donation):
There’s a hall where food is served. Just outside they give out steel plates, bowls, and spoons to each person (no plastic trash is created). Follow the people to the langar hall where volunteers serve lentils, curry, chapati, rice, and rice pudding.
Raise both your palms to accept the chapati like one would when accepting offerings in a temple.
Once done, go downstairs and return the utensils. On the left side is wash basins and right side is where chai is served in bowls.
The hall was clean, it gets cleaned after every round of people who come in to eat.
Volunteering in the temple:
One can volunteer directly at the temple. I didn’t see any women serving food though and I don’t think just about anyone can volunteer in the kitchen.
There’s cleaning, doing dishes, chopping vegetables, peeling garlic, serving food jobs available.
I didn’t volunteer anywhere as I didn’t see any lack of manpower while I was there. Lot of people line up to volunteer.
I was looking forward to eating the Kadha Prasad that I have heard of like a million times. There are two sections outside the sanctum to get the Prasad. One can donate any amount over Rs. 10 and get the prasad in leafy bowls.
Prasad was oozing with ghee. It was delicious. Have it with a view of the Golden temple and it’s perfect.
Golden temple timings:
The temple itself is open 24*7 however the holy book (Guru granth sahib) is carried out at around 10 p.m. in the night and carried back in the sanctum at around 4:30 in the morning.
The kitchen is open 24*7 so is the stay area. However one is asked to vacate the premise in the morning (I have no idea why). I was almost kicked out at around 6 a.m. I was the LAST person to wake up in that entire building.
Things to see around:
The Wagah border ceremony is quite popular. there are many shared autos from the Golden temple to Wagah border. They charge Rs. 100 per person to go and come back but the auto rikshaw has about 10 people in it (there were 12 in ours) other than the driver.
Have you been to this magically busy yet peaceful place?