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Day 30: Amritsar

Michael Palin - HimalayaThe chapatti production line shares a tall barn-like space with dal cauldrons, the largest cooking vessels I've ever seen. Vats like giant tympana are set above gas jets and stirred with mighty ladles.

I pick my way through the kitchens, across a terrace where 30 or 40 people sit slicing onions and garlic, green peppers and ginger, and up the stairs to take a meal in one of the spartan communal dining rooms. Each floor is the size of a warehouse and can accommodate 3000 covers at any one time. I join a line of people who file in and sit cross-legged at a long coir mat, soggy from periodic washing. Volunteers pass through, giving out segmented stainless steel trays, which others then fill up with chapatti, dollops of pickle and dal ladled out of steel buckets. Water is poured into our mugs from another bucket.

As a helpful man next to me says, this whole process embodies the Sikh teaching that we are all equal and we must learn to serve each other.

This high-volume soup kitchen is not the only service; there are also free dormitories here providing accommodation for 25,000 people a night.

It looks and sounds like a fine and good thing but there have been abuses of the system. I notice a sign advising 'Pilgrims must not accept eatables from strangers', which refers to a recent spate of cases of people being drugged and their belongings stolen.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 30: Amritsar
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Amritsar
  • Book page no: 68

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