"Hello, you want rickshaw, Golden Temple only bis rupiya (20 rupees). Golden Temple rickshaw! Rickshaw Golden Temple!"
Rickshaw wallahs ," young and old, mostly in their lungi (garment worn like sulu) were the first ones to greet us as soon as we got off the bus from Delhi.
My best buddy and my tauvu from Lovoni in Ovalau, Peni Totoka and I came on this trip right after we completed our final semester exams.
For me, the distance was like travelling from Narain Jetty in Suva to Savusavu, except I was in a bus and not on a boat.
Sleep deprived after travelling for 11 hours, there was no time to bargain for rickshaw fare when we arrived in Amritsar, the spiritual centre for the Sikhs ," the home of the Golden Temple and the gateway to Punjab.
As soon as my tauvu and I hopped on, questions kept coming one after the other put across with the little Hinglish (Hindi English) that they know. The most common one being, where you from? You like India? Little do they know that for my tauvu and I we have been living in their country for three and two years respectively.
After the 10-minute ride, riddled with questions and offers of cheap accommodation, there was our destination ," The Golden Temple.
The street that led to the entrance was filled with cars, bikes, cycle rickshaws and thousands of devotees and tourists alike who were eagerly awaiting their chance to enter this holy place.
Outside the main entrance, everyone took their shoes off, checked them in with an attendant and proceeded into the complex.
At a trough of swiftly running water, we dipped our feet to cleanse them.
The Golden Temple or the Shri Harmandir Sahib, located in the city of Amritsar in the state of Punjab is the holiest shrine of the Sikh religion.
The temple is in the centre of the old part of Amritsar. It is an important seat of Sikh culture and history.
At first glance, I thought that everyone was trying to protect their heads from the raging heat as women and men alike were wearing scarves.
Walking slowly into the mandir complex, trying to absorb the work done by hands centuries ago, it then occurred to me that this was a must or the tough Punjabi guards at the main entrance would not allow us in.
The Golden Temple sits on a rectangular platform, surrounded by a huge pool.
The entrance to this temple complex is through an ornate archway with intricate inlay work. One of the Sikhs there told me that the inscription on the doorway were actually verses from their holy book the Granth Sahib.
Passing the two huge Punjabi guards and as we descended down the white marble steps, we could not help but marvel at what man could do back in those days where there was hardly any heavy machinery or technology.
As soon as we walked out of the archway, out into the hot sun, we could not believe what greeted us from the middle of the pool. The architectural delight.
The Golden Temple sits right in the middle of the pool and is linked from the main complex surrounding it by a causeway known as the Guru's Bridge.
Admiring the temple from the side, I asked my tauvu for us to just sit down there for about half an hour and do our meditation since the place was so peaceful. But at the same time, we were distracted by the huge tilapias swimming around the pool. Imagine we had not seen fishes swimming in the water after we left Fiji. How we wished we had packed our fishing lines or at least a net.
Hundreds of devotees with their offerings or prasad were lining up the Guru's Bridge waiting patiently to enter the Golden Temple. We joined them. It took us about half an hour of standing in a queue from the main complex to the Golden Temple. Most eyes were on us as we did not have any plate of offering nor the holy leaves that they take with them to the temple.
While being squeezed from left, right, front and back, I noticed that the main north entrance was under a Victorian clock tower. There were loud speakers in every corner of the main complex and the causeway that broadcasted the priests' continuous recital from their holy book verses.
Going further into the causeway and admiring and touching the gold railings since I've never touched gold railings before, I realised that the lower storey of the temple is made up of white marble. One of the devotees in the queue told me that the walls decorated with inlaid flowers and animal motifs was similar to that of the Taj Mahal. He was right. The architecture of the Golden Temple is a blend of the Hindu and Muslim designs.
Entering the temple, there were priests inside who were reciting verses from the holy books. After passing through and having a quick glance as the guards were heading towards us because we were trying to click the priests who were reciting, we quickly exited to the side of the temple. While standing out there and with the sun high up in the sky, we could make out that the upper storey of the temple was gold plated and crowned with a dome, shaped like an inverted lotus.
According to Mohan Singh, one of the many Sikhs we spoke to that day and who had been going to the temple for as long as he could remember, at the first light of dawn, the reflection of the temple in the holy tank gives an unearthly atmosphere to the complex. He said that as the sun shifted, the temple presented myriad views, each magnificent and captivating.
Talking to one of the pundits whom I met while relaxing after we left the temple, the Golden Dome, believed to be glided with 100 kilograms of pure gold, was supposed to represent an inverted lotus flower. He said that it was pointing back to earth to symbolise the Sikh's concerns of this world.
As we completed our tour around the complex, we joined the rest of the devotees and tourists who were dreading the hot sun and made the most of the marble tiles in the main complex surrounding the temple either sitting down or for some, they were snoring away. They must have been early morning travellers like us.
Just looking at this amazing architecture glittering in the sun, I could not stop thinking as to how they actually did it. But this is India, with them anything is possible.