Amritsar Golden Temple ©Solange Hando
As stunning as the Taj Mahal but a truly living place, Amritsar Golden Temple greets you with a glittering display of cloisters, domes and shrines mirrored in glistening waters, welcoming everyone regardless of faith.
Amritsar, the 'pool of nectar', refers to the lake where a temple was built after the miraculous healing of a leper. For the Sikhs, it is the most holy place where wise men, including Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism, meditated long ago.
Pilgrims in Amritsar ©Solange Hando
Pilgrims come from all over India and beyond, sprinkling flowers around the sacred tree, meditating at the water's edge or bathing (men only) in a dedicated spot. All walk clockwise around the lake to the inner sanctum where the holy scriptures are displayed during the day.
Service to others is an integral part of the Sikh way of life and most visitors will help in the communal kitchen, the largest in the world, which feeds up to 35 000 pilgrims a day at festival time.
Sikhs Draped in Blue and Gold, Amritsar ©Solange Hando
Festivals are held to celebrate the Gurus' birthdays or martyrdoms as well as Diwali, the Festival of Lights. It's a time to dress in traditional colours, join in prayers and offerings and maybe watch a traditional mock sword battle.
Close-up of Amritsar Golden Temple, Inner Sanctum ©Solange Hando
But every day brings blessings, especially during the procession when the holy book is ceremoniously carried to the silver gates of the inner sanctum from its night abode in the Akal Takht, the seat of the Sikh authority just across the causeway.
Strikingly beautiful, peaceful and filled with spirituality, the complex was built on land donated by the great Emperor Akbar and enriched with marble and gold by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the 'Lion of Punjab'.
To all my loyal followers: I'll be rambling around Laos for a while, will see you back in March.