Having studied many photos and images of the Golden Temple for many years, I thought I was prepared for what I would encounter when I arrived at Amritsar on my first visit to the Punjab.
How wrong I was! Firstly, entering the ancient and holy town of Amritsar itself was an experience, with all the traffic chaos and human bustle that is part and parcel of India, but this time with the narrow laneways and what seemed like a far more intense concentration of people from all walks of life.
Having been delayed by fog in both Delhi and Amritsar and fearing that mother nature was conspiring to keep it out of my reach, the moment of the temple finally coming into view felt even more significant than my first sighting of the Taj Mahal. The first thing that struck me was the scale of the structure itself. I knew it was large, but I didn’t expect it would be so grand. And when I climbed the steps and took in my first view, I literally felt it take away my breath.
I was honoured to have been received by the very patient organising committee, where we had a fantastic discussion ranging from Sikh values to the history of the temple, and they were keenly interested in the Sikh community of Australia. I was delighted to be able to report that since I lived down the road from the Glenwood Gurudwara, their Australian colleagues were a credit to them and all Sikh people around the world.
It felt like fate that the moment I was led onto the upper paths to take the walk around the sacred lake, fireworks were ignited and a soft mist began to gather, which both obscured the structure but enhanced its gold reflection. The numbers of worshippers was also a sight to behold and I could distinguish accents from American to Australian. It is still estimated that the site receives around 50,000 visitors daily. It was astounding to hear how many of these pilgrims would leave gifts of gold, and how many volunteers dedicated themselves to the upkeep of the holy place with their own time and resources.
As the sun set and the lights lit up the temple, it was impossible not to give in to feelings of majesty and sacredness. As we departed, I was met by local media seeking comments on my visit. I recall I had difficulty expressing what I had just experienced and it was only later when I read some extracts of the beautiful gifts of books I was presented with that I found the appropriate words: they were those of Guru Arjan Sahib Ji who wrote:
“I have seen all places, but none can compare to you. The Primal Lord, the architect of Destiny, has established you; thus you are adorned and embellished”.
I came away from Amritsar with a feeling that I had walked in the footsteps of great people, and an experience that would never leave me.