A long journey awaited; from Jaisalmer in the heart of the Rajasthan desert to Amritsar, a sacred city in the state of Punjab; home to the world's most important Sikh site; the Golden Temple. We boarded a train headed to Delhi, after a ticket mishap we had to disembark one stop before the one we wanted and hailed a taxi to take us across the bustling city to Hotel Su Shree for a few hours of sleep before our early morning train to Amritsar. Delhi had been our first stop in India, it had felt so overwhelming at the time, but now, over 20 days into our travels in India we had become used to the noise, the haze, the smells and the cows. I was disappointed to still have no appetite after several days of sickness as the food at Hotel Su Shree had been some of the best we'd tasted, I wouldn't get to enjoy the aloo gobhi this time.
We woke and walked to the station, our journey to Amritsar wasn't too long, so we decided to give the seater carriage a go rather than the sleeper. Included in the price was breakfast served at our seat like on an aeroplane! We arrived in Amritsar and at our hostel, it was a little underwhelming and as the city is an expensive one we had to settle with a dorm room. After leaving our bags we went out in search of food, I still wasn't up to eating much but Craig tucked into a thali, a platter with an assortment of culinary delights including daal, rice and flat breads. We moseyed on to the Golden Temple, from the outside we saw a bright white building with a square and fountains to the front. To the left was a row of window booths taking shoes and socks from people to look after as none are permitted inside. We removed our shoes and walked along the hot stone surface to the entrance where we washed our hands and arms with soap and waded through a shallow water bath to clean our feet. I wrapped my trusty green scarf around my head and Craig was given what looked like a large white handkerchief to wrap around his head by a smiling guard. With a crowd of people, we slowly walked barefoot down the stairs. There before us was the man-made pool and magnificent Golden Temple in the middle, accessed by a pier-like walkway. The temple shimmered in the sun, a shining beacon for the Sikh faith. Gold reflected off the water, it looked as though the buildings beautiful facade was melting into the pool, a perfect mixture of turquoise and gold. Queues of worshipers and tourists were gathered in rows waiting to get into the temple while others including us marvelled at it from across the water. There were fish swimming in the pool and after a minute we noticed men and boys in trunks sitting on the edge of the water before sliding off, reaching for a chain and dunking their heads. We wandered around, feeling at ease and most welcome. All people can visit the temple, no matter what nationality, religion or social standing. Over 100,000 people visit the temple daily and amazingly all are entitled to a free meal served at the site by volunteers. A volunteer approached Craig for a chat, he had no agenda and after a few minutes of talking said goodbye and walked on. We found a spot under the shade of a gnarly tree to sit and people watch, despite a few sneaky school kids trying to take our photograph without us noticing we felt at ease and peaceful. Guards patrolled the pool, using long sticks to keep everybody in check and tell off anyone splashing around, I liked the order. In a country that feels so chaotic most of the time it felt like a novelty to see some discipline.
We left the temple, retrieved our shoes and socks and had lunch at a small café close by the Jallianwala Bagh; a garden and memorial to the hundreds if not over a thousand innocent lives that were murdered in a massacre there led by British Colonel Reginald Dyer in 1919. We had seen a dramatisation of the massacre while watching the Richard Attenborough film 'Ghandi', seeing it onscreen had been shocking. A crowd had gathered at the garden for a religious festival and peaceful protest, the gates were locked and a tank brought in, on the word of Colonel Dyer troops began firing at the men, women and children. The horrific attack on innocent Indian lives was led by the British and in defence of British rule. As a British person I felt sickened and ashamed. We wandered around the gardens and memorial to pay our respects, in my mind I couldn't help but say sorry for the wrong doing of my countries past leaders.
After a sobering experience at the Jallianwala Bagh we caught a collective and very overcrowded tuk tuk to the Indian/Pakistan border to see the Wagah border closing ceremony. With two families including children crowded on the back of the tuk tuk, Craig and I had to sit up front with the driver; me on his left side and Craig on his right. The journey took longer than expected and as we whizzed past cars and mopeds the driver kindly kept reminding me to keep my knees and elbows in. We arrived at the chaos of the border and walked with one of the families to the entrance where we had to go through several security checkpoints. Inside was a road to the border gate and on each side was stadium style seating. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to sit with our new friends as we were ushered to what looked like the 'white zone', a corner of benches full of white tourists. The ceremony took a while to get started, the place was buzzing with music and loud speaker commentary, spectators flowed in wearing colourful outfits. Eventually something started to happen, first lines of visitors gathered on the road and after some enthusiastic dancing were given an Indian flag to run with, doing a bit of a lap of honour, this went on for a while before guards marched up and down. They seemed to be aiming to reach their legs as high as possible, Monty Python's Ministry of Silly walks did spring to mind. With some marching and loud shouting the flag was lowered, the guards from each side of the border shook hands and the gate was closed. It had been a surreal but fun experience to encounter, we felt a little sorry for poor Pakistan who barely had a person there to watch and cheer.
We walked a couple of kilometres back to the tuk tuk meeting point, it felt like when a band finish playing at a festival and there is a mass exodus back to the tents. There were swarms of people everywhere. We found our happy driver and sat waiting for the two families to show up so we could return to Amritsar. Every person who glanced our way started staring when they saw us and we had A LOT of photographs taken, I can only imagine that it was a bit like being Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart during the Twilight years. Our driver had our back and started shooing people off when it got a bit much which was rather endearing, he was like our friendly bodyguard. As night fell we headed off, I was feeling so drained after such a busy day that I could feel my eyes getting heavy while we drove along but I stayed as awake as possible for fear of dozing off and falling out of the tuk tuk en-route. Once back in the city we gave our driver a good tip for being so kind and walked with our new friends to the Golden Temple to see it lit up at night. We went through the same procedure of covering our heads and washing our hands and feet and walked in. It was a totally different perspective and atmosphere, the lights made the temple physically glow, the water sparkled and the crowds were much livelier. A teacher with a group of students stopped us for an impromptu interview which was highly embarrassing, I left Craig to answer his questions. We said goodbye to our friends and headed back to the hostel.
The next morning we had breakfast at a 100% vegetarian McDonalds located close by the temple. Usually I'd prefer to support local businesses but I hadn't eaten in such a long time and the hash browns were calling my name. It was the first meal I'd finished since Jodhpur. Our time in Amritsar was hectic and it was up, we caught a coach to McLeod Ganj in the much anticipated state of Himachal Pradesh.
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Have you been to Amritsar? If so, what did you think? Maybe you're planning a trip? I've got tonnes of advice and tips I can share. Let me know in the comments below.
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