Amritsar 8/6-8/08

Amritsar Travel Blog

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Monday 8/06/07


I woke up around 6am & Chris was still here! He'd fallen asleep last night – luckily, he had enough time to get to work. I'm able to give him all of the things I won't need in the next 2 ½ weeks and the weight of my pack goes down dramatically. I'd put my pics on his computer and hopefully he'll remember to email a few to my mom. I'm excited about Amritsar, the Golden Temple is supposed to be amazing! And I plan on staying there. Apparently travelers can stay for free in basic accommodations (although a donation is expected). Sule said this was a great way to really experience the temple and she enjoyed her stay there. I'll arrive around 6:30pm, which will give me just enough time to get to the temple and eat before it gets too late. I'm also hoping to watch a border-closing ceremony with Pakistan one evening. I'm at the BLR airport now, and (of course) my flight is not on time. It was supposed to depart at 12:55, but is now scheduled for 13:20. I have to collect my bags in Delhi and re-check-in. I originally had 2 hours to do the switch. Hopefully I won't have another problem with this, like I had on the way to Bangalore when I first got here!  As long as it isn't delayed further, I should be fine. When I arrived in Delhi I had to collect my bag. As I was waiting, I discovered that my flight was out of a DIFFERENT airport in Delhi! Of course, my bag took forever to show up – I had it in hand at 4:30 – 1 hour before my flight. I booked it to the pre-paid taxi line, got snippy with a guy who tried to nudge his way in front of me, and hustled to the taxi stand. The international airport is 10km away. My driver's English consists of "hello" and "good morning" – even though it's nowhere near. At this point I can only hope my 2nd flight has been delayed. I get to the airport at 5pm – on the dot and pray they'll still take my luggage. My flight's been delayed 1 hour! Hallelujah! And then, another ½ hour. It dawns on me that I'll be arriving in Amritsar very late. When I do arrive, I take a rickshaw to the Golden Temple, hoping I can still Check in. I'm stumbling my way through the customs: shoes off, head covered, don't lose coin for the shoe-check, don't let scrap material slide off my hair, juggle all of my bags, find a room! It's rained and the marble floor is slimy. Pictures from a magazine flash through my mind as I recall an article about worms infesting peoples' bodies and doctors pulling them out through a little girl's leg (or maybe it was her stomach or arm – regardless…). My feet begin to itch in a very paranoid fashion. A couple of (Temple?) Sikhs take me on a tour of the Temple. The temple is open to all people – regardless of religion, race, sex, etc (which is not as normal in India as it is in the states). There is exotic music playing over the loud speaker and I have a feeling it's always live. I'm found a room on the opposite side of the lake from where you enter the Temple. It's a main room with cots and a few side rooms with cots. I find a locker to deposit my bags and continue the tour with the Sikhs. They take me inside the Temple and I see the final ceremony of the night. They uncover their holy book and then ceremoniously wrap it up again, and it's paraded out of the temple under a richly decorated covered throne which is carried on poles by 4 men. As we exit the Temple, people are reaching down into the water to bring cupped hands full of water to their mouths to drink. I am instructed to do the same. In ceremony, I do, but I opt not to ingest the lake water. Upon exiting, everyone is given a handful of a wet, sweet, doughy substance to eat… I'm not sure what it is and maybe it's best to not think about it. I put a tiny bit into my mouth and carry the rest for a while, until I finally ask the Sikh if it would be rude for me to not eat the rest – because I WILL, if that's the case.  He smiles and leads me to a garbage can where I throw the rest away.  I feel a little bad, but my gesture of eating a little was more than I'd planned on doing. Now to cross my fingers against taking ill! The evening really was amazing, though. It was so exotic, and I was expected to participate like everyone else, and it was unlike anything else I've experienced so far in India. When I returned to my room, the bed I'd hoped to have was someone else's, so they created a new cot for me on the floor.  There were probably 35 tourists in the room. I didn't have a pillow, but it didn't take me too long to fall asleep on my pallet.


