Published: December 8th 2011December 8th 2011
To start this blog I think a few experiences that Amy and I have had the past few days will help to summarize our first experiences in India, I'll try to set the scene and then do my best to quote the comment or conversation...here it goes:
The scene: Walking through the streets in Varanasi and incense is burning
Amy: I just love the smell of India (as she says that the smell changes from incense to poop, of course the street is laden with poop)
Taylor: They have to burn incense to cover up the smells.
The scene: Walking through the streets with all the garbage, animals, and cow pies and I get wacked by a cows tail. Amy starts thinking about immigration form questions when entering countries.
Amy: You know the question about being on a farm or near livestock on the immigration form, how are we supposed to fill that out? Yes? Who hasn't been near livestock or on a farm in India just from walking down the streets?
The scene: After a hectic day of no sleep, being harassed all day, and spending three hours
Looking East with the afternoon sun on the temple.
trying to get a train ticket, we finally get to a hotel and rest.
Taylor: No wonder why they do so much yoga and meditation here in India, they would go insane without it!
With those experiences in mind all I can say is WOW - what a difference a new city makes! Amritsar is nothing like Delhi or Varanasi and in my opinion is a far superior city to visit than either of those places. Our main impetus for visiting was to see the Golden Temple, which is the zenith of all Sikh pilgrimeges. Each Sikh individual tries to make it to visit the Golden Temple once in their lifetime and it is a sight to behold. It is worth noting that if our Delhi rickshaw driver Otto (so far the most truthful person we have met in India) did not tell us about Amritsar we probably would not have came here. Overall, Amritsar is not a very popular tourist destination in Northern India. Before I get to the Golden Temple I think the city of Amritsar deserves some mention.
Amritsar is a relatively large sized town, probably similarly sized to Varanasi (our guidebook does
Looking east, sun in the west.
not say populations and I have not looked online). It is located less than 20 miles from the Pakistan border, which is one reason people tend to stay away given the long history of India-Pakistan relations. The city is different than the other India cities we have visited for one major reason - it is relatively clean. There are almost no animals in the main streets, very little spit, almost no garbage, and little feces in the streets as well. This stands in stark contrast to what we have seen up to this point. Also, it actually seems more Western than the other cities. In fact, the hotel we are staying at has a Hannah Montana themed birthday party going on as I type this - clearly a wealthy family. In addition, the "hard sell" that we have gotten everywhere else is more of a "soft sell" here. You don't have to tell them "no" more than twice, as opposed to a solid 10 times in Delhi or Varanasi. I'm not entirely sure why Amritsar is so different in this regard. Possibly it is because of the influence of the Sikh religion, maybe because we aren't in Delhi and the
Amy & Golden Temple
Temple seen through teh arch. You can eat for free (we donated) just right of where Amy is.
common statement about liking India besides Delhi and Mumbai is true - I guess only time will tell. Either way our first day was an aboslute delight and hopefully a turning point towards the love side of India
The Golden Temple is one of the most incredible buildings/monuments I have seen in my life, it certainly sets a huge precedent for the Taj Mahal which we plan on visiting towards the middle of the month. If it wasn't so far from Delhi and the "golden triangle" of northern India I bet it would be a major tourist attraction. As with most religions, there are some rituals that must be followed when visiting the temple; you must leave your shoes and walk barefoot, you must cover your head, you must walk around the temple clockwise, absolutely no alcohol/drugs/tobacco, and no photographs inside the temple (you can take photos around it though). The temple has a place to check your shoes for free and scarves if needed for your head, both at no charge. Also worth noting is that visiting the temple itself is free, as all Sikh temples are. The Golden Temple does not only have historical significance for Sikhism,
but it plays a vital role in the community today. Each day the temple feeds 10,000 people regardless of wealth, color, or religion - the meal is completely free. We had the pleasure of taking part in a meal at the Golden Temple our second night in Amritsar. It really is impressive how quickly they feed so many people, and the food is delicious! There is something humbling about eating in the temple in that manner we did that I'm not sure I can describe and trying to do so would probably be a disservice, so I will leave the experience at that. The whole Golden Temple complex is huge, I would guess it is about three city blocks wide by three city blocks deep, or 9 square city blocks. While at the temple I had a boy come up to me and ask that I take his picture and Amy and I also had four young men ask if they could take their picture with us. People asking to take their picture with us has become a somewhat common occurence in India.
Prior to eating at the Golden Temple we went to see this ridiculous spectacle at the
Foot bridge crossing the Ganges, foohills of the Himalayas in the background.
India-Pakistan border (see video). As the sun sets the border closes and the border patrol from both India and Pakistan take part in a ritual that it so bizarre it is difficult to describe. Thousands of people from India and Pakistan go to witness and cheer on their respective guards. Essentially the guards from each side run/walk/march/stomp towards the border and just as they approach the border line they turn around and do some more stomping/saluting. It has to be the only place in the world that this sort of thing takes place and every night the stands are packed to witness the ritual. I couldn't help but think how Gary Larson (Farside), Jonathan Stewart, Leno, or Letterman would have quite a fun time with the spectacle that we witnessed. After the border and our meal at the Golden Temple we jumped on our overnight train to Rishikesh.
Rishikesh is probably the Yoga capital of the world and if not the world certainly all of India. The town lies at the foothills of the Himalayas where the Ganges river changes from a rushing river to a slow meandering river that makes its way through India. The Ganges is much
A bulk tea shop in the back alley of Amritsar.
cleaner up here and is actually very pretty, far different than the filthy part of the river that we saw in Varanasi. The scenery is excellent, although I would like to see the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas, which can reach over 21,000 feet and are not that distant from Rishikesh! As with Amritsar the town is rather clean by India standards. A huge suspension foot bridge spans the Ganges and connects two sides of the town - despite it being a foot bridge you do see some cattle and motorcycles on the bridge. Our first night at Rishikesh we went down to the ghats on the east side of the river and witnessed a devotional ceremony called Aarti