It was another scorchingly hot day in India’s Punjab region and I was on my sixth round circumnavigating one of the most breathtaking religious structures I had ever visited— the Golden Temple.
I was sweaty and sticky but most importantly, I was hungry. No matter how many times I stopped to ask for directions, I still couldn’t seem to find Amritsar’s best lunch spot.
Finally, I was instructed to look up toward one of the four entrances of the Golden Temple complex where the semi-obstructed sign above it printed “langar,”quite distinctly. Laughing to myself about my obvious lack of awareness and sense of direction, I hurriedly weaved my way through the overwhelming crowds of visitors and worshipers toward the langar.
The Golden Temple is the holiest place of worship for the Sikh religion. People come from all over India and the world to visit this peaceful oasis of spiritual devotion. At every Sikh gurudwara (place of worship) in India, there are free kitchens called “langars.” Upholding the inclusive morals of the Sikh religion, anyone and everyone is welcome to eat at langars free of charge any time of day, regardless of their caste, gender, creed, nationality, religion or status.
The langar is a testament to its transcendent values of community, acceptance and the belief of attaining peaceful coexistence in the world. Eating at the Golden Temple’s langar is both exhilarating and jaw-dropping. Where on earth can you find a place where volunteers from all over the world come together so efficiently to make food, serve and clean for upwards of 100,000 visitors a day? It’s truly a special and unique setting that should definitely be experienced if you’re traveling through India.
I can only describe my meal as a whirlwind of an experience that I definitely wasn’t prepared for. Here are some things to expect when eating a meal at the Golden Temple’s langar.
When in doubt, follow the crowd.
When I had reached the langar’s entrance, I was clueless as to what I was supposed to do next. I quickly decided to follow the queue as they all seemed to know what they were doing. We glided from one volunteer to the other collecting silver bowls, trays and utensils for the meal.
Still following the large swarm of people, we reached a staircase where we waited for the doors to open, signally our turn to enter the dining hall. It didn’t take long for the wide, wooden doors to burst open.
I didn’t have much time to brace myself for what came next. Before the doors completely came to an open, people started running into the dining hall with silver plates and spoons in hand. Both men, women and children were clamouring for a spot on the floor where long strips of cotton were laid as place settings.
Without hesitation, I ran to an empty area on the narrow plate path only to be beat to the spot on the floor by several giggling children. Pivoting to the right, I spotted an opening and snatched a seat next to a friendly looking woman.
Tip: When trying to find a seat for yourself, don’t be afraid to run to find your spot. Everyone’s doing it! There will always be some place on the floor where you can sit but part of the fun of the experience is trying to snag yourself a spot!
Lunch itself won’t be very impressive. It’s what goes into the cooking that matters most.
I had only half a second to catch my breath and let out a laugh before the serving of lunch commenced. Volunteers made the rounds spooning spinach curry with soya chunks, vegetable rice and kheer (rice noodles cooked in sweetened milk) onto our plates as we sat cross-legged on the marble floor. Devotees greeted their toasty chapatis with a small prayer.
Eating with only my hands as they traditionally do in India, I tore off a piece of warm chapati and dipped it into my dal. I noticed the room was loud — not with the sounds of people, but with the noises of silver hitting silver.
Tip: Know that the food isn’t all too impressive — just the basics, really — but the energy and love behind the creation of the food and the energy of the room is what makes the experience so memorable. Sikhs come from all over the world to partake in the creation of this meal as a means of growing within their spirituality through service to others.
It feels like it’s over before it even begins.
It felt like it was only ten or fifteen minutes into the meal before people finished their food and began returning their plates to the other room. People still eating were soon motioned to finish up their food before they started getting ready for the next round of hungry guests.
I savoured what I could and shoved the rest into my mouth while walking to the exit with the rest of the mob. Following the crowd once more, we collectively turned down a staircase. The second I turned the corner, my nose was hit with a very spicy aroma. We were entering the kitchen. To the right stood tall mounds of different veggies with several hundred people preparing them. Just behind the many dish washing stations were a row of women crafting chapati like an art.
I handed my dirty dishes to the last volunteers and headed out into the main complex under the relentless sun once more.
You will leave the langar with both a full belly and a happy heart. Witnessing Sikhism’s moral messages of self-service in action will leave you at a loss for words and a desire to connect with that positive energy once more.
Have you ever had a unique food experience like this one?