Published: August 17th 2012August 17th 2012
After a nice few days in Dharamsala (Mcleod Ganj) I got a bus down into the Punjab to Amritser home to the holy Sikh Golden Temple – after the Taj Mahal probably one of the most visited sites in India and probably the world – visited by literally thousands of pilgrims daily! Amritser is a lot lower down in altitude after the hills of Himachal Pradesh and also hot and sticky – around 30 degrees and about 70% humidity. It’s a city of about a million people and very cluttered and busy although the old city which is where the Golden Temple is is quite compact and is a collection of narrow medieval streets and lanes.
The temple has a long and checkered history over its 250 year odd history. The large golden dome that gives the temple its name is said to be gilded with 750kg of pure gold! Interlaid with marble. Priests inside the temple keep up a continuous and soothing chant from the Sikh holy book. Its worth visiting the temple throughout the day as to see the varying light changes and at night it is superbly lit. Also while at the Golden Temple I experienced the community dining hall where again thousands of pilgrims and visitors to the temple can enjoy a simple (and free) meal prepared in the huge kitchen with enormous cauldrons of dal, vegetables and rice etc, an incredible feat or feast!
Also while in Amritser it is worth taking a simple tour to the Indian border with Pakistan, about 30km away for the entertaining nightly closing of the border ceremony. This is where members of the Indian and Pakistani border military engage in a 20 minute display of pure theatre watched and cheered on by hundreds of spectators on each side complete with grandstands! The entertainment stands with music and performers and spectators waving national flags. Then on cue a squad of soldiers stomp out of the complex donning silly hats and parade up and down the concourse kicking the air so high that they almost hit their faces in a march vaguely reminiscent of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks sketch rousing thunderous applause from the spectators. The border gates are then flung open and the commanding officers of both countries shake hands and salute and then the flags of both countries are simultaneously lowered and the gates shut. The border is then closed for the night.
After a couple of nights in Amritser I got a train to Delhi. I was in 2nd
class air con for the 6 hour evening journey and while on board enjoyed tea, dinner of soup, dal, rice, vegetable curry and chapatti followed by ice cream all included in the cost.
In Delhi its easy to get to the sights by whizzing around on the Metro. On Indian Independence Day (August 15) I had a look at the imposing India Gate – a large arch in the centre of New Delhi and memorial to the 90,000 or so Indian solders that lost their lives in WW1. Under the arch is an eternal memorial flame and in the evening the large garden area comes alive with buskers and stalls of every sort selling ice creams and other Indian snacks.
Also visited the impressive National Museum featuring extensive collections of ancient archeological artefacts from early civilizations of the Indus valley (Northern India and what is now Pakistan) dating back around 3000 BC. The museum also features lots of mediaeval art and paintings as well tribal artefacts, coins, textiles and weapons well worth a half day. This I followed up with high tea at the Imperial Hotel where for about 800 rupees (about $16) you can tuck into all of the scones (complete with clotted cream), pastries and sandwiches that you can eat and of course a fine selection of Indian and international teas – perfect before heading off by train to Agra to have another lot at the Taj Mahal. After that I have another couple of days in Delhi before my flight to Kuala Lumpur on Sunday night.