Tuesday 8/07/07


I woke up early and realized I never found out where the toilette was. The room was locked from the outside and I didn't want to wake anyone, so I waited. I found the toilettes (VERY basic squatters) outside and past the men's showers. My bags were locked up over the guys sleeping in the little side room and I decided to not wake them until 8am and hoped they woke earlier on their own. After a while, I took a quick rinse –shower (no shampoo, since it was in my bag) and was off on a walk by 6am.  I browsed some shops and bought a headscarf so I didn't have to use the scrap I picked up last night – it smelled a little funny. Then back to my pallet for a short nap until 8 – then grabbed my day bag and camera and set off for the GT after checking my shoes. I sent a pic to Chris and my family, walked the perimeter of the lake while reading the holy translations, took some pics – I found a seat on the edge of the lake to enjoy the beauty of the place, listen to the enchanting music, and write this all down. The Temple is amazingly beautiful, reflecting in the water. Carp are swimming lazily as the faithful descend the steps into the calm waters. The music rolls along in the same soothing patterns as the lake. I'm content to sit here indefinitely – I'd like to make a decision on seeing Leh or Nepal and I'm having a very difficult time, as I want to do both. A woman from Chandrigarh sits down next to me and she tells me a little about the Sikh faith. I knew a very little already, and it was interesting to learn more. I sit there, talking to her and listening to the music for over 3 hours.  She tells me of healing miracles that have occurred in the lakes waters; of blind men who could see and of lame men who could suddenly walk after a dip in the pool.  It's very easy to lose track of time here.  A young girl motions for me to move into the shade of the tree – I had been sitting in the shade, a few hours ago!  Finally, my jeans are too hot and I decide it's time to return for a real shower and a change of clothes. Unfortunately, I didn't bring a towel, and it's drip-dry quickly, since someone is knocking on the door. Next is off to an internet café so I can check email and type up my journal (which I don't get to this time). Then on a wild goose-chase to book my travel to either Leh or Nepal – I'm still somewhat undecided, although I'm leaning more towards Nepal now. I'm finally able to get 2 flights taking me from Amritsar to Delhi and then on to Kathmandu (and this time I'll have time to switch airports). But now I'm running late – I met a girl from Switzerland today while sitting by the lake and we decided to go see the border closing ceremony tonight, but we were supposed to leave at 3:30. The credit card machine was down at the travel agency and I was there for over 2 hours! Luckily I did make it back in time, and there was a young couple from Chicago with us, too. It was quite an event – we got there around 4:30 and it didn't open until 5, and then it didn't start until maybe 7, and it was really interesting and entertaining, but I was sweating like a hot day in Jaisalmer! I was completely drenched and a little worried I might faint. They had us divided into sections – the VIP section (non-Indians) and then male and female sides. And they really crammed us into that "VIP" section! It was a great ceremony, and the enthusiasm was amazing – especially considering that this occurs on a daily basis. It was also neat to see how many Westerners there were visiting Pakistan, on the other side of the gate.  There weren't a ton, but more than I'd expected. I really hadn't eaten all day; I'd had one of my life-saving powerbars earlier, when I was on my way from one travel agency to another. And on the way to the border-closing our taxi got a flat tire and I was able to buy 2 bananas at a roadside vendor while he changed tires, and I devoured some pop corn at the event.  Afterwards, I was starving and found myself at a little restaurant called "Tasty Bites," or something similar, around 10pm. It's not very far from the Temple lodging. I got the last empty table, and was soon joined by a girl from Ireland named Fiona. She had done some volunteer teaching deep in the Himalayas, and had great stories of how children (and their parents) responded to bubbles. She also had the exact accent that my dialect coach was going for in Dancing at Lughnasa! I recognized it as soon as she spoke. Funny how little things like that stick with you. I had a delicious bowl of Hot 'N Sour soup. The rest was good, but the soup was great! Then I went back to the dorm for bed – I'm off the floor! The dorm is pretty empty tonight and the beds on either side of me are free.


