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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

Bikaner to Dharamshala (McLeod Ganj)

INDIA | Tuesday, 12 October 2010 | Views [2246]

Friday 8th October - After the hectic time recently, and my body telling me to take a break, we did just that today. Our train to Amitsar doesn't leave until 2:15am tomorrow morning. Check-out time was noon, so we took advantage of a late breakfast and a dip in the pool before packing up and storing our luggage in their courtesy store room. A few hours time on the internet killed some time.  Found out some interesting stuff... 

When we were on the camel safari in Jaisalmer, we passed hundreds of wind turbines. They were installed by the Rajasthan Mines & Minerals Company, which is quite a large organisation. The 106.3 Megawatt wind power project helps support their mining operations in the Rajasthan state and is a public company set up as a government initiative.

Diwali is coming up on November 5th, so we need to plan to be somewhere nice for that. Last time I came to India I was in Shimla. This time we are likely to be in the north too. Where is the best place to be? Not sure yet, so will have to ask around.

I have been reading a rather thought provoking book by Sylvia Browne entitled 'Secrets & Mysteries of the world'. I have always been interested in science, the evolution of mankind, nature, astronomy, and anythink unusual. The book brings together Sylvia's opinions through much research on subjects ranging from the Pyramids in Egypt, to Atlantis, Stonehenge to Shangri-la, to the crystal skulls and the Bermuda triangle. Lots of subjects covered, and lots of opinions, some based on established facts. I did some research on a few websites and need to do some more. Very interesting subject...do you believe in Aliens. Am I married to one?...I am beginning to think so! Did the Egyptians really build the pyramids as egyptologists suggest, or did they get help from outer space? Was Atlantis a communication point from an Alien race on a distant planet to our own? Is their an alien civilisation still living under the sea in the Bermuda triangle? Is Shangri-la really hidden in the Himalayas in a way that cannot be found, so that it protects the alien race who built it there? Is the earth a dieing planet whose past races were so much more intelligent than us that they managed to wipe themselves out with one of their electromagnetic experiments that went wrong? Is the moon made of cheese? Sorry, that one is a bit too far fetched..!All of this and more is enough to keep an inquisitive mind like mine awake and occupied for hours during idle times on the road.

Dinner at the hotel before leaving. We headed for Bikaner Junction station early instead of going to Lal Garh station which is totally dead. The same train stops at Bikaner Junction about 15 minutes earlier, but at least there is food available. I went for a brief walk outside the station seeing as we had so much time to wait. Within about 5 minutes I had been approached by two total nutters, one offering me Marijuana, and the other jibbering some strange chant at me as loud as he could, so that everyone could hear him. Freaked me out a bit and decided to turn around and head back to the station instead. You certainly meet some strange people in India.

We attracted another nutter on the platform. A guy sniffing glue from a bag came and squatted next to us, waving his hand with some drugged up look on his face. Had to have him moved.

In front of us was a large sign prominently located by the track...it read 'Railway vs. Dirt. The fight is on! Whose side are you on?' Right underneath and along the track, a bunch of cleaners were busy sweeping the platform...sweeping the rubbish straight onto the railway track! There are bins, but they swept around the bins too, and not one bit of it went in the bin. What a disgrace. Why put the sign in English? Hardly anyone here speaks English. Are they trying to impress us, as if they really intend to enforce this campaign? The reality is they couldn't be bothered.

In front of us, a bare bottomed baby pood on the platform and a fair bit of it went on its mother's sari. Its mother wiped it off with her bare hands and then promptly used the same hands to clean the teat on the baby's bottle before shoving it in its mouth. It made us cringe. Coupled with the overpowering smell of urine and the steady flow of rats running around, Bikaner station is a bit of a cesspit. To be fair (well a little bit fair)... a guy shortly after came around with a cart emptying the rubbish bins. I bet they take it out of sight and dump it next to the track. Sorry it all sounds a bit negative, but the most positive thing I can think of is that we will be on a train out of here soon. It has bean a long day!

