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After six or seven days in India, I was beginning to grow accustomed to this Indian village. It no longer phased me to be woken every morning at 5am, as random speakers in the village would blare out the morning service from a nearby temple. I was also getting used to bathing myself with a bucket, since my uncle’s place didn’t have any kind of shower (not that I was complaining…I was happy enough to have a functioning toilet).
In terms of digestion I was riding high, with not a single day of sickness in the books so far. My sister hadn’t been so lucky, as she’d recently finished puking an entire stack of pancakes on the ground outside the house (my parents always smuggled pancake batter from Canada, for it was a rare commodity and our cousins loved it).
Today there had actually been a reason for the 5am wake-up call. We were headed to Amritsar, to visit the famed Golden Temple. I didn’t know much about this structure, at least not beyond the mini-model that existed in our living room at home. I did however know that it was THE historic temple of Sikh temples, with a dazzling golden look to boot.
I chose a rather plain and standard Indian suit for the excursion (bluish with muted pink), as no one attempts to look flashy on a pilgrimage. Except for the occasional pilgriming slut.
Our cousins didn’t come this time, so it was only the eleven original travellers (my family and extended family), packed in our vans for a three-hour journey. No stops…
…At 10am the sunshine glimmered on a boxed-in lake of sorts. It was a stunning sight, but nothing compared to the epic Golden Temple that sat on the middle of the lake, practically floating or so it seemed. I pressed my face to the window for a better view, but we turned in the other direction and that was that.
We were now in a standstill of traffic, as tourists and locals were inching their way to the temple. We parked our vans a long way off, deciding to walk the rest of the way.
Once we were only minutes away from the outer entrance, things got a little crazy. It was a sea of merchants, running around with armfuls of wares. From Golden Temple replicas to salty snacks to religious symbiology, they had it all for a price you couldn’t miss. By the time we’d made it past we were minus a fair amount of rupees (but plus some trinkets to hang on the rearview mirror).
At the outer entrance we took off our shoes as is custom, and headed to the sub-temple. Here we payed our respects, listened to some readings and at last made our way down the marble steps for a meal. To me this was the most important part, ’cause even though I’m all about worshipping (oh wait, no I’m not), a girl’s gotta eat!
Twenty minutes later, our stainless steel cups and compartmentalized plates were empty (and our legs were a little sore from sitting cross-legged on the ground). All of this meant that the time had arrived to step inside the Golden Temple. No wait, first it seemed that the men had disappeared down a separate marble staircase. The women led us down a similar staircase in the other direction. As I adjusted my eyes to the absence of sun, I became aware of a startling sight: women in their underwear (right up to the granny age) and some of them even naked, bathing themselves in a shallow pool of water.
This was the very same water from the lake surrounding the Golden Temple. Holy water I was told. My mother told my sister and I where to take off our clothes (so we could be a part of the holy action too). But of course, that was not going to happen. We refused. My mother and aunt were extremely displeased, and in the end they could only convince us to roll up our Indian suits to our knees, for the purpose of wading around for a bit.
I felt no guilt at shunning this religious custom, nor do I feel that now. Today I’m sure I’d disrobe with little issue (maybe), but as a self-conscious teen completely repulsed by my own naked body? Not on this trip!
Once my posse of women had dried their flesh and clothed themselves again, we were back in the sunlight waiting in line with hundreds and maybe more. The sun beat down on our heads as our queue inched forward..
…Three hours later we were sitting inside the opulent Golden Temple. Id’ love to describe the glorious feeling of being inside the temple at age fourteen, but to be honest I can’t exactly recall it. It’s more the awkward bathing with ladies that I cannot seem to forget. That’s certainly not the type of “memory ranking” one strives for, but I was only fourteen afterall…what else could I expect from my self-involved memory?
Nevertheless I’ll give the Golden Temple the “two thumbs up”, so please check it out if you’re ever in the neighbourhood (and don’t worry, I observed it properly in 2006).
[This post is another in the series of my first family trip to India in ’95. Here is the next installment]
This is so cool that you are writing this adventure down, by the way. And I bet that you are the first to coin the term “pilgriming slut.” Just because I enjoy these posts so much, I am going to go bathe via a bucket now. Okay, off to look for a bucket…
Golden temple is culturally the most significant place of worship of the Sikhs and one of the oldest Sikh gurdwaras… well written! keep it up!
Pretty cool looking temple. How do you find your shoes when you leave? If there are hundreds of people visiting doesn’t it get a little confusing?
I’m with you – had I been confronted with a big communal get-nekkid experience at that age, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to shake it for days!
Sure sounds beautiful, though. The temple, not the communal nudity. 😀
The events leading up to the grand communal nudity were splendid, I was a little disappointed you couldn’t give us better insight on the latter part of the story. Can’t say I blame you, seeing a handful of naked old ladies would probably cause me to try and forget many many things. More to come I hope!
Maleesha: hahaha….if I inspired you to bathe with a bucket because I wrote this, then my work here is done 🙂
always indian: thanks for visit, and yes you are definitely right about that! 🙂
Kerplar: very good question; in regular temples you just put your shoes in the shoe slot that is empty and then find it yourself, but in one as huge as this, they have shot-slot attendants, and I believe they have to give you a number or something so you can get the right ones back (not so when I visited the Taj Mahal though, your shoes could totally get lost/stolen there, unless they have changed that!)
Taoist Biker: the temple was quite exquisite to behold, the gold really did make the water glimmer! And the communal nekkedness is something to definitely pass on 😉
omegaradium: believe me I was disappointed at not remembering the big hurrah as well, but my only other option would be to make something up and that’s not cool man! 😉 And ya, ya, there’s more…like was that only the third post? There’s like four more I think…will probably trickle into May 😉
Wow – that is quite the experience! It looks like a gorgeous place and so pretty in the lake like that. Of course, all the other buildings surrounding it are pretty impressive as well. Yeah, the whole bathing thing as a teenager would definitely be uncomfortable. I think I would have done the same as you and your sister. LOL.
well it is a divine place..the amount of peace n joy u get just looking @ the temple, just cant b expressed in words…
This is kinda like me having to wear a pair of women’s pants to get into the Vatican while I was in Italy (foolishly I had forgotten to wear proper outter wear for the religious/tourist occasion) and instead of being filled with “awe” over the Vatican I was a little more concerned with my apparent cross dressing in the Catholic meca of the world 😉 Lovely post Romi!
IT IS A VERY READABLE JOURNEY TO THE HOLY PLACE. I TOO LONG TO VISIT BUT IT IS SO FAR AWAY FROM MY STATE.
Do I HAVE to go on a pilgrimage to find a decent slut? (And is ‘decent slut’ an oxymoron?)
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[…] of this totally epic edifice, we were asked to remove our shoes by the outer entrance. Unlike our visit to the Golden Temple though, here the shoes were scattered everywhere. Which of course means that Slumdog Millionaire […]