The Golden Temple

Amritsar Travel Blog

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Breakfast on the train

Leaving Bhubaneswar was surprisingly emotional.  I don’t know why I was surprised; after all, I spent nearly four months there.  I think it was a combination of saying goodbye to people I’ve grown to care about -- whom I may never see again -- and the normal anxiety that comes with embarking on something new.  I’ve definitely had a few “Why am I doing this (traveling) again?” moments, but I’m riding them out.

Tanushree and Sabita accompanied me to the airport, and we had a tearful goodbye.  I flew to Delhi and met up with Anna, and on Friday morning we took the train up to Amritsar.

The train
  It was my first train ride in India, so I was very glad to be going with a friend who's done it before.  There are what seem like a zillion different "classes" on the trains, and even though I've read about them (more than once), I can't seem to get my head around the whole thing yet.  Anyway, the ride was very easy and even included breakfast, coffee, and a juice box!  

We arrived in Amritsar, dropped off our stuff at our hotel, and headed over to the bus station, so I could get a ticket for my trip to McLeod Ganj on Sunday.  Turns out there's only one bus per day to McLeod Ganj, tickets aren't sold in advance, and although the station was actually quite nice by Indian standards, I felt the sense of confusion to which I've become accustomed in India.

Feet must be washed on the way in and out of the temple
  Still, it was good to go there as a dry run for Sunday.

We made our way over to the Golden Temple, the Sikh mecca of the world.  It was quite chaotic (shocker!), but we managed to check our shoes downstairs and then make our way over to the entrance.  The temple is located in the center of a huge marble square, and it's just beautiful.  Unfortunately it was also wicked hot, so there were jute rugs covering the too-hot marble, and we ran from one to the next and made our way around the square.  Many temples in India don't allow people of other faiths inside, but thankfully this wasn't one of them.  It was beautiful inside.  One of the things my photos and words can't capture is the sounds: There's someone chanting in the temple 24 hours a day, and it's broadcast on speakers throughout the temple complex, so there's no escaping it.

The Golden Temple
  From outside it wasn't bothersome exactly, but once inside I appreciated the difference of hearing a live voice vs. a tinny one over a loudspeaker.  We hung out long enough to watch the sunset, and the temple looked different as the light changed -- just spectacular.  I'd read that the Golden Temple is something not to be missed in India, and it didn't disappoint.

The next day we went back to the temple and partook in the food offered by the temple.  They feed up to 40,000 people per day, and ask for no money!  It was quite an operation -- cleaning trays at breakneck speed, herding people in and out of the dining hall in huge groups.  The food was very simple and we sat on the floor, but it was very cool to experience it.

Next we hired a car and driver to go to the daily India/Pakistan border ceremony.

At sunset
  Our driver was a real character, but he definitely knew what he was doing and maneuvered the car through insane traffic without a scratch.  We were at the front of the crowd to get into the ceremony grounds, but once the entrance was opened all hell broke loose.  By the time we got to the stadium it was full -- we have no idea how so many people got ahead of us.  Thankfully a white girl saw us and clued us into a special entrance and seating area for foreigners.  I'm not clear on why this exists, but I wasn't about to argue; we had pretty primo seats, closer to the ceremony than the rest of the crowd.  We could see over to the Pakistan side: Men and women were seated separately, and the women's section was fairly empty.  Each side sang cheers of national pride, and while the Indians were much more exuberant, the Pakistanis did their share of dancing and celebrating.
People bathe in the "ghats"
 

The ceremony itself consists of the border gate being opened for about 20 minutes, to symbolize the relationship (not sure what the right word to describe it is -- friendly? cordial? diplomatic?) between the two sides.  Soldiers from each side march and stamp their feet, in an attempt to display aggression without using a weapon or harming each other in any way.  (A friend just clued me into a documentary by Michael Palin -- of Monty Hall fame -- that includes footage of the ceremony.  If you're interested: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeSX6AZ5xEI.)  At the end, each country symbolically lowers its flag on a slanted rope, so that the flags cross one another.  The crowd went mad. 

We drove back to Amritsar, had dinner, and collapsed in our air-conditioned hotel room.

Like my babushka?! I borrowed it from a big barrel full of head coverings. Ah, cleanliness embodied.
  Anna took a super early train back to Delhi, and I headed over to the bus station to head to McLeod Ganj.  Amritsar was too hot (quite a shock, I'm sure, if you've read my previous blog entries), but I'm very glad I saw it.  And Anna and I are easy travel companions and can talk for hours, so that part was fun.  Next stop: The Himalayas!

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Breakfast on the train
Breakfast on the train
The train
The train
Feet must be washed on the way in …
Feet must be washed on the way in…
The Golden Temple
The Golden Temple
At sunset
At sunset
People bathe in the ghats
People bathe in the "ghats"
Like my babushka?!  I borrowed it …
Like my babushka?! I borrowed it…
Anna
Anna
At the entrance to the dining hall
At the entrance to the dining hall
On the streets of Amritsar
On the streets of Amritsar
The Pakistan side at the border ce…
The Pakistan side at the border c…
The India side
The India side
The India side of the border cerem…
The India side of the border cere…
The Pakistan side
The Pakistan side
The car and driver we hired to go …
The car and driver we hired to go…
Amritsar
photo by: frankcanfly