Train 9223 arrived exactly on time and we were on it and in bed within 10 minutes, when the train gently pulled out. Managed to get some sleep and awoke to the ever familiar call of the Chai seller at about 8am when the train arrived at Bathinda. Another couple of hours further to Firozpur cantt. The morning scenery was pleasant and there were even birds singing in the trees. This journey has passed from the Hindu dominated Rajasthan into the Sikh dominated Punjab. Most of the passengers in our carriage were Punjabi, with their tightly wrapped colourful turban's of every colour. Pink, orange, turquoise, blue, white.... Very different style to the Hindu. Also, many spoke English and were tidily dressed. A sign of being in a different, more affluent state. Another common sight now is the chin strap. The elderly guys have wonderfully majestic flowing beards, and dress their beards in all sorts of nets and straps, often looking a bit strange.

Much of the land we passed is agricultural, with cotton being a new crop we haven't seen on our travels yet. Rice and other grain crops are also in abundance, as were fields of cotton. I spotted an awesome bird with colourful blue wings. After the dusty desert it is a welcome sight.

We arrived at Firozpur cantt at 10:15am. Over the footbridge and a nice sight...They have both rickshaw and cycle rickshaws too. It is a shame that we had too much luggage to fit, so we took an auto rickshaw instead. The bus station is only about 1.5km away and he charged Rs50, something that caused a n argument with one of the drivers. The usual 'this is a special' came out. What a load of rubbish. It must be a standard for them. There was a tarrif chart in his window showing a maximum fare of Rs10. An argument broke out and we ended up having to pay the 50. Not a good start considering we had arrived in a good mood.

The non-aircon bus to Amritsar left within a couple of minutes of us getting there. Rs65 each for the 108km journey. There were aircon buses but they would leave later. Unfortunately, no time for any breakfast. Luckily, at the first stop snack sellers boarded. Noodles on a bap for Rs10, and two lots of deep fried bread for Rs10.

Arrived at Amritsar about 2pm. Supposed to be a free shuttle bus to the temple which was nowhere to be found. Rickshaw drivers try to scam by sayin that it is 4km to the temple and want to charge 100 rupees. It isn't. We took a cycle rickshaw for 40 rupees complete with luggage. Should have only cost 20, but he had to work hard with all of our luggage on board and the poor road surfaces, so gave him the extra.

I had been to the temple before and aimed straight for the accommodation block. I was lucky to get two dorm beds in the Sri Guru Ramdas Niwas lodging section. It is all free, but a donation should be given on leaving, after a maximum of 3 nights stay. All food, albeit simple, is included in the dining hall.

The Golden Temple is one of life's most amazing experiences. Today was a special celebration day, and so even more pilgrims than normal were here. The colour and the different sects of the Sikh faith that were around was incredible. This is the holiest temple in the Sikh faith and everyone would like to come here at least once, although it isn't like Haj, they don't have to. The centrepiece of the Sarovar lake is the gold temple. Plated with 750kg of gold, that shines in the sunshine like no other place i've seen. Sikhs come to bathe in the holy water. Live sitar, harmonium and tabla music accompanied by vocals is piped incessantly around the temple, giving it an awesome atmosphere. It originates from inside the golden temple building and raises the hair on your neck.

Dinner is another of those experiences that will leave an imprint on your mind forever. A communal hall where thousands of pilgrims sit cross-legged in rows, being served food into your serving plate. Dal, prassad spiced rice, chickpea curry, rice pudding and chapatis are just some of the offering. Copious amounts of fresh water too. Refill as much as you need, and all for nothing, unless you leave a donation in the boxes by the entrance.

