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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Amritsar to Delhi

INDIA | Saturday, 17 November 2007 | Views [4033]

Wed 14th Nov - Off early to catch a jeep to Dharamshala. Shared jeeps are regular at the bus stand area and cost 7 Rs per head. Cost me 14 Rs as my backpack takes up an extra space. On the way to Dhar chatted to a guy referred to as 'The Colonel'. An indian guy who now lives in London and returns to India regularly to visit relatives. He was in the communications corps in the army and also knew quite a bit about the broadcasting business that I had been in and were I worked too! Turned out to be a great contact as we travelled together to Pathenkot. Picked up a bus from Dharamshala to Kangra for 14 Rs and then onto an auto rickshaw to the train station. Kangra has two railway stations, one called 'Kangra' and the other 'Kangra Mandir'. Without knowing which one I needed to go to get the train I wanted, I opted for the nearest one. Got dropped off what seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. Down a cobbled track, over a rickety wooden footbridge, along another dodgy dirt track...no sign of a station, so carried on a bit. Found someone who waved straight ahead so must be on the right path. Finally got to the really small station and got a ticket 18Rs for the toy train to Pathenkot. Arrived 5mins later and left after 60 seconds! Not much timke to get sorted here. This lumbering train took 5 1/2 hrs to cover the 98km. A single track used both directions, so when it got to a double track section it had to wait for the other train to pass in the opposite direction. If it was half an hur late then we sat there for half an hour! Considering the double track section was only a few hundred metres long it did't seem logical but this is India!

The colonel sorted out the rickshaw for me to get to the bus station and the bus to Amritsar was waiting. He was a gem of a character.

The bus driver was possessed! He had a multi-tone horn that he almost used continuously for the next 5hrs...felt like killing him as it did my head in. I had been the only white face all day so far! At one point I leant out of the window at a stop to get some bananas and the stallholder gave them to me free with a handshake. Really nice people the sikhs. Along the way, the bus crosses the state boundary into Punjab. The difference along the way in the people dress was noticeable, especially the guys. The punjab turban, style of beard and colour of clothing is very different. Arrived at Amritsar at 6:45pm, so good time but dark. My destination is the golden temple. Found the only rickshaw driver who didn't know where this was and had to ask for directions. Considering it it the biggest and most world famous landmark for which amritsar is famous, I found this astonishing.

Anyway, got there eventually although he didn't know how to get close to it so I had to walk a bit but it was easy to find the way. I was aiming for the 'free' dormitories located within the temple complex. These are located in the 'Sri Guru Ram Das Niwas' building. To get to it shoes have to be removed and head covered in respect. Shared a dorm with a group of students from the US on a spiritual mission for a few months and a biker from Poland on his way to Nepal for trekking...an interesting bunch!

This place is awesome and beyond words. The golden temple must be rated as one of the world's must stunning places. It grips you from the second you walk in. Through the foot wash before entering the main temple complex, through an archway illuminated white, pink and green and through it....the dazzling shining gold of the 'Hari Mandir Sahib' temple in the centre of the 'Amrit Sarovar' tank, which contains the holy water and bathing ghats. You just stand there and stare at it. Incredible. Live music is piped around the complex, which adds the soundtrack to the experience. To get into the central sikh temple is a causeway bedecked in illuminated brass and red carpets, through a gold archway. Was allowed into the  Hari Mandir Sahib and sat in a corner taking it in and listening to the three musicians resplendent in their white and navy blue clothing, ceremonial daggers by their side, who's music was being piped around the complex. Pilgrims enter and pay homage plus give donations of food or money. The atmosphere makes your hair stand on end! Around the central area are four sikh priests who keep up a continuous chants in Gurmukhi from the sikh holy book.

After a while fealt peckish as hadn't really eaten all day so went to the 'Guru-Ka-Langar' dining hall. Pick up a metal platter and bowl on the way and sit cross-legged on long mats in a hall along with hundreds of pilgrims. As much dal and chapatis are provided as you can eat. All free but a donation can be given if you want. If you want more, you must remember to hold out both hands bowl fashion as holding out a single hand is like begging and is frowned upon. The operation runs 24hrs a day and masses of volunteers help with the cooking and washing up. A constant clattering of metalware adds the soundtrack to the dining experience!

A very long day and so much to take in so off to bed. Not easy to sleep in this environment but managed enough. 

Thu 15th Nov - Breakfast was the same as last night's dinner with the addition of chain, which they serve in big buckets. Sploshing it into your bowl as they walk along the rows. The complex takes on another atmosphere during daylight hours with many sikhs bathing in the holy tank and other musicians around the complex. A few hours just sitting a watching...the only thing to do here! 

In the afternoon got a shared jeep to the India (Atilla)-Pakistan (Wagah) border to watch the famous border closing ceremony. This is pure theatre! Thousands of people arrive by bus, jeep,  bike etc, and run like crazy to get the best seats and are shepherded into grandstands on both sides of the border gates. Border police make a vague attempt at security and do spot bag checks and even have a security scanner portal like you walk through at an airport. I ignored it and walk straight past it and nobody stopped me or the hundreds of other people who did the same! Some nutters actually stood in line to be scanned as if they had nothing better to do. Once at the grandstands, music blurts out to hype-up the atmosphere. A compere on each side urges the audience to chant patriotic slogans like a verbal battle. Flags are brought out and the native folk can run at the gate waving the flag in turn. School kids were brought in my busload and were hysterical. As foreigners we were given a VIP area to sit in. Not sure what good that was as the view was no better? At 5:30pm the impeccably turned out army on both sides start the daily ritual. The indian side in khaki uniform and red&gold fanned head-dress, the Pakistan side in navy blue uniform and fanned head-dress. Lots of antagonistic marching at the gate from each side and opening and closing of the gate as some officers pass through to the other side. Eventually the flags that adorn the tops of the gate posts are lowered in typical military precision fashion. Both sides stomp around a lot and eventually the flags are marched off to the boundary force offices and the gate is closed for the night. The whole process is great to watch and is totally unique.

