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Mark's World Tour 2007-08

Day 15: A busy day in Amritsar

INDIA | Tuesday, 20 November 2007 | Views [905] | Comments [1]

Golden Temple, Amritsar

Golden Temple, Amritsar

Tuesday 20th November

As anticipated, I had a pretty bad nights sleep. Not the worst I have had because I was tired from all the travelling the previous day, but the bed was pretty uncomfortable and the noise from outside the dorm was bad (the real edge of which was taken off thanks to the all important earplugs - never leave home without them!). But you can't really complain when you get something like this for free. In fact, I had greater comfort than many of the Sikh pilgrims who slept on mattresses laid out on the marble courtyards in the building I stayed in (one of five in the grounds of the Golden Temple).

I got up and decided to take a look at the temple in the daylight, seeing as it was on my doorstep. It was an equally impressive sight to that I had seen the night before. I also decided to eat in the dining halls where anyone, no matter what their beliefs, can be fed for free (usually in return for a donation). A meal of rice, chapati, and dhal (lentil curry) was actually pretty good. All of the food is prepared by volunteers who sit about peeling mounds of vegetables, which are then cooked in massive vats, with the food itself ladled out to diners sitting on carpets on the floor. It feels like a cross between the scene out of Oliver Twist and a prison movie, but the sentiment behind it is a good one.

After leaving the temple, I walked to an area called the Jallianwalla Bagh, a site on which, in 1919, British forces shot dead 2,000 Indians who were protesting against imprisonment without trial. Typical Brits, they're only happy when they've got unarmed civilians to shoot at. A garden is now maintained to commemorate the atrocity, which itself was used as a catalyst for Mahatma Gandhi's civil disobedience campaign.

Throughout the day (and the previous evening), I was regularly greeted by people in the area around the Golden Temple. Non-Indian tourists are obviously still seen as objects of curiosity. I am constantly asked what my name is and where I'm from, while I was asked on 3 or 4 occasions for a photo with various groups, all of which were male as it happens. I think women keep to themselves (at least that's what I keep telling myself)... wait until Thailand, ping-pong city here I come! Anyway, I am more than happy to pose for photos as the people seem genuinely interested in where I'm from, plus it does wonders for my ego (how sad!).

I decided to leave the dormitories in the temple and move to a hotel closer to the train station, both out of convenience for my onward journey to Delhi the next morning and also out of a desire to get a better nights sleep. After a bit of a search amongst some hotels that had seen better and cleaner days, I came across one which would do the job.

The next task was to get transportation to the the border town of Wagha so I could get to see the closing ceremony that is conducted at sunset every evening by members of the Indian and Pakistani armies.

An old Sikh guy on a cycle rickshaw saw me walking down the road near the hotel, and asked me where I was from, then told me that he would help me for free (yeah, right). After cycling about for a bit and speaking to various taxi drivers, I eventually agreed on a price of 450Rs (about 6 quid) with a friend of his to take me to the border later that evening. The lack of proper tourist information is something that I am getting used to in India and have come to expect very little in the way of help when I do come across such an office.

An even greater task, as it turned out, was to book my train ticket for the next day. I usually book online but the internet cafe I called into didn't have a printer, and a print-out of your ticket is required in order to get on to the trains. So, my rickshaw driver took me to the booking office at the train station.

Although I was able to find out the times of the trains to Delhi from a hand-written sign on the wall, there was no other indication as to which queue I should stand in to get my ticket. After choosing one, I stood in line for almost an hour. The whole concept of queueing and waiting your turn doesn't seem to have caught on to any great extent here, as anyone who could find their way to the front did so. If it wasn't for a soldier in front of me giving out to the others for jumping the queue, it would have been much worse. So, when I got to the booth and was told I would have to queue in another line, I was beyond furious. I really wanted to kick someone and leave them on the ground! Jesus, was I wound up!

I eventually got the ticket through a travel agents, paying slightly over the odds but happy to do so as it meant that I got out of the place as soon as possible. It may be me not being aware of how things work in India, but I have to laugh when people talk about India being the next big superpower when things are just so damn complicated! I imagine German people have to be airlifted out of India at the sheer horror of this inefficiency!

Anyway, I met the guy who was to drive me to the border, and on the way out managed to calm down. The traffic was fairly heavy as thousands of people make the trip every evening. So, the crowds were pretty big, with grandstands full of people on both the Indian and Pakistani side of the border, which were separated by simple iron gates. However, there seemed to be a lot more Indians than Pakistanis, while the crowd were segregated into men and women on the Pakistani side.

Both sides became very vocal, being warmed-up by different but equally effective means. The Indian crowd responded to chants called out by an MC with a microphone; I didn't really understand what was being said, but it was all suitably patriotic and drew passionate outbursts from young and old. On the Pakistani side, a different approach was taken, with young men in green and white clothing, waving their large national flags in the air. One of the lead flag-wavers seemed to revel in taunting the Indians, punching the air and holding his arms aloft as if to say 'come and have a go'. It's very easy to posture like this with an international border and a national, nuclear-weaponed army between you and the object of your taunts. I think he had a touch of attention deficit disorder about him.

After an entertaining - and noisy - hour long ceremony, I went back to Amritsar, got my stuff together and had an early night, ahead of my early start the next morning. The train to Delhi left at 05.10.

Tags: Sightseeing




we like asr too much because its our home lande our birth place

  navrose and shehneet Apr 25, 2008 8:16 AM

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