As I had not eaten anything since the previous day (I was too busy crossing the border at Wagah the same morning - see my review of the border crossing), I decided to take advantage of the famous Sikh hospitality and generosity by offering me a treat: a free meal in the Golden Temple Complex.
It was really easy for me to find the huge canteen. There are several entrances to the Golden Temple but just in front of the gurdwara I was staying in (Sri Guru Ram Das Niwas), there was one of the main entrances to the Golden Temple. On the marble causeway, on my right was the canteen.
However, even though I had left my shoes in the Niwas (lodge), I was quickly reminded to put a scarf on my head (there are several boxes throughout the Golden Temple Complex where you can pick a orange scarf, the size of a big handkerchief and use it to cover your head). I hurriedly put one scarf on my head and then I was ready for my free meal!
That day, there were few people queuing. No ticket booth, nothing whatsoever that would stop you from misusing the Sikh generosity (but I look foreign and I would easily be recognised if I ever tried to eat there several times).
Before being able to eat, I was given a steel plate, a steel spoon and a steel bowl. I just had to follow the pilgrims because I did not know what way to go. I just observed how they behaved and tried to copy them. The procession of pilgrims then entered a huge room, probably the biggest canteen I had ever seen with dozens of columns and high ceilings. It could have easily welcomed more than 1,000 people at once. People were eating in perfect rows. No seats, no tables, just bare floors on which pilgrims sat. I was told to go into a row and sit down close to the pilgrims.
As I was sitting down, a man arrived with a huge casserole and started pouring a generous portion of dhal (lentils) curry into our plates, accompanied with two chapati breads. I could choose to eat either with my right hand or my spoon, but I chose the spoon instead because I was not used to India yet.
The taste was not bad even though it was extremely spicy. Also, I was served filtered tap water (in the Temple surroundings, filtered water is available everywhere)
I finished eating my meal in about fifteen minutes and then I was invited to get up and return the plate, the spoon and the bowl to be cleaned. Once a full row of happily fed pilgrims was cleared (every 20-25 minutes), it welcomed another row of hungry pilgrims.
It is said that the Golden Temple can feed up to 35.000 people per day thanks to generous donations from Sikhs.
Meals are free and a donation is not compulsory and you will not be forced to donate anything in the canteen. However, I put a small donation in a box at the canteen exit to thank the Sikhs for the food they had generously offered me without taking my nationality, my wages, my religion, or whatever into consideration.