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The Sri Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar sits resplendent, glistening in gold leaf, and surrounded by a man-made lake of holy waters. Better known world-wide as the Golden Temple, it is the holiest of gudwaras for the Sikh faith and an important pilgrimage site.
Much like an elegant swan, gliding serenely upon calm waters, beneath the surface there is a hive of activity. I turned a corner, heading away from the cool marble that lines the walkways and buildings that surround the lake and temple.
A growing din of metallic plates crashing together greeted me and sounded reminiscent of a tumultuous prep school lunchtime. I had caught the strains of an industrial washing-up process, the scale of which I had never seen before.
At every gudwara there is a langar where free, healthy, meals are served. At the Golden Temple the langar serves tens of thousands of meals every day. Every morsel is prepared, cooked and served by an army of volunteers and small core of full-time employees.
I snuck away from the metallic din to find a small room where ladies in bright saris oiled a never ending stream of steaming hot, freshly baked, rotis. An industrial process was underway next door as a flour dusted machine swallowed large lumps of dough. First squished into small fat circles, then rolled into longer flatter ovals, and finally fired in a hot oven; all whilst on a continuously moving conveyor belt.
Next door was the kitchen where cauldrons the size of hot tubs simmered vegetarian curries and dhaals, stirred by spoons the size of spades. We were Lilliputians in a giant’s kitchen. Buckets of food and spade-fulls of rice were taken away to feed the tide of the famished.
They sat cross legged in orderly parallel lines and clutched their empty metal meal trays. Men carrying metal buckets of steaming food walked the line and ladled out the fruits of the kitchen production lines’ labour. No cutlery involved, adept use of the roti and freshly washed hands were the order of the day.
Leaving the diners to sate their appetites, I exited through a vegetable preparation room. Sat on the floor, bare foot volunteers peeled and chopped garlic and onions to the hum of fans cooling and circulating the richly aromatic air. With every plate gratefully returned, another hungry devotee was arriving, requiring this army to continue their tireless work.
Outside, joining the gentle flow of people circumnavigating the holy lake, I watched as men dipped and ducked into the holy waters. Believing in the water’s healing powers, they were briefly shunted aside by a cleaner, scouring the marble steps of water’s edge to clean them.
The Golden Temple is one of the world’s great sights, for its ornate golden detail and domes, the placid waters and the cool marble surrounds. Most of all, it is a testament to what you cannot see: the hundreds of unseen devotees working every day to ensure the Golden Temple glides on, effortlessly.