Close to midnight I left the hotel in the biting cold December walking in the old city, the walled-in maze of narrow lanes and tightly serried bazaars that close in around Sri Harmandir Sahib, the holiest Sikh gurdwara, more famously known as the Golden Temple.
At that hour, the prosperous outskirts of Amritsar slumbered, eerily lifeless. Brightly lit streets yawned empty before me, lined on both sides by 12-foot walls and imposing metal gates.
Stunningly beautiful in daylight, the Golden Temple is heart-stoppingly exquisite at night. It glows deeply, as if lit from within, with gilded reflections rippling in the dark waters all around. The tank and temple are encompassed by vast white marble causeways and pillared galleries that remain dimly lit, directing the eye back to the sacred, shimmering centrepiece. Arrayed all around are domes, towers, and turrets in the distinctive Hindu-Muslim style that characterises Sikh identity. I will never forget my first sight of this wondrous night tableau. It took me several minutes to regain my composure and start moving again towards the Akal Takht, the imposing seat of Sikh authority.
The sky was still pitch-black when a low, throbbing horn sounded near the Akal Takht. Jolted out of my thoughts, I rushed towards the sound. There was a loud clanging of cymbals, and a terrific rush as the palanquin containing the Guru Granth Sahib moved towards its daytime abode. Shoulder-to-shoulder in an instant crowd, I reached out, along with everyone else, to touch the holy vehicle. Just managing to brush two fingers on its side as it passed, I found myself standing alone again as the crowd moved forward. I realized I had walked at least a dozen kilometres, stayed alert through the night, travelling the world and many centuries inside my head, all for a moment that was gone in the blink of an eye. But more importantly, I realised I no longer felt unfulfilled. Keeping my eyes on Sri Harmandir Sahib as long as possible, I began the long walk back.