Location: Still in Amritsar
Weather: perpetually hazy
It has been quite a while since I have travelled anywhere other than India so I am not sure if this holds true everywhere: each week seems like a month.
It is because I cram in so much every day compared to the average say at home.
I bring this up because at the end of my first full day, having been here for only 36 hours, it feels like I have been here a week already. If I went home now I think I would already be satisfied. Seriously.
It didn’t get light until about 7.30am and even then, despite the clouds being perfect for an awesome sunrise, it never happens because of the haze. You never see the sun hit the horizon here, in either direction. In the morning, eventually the sun appears about an hour or so after sunrise. The air quality is my least favourite part of India.
I travel light. Only carry-on luggage and a small backpack. Last trip I did really well with a day pack, this time a little bigger because I reluctantly decided to bring a jacket and a vest I am glad I did! It is chilly in the morning when I venture out having dropped to about 10C overnight.
Like most people I start the day rugged up. I wear a long sleeve shirt, jacket, vest and scarf. However, unlike most people, as the day goes on I remove layers and finally roll up my sleeves. Locals wear down jackets and a turban or beanie and are wrapped in blankets all day. Maybe it is a fashion thing.
On my first trip in 2015, I bought a SIM card, mostly for internet, especially for maps. It isn’t an original idea, but I have no problem getting lost in back streets as long as I can find my way back to my hotel. Nowadays you don’t need internet for maps. Maps.me is a really good offline mapping app that is perfect for getting around.
Bonus is that it took me down back streets away from main roads.
Breakfast was a great butter naan filled with what might have been potato. Only R10 at a street stall – reminder, R1 = $AUD0.02. I am mindful, but have no fear of eating street food, it is usually delicious or they wouldn’t last long, competition is pretty fierce. My rule of thumb is that it has to be made freshly and seem popular (i.e. high turnover).
As well as the Golden Temple there is a lesser known Hanuman Temple not that far away, so that was my first target.
Maps.me, like most digital navigation, can be a bit creative and was trying to take me to a non existent (as far as I could tell, but you can never be sure) entry. I was trying to work it out and spotted a temple behind a gate.
I thought it might be through there so wandered in. It wasn’t the entry, but was a lovely temple set amongst trees, I imagine Angkor Wat looks something like this. It was a hidden gem, home to and cared for by a family who were a bit shy but welcoming of someone who just wandered in.
Directly over the road were tractors stacked high with fresh grass. I sensed a photo opportunity and was looking for the right angle. The hazy sky gives great even light, but it can be quite glarey if behind the subject
It is offloaded by hand, of course, tossed into a shed where there are some machines to chop it up. Unfortunately they weren’t chopping while I was there, I am always fascinated by the complete lack of anything resembling OH&S.
Once the chopped grass is piled up,
people men would come in, grab a bag, hand over a slip of paper and their bag would have grass shovelled in. Then they walked through a door.
Through the door it was dimly lit, smelly, noisy and full of cows.
I am thinking it is a cooperative dairy or something like that, but completely wrong. It took a while to find someone who could speak English and he (where are all the women?) explained it is a cow hospital. In Hinduism, cows are a sacred symbol of life that should be revered. That’s why they own the streets.
The photo is only about a quarter of it. Like most hospitals this one sucks, but if you are a sick cow it might be pretty good being taken care of.
I wanted to donate some money and it turned out that the slip of paper people were exchanging for a bag of grass was a receipt. So I gave R100, went in and grabbed a bag. The guy looked at my receipt and swapped my bag for a big one. I ended up with a poly bag so full I could hardly lift it. Eat well, cows.
Aside: this post is already long and it is only about 10AM. I haven’t gotten to the first temple yet.
I finally figure out the way into Hanuman Temple. There is still a long way to go today, so in an effort to avoid tldr; I will keep it brief…just photos.
In fact, it was like a mini Golden Temple which is where I was heading next.
The contrast was amazing.
The Golden Temple is the #1 holy place for Sikhs. This is because 5 of the 10 human form Sikh gurus visited this site. More than any other site.
It is a beautiful place dominated by the mass of humanity come to pray.
This is the line of people waiting to get into the temple proper. That’s it to the left behind the two orange poles. Someone told me the wait wait 90 minutes but I reckon he was optimistic. Unless of course you are a foreigner.
The layout is identical to the Hanuman Temple above. It is in the middle of a sacred lake with a walkway out to the temple proper. I wanted to have a look but there was no way I was going to stand in line. I was only just within my crowd tolerance limit as it was and knowing that in India here is no concept of personal space, the line would have been unbearable.
