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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Five-Sense Overload

INDIA | Thursday, 2 May 2024 | Views [72]

It's super loud, the food tastes great, the sights are amazing, it smells (good or bad) all over, and you often have to watch what you touch. Welcome to India. An overload of all five senses is the best way to put it. Many travellers before me have told me about their adventures in India from getting sick to wonderful hospitality, from varied cuisines to unrelenting traffic. Last night I touched down in Amritsar, which is located in the state of Punjab. Since I was 12, and for the rest of my life, Punjab will always hold a unique place in my mind. In Year 7 (7th grade) I represented California in the National Geographic Bee and I was all over the news for being the first student with autism to represent the state in the Bee. The pressure was extremely high as I had my mother, several teachers, and numerous news reporters watching me. I got the first seven questions correct in a quiz-show-like competition, but the final question would come back to haunt me. Punjab is the name of both a state in India and a province in which neighbouring country? I said China but it's actually Pakistan. Missing that question eliminated me from the competition, and it was personally devastating. It would haunt me as our landlord a year later was from Pakistan and was a law graduate of a university in Punjab. When I began my travels many years ago I promised myself that I'd make a pilgrimage to Punjab to try to vanquish that memory. Whilst I'll never forget the experience of representing California or missing that question, it's very fitting that my first trip to India begins in Punjab. 

The numbers in India are truly staggering! With more than 1.4 billion people, the population is more than four times that of the USA and more than 56 times that of Australia. Nearly 1 in 5 people on Earth live in India! The populations of many of the large cities are larger than that of most countries. The official languages are Hindi and English but more than 1,500 languages are spoken in India. Most Indians are Hindu but practically every major religion has a foothold in India. Punjab is where Sikhism was founded, and most of the world's Sikhs live here in Amritsar. Buddhism was founded in India by Emperor Asoka. Christians and Muslims number in the hundreds of millions. India even has a small Jewish community, located mostly in Mumbai. The climate, geography, and cuisine vary from region to region, and it can be cold up in the Ladakh whilst it's hot and humid down in Kerala. India is truly a place with a gazillion adventures to be had.

My first CouchSurfing host in India is Nishan. He lives with his wife, daughter, and parents, and is a manufacturer of auto parts. There are no road rules in India; it's truly every driver, rider, and bicyclist for themselves. Crossing the road anywhere is a real-life game of Frogger. After a good sleep, I wanted to get to the Golden Temple but it took more than two hours to get a SIM card. Us seasoned travellers seem to get a SIM card easily upon arrival almost anywhere but I was surprised last night when there were no kiosks at the airport selling SIM cards. You need your passport, a copy of your visa, and a local to be your reference. After two hours and a lot of annoyance I wanted to get my butt to the Golden Temple. Beforehand, I arranged a ride to the Pakistan border for the ceremony that takes place every evening. The state of Punjab (India) borders the province of Punjab (Pakistan). The driver gave me his WhatsApp number so I had a way to contact him. Whilst I wanted to volunteer at the Golden Temple for an hour, I used up a lot of time waiting around during the SIM card business. Within the Golden Temple grounds I had to wear long pants, cover my head (but not with my hat), and be barefoot, giving my feet a baptism on the way in. Completed in 1589, it is the holiest site in Sikhism. The Golden Temple is to Sikhs what the Kaaba in Mecca is to Muslims. The glare of the white marble is intense since I have no sunglasses.

The world's largest free kitchen is here in the Golden Temple complex. Metal dishes are passed out, and you could be sitting on the floor next to a homeless beggar, a college professor, a doctor, or a CEO. 

The food is simple but filling, and available 24 hours a day.

The Sikh saying is that nobody in Amritsar goes to bed on an empty stomach. You certainly don't come to India for peace and serenity but the Golden Temple is as about as peaceful as anywhere. From there it was time to play real-life Frogger again and get to the tuk-tuk for a majestic border ceremony. India and Pakistan have butted heads since the partition in 1947 but the border ceremony is both an act of friendship and a flex of power between the two countries. Like everything else here it is loud, but amazing. Quite a display of showmanship by these two countries.

At sunset, the flags are lowered and the gate is closed. I won't have time to visit Pakistan on this trip but I've made it to the border. I made sure to call my former geography instructor, Mr. Hanley, and tell him I've made it to Punjab. When the ceremony finishes, everyone files out and gets their transport back to Amritsar. The ceremony is most popular with Indians and Pakistanis as crowds gather each evening. A cup of masala tea rounded out a great day. I'm discovering that it's difficult asking for tea or coffee without milk. Meat isn't consumed as often in India as in many other places, so dairy acts as a substitute. Cattle run amok and rest on roads. 

 

India and Norfolk Island may be the only countries in the world where cattle have the right of way, but that's where the similarities end. Weed is literally a weed here in India, as marijuana grows on the side of the road. 

If I was a smoker I'd be in absolute heaven but I'm proud to say that, at close to 40, I've never smoked a cigarette or marijuana and I've never vaped. Well, my first day in India was really full on. I'm surprised I'm able to handle the noise as well as I have, though I may have to invest in some noise-cancelling headphones. 

Nishan has a separate area where his CouchSurfers normally sleep but he has treated me like a VIP and let me stay in the main house. Over dinner of mutton and vegetables and then some Indian whiskey, Nishan and I would discuss what I could do tomorrow but whatever it is, it's sure to be a sensory overload. Now, is it possible to sleep soundly in India? 

 

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