Published: July 29th 2012July 29th 2012
I Have now arrived in Delhi after leaving Amritsar this morning. Yesterday was a very full in Amritsar so finished feeling rather hot, tired and grubby.
I got to Amritsar on Friday evening and since the Golden Temple stays open pretty late, I took the opportunity to pay a night-time visit. At about 10:30 there is a ceremony in which a copy of the Sikh hold book is carried back from its daytime location (in the temple in the middle of the pool) to its storage area. I spent about and hour and a half there wondering around the whole temple complex. To be allowed to enter the complex you must remove shoes (and socks!) and cover your hair. There are many people outside selling temporary hair scarves so I bought one of those and then left my shoes at the main shoe repository (a bit like when you swap your shoes at a bowling alley!). After walking through a foot bath to purify your feet you can enter the main temple complex. This consists of a large square pool of nectar (or holy water tank) surrounded by various buildings. In the centre of the pool is a marbletemple connected
by a causeway. You can walk all the way round the pool and go in any of the buildings including the one in the centre of the pool.
On Saturday my first job was to reserve a seat on the train to Delhi the next day. Although I had planned to use 7 train journeys in my visit, I had only reserved the 4 in which I wanted to sleep. I know realise that it would have been better to have reserved all 7 since the trains here are so busy and get sold out pretty quickly. I therefore went along to the train reservation office which is right outside the Golden Temple. You first have to collect a form to fill in - even though the bookign system is fully computerised, if doing it at a resevation offcie in India, you fill in a paper form then take it to the counter where the clerk books it on the computer. The form asks all sorts of things such as your home address, age, what was your last train journey and what will be your next! You then have to join a queue to get to the counter. The
Attari-Wagah border post between India and Pakistan
offcie is packed and is the usual eastern queueing system - i.e. everyone is barging, shouting and pushing. Eventually I got to the counter after 45 minutes and defending my place in queue valiently. Luckily the clerk actually reserved both Sunday's tcoket to Delhi and the one to Agra for Monday that I had listed because it told me to.
Feeling somewhat relieved that I had achieved this, I next went to Jallianwala Bagh. This the place in Amritsar where the British committed an atrocity in 1919, mowing down hundreds of Indians who were protesting peacefully about onerous Britsh rules in India. If you have seen the film Gandhi you will remember that this particular episode was displayed very graphically, and directly led to Gandhi extedning his campaign for Indian independance. The places where bullets from the British troops hit some bricks walls are clearly identified, and the well into which many people jumped to try and escape the massacre is still there.
After leaving Jallianwala Bagh I went back to the Golden Temple for a daylight view and the chance to take a lot more photographs. It was just as crowded as last night and many young male sikhs were stripping off (down to their underwear) to bathe in the pool of nectar. Ladies can bathe as well but they have an enclosed area in which to do it.
It was a hot day walking around in the sun, and the wait in the ticket reservation queue had been quite tiring, so I went back to my guest house for a rest before venturing out again. I had been recommended to try to get to the border between India and Pakistan which is about 30km from Amritsar. Every evening here they have a ceremony to mark the closure of the border for the day. In the morning there is another ceremony to mark its opening. This happens every single day throughout the year, and has become quite a spectacle as the Indian and Pakistani border guards try to outdo each other in their marching etc. This in turn has become a spectacle for Indians and Pakistanis to come and watch and exuberantly demonstrate thier patriotism. The authorities, on both sides, have built large viewing stands to accommodate the number of spectators. It takes about an hour to get to the border from Amritsar, the ceremony starts at 5:30pm and finishes about 7:00pm. On the Saturday evening when I went, the Indian viewing platforms were absolutely packed with thousands of Indians coming to support their side. The Pakistani side was distinctly sparse of people in comparison. When the ceremony starts there is much cheering and flag waving - really it's just like a major football match. On the Indian side (I couldn't see the Pakistani side very easily) there is a cheer-leader who tries the work the crowd up and various members of the audience and invited down to run up to the border gates and back carrying large Indian flags. There is a dedicated viewing area for foreigners which is actually much nearer the gates than the main platforms - if you plan to go remember to take your passport!
I really enjoyed my full day in Amritsar, the border ceremony was areally interesting way to round the day off.