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Paul & Luiza´s World Tour

India - Amritsar and Rishikesh

INDIA | Wednesday, 28 November 2018 | Views [82]

India - Amritsar and Rishikesh - Hindus, Catholics, Sikhs & Buddhists, a quick tour of two sacred cities

After another rickshaw we catch a 30 hour train to Amritsar, in the state of Punjab. We tried to visit the Golden Temple on a previous trip but our train was cancelled and instead, we headed to the magical state of Rajasthan, but that is another story. We arrive in Amritsar and check in at the Chohan Residency Hotel (15 Euros). The room is clean but the toilet could use a bit (a lot, really) of bleach. The place is also very noisy, but again, so is the entire town. Amritsar is loud, dirty, busy and chaotic, the food is extremely oily, however, we’re here to visit the Golden Temple and, man, we’re not to be disappointed. We had allocated four days but we decided to leave after two days as Amritsar doesn’t have much to offer visitors besides the Temple (in our opinion). We visit the Golden Temple, the most important for the Sikhs, at sunset where we have a free vegetarian meal, two of the 100,000 meals served by volunteers to pilgrims from all over the world, every single day. Flat bread, two types of Dhal and sweet rice. Not Michellin star but not too bad considering the size of their operation. There’s a whole set of rules to receive your meal, you need to sit, cross legged in neat rows on rugs on the floor, place your tray in front of you and wait for them to come, walking around with buckets and ladles to serve you. You also have to receive the bread with your hands instead of on the tray. We quickly get the hang of it, finish our meal and resume our walk around the incredibly beautiful place with an amazing vibe - the energy from the pilgrims is infectious.

Before you enter the Temple, all visitors, male and female, are required to make sure their heads are covered and you also need to leave your shoes at the “free shoe storage room”. They also provide, free of charge, bins with orange little scarves, just in case you’ve forgotten to bring your head cover gear. So, we finally get in, orange scarves on our heads and barefoot we walk through a pool and wash our hands and feet before we can be allowed to enter the Temple complex. The Temple is magnificent and the entire complex is just amazing. The Golden Temple is in the middle of a sacred pool and you can see pilgrims from all over the world, coming to bathe in the sacred waters (Nectar). The next day, we go back to the Temple at sunrise and watch the daily ceremony where they transfer the sacred book to its daily resting place in the golden temple. Then it’s time to queue to enter the actual temple itself. It takes us just over one hour to get in as hordes of people queue and push around to spend a moment inside. The sung prayers, heard from the speakers all over the complex, creates an absolutely thrilling atmosphere and the energy left by billions of faithful pilgrims is almost palpable. Again the Temple itself, doesn’t disappoint, it’s stunningly ornate, with live mantras being performed and a fantastic, vibrant energy. Anyway, I could go on and on about the Golden Temple or you can just check out our photos and start planning your visit.

In the afternoon of the second day, we decided to see the closing of the Wagah Border ceremony. It’s a very famous event and it happens at the daily closing of the borders between India and Pakistan. Sounds boring? Probably because it is… It costs 250 Rupees per person to go on a hop on, hop off red bus that takes you to the border and back. There, you’ll be seated at a very organized mini stadium, yes, you read it right, where a guy, a border cop, very efficiently, by the way, is getting the crowds excited. Then you have the Guards at both end, performing some sort of military intimidation ritual, kicking their legs very high, marching to the gates, wearing red hats in the format of a fan. The whole exercise lasts for five excruciating hours between going and coming back, with the super slow moving traffic to watch the ceremony for 30 minutes. For some reason, which escapes us, the Indians and Pakistanis get seriously excited and worked up about it. Obviously, my geopolitical grasp is not strong enough to get the cultural relevance of the ceremony. I know it’s the kind of thing you are supposed to do while you are here but I seriously wish we had given this one a miss. Back to Amritsar, it’s interesting as there’s no alcohol available near the Temple complex and smoking is also strictly not allowed anywhere near it. Next morning, we get up very early and catch a rickshaw back to the train station then another train to Haridwar and then another rickshaw to Laxman Jhula in Rishikesh.

We have booked a private room in a hostel called Into the Unknown but we hate it on first sight. First, they start arguing amongst themselves in Hindi and I say to Paul, I don’t think they have a room booked for us, and man, was I right? They say they can only give us a room at 9PM and it’s still early morning. I said, no way and they said they will put us up in a dorm but just for the two of us. We said OK but when I see the dorm, it looks like a prison cell, with 4 bunk beds, I just look around, searching for a tattooed guy to come over asking us for cigarettes or worse. So, I say, NO WAY, we go back to reception and tell them were going to another hotel. During all this ordeal, there’s a young tourist guy playing the drums very badly and loudly, I just want to strangle him with my bare hands, where are the freaking free yoga and meditation classes when you need them??? Anyway, we walk around for a while, checking out accommodation and decide to check in at the Sunflower Hotel, 12 Euros. The Hotel is basic but clean and the staff is very helpful and friendly. There’s nothing much to see and do in Rishikesh if you don’t want to take a yoga or meditation class or go rafting on the Ganges but its a nice, pleasant place, so we decide to stay for 4 days.

Rishikesh is a 100% vegetarian and dry city, so, there’s no meat or alcohol available anywhere, but do not worry as we got some gin we brought from Goa, so we drink it in the room as we don’t want to offend anyone. There’s nothing we can do about the food though, we don’t mind Indian veg food but for some reason, the food here varies between mediocre and poor. Yoga and meditation is everywhere and obviously, there are lots of people walking around in their yoga pants, trying to find their true selves, which is fine, each on their own trip, dude, where’s my beer? We do a bit of trekking to a waterfall and on the other side of the river, walk around the town and along the crystal clear Ganges river and take the opportunity to buy warm jackets to the next part of our trip.


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