Do you have a Travel Bucket List?



A few weeks ago a book arrived in my mail - Bucket List of a Traveloholic, by Sarika Pandit. "A frenzied quest of not just collecting stamps in her passport, but ticking off items off her ever-expanding bucket list", said the blurb at the back of the book. Pandit's bucket list ranged from 'learning a local language in a country (Spain)' to 'a literary trail of favourite authors (UK)', from 'road tripping to the Sahara (Morocco) to 'bumping into the Big Five (South Africa)'. To be sure, several of these bucket list items seem to have evolved from a trip itself, so technically cannot be called a 'bucket list'!

Nevertheless, as a first book it's a commendable effort. Heck, everyone has a book in them, only a brave few get it out, right? I enjoyed the book in parts; Pandit has a flair for storytelling, but it's a bit inconsistent. The Eastern Europe chapters were my favourites and I am certainly plotting to get there! 

I felt that Pandit's language was a bit blog-like throughout the book, which may work for some readers of course. Also, she seems to have ignored William Faulkner's well-known writing advice - "you must kill all your darlings"! The book is peppered with them and could have done with tighter editing. Overall, a quick, fun read. Have you read it? What did you think?

Talking about bucket lists, here's one experience I would love to add to mine - Volunteering at the Golden Temple langar. I didn't get a chance to do it the last time I visited. But I did see the langar operations firsthand and I wrote about it for National Geographic Traveller; the feature appeared in the June 2014 issue of the Indian edition of the magazine. Read on to know more.  




Food for All
It takes hundreds of volunteers to keep one of the world's largest community kitchens running.




It is lunchtime at the Guru ka Langar at Amritsar’s gleaming Sri Harmandir Sahib, better known as the Golden Temple, and I can’t quite wrap my head around the numbers. On the average day, 75,000 people eat a free meal here. About 12,000 kilos of flour will be used to make 2,00,000 rotis for the congregation. More than 100 gas cylinders and 5,000 kilos of firewood will be used to prepare the meals.

I am in Amritsar because temple food has always held a special place in my heart. This shrine runs one of the biggest community kitchens in the world, and I want to see how they run the show. So before we head to the langar hall, my guide, Davindarji, takes me on a tour of the kitchen. We start with a piece of equipment that is obviously the pride of the kitchen: the automated roti-maker, which can churn out 25,000 rotis an hour. I watch fascinated as the machine, accompanied by a high-decibel rattle, rolls out perfect spheres by the dozen. It is pressed into action on days when larger crowds are expected. On other days, volunteers make the rotis by hand.




In fact, because the gurudwara has a small staff, much of the work here is done by volunteers who peel, chop, cook, and serve the thousands of devotees and tourists who flock to the Amritsar’s No. 1 tourist attraction. I see groups of women cleaning and chopping brinjals for the day’s meals. Elsewhere, volunteers use long rods to stir bubbling vats of dal. The air is thick with the pungent aroma of onions, garlic, and spices. Volunteers sanguinely brave the rising steam from the vegetables, dal, and kheer.


Back in the langar hall, I sit to eat with strangers. In keeping with the tenets of Sikhism, all barriers of religion, caste, and social status are obliterated as diners share a meal as equals, sitting on the floor in a line (pangat). With a call of “Jo bole so nihal… sat sri akal”, we begin eating.


Energetic young volunteers rush back and forth ladling dal and vegetables into each plate. The rotis, however, are not served on your plate. Rather, you raise your hands and accept them with humility and piety.

As the pangat starts to leave, more sevadars rush in to carry the plates to the cleaning area. Another team of volunteers begins washing them. Still others mop the floors, keeping the kitchen and the langar halls spotless.



Outside the langar, hot chai is available. As I sip a small cupful, I marvel at the extraordinary feat the temple achieves every day, upholding the ideals of community service so cherished by Sikhism. On my way out, as I collect my footwear from the area where it is stored, I notice that my dusty shoes have been wiped clean. Sikhism emphasises the importance of seva, or service, as a route to negating the ego and finding peace. Looking at the contented faces of the sevadars, that certainly seems true.

THE VITALS

The Golden Temple is open, and serves langar, 24 hours a day. At around 4.30 a.m., the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, is carried from the Akal Takht, in another part of the complex, around the main shrine. The first hukumnama (order of the day) is read at around 5 a.m., while the last is read at 9.45 p.m. At around 10 p.m., the Palki Sahib (holy palanquin) on which the holy book lies, is taken back to its resting place. Throughout the day, there are kirtans, prayers, and readings from the holy book. As with all Sikh shrines, the head must be covered at all times, so remember to take along a scarf.


This story was commissioned by National Geographic Traveller, India and was published in their June 2014 edition. Read it here


So, what experiences are on your bucket list? Leave a comment below and let me know. 


P.S. If you're looking for Amritsar hotels, I stayed at the strangely named Hotel Hongkong Inn, which is quite centrally located; just 1 kilometre from the railway station and 2 kilometres from the Golden Temple. It's reasonably priced and the rooms are large and clean. They offer a good breakfast as well. 

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