We were lucky to be here for the 476th birthday celebrations of Sri Guru Ramdas, which happens today. Didn't know about this, so it was a real piece of good luck. This explained the extrodinary number of devlotees here. At 7:40pm the elebrations culminated in a superb firework display over the temple. The whole complex had been illuminated with lights and colours. It was almost like being is Disneyland. A fantastic atmosphere and shared by hundreds of thousands of pilgrms. At times there were so many people trying to move around that it got quite choking, but everyone took it in good spirit. Following the fireworks, the whole congregation decended on the dining hall. It was too much for Shiera and she had to return to the dorm. I stuck it out and it was like a mass crowd surge at a sports stadium. The din made by thousands of people clamouring for their food plate and bowl and then squashing into the building. Some got forced down during the scrum and I am sure many got injured. The double layer food hall was crammed with row upon row of diners. The food servers were almost racing around to keep pace. The next group pushing at the doors impatient to get in.

The amazing sight of the kitchen and washing areas is awesome. The volume of food produced in a day leaves you spellbound with how swish they have made the process. Volunteer pilgrims also help with the washing up afterwards. Hundreds of people grabbing plates, cleaning off leftover food and washing up, is a sound you cannot describe. Suffice it to say that it is loud! Surprisingly, foreigners are in tiny numbers, and so we attract a lot of attention. Lots of hand shaking and answering for the hundredth or so time, 'which country are you from', 'what is you name' etc. But it is a pleasant and bouyant atmosphere.


Sunday 10th October - The one thing about the dormitory in Ramdas Niwas, is noise. With people coming and going with no concern towards others, it is almost impossible to get a good night's sleep. There are communal washing areas and it proffers the question about how much water flows through this place on a day like yesterday. A free flowing supply of drinking water to everyone as well as the washing water.

Out to find breakfast. Don't ask for eggs as the whole surrounding area to the temple is stricktly pure vegetarian, so no eggs available. Neelam's nearby restaurant served up a nice breakfast.

Much stress and strain recently. It is hard to believe how stressful enjoying yourself can be. Tension and problems caused by successive days with poor sleep.

At 3:30pm we headed to the Attari-Wagah India & Pakistan border gate to watch the infamous closing ceremony, which commences at 5:30pm. There are touts outside the Golden temple entrance offering a shared taxi for 100 rupees each with 8 passengers.  It takes a bout an hour to get to the border and by that time, hoards were already there and the chanting was clear as we approached. An annoying scam on the way between being dropped off and the security check...plenty of vendors offer drinks and snacks. No liquid allowed after the security check, so the two 1 litre bottles of water we just bought had to be thrown away. They know this of course, and make a load of money out of it, knowing that most people will have to throw them away maybe 50 metres down the road. Also, no baggage allowed, so they have to be left back in the van. You can take cameras and you need a passport to get into the 'VIP' area where all foreigners are sent to, so you must not foget it.

The event is pure theatre. Initially, music was played and the girls all got up to dance. The whole show is orchestrated and compered as each side goose-steps and high-kicks to the border in turn while taunting each other.Throughout the event, the crowd are urged to chant 'Hindustan Zindabad'...which means Long live India. The finale is coordinated around the final shaking of hands and saluting of the two nation's, followed by the lowering of the flags and the final closing of the gate at about 6pm. A wonderful sign of harmony considering the two country's battles with each other.

We had a bit of a problem getting back. Our van wouldn't start. He tried to get us into some dirty old wreck but we refused. He decided to have his van towed by another. Problem was that the tow rope kept breaking, so it was a long and slow journey back. We had to bail out on the approach to Amritsar as there was no way it would work with the busy traffic. We broke down again on a crazy roundabout with three lanes of lunatic traffic. Someone else gave us a lift most of the way back. Another eventful evening!

Back at the temple and it seemed worth an attempt to get into the main temple before we depart tomorrow. The queue wasn't that bad and we made it. To think that there is 750kg of gold in the temple is amazing. It is beautiful up close. The chandeliers inside also contain gold. At 10pm, the holy book...the original and oldest one, is moved to its sleeping place for the night. A ceremony is held culminating in the book being carried out in a golden palanquin, and the doors to the temple closed, with the throngs of worshippers clamouring to tour it. It will be brought back at 3am, Believed to be the purest hour of the day.

I was lucky to meet two great gentlemen in the temple who were happy to answer any questions about the sikh faith. One of them was on holiday from London, so spoke perfect English. Apparently, there were 400,000 pilgrims here yesterday for the birthday celebrations. A normal day sees upto 80,000. How lucky was that, that we happened to be here on the right day!

