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Six images from my alarmingly expanding archives: visit my website at www.timbirdphotography.com

India is full of surprises. Just when you think the whole place is falling apart and there is no concern for order of any kind, you come across startling examples of method in the madness. Amritsar was my latest example of this.

It’s as polluted as any city in India, more polluted than most, and the litter-strewn roads appear to be falling apart. An unhealthy haze hangs over everything. Yet when you enter the main compound of the Golden Temple, the Harmandir Sahib, you are immediately enchanted by a sense of calm and almost pristine cleanliness of a kind almost unknown on the daily outward face of India.

This is the centre of the Sikh religion, a hybrid mix of Hinduism and Islam founded by the Guru Nanak in the 15th century. The original holy book of the Sikhs, the Guru Grath Sahib, is housed in the main shrine opposite the dazzling Temple, itself positioned in the middle of a ‘tank’ or artificial pool approached along a canopied marble causeway, rumoured to have healing powers for those who brave its chilly water. It’s a very gentle place, where verses from the holy book are chanted from loudspeakers, live ensembles of traditional musicians perform, and the tall bearded Sikh guards quietly ensure that etiquette is observed, like gentle bouncers.

The Golden Temple is well documented and photographed – understandably. It is an extraordinarily beautiful apparition. Less well documented is the refectory, the ‘langar’ or meal hall, where pilgrims and infidel foreign guests such as myself can sit cross-legged on the floor and eat little feasts of dal, sweet rice pudding and roti. The all-welcoming open restaurant is symbolic of the open nature of Sikhism, which shuns the caste system of its cousin Hinduism, for example.

I wandered into the huge kitchens quite unchallenged, greeted only with smiles and welcoming gestures – a dreamland for photographers accustomed to stern and grudging looks of admonishment. Vast vats of dal steamed away, the roti machine continued on its daily production of 60,000 pieces of bread, the volunteer dishwashers lined up to do their bit over troughs filled with clanking metal thali plates. And everything proceeding with the kind of clockwork efficiency that would put the Swiss to shame.

Here are six images from my very memorable visit. Since other aspects of India, such as its sometimes dodgy wifi, are holding true to form as I post this, the pictures might not appear in any logical order at first, but I hope you get the idea!refectory6 refectory5 refectory4 refectory3 refectory2 refectory1

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