B - from Delhi we got another Shabadti Express north to Amritsar, in the north-west, close to the Pakistan border. The city is one of the biggest in the Punjab, and is populated mainly by Sikhs. It is famous for the Golden Temple, the biggest and most important Sikh temple in the world, and that was why we visited. We went there on our first evening and stayed long enough to watch the sun set. It was huge, with many people, but unlike the frenetic hindu temples it had an incredibly peaceful, spiritual feel to it. There is a walkway around a huge pool of water with the golden temple itself in the middle. There is beautiful and meditative music from the temple as priests keep up a constant chant or song, reading from their holy book.
There weren't many western tourists there at all, mainly Sikh pilgrims but they paid us little attention - those who did were very kind, helpful and welcoming when we looked lost. I will send some pictures but I don't think they convey the scale or special atmosphere of the place. The best thing (that Claire was looking forward to the most!) about the temple, was an adjoining building that serves as a communal dining hall serving free thalis to any visitors, regardless of religion or race. Of course we were v excited about this but a bit shy, so we were hesitating at the entrance when a friendly man came up and gave us a thali plate and ushered us up the stairs. We entered a big low hall, empty of furniture except for strips of matting running the length of the hall. Queues of people were coming in and simply sitting down next to the previous person on the matting, so once full, there were many long lines of people sitting on the floor facing the opposite line. After a quick prayer, men came out with big buckets of rice and dhal and go quickly along each line, slopping an approximate amount into each thali dish, also giving out chapatis. I had previously had doubts about the quality of the food but it was some of the best we'd had, and the whole experience was great, really humbling and equalising to be sitting on the floor along with everyone else. People there were really friendly and welcoming too.
We stayed in Amritsar slightly longer than I expected - that was Claire got sick. While she was recovering in bed i used the time to increase my knowledge of indian history and visited nearby gardens were there was a memorial where 2000 Sikhs were famously killed/injured when the British opened fire on a peaceful protest back at the turn of the century - just after the first world war I think. This caused an outrage at the time and increased anti-British feeling and spurred on Indian attempts at independence. Don't know if you've heard of it - i remembered it as it was in the film Ghandi. Felt bit sheepish visiting as a Brit myself - haven't visited anywhere touched by British colonialism it is quite strange.