Imagine 10,000 mad indians and tourists heading back to the transport to get out of there. Crazy stuff.

The jeep drivers get out of there with a death wish, passengers with eyes closed and teeth firmly gripped. Our driver hit a kid trying desparately to get across the road. The driver didn't bat an eye and just carried on!

Back at the temple for the second night in the dorm and decided to treat myself to a meal out in the town instead of the free slop in the dinner hall. Found a brand new restaurant only open 2 days and had a nice veggy dinner and personal attention from the owner as the first non-indian through his door since he opened. Good choice, as the food was  just right.

Back at the dorm, the polish guy had bought a bottle of india's best crap whisky and wanted to share it. By torchlight I helped him finish the bottle as we swapped travel stories and into the night. Not good....oh no no no.

Fri 16th Nov - Have to get to Delhi tomorrow to meet up with a group for a tour of Rajasthan. Was difficult getting transport out of Amritsar as this is busy season in the pilgrimage world, so almost everything is booked up. Managed to get a seat on a mail train supposedly leaving at 11:55am.

Woke with a bit of a thumper going on in my head. Knew it would be a bad one after that whisky....stupid boy!

Got the free bus to the railway station and decided to get there nice and early. Not my lucky day....the 'Saheed express' (train 4674), also known as the 'Flying mail' train, was delayed to now leave at 18:15. I actually saw the train arrive at 11:50 (supposedly 6 hours late), but they then sent it off to be cleaned and re-schedule its departure. This is the problem with the indian rail network...nothing runs on time. Had to spend over 7 hours at the station. Like many other stations i've been to, it stank a lot. Actually saw a guy jump onto the line to empty his bowels when there were toilets a short walk away - Disgusting!

Got to know the shoeshine boys (who are dim enough to try and insist on polishing suede sandals), the ticket office staff, porters...in fact everyone at the station wanted to talk to me at some point - being the only white face for some distance. The train eventually left at 19:10 on its 447km journey to Delhi. So, instead of getting in at a sensible time as originally planned, will now arrive at some crazy hour early tomorrow morning. Messed up my plans a lot.

What was also crazy was that most people who were booked onto the train must have made other plans due to the long delay, as the train ran almost empty. Not complaining as I was able to stretch out and get some peace. The nice people who took the train away to clean it decided to leave some stowaways on board for entertainment value....cockroaches in abundance! Good time spent playing slap the roach with my shoe! Splat marks everywhere! This reminds me that if the option exists it really is worth paying for a better train. Unfortunately, the wonderful 2030 Shatabdi train to Delhi was fully booked. For another 300 rupees you get to travel in better style and dinner is included...and it always leaves on time. The lesson is....always book early to avoid disappointment!

Sat 17th Nov - Arrived at old delhi station at 04:30. Fortunately, managed to get some sleep on the train as it was fairly empty. I guess most people found alternative arrangements with the train being so late. Don't like Delhi much but you get used to it. Rickshaw drivers fight over you before you make it as far as the road. Nobody ever knows where you want to go, so it is always a bit of fun seeing how many times they have to stop for directions, to be sent back where they have just come from. I was after the Hotel Singh Sons at 7A-10/11, W.E.A. Channa market, Karol Barg. With an address like that what could go wrong - alot actually, as there are many hotel singh sons in Karol Barg! (WEA is Western Extension Area). Anyway, got there at 5am knackered so bartered with them for a reduced rate til noon and crashed out.

Got a meeting at 6pm tonight for the tour I am on for the next 2 weeks. Managed to get lots of domestics done and a haircut that gets shorter every time. Almost near to having my head shaved now but at least it lasts a while. For 40 rupees including a massage, it's great value. Off to Connaught place in central new Delhi for a couple of hours. This is a bit of green in the middle of the chaos. Laid out in concentric circles you have the main centre then the middle ring and outer ring. Some really nice shops along each circle. The centre is like a small park and there was a naval band setting up for a concert when I was there. They were just at the sound check stage but couldn't hang around long enough for the performance as had to get back for the meeting. Decided to have a go at the Metro. This is superb and easy to use. Cost me 8 rupees to get back to Karol Barg and is announced all the way. You buy a token from a booth and wave it at the entrance barrier to get through, thats after having any baggage security checked by the police. An announcement along the way said there were pickpockets operating on the trains so have to look out. Fealt safe enough though. The ride is smooth and the train is modern and smooth.

My boots have arrived from the UK! ....this may not seem significant news to you, but after 6 months wearing sandals for hill/mountain climbing and everything else in between, it was a joy to change footwear into something better. Thanks to a great friend Marguerite for sending them to me. I owe you one!

The meeting with tour leader was delayed until tomorrow morning but we were all there on time and bussed to a superb restaurant for dinner by the company rep. A big old fashioned car in the entrance and dining tables inset with glass tops covering traditional indian jewelery. Smartly dressed staff and impeccable food, made for a great meal. A group of 12 from around the world and a nice chatty evening, so off to a good start.

Tags: Sightseeing

 

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