Dallying in dial-up Dalhousie; Amazing Amritsar
Amritsar Travel Blog› entry 7 of 23 › view all entries
Dallying in dial-up Dalhousie
8th September. It is rather like Sidmouth, in the hills - only more sedate. No young travellers, rather retired brigadiers. No broadband, only dial -up, hence this entry comes from Amritsar. It is beautifully situated, 6000ft up, and retains some Raj era qualities. Pre -war hotels, like ours, Aroma n' Claire (!!!), genteelly shabby, but with fantastic views, friendly staff, and crested dinner plates. The hotel decoration was very varied, and included a "Treasures of Lancashire" teatowel. A pedestrian mall links the two parts of the town. There are upmarket boarding schools. Dalhousie Hill Top aspires to"Unity and Discipline" and "Leaders in the Making.
We went for some drives through stunning hill country, with distant views of snowy mountains. The Pir Pinjal and Mount Kailash. The latter has a September pilgrimage including a 35km trek from the roadhead. We saw many barefoot sadhus making their way there, and young men on motor bikes with yellow flags, signifying pilgrimage, returning already.
We drove to the remote town of Chamba with its ancient temples. We went to Kalatop Nature Reserve, where our 3km walk through the woods failed to give us glimpses of black bear or barking deer - the park's signature animals. But we did find 6 cows.
So Dalhousie was a delightful place to rest up before the rigours of busy, hot Amritsar. Just as well, as the taxi journey to Amritsar involved two near misses and one VERY near miss - and ours was a good driver.
We celebrated Mike's birthday on the 9th, with 2 bottles of beer at dinner.
Then on 10th, we set out after breakfast for the Golden Temple. We braved a cycle rickshaw through the extremely busy city. We're frighteningly close to the traffic, vulnerable on this little bench seat. Mixed feelings as this guy toiled along with us behind, but it's a common form of transport here, and he gets a good tip from us...
The Golden Temple is in a maze of streets in the old city. We deposit our shoes, cover our heads, wash our feet, and walk in barefooted with hundreds of worshippers. Words are not enough. This golden edifice, the Harmandir, shimmers in the middle of the sacred lake, the Amrit Sarvar - Pool of immortality-giving nectar. The lake is surrounded by a huge marble walkway and colonnade. Men bathe in the pool, the sacred book is continually chanted and relayed over (Bose) loudspeakers.
We left after about 3 hours, retrieved our shoes (very efficiently) and had a drink and went to Jallianwalla Bagh, site of the infamous 1919 Amritsar Massacre. It's now a memorial park with the dreadful event pointed up to support the narrative of the Indian independence struggle.
In the evening we returned to the Golden Temple. A storm had cleared the air, and it was fresh and pleasant. Again throngs headed in the same direction to be there at the time the holy book was "put to bed." Hundreds, if not thousands, were ready to sleep on mats in the colonnades, or even at the pool side. The Harmandir glistened and sparkled under the lights. The huge kitchen was still feeding hundeds of pilgrims with dal soup and chapattis. Around 10.15 they prepared the gold palanquin and took it over the causeway to collect the book. A loud large curved horn announced its arrival back on dry land, and the book was carried up to its nightly resting place. Once again, despite the crowds, there was a feeling of serenity, calm, reverence and belief.
We drove home through streets lined with sleeping people.
11 August. In the morning, we wandered through Ram Bagh, to a museum the summer palace of Ranjit Singh, the "One eyed lion of the Punjab" and the last ruler before the Brits took over in the mid 19th century. He had the Koh-i-nor before we took it for Queen Vic. Huge bats hung from the trees, and a group of girls came to do family washing in the dribbly fountain.
Then in the afternoon, off in a shared jeep to Wagah, the border with Pakistan for the Closing of the Gates ceremony. We had seen it on UK television (Michael Palin??). Nevertheless, in the flesh, what a spectacle! Thousands of Indians in stands this side of the border, being led by a cheerleader in nationalist chants. A 100 yds away, seemingly slightly fewer Pakistanis responded in kind. Zindabad Hindustan...Zindabad Pakistan..
Imperious soldiers on both sides, given added height by huge cockades, several times quick marched to the gates, stomped at each other, and then appeared to do a Cleese silly walk before quick marching back again. At precisely 6.30 the 2 countries flags were lowered in unison, and the border gated clanged shut. We all stood and cheered. The soldiers were incredibly smart and were carefully orchestrated. But overall, it was a carnival. Women and men - separately - had danced in the road. Youngsters had run up to the gate with Indian flags. the crowd had chanted and raised arms to the cheerleader's calls. Good naturedly the crowd dispersed through touts selling postcards and dvds, to buses, autorickshaws, taxis and cars for the dash back to Amritsar.