Some months ago, when our tour guide in New Delhi asked if we wanted a quick stopover at one of the most prominent temples in India, my travel buddy and I said “yes” right away.
I normally do a bit of research on top attractions in a place, but the temple was not in my list, but as I have never been to a Sikh temple before, I was happy to visit one. Our guide took us to the Gurdwara Bangla Sahib or Sikh house of worship near Connaught Place.
My buddy Rolly decided not to go into the temple so I went with our guide. He left me on my own once I was in the premises with firm instructions to take off my sandals and wash my feet if I decide to go up the temple.
I was only planning to take a few shots outside the temple. I was so fascinated by everything– the worshippers in colorful traditional clothes, people washing their hands and feet before going up to the holy place, devotees drinking water from the well to get rid of their illnesses.
I tried to be as discreet as possible, staying in the sidelines and turning the camera shutter off to avoid attention but no matter how I tried to be obscure, people just kept noticing me. I saw others cast glances of disapproval at me. Our guide said taking photos was not prohibited but I was becoming uneasy. I tried to cover my camera with a shawl and moved deeper into the premises.
More worshippers came, and then I noticed that almost all of them- young and old men and women all glanced in my direction. Skin-color wise, I blended in well but I felt that something was wrong. I started to think the temple might have changed the regulations about taking photos. I began making my way back to the entrance, still stealing shots on my way when a group of men all looked at me. One of them pointed to me and said something but I didn’t understand it.
Confused and scared, I turned to leave when a young woman approached me and told me in straight English to cover my hair. Only then did I realize I was the only one with uncovered head in the whole place, and my waist-length hair was flying in all directions in the wind. The shawl I used to cover my camera saved me from more embarrassment but I made a hasty exit from the temple premises.
Note to travelers– it always pays to know the culture of the place you are visiting first. It will save you from sticky situations.
The Gurudwara Bangla Sahib used to be the palace of Raja Jai Singh in the 17th century. In 1664, Guru Har Krishan Sahib Ji, the eighth Sikh Guru visited and cured the people who were suffering from a smallpox and cholera epidemic with water from the tank in the temple. Up to now, the people believes that the water has medicinal properties.
There is a library, a museum, a hospital, a school and an art gallery at the Gurdwara but I didn’t go in there anymore. The gurudwara is open 24 hours a day free, but remember to dress properly and keep your head covered.
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