I wish that this event hadn't been marred by the terrific strain of tiredness having its effect. It should have been the most enjoyable of occasions. But it turned out to be a strain to get through it. I hope things improve or we will abandon India much earlier than planned. It is no point carrying on with things the way they are right now.

At 2:30am we had a fracas in the dorm. A group of inconsiderate australian students rolled in and didn't seem bothered about the noise they were making. What was most anoying was the lecture this stupid kid tried to give us on how they come here to meet people and not sleep and how we should never stay in a dorm! I felt like punching the idiot's lights out. Some mindless yobs have zero brain and are so inconsiderate that they think their smart arsed attitude is justifiable. The fact that so many other people were complaining about the noise of other's testifies to the fact that not eveyone agreed.

Anyway, we packed up and left the temple at about 3am and headed for the bus station. It was in darkness. It was 3:30am. It didn't open until 4am.

Our bus to Pathankot left at 4:30am. 62Rs. First time I have ever been in a bus station when it was closed. No lights on and bodies sleeping all over the place on any available seat or platform.

The bus was terrible and had no space for luggage. A bumpy and hole filled road. We are so tired recently and the effects are taking their toll. We need to be somewhere peaceful and away from traffic to recover. Fortunatlely, I had planned to go to McLeod Ganj in Himal-Pradesh state next. I have been before, and an ideal place to relax.

Shoe-horned into our seets at the back of the bus, and with a freezing cold early morning draught straight into my face, it was not a good journey. The road is regularly broken up to make it a spine jarring journey. Any attempt to doze off was abruptly interrupted by a rapid drop into a big hole in the road. By the time we arrived in Pathankot it was daylight.

Easy enough to find the stand for our onward journey to Dharamshala and enough time to get some snacks and even stock up with cash at the Bank of India ATM there. Our bus, another rickety looking thing arrived shortly before 8:15am. The usual discussion about our luggage. We have a lot , and it takes up the space of a couple of passengers. They wanted it to go on the roof, but you have tlo do it yourself, and I didn't feel like falling off the bus. We managed to sort it out, but had no space around ourselves for the journey. I had planned to use the toy train from Pathankot to Kangra, but it did mean another 4 stages of transport. With low energy we weren't upto it. Shame really. I have done it before, and it take over 5 hours to do what the bus does in 3 1/3 hours, but it is pretty.

The scenery as we passed through the Kangra valley is beautiful. This is heading into mountain territory, and climbs steadily the closer we got to Dharamshala. Luckily the same bus waited at the main bus stand and then continued upto Mcleod Ganj.. Also known as upper Dharamshala, about 10 minutes later, for another 10 rupees.

Since my last visit they had built a bus stand slightly downhill from the main chowk. A good idea to reduce the traffic. The favourite option was to be Greens hotel. Clean, and with a nice view of the valley, plus wi-fi available from its built in café. It is a very busy place, but we managed to get a room for 800 rupees a night.

We are now in an area with a high influence of Tibet, due totally to this being the residence of his Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. One of the world's greatest people, and someone I have great respect for. His home, the Photang is attached to the Tsuglagkhang monastery complex. A short walk south from the main town.

The shower was welcome and felt slightly human again. The restaurant served us up a great Tibetan meal...momos and thukpa. Filling and tasty.

Replenished, we ambled around town for a while. The weather was beautiful and the town is easy to navigate. Everyone has that Buddhist kharma about them here. Peaceful and no hassle from touts or the shop or stall keepers. I enjoyed this place on my last visit, and it is lovely to be sharing this with Shiera. We both needed a place to relax, and this is ideal.

We took a walk to the temple complex. There was some work going on and the Dalai Lama was away on business, a little disappointing. He was away last time too in Tokyo. This time in the US. As one of the world's most travelled people, I am not sure how often he returns home?

A nice break for coffee and cake at the Namgyal café within the complex before heading back to the hotel for an early night, and catch up on sleep.



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