When I decided that India was my bucket list destination for my 50th birthday, the Golden Temple in Amritsar became a priority. I saw magnificent photos of the Golden Temple which mesmerized me. The stories about a massive kitchen, all run by volunteers, serving between 50,000 – 75,000 free meals a day, intrigued me. I knew that not only did I want to see, learn, and participate in that kitchen, but also have my children share in this.
And so we did. A few months back, my family of 6 (including three teenagers), went to India for a couple of weeks. We travelled to a number of different spots in North India and had many diverse and exhilarating experiences. However, our experiences in the Golden Temple in the Punjab state were one of my favourites.
The Golden Temple
The Golden Temple is the most important pilgrimage site for Sikhism in the world. Accordingly, there are thousands and thousands of visitors from all over India and the world visiting this site on a daily basis. Multiple buildings surround the Golden Temple. They house, among other things, areas for religious study, accommodation for pilgrims, and kitchen facilities to feed between tens of thousands of people a day. Most areas are open to the public. At your convenience, you are welcome to wander on the campus exploring the different buildings and rooms.
We had a private guide lead us through an evening and a morning at the Golden Temple. There were many awe inspiring moments. Here’s why.
1. The Golden Temple is totally encased in gold. At night, thousands of lights shine onto the exterior of the gold to create a dazzling appearance. In front of it, there is a massive man made shallow pond that reflects the lights. The effect of the gold, the lights and the reflection of the gold and the lights onto the pond, is absolutely captivating.
2. Everyone who enters the Golden Temple must cover their head. They provide orange scarves for those who do not have their own head scarves. Upon entering the complex, I saw a sea of orange scarves. Immediately, I felt connected to the Golden Temple and the other visitors.
3. There are hardly any non-Indian visitors. When we were there, I felt that I was a part of an important religious celebration without feeling like a tourist. We were welcomed and invited to celebrate the Golden Temple like every other person there.
4. Families were everywhere. There were little ones running around with parents chasing after them. Surrounded by their families, the elderly walked with their children and grandchildren. They seemed thrilled to share these moments with them.
5. Although the Golden Temple is an exceptionally important religious site for Sikhs, the atmosphere at the Golden Temple was joyful and celebratory. People talked, children ran around, and everyone was taking photos of themselves and each other.
6. Everyone was having their own individual moments. There were huge public areas and walkways around the pond and the buildings. There was a lot of space for everyone to move around as they wished and choose their own moments to reflect.
The Kitchen in the Golden Temple
I loved spending time in the langar, or the kitchen at the Golden Temple. The Golden Temple offers free meals, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to anyone, without any questions asked. In fact, it makes between 50,000 – 75,000 meals a day. Donations by visitors fund the kitchen and volunteers run and operate it. Anyone can volunteer at any time, including children.
The kitchen is an enormous multi-building facility which houses some industrial size cooking apparatuses and washing equipment. However, not much! When I heard about a kitchen churning out over 50,000 meals a day, I immediately thought that the kitchen would have some kind of automation to accomplish this. But, I was completely wrong. Volunteers do most of the meal preparation and clean up by hand. You can imagine the number of people that have to be volunteering in order to produce enough food to feed over 50,000 meals a day! It was absolutely amazing to see.
Volunteers in the Golden Temple Kitchen
In one building, people sat on the floor, where ever they found a spot, surrounded by vegetables. They peeled and/or cut one after another. Just when we thought these volunteers would “finish” their pile, another volunteer happily arrived with another cart of unpeeled and unsliced vegetables. It was endless.
Nearby, dozens and dozens of volunteers stood along enormous sinks with hoses to wash dirty plates and cups, the pile of which never shrank. In an assembly line, they soaked dishes first, then washed, then dried, then stacked them for reuse again.
In another building, people sat on the floor around low lying tables and made roti, a flat bread cooked on a griddle. Some volunteers made the dough, others rolled and shaped it, and still others grilled it. Again, the supply chain never slowed down or were at a loss of supplies. When the pile of dough within arms reach of a volunteer looked like only a handful of roti were left, another delivery of dough arrived within seconds.
Volunteers cooked huge vats of vegetarian soup or curries in yet another building. They stirred these massive vats of food with enormous wooden ladles that looked like someone had hand cut from a large tree.
Our Experience in the Kitchen
When we were there, I watched dozens of people come and go and volunteer in one area or another. Volunteers arrived at a station, sat down or nudged themselves in to a line, and the group reshaped and continued on their mission. They stayed for 5 minutes or a couple of hours. It did not matter. Everyone’s contribution was welcome. The buildings were a buzz of activity and of people flowing into and out of groups of people.
Our contribution? We sat, peeled and cut potatoes for awhile. Then, we tried to roll out the dough and shape roti. Everyone was kind and thrilled to show us the ropes. It was an extraordinary experience.
For other articles about our time in India, please see the list below:
- Fourteen Days In India With Kids: Cows, Culture and Chaos;
- Best Places To Visit In India: Four Reasons Why You Should Go;
- India with Kids: Eight Reasons Not To Go;
- Rathambore Safari in India: How My I-Phone Flashlight Saved My Life;
- Escaping Death Near Rathambore National Park In India; and
- Amritsar Sightseeing: Things You NEED To Know.
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