So I wandered to a side gate where some people were being let through and they could skip the line. Maybe I looked pitiful, perhaps I just didn’t look Indian, but I was invited through.
No photos are allowed around the lake so these are general shots.
The temple isn’t very big and everyone is kept moving unless you stop to kneel and touch your head to the beautifully carpeted floor.
It is insanely beautiful and amazingly tranquil amid the sea of people. They are there to meditate and pray which makes for a very different side of India. This blog post is a pretty good description of what it is like.
Most people coming past the main shrine throw a bank note onto a collection area. There is an incredible stream of money that is swept into a large pile by a couple of men whose sole job it is.
Given that they typically feed roughly 40,000 people a day for free. And on religious holidays and weekends, they can feed upwards of 100,000 people a day it must cost a fortune to run the place.
A shrine in a different part of the complex that I was allowed to photograph.
The forecast is for rain tomorrow so I decide to head to the border with Pakistan today.
I had arranged a taxi but it wasn’t at the hotel at the agreed time. I was wondering about where to find another when R10 cycle rickshaw guy shows up. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was hanging around the hotel just in case I appeared.
He has a friend who will take me to the border and back for R1000 including parking and everything. Deal!
I ask if he is getting a commission (I am sure much of the income from drivers is earned that way) and he is getting R100.
We ride/drive (?) a bit and he calls his friend over. It is a tuk tuk. Not what I had in mind but I wasn’t sure I had a choice if I wanted to go today. I was assured he was a fast driver (he wasn’t) but we were there in plenty of time.
It is 30km which is a 40 minute tuk tuk ride – gives you an idea of the speed – and you arrive at what is essentially a stadium.
In this photo you can’t see the massive Indian or Pakistani flags…but I am getting ahead of myself.
Security is tight. You aren’t allowed to take bags in (had tuk tuk driver spoken English he might have mentioned that) so a minor panic thinking I had to go all the way back to the car park. But they did have a cloak room that the soldier who said “no bag” didn’t tell me about. Someone else did as I was warning another tourist.
I chose the word stadium carefully because this is a show. I am surprised they don’t charge entry, but again, I am getting ahead of myself.
Delayed a little trying to handle the bag issue, activities had already started. A camouflage clad soldier wearing a completely unnecessary bullet proof vest was warm up MC and he already had the crowd of about 2,000 Indians going. They were chanting, singing, waving flags, dancing.
It was hilarious. Such over the top nationalism is pretty unknown to Australians…oh, unless you hate others and want to tell them to fuck off back to where they came from. But I digress.
There is blaring music, and a long line of women running along the road and back carrying flags – I wasn’t allowed to 🙁 . At one point there is a couple of hundred women on the road – held well back from the actual border – having a “spontaneous” dance party. It even included warm up guy urging them to keep dancing long after they had had enough.
Oh, I didn’t mention how my heart sank when on the way there I realised I had left my camera at the hotel. Fortunately I had my phone, but not as good.
I also didn’t mention that while all this is going in, similar scenes are being played out on the Pakistani side. Their crowd is smaller but they had something India didn’t.
It might be a bit hard to hear me, but their warm up guy only had 1 leg. I reckon it is a safe assumption he is a war hero. Because that is what this is all about. Posturing and choreographed ceremony.
This is an absolute must do on a visit to India. I had seen Michael Palin’s story about this and all due respect, but he doesn’t capture it fully. I am not sure it is possible without actually being here.
I was curious about whether afterward they all got together for a beer and a laugh, but it seems it is deadly (and I use the word advisedly) serious. As you can see in the cometimes clumsy (unedited) videos I was sitting in the closest possible seats to the border. As soon as the ceremony was over we were all ordered (definitely ordered) to move away, back into India.
The whole thing was a Monty Pythonish produced parody of itself. Hilarious.
But I didn’t think the whole thing through. Coming back at about 6PM it was getting cool…I was in the back of a tuk tuk. Brrrr….
Washing clothes I think – #NotChildLabour
I’ll play at your wedding for Indian food
People must love pigeons to buy food for them
Words and photos will never do justice to most of the things I see and write about. That’s why I keep coming back.
I need some feed back. I am creating these posts on my phone and have no idea how they look on a PC screen. Are the photos too big, too small or just right? In the comments please.
[Update] I have uploaded the videos to YouTube instead. Much better I think.