In north-western India near the Pakistani border is Harmandir Sahib – The Golden Temple – spiritual focus point of the Sikh religion. It attracts more visitors than the Taj and, for a small, voluntary (read: not so voluntary) donation, foreigners can stay inside this holiest of holy complexes.
Foreign pilgrims camp together in a dimly-lit room on rows of wooden beds with threadbare, colourful quilts, individual lockers and communal bathrooms. There are separate rooms for families but luxurious this isn’t and luxurious it shouldn’t be. Sikh pilgrims sit in the courtyard and stretch out at night in the glow of the flood-lit temple, absorbing the last rays of heat from the sun-warmed marble slabs.
Everyone can partake in Langur: free meals from the vast, onsite kitchen where a conveyor belt of chapatis are made by chattering, sari-covered women pounding out discs of floury dough surrounded by mercurial vats of bubbling dahl.
As night falls, the temple’s shimmering reflection sets the indigo water ablaze and crowds gather suffocatingly close, delirious with religious fever to see the Guru Granth Sahib – the holy book – on its nightly journey from the temple.