Road Trip – Incredible India

Lohri has arrived! The winter harvest festival is celebrated in January every year by the Sikh community globally. Lohri is the New Year’s Eve equivalent and is followed the next day by Maghi – the first day of the New Year. Both festivals are unique and equally as important. Lohri is also known as the kite flying festival – from 6:30am my neighbourhood erupted with Indian music and hundreds of people out on their rooftops flying kites.

I went to the Golden Temple and had lunch in the Langar Hall and sat on the roof of the temple shrine itself; watching the sunset and the kites in their droves fly carefree in the skies. Another tradition of Lohri is the bonfire. My hosts ensured that this tradition was held this year and we had peanuts, popcorn and Punjabi sweets that we ceremoniously threw into the fire as an offering to God. Masigi (Punjabi for like my mother) led us in prayer as we circumvented the fire five times in respect for God. The ritual part was over and we sat and chatted and danced – my Bollywood moves are really coming along!

In Sikhism, there are five Holy Takhts , three of which are in Punjab. I knew that I must see them while I was there . So we got up before the sun, then Dilmeet and I were off to hit the road and explore three towns: Anandpur, Muktsar and Talwandi Sabo. Now, another fabulous tradition awaited us on the road. Given it was Maghi, there were a multitude of food stops along the way where people go and feed travellers as they pass. This was incredible, it was all part of the Seva – selfless service, and I could not believe how many people there were. We had pakora, rice milk, coconut delights and fresh piping hot chai. Everywhere we went these Langar Stops, as they are named, stopped us in our tracks. Literally on the highway, cars were forced to stop and the volunteers offered food and drinks. In fact, if you didn’t take their baked delicacies they were quite disappointed. We accepted a lot of food and the smiles on the faces of the people were priceless. We did however have to politely decline the odd few as there were at least 30 of these stops and my tummy is only so big.

Sikh temples are laid out much the same across all the villages. They each have a temple shrine that houses the e Guru Granth Sahib, a large ceremonious holy pond, a Langar Hall, and in the case of Damdama Sahib and Sri Keshgarh Sahib the Holy Takhts are in a building on their own. These five seats of authority (Takhts) all hold significance in the history of the faith. For example, at Anandpur the weapons of Guru Gobind Singh the final guru are held there. We were in fact incredibly lucky to see all the weapons on display, as they were normally locked up. On the morning we were there, we saw each item paraded before us as the guru sung praises and explained the history of the items, daggers, swords and other medieval looking metal wear. Dilmeet assured me that this was a special occasion and normally this privilege was not available. How lovely.

Another interesting fact I discovered was that most temples have accommodation for pilgrims, travellers and the like to rest their weary heads. This occurs around the world and not just in India, and at a very low cost. Some rooms were only $3.00 per night , so we decided to stay. Honestly, I was a little apprehensive and I’m not sure why. The room was basic but clean and had a bathroom. It cost me $5.00 and they had five rooms specifically for foreign tourists and from what I can see they give us rooms with bathrooms, as not all rooms had them. I was thankful for that given my nervousness about being alone in this huge complex, with a door that ‘locked’ but not really and it was freezing cold. I survived and had breakfast the next day in the Langar Hall. In fact, it was refreshing waking up to the sounds of the morning chanting by the Granthi. What I really enjoyed about the Sikh community was the ritual and importance given to the Gurdwara (Sikh Temple), which is ingrained. It’s not just a building for worship, it’s a place to gather for food, it’s a place to support the needy, it’s a place to rest your head, and a place where all people are welcome.

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Next stop is Dubai.

Yours in faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim

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