And so the formula goes: every Sikh is a Singh, but not every Singh is a Sikh.
Dharamasala is behind us as we gun it down to the plains of the Punjabi and the city of Amritsar. Just a few hours after coming down from the mountains, the air is hot and dry.
Tibetan caps have been replaced with turbans, or paghi, and patkas, the black stocking-like headcovers worn by observant Sikh men to keep their untrimmed hair in check. While only 4.5% of India’s total population is Sikh, they make up about half the Punjabi state, and the town of Amritsar is famous not only for its fish tikka, leather shoes and the invention of the pappadum – all excellent things, I’m sure you’ll agree – but also for the most holy of Sikh temples, the Golden Temple.
Shades of Borneo the other week, the domes are covered in 400kg of 24-carat gold and every morning and every night, the sacred text of Sikhs, considered a living god, is woken up and put to bed via a palanquin garnished with garlands of fresh roses and marigolds in great pomp that draws up to 10,000 visitors in one day alone.
Harpreet, a local Sikh, took me round the temple, visiting the massive kitchen full of cauldrons of dhal and a chapatti machine that can churn out 30,000 cooked chapattis an hour. Yes, an hour. Not bad when the average man eats four or five rounds of the bread at each sitting. The 24-hour kitchen, run by a small staff and an army of volunteers, feeds up to 40,000 people every day. Every. Day. Every Sikh temple offers the same service to all comers regardless of religion: which is surely welcome considering the World Bank estimates that 80% of India – that’s 800 million people – earn less than $2 a day.
Lots of men were taking a dip in the waters that surround the temple, and I was reminded of the phrase from the former JJJ reporter Sarah MacDonald’s awesome Indian travelogue, ‘Holy Cow’ that Indians can ‘look without seeing’. Moving on…