Thursday, August 18, 2005

Amritsar- The Golden Temple

The Golden Temple

Unlike last morning my alarm actually roused me from sleep this morning. Ofer and I walked down to McLeod again in the pitch black only to find there again will be no bus due to the landslide. So we joined an Israeli couple and took a taxi the back way to Dharmashala.

The bus left from there promptly at 5am and we had room to relax for a while. It filled up later on though and twice during the journey I had 3 adults and one child crammed into three narrow seats. The last kid was bus-sick and throwing up!

Arriving in Amritsar, we took a bicycle rickshaw to the Golden Temple. First on our agenda was to find a place to stay. You can, in fact, stay and even eat for free at the temple, but we didn't feel like taking advantage of the Sihk hospitality. We settle on the Sita Niwas Hotel.

So Ofer wants a smoke so we find what appears to be a park and take a seat. A young boy comes over and with broken English and hand gestures stops us from a particularly bad social and legal no-no. We are actually on Temple property and there is a strict no smoking zone within 100 meters of the property!

After some lunch we headed over to the Golden Temple. Since your head must be covered we took our zip-off pant legs and placed them on our heads. Then we deposited our shoes, washed our hands and finally convince the gaurd we weren't bringing in anything unholy besides our corporeal selves. The Temple is impressive and indeed "golden". The temple itself stands in the middle of a square lake filled with Holy Water which the faithful drink AND bathe in! Bordering the lake on all four sides is a marble boardwalk and edging this are immaculately white buildings which enclose the whole complex.We started to walk around, but quickly realized that we were the only ones going counter clockwise. Oops! Ok, so heading in the right direction we did a slow lap around the walkway. At one point we stopped to take photos and attracted a very large group of friendly and curious spectators. Everyone in Amritsar seems friendly and curious. We took a round of pics with at least 20 Indians and made our way to the Temple entrance.
The inside, as one might imagine, is also decked in gold and you discover that the holy music being heard all over the Temple grounds originates from a three man band playing from the center of the temple.

Next on the agenda was to secure a ride to the border for the evening cerimonies. Eleven of us crammed into a jeep and after about an hour we arrived at the border. Along for the ride was: a few Indians, a Canadian, 3 Germans, and Alex & Alaya, bro and sis from France. A short walk brings us to a crowd which leads to a que which leads ~5000 spectators into the bleachered observation area. As foreign dignitaries we were sat in the VIP section.

While the soldiers do some well advised stretching an emcee gets things going. Various Hindustania cheers ring out, call and answer. Flags are furling! Some of them really get into it. Although they stop short of "doing the wave" they are constantly jumping out of there seats to cheer. It's difficult to see over to the Pakistani side and impossible to hear, but I assume the scene is very much the same on the other side of the border.

After about 30 minutes of this the soldiers steal the show. About 15 guards with funny hats participate on either side. I think the Pakistanis with their bad ass black uniforms have the upper hand on the Indians. The cerimony itself is hilarious! They are all bonafide graduates of Monty Pythons School of Funny Walking. They start by all marching in line at a very fast pace with flailing limbs towards the border. At the gate they do a little jiggy and all march back to where they started. Then they all get to do it solo. Each shaking hands with their counterpart on the other side of the border.
After each has had their turn to shine, they begin the lowering of the flags. They lowered ever so slowly, but once they are down they are swiftly folded and just as swiftly marched back to their respective resting places for the evening. After the flags are gone the show is over and the Sikhs and Hindus on each side rush the gate. To greet or perhaps taunt their neighbors. It would be interesting to know what kind of dialog such a nationalistic show of peace & friendship generates between peoples of two nuclear powers on shaky ground?! On the walk back to the jeep we are approached every 8-10 feet by someone selling pictures and music Cds related to the show.

Back in Amristar we joined the French siblings for dinner. Somewhere there are a pair of marketing directors blowing a fuse. In this restaraunt they serve both Coke and Pepsi. And of course if you order a Coke you will inevitably get a Pepsi and vice versa.

After dinner we all went back to see the Golden Temple at night. Very nice. We took some more pics and then said Au Revoir to our French Friends.

We took breakfast at the hotel and despite the amazed looks we got, decided to walk to the bus stand since we had time to kill. It was hot and kind of far, but along the way we saw some things of interest. Including summer school and some interesting school buses. Tiny rickshaws crammed with tiny school children and their book bags strapped all over the vehicle. One school bus was a minivan which a group of students had to chase down after push starting it.

On the way home I got to see some nice scenery and chill to some of Ofer's Cds. As we approached Dharmashala the clouds hung low and dark. As we arrived it was raining hard! Welcome home. Capped of the evening as usual.