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INDIA - Amritsar and Dharamshala

INDIA | Sunday, 14 November 2010 | Views [547]

We travelled by Sleeper Class on the train to Amritsar. There was no way to prevent cold air from entering the compartment; even with all the windows shut, we were freezing and very uncomfortable, so our room at the Grand opposite the Amritsar railway station was a very welcome surprise as it seemed to be heated. There wasn’t any obvious heating equipment visible and we certainly weren’t paying much for the room, so I’m not sure what caused the room to be so toasty…it’s probably hot as a furnace in summer.

We went to the town of Wagah in the evening to watch the closing of the Indo-Pakistan border, an entertaining spectacle held every day. There was much revelry on the Indian side; patriotic Bollywood tunes blared from the loudspeakers and people danced in the border complex. All the while, soldiers in funky headgear and uniforms patrolled the crowd. The ceremony itself was very comical; two soldiers on both sides yelled simultaneously, each trying to drown out the other’s voice. There was foot-stamping, aggressive marching, and displays of bravado. Finally, the flags of both countries were lowered and with a firm handshake, the gates on each side were slammed shut.

From Wagah, we went to the Golden Temple, which was very exciting; I have wanted to visit the Golden Temple ever since I saw a picture of it on a postcard many years ago. It was stunning at night, beautifully lit, gleaming golden, and incredibly atmospheric. It was all that I had imagined it would be. Verses from the Holy Book are sung continuously; hence the temple complex has a very peaceful and reverential mood. We had a tasty dinner at the communal kitchen and headed back to the guesthouse, eager to come back again the following day.

The next day, after a deliciously oily breakfast of aloo parathas at a roadside dhaba, we headed back to the Golden Temple and spent the better part of the day there. We visited the museum and lined up for an hour to enter the Harmandir which gave me plenty of time to study the beautiful paintings on the marble and the silver work on the doors. The Harmandir itself is spectacular inside; the Holy Book is placed on a platform on the ground floor and the marble walls are covered with gilt, mirrors, and designs of flora and fauna made with precious stones.

You can’t help but be affected by the Golden Temple; it is immensely spiritual, but in a country that has innumerable places of pilgrimage and worship, it is a refreshing change to visit a holy place that is actually conducive to prayer. Visitors aren’t harassed for donations, forced to move on while they try to pray, or restricted entry because they aren’t followers of the faith. This was my favourite place of worship; I was overwhelmed its welcoming nature, the devotion of the people and the community spirit.

Dharamshala

It was a relatively short journey from Amritsar to Dharamshala in comparison to most of our travels within India; the majority of the journeys have been at least overnight. Amritsar to Dharamshala took around 7 hours and we had to travel by train and then change to a bus. Upon arriving in McLeod Ganj, we quickly realised that we were ill-equipped for the place; it was very cold even during the day and people were walking around in coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. I had brought 2 jumpers, a shawl and thermals; however, the thermals were too thin and didn’t help much. By evening, despite wearing my thermals, both jumpers and the shawl around my neck and head, I was still bitterly cold. We were going to die.

McLeod Ganj, home of his High Holiness the Dalai Lama, is a tiny town with spectacular views, friendly people and plenty of restaurants serving delicious, and more importantly, non-Indian fare. We don’t eat Indian food regularly at home and by this stage, though I was yearning for good old Singaporean prawn mee and sliced fish soup, I was more than happy to settle for pizza and momo’s. Many people come to Dharamshala to volunteer with various organisations there, so for the first time we were able to find cafes that offered free WIFI connectivity. We ended up spending a day just hanging out in a coffee shop catching up with news and family.      

We had initially planned to trek into the mountains for a few days, but had to ditch the plan considering our lack of warm clothing. Instead we did a day’s hike up to the Dhauladhar mountain range. It was a lovely trek; we passed a mountainside dotted with bleating goats, a modest temple, villages, Buddhist prayer flags, and a man taking his goat for a walk. At each increasing elevation we were rewarded with brilliant views of the valley below as well as the imposing white Dhauladhar mountains.      

Tags: amritsar, dharamshala, dhauladhars, dodgy train journeys, exhaustion, golden temple, indo-pak border closing ceremony, temples, trekking, wagah

 

 

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