A dense haze hangs above half-finished rooftops. Loose wires and pastel tin roofs peek out between layers of pollution.
As we approach the heart of Delhi, the roads lose their characteristic cracks and street dogs, replaced by men in business attire and teenagers flirting as they make their way home from school.
Our bus comes to a stop at the end of a side road. A busy stone footpath runs alongside a pristine stucco building adorned with gold detailing; the Gurdwara Sis Ganj, a Sikh temple in metropolitan Delhi.
While the site is a popular spot for Sikhs and tourists alike, it stands as an important symbol for the Sikh religion.
In 1675, where the temple now stands, a gruesome execution of the ninth Sikh guru, Teg Bahadur, took place. But, despite immense religious persecution, the guru didn’t die defending his own religion. Instead, the guru was sentenced to death for defending the freedom of Hindus to practice their religion in a then-Muslim dominated society.
At the time, the penalty for apostasy and refusing conversion was a public death march followed by beheading.
Sikhism, the fifth largest religion in the world, was founded a mere 500 years ago, a short time as far as religious identities in India are concerned.
An extremely progressive religion for its time, Sikhism believes in a genderless god, renounces empty symbolic rituals and superstitions, advocates for religious freedom, and even then, permitted women to conduct services and lead prayer.
Before entering the area surrounding the Gurdwara, one must remove their shoes and socks, and adorn a head cover.
Making our way into the temple, we touch the steps in a sign of respect leading into an expansive, gold-laden room.
Surrounded by practicing Sikhs, a man in a white robe sits atop a gold platform reciting scripture in melodic tones.
Outside, people of all ages take a moment to cleanse themselves in the Gurdwara pool as carp and minnow nibble along countless toes.
Just around the corner on Gurdwara grounds, a major charitable food initiative is in full swing. A large kitchen with vats of masala, industrial cooktops covered in bread, and what looks like a 30 foot cutting board littered with flour and dough. The heat from the kitchen emanates into the hallway.
Each day, the kitchen feeds 15-20,000 mouths from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. From beggars to affluent members of society, all are welcome to eat and volunteer.