Wednesday 8/08/07


I woke up early and took a nice long (bucket) shower – I even had time to shave my legs! Not that I'm wearing shorts… I did some laundry by hand and hung it up to dry on the clothes line inside the dorm. Then, back to bed. I really felt like I'd slept in past noon, next time I woke up. I was surprised to find it was only 8:45 – weird! I grabbed my bag and went for a walk through town, planning on getting lost and only hoping to find an internet café and lunch. Well, I found a cute pair of Punjabi slippers for 5 bucks and I did manage to get myself lost, but I also (surprisingly!) managed to find an internet cage around noon. I messed around there for 3 hours – there was AC!  When I left, I was pleased to discover I'd walked in a circle and was only a few blocks from the GT, so I headed straight for the diner from last night. The kid tried to talk me out of the Hot 'N Sour soup, saying it was too spicy and I should have the Sweet Corn Soup instead, but I insisted on the Hot 'N Sour. He was very sure it'd be too spicy, and when he finally said ok and walked off, I started to worry that he'd really have the cook spice it up, but it was delicious again – yum! I want another bowl! I ran into the Swiss girl there and she sat down for some tea while I ate lunch. Then I got a passport photo taken, because I think I may need it for my visa once I get into Nepal. I really need to pick up a travel book! I went back to the dorms to relax a bit – read, charge my phone, write, and chat. I met 3 "prophets" who are traveling the world without money or excess possessions for 3 ½ years.  They've been around the world once and are on their second lap. The man's name is David, the women had odd names – Shineka (?) and Shenwe (?) the latter was Asian. They were a little fanatical, but very nice people. They weren't pushy in their beliefs, and they relied on the grace of God and the goodness of people to provide for them and I suppose to move them around the world. Or, I guess you could call them master-moochers, LOL!  They believe that the anti-christ will come to power in 2009, something (I forget what) bad will happen in the autumn of 2008, and he'll reveal himself in the Temple of Jerusalem in 2012 – yup, corresponds with the Mayan calendar's doomsday. Oh, and this October 31st marks the 490th (I believe) anniversary of Martin Luther's posting his note on the door of the Church in Nuremburg – and they plan on posting their own version this year, a sort of expose, if you will. I went to the fruit market with David and bought some fruit to contribute to a fruit salad they were making, and they explained all of this to me over the most delicious meal! Definitely a bit on the cooky side, but very nice, and an entertaining conversation. And, I'll admit that I'm curious to see if they follow through with Nuremburg in a few months.

I decided to take a walk around the GT tonight. Leaving my shoes under my bed (which I think may cave in on me as I sleep tonight!), I walked towards the Golden Temple, wrapping my scarf over my head and washing my feet in the communal pool as I crossed the threshold, not even thinking of worms and diseases anymore – I've decided that India is far too dirty to dwell on this subject too often. There are so many pilgrims here. People are lined up to enter the Temple. People are sitting around the edges of the lake, in prayer, listening to the music that's verses from the Sikh holy book. People are sleeping along the white walls that fence in the temple courtyard. People are bathing in the water while giving attention to the music and the Golden Temple. Kids are running around, laughing and pointing at the large, multi-colored fish in the lake that are surfacing for their dinner of evening bugs. Teenage boys try to talk to me, and offer the hand to shake mine, so they can get the cheap thrill of touching a woman before marriage. I offer a "Namaste" in return, and they giggle, realizing I'm "on to them" and they move on. Women much younger than me have one or two children in tow and often make eye contact and smile at me, a knowing and sincere smile. Now, I'm not sure what it meant, but it made absolute sense at the time. I complete one slow lap around the lake, looking for a quiet spot to sit and think for a while. I find I'm drawn again to the area that juts out in front of the GT, between the Temple and my dorm, buy Sri Guru Ramdas Niwas gate. But I'm too self-conscious to walk up the steps. There are 2 men and a boy sitting there on the ground, obviously in prayer. I stand below for a while, watching as several men go up, but no women, and no westerners. I was up there the other day, but it feels different now, more religious (because it's night?), and I don't want to offend.  In the wall below the ledge, there are marble blocks in memory of certain Sikhs, given for large donations. The one directly in front of me was for a boy born in '82, who died in '02, serving in Iraq for the US army. It said he was the first (Indian or Sikh, I'm not certain) to "die in the war against the terrorists." It seemed a little surreal for some reason. All of that seemed so far away, despite the fact that I was so physically close; I'd been at the Pakistani border the night before.  I saw a girl go up the steps with her father and a few minutes later, I followed suit. I found a spot close to the water and sat down to admire the Golden Temple and reflect while enjoying the beautiful music that seemed to be never-ending. I must have sat there for close to 2 hours.  It was so peaceful!  I wanted to memorize the moment visually, audibly, and sensibly. It was almost like stepping out of time and space. I could have stayed all night, but my flight left at 7:05am tomorrow, and I had a few things to prepare before falling asleep. The dorms are full again tonight, but not so full that anyone's on the floor. The boy in the bed to my right has his arms in the air, I think he's doing some sort of stomach exercise. The guy on my left is flirting with the Swiss girl, who's on the other side of him. I read a bit of my Stephen King novel and quickly fall asleep.

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photo by: frankcanfly