February 16th, 2010 – by: Sads79
The clogged up streets of Amritsar
I hadn't originally planned to venture north of Delhi, but after meeting the guys at Nirvana, I thought I'd go along for the ride. So many people had told me I should go to Amritsar, so I quite pleased to be going. My reasons for not going north were weather and time related, but I put those thoughts aside as we hastily put a plan together. Birgit and Adam had already booked their train tickets, so Andy, Yve and I looked to see what we could get...unfortunately, only the 2.05pm was available (INR400/AC2 class) butwe took it. It wasn't long before our plans were soon taking a turn for the worse, however.
...my first experience of Indian train delays! As soon as we got to New Delhi station we found our train was 'expected' at 3.15pm, and after hiding out in the cafe we found a little while later it had been put back to 4.00pm. Annoying, as its just dead time, but as my friend Hells always says, 'you just gotta suck it up dude!' We eventually left around 4.30pm and the journey seemed to drag quite a bit - which made sense when we realised that we were getting later behind schedule.....we had to phone the hotel we'd booked to check they would still be open as we trundled into a chilly Amritsar about half-past-midnight - the 447km had taken us 8 hours! We were all knackered and decided on a tuk-tuk from the station - we all soon worried when the driver seemed to take us down a deserted quiet, dark street with some dubious looking characters hanging around.
That headwear was necessary, its the rules!!
..I genuinely thought we were going to all get robbed. However, he passed the group (slowly!) and then we saw the sign for Tourist Guesthouse - phew! We had to laugh, it was a bit of a relief! The nightwatchman took us to our room - we'd booked 3 dorm beds, but the room he gave us just had a double room. He didn't flintch - he actually thought we were all going to sleep in one bed!! We somehow communicated that we needed another bed and he duly brought in a makeshift bed, which Yve took the dubious pleasure of occupying - it really looked hard as nails! Me and Andy shared the double, I didn't even think about it, I was knackered and out like a light within seconds!
Adam and I slightly cramped in the Suzuki on the way to the border
We met up with Adam and Birgit the next morning and all went off to see the big attraction - the Golden Temple.
On the way we stopped at the Jallianwala Bagh, a park dedicated the massacre of Indian uprisers in 1919 by the British. It was peaceful away from the bustling traffic of the city centre and clearly means a lot to the people here - there was even a sign saying 'the British shot from here'. We wandered away and soon could see the it coming into view - by it, I mean one of the most beautiful constructions I have ever had the fortune to see. The Golden Temple is as special as it lauded to be - it sits serenly in the middle of a lake and with a perfectly clear day, it had a really magical vibe. It sounds strange to say it, but there was a buzz of relaxation and peace. The Sikhs are a welcoming people and people of all faiths can visit and enter the temple. We did so, although I personally found it a bit strange, given my atheism and was much more comfortable outside.
We sat around the lake for a while just taking it in and watching the worshippers bathing in the sacred waters - its the ultimate pilgrimmage for Sikhs, so it was humbling to be there.
With the afternoon spare, I suggested that we take a little ride out west and go to Pakistan. Well, not quite Pakistan, but about as close as any of us is likely to go! We'd heard about the Attari-Wagah border ceremony and found a guy to take us out there in a somewhat crowded and decrepit Suzuki van. We managed to bargain him down to INR55 (75p/$1) each and shortly after 3pm we were on our way.
At one point we really thought we weren't going to make it, we spluttered and chugged along and were embarrassed when a guy on a bike overtook us! We were relieved to make it and headed straight for the border. It was absolutely manic - god knows what you'd do if you actually wanted to cross the border itself, you'd have no chance! We were shown to the grandstand - yes, they actually have permanent stadium like stands!! It was an awesome atmosphere - for a minute I thought we were at a music gig with tunes blasting loud and girls and boys dancing in front of us...and this is an international border separating two bitter rivals??! What happened next was pure comedy. The MC's on both sides of the border were whipping up the crowds ready for the soldiers to begin the ceremony. The soldiers then proceeded to try and out howl each other before walking down to meet each other at the border gate.
Ministry of Silly Walks
...they were clearly fans of Monty Python as they re-enacted the 1970s Ministry of Silly Walks sketch....I was almost in tears it was so funny! Of course, they weren't intentionally funny and the locals were just cheering away shouting 'Hindustan zhinabad' ('long live India') oblivious to why we were p*ssing ourselves. The ceremony was concluded with the gates being shut and flags lowered and not long after we were making our way back to Amritsar. A brilliant day and one that has definitely seen me start to warm to this country, more to come I hope....
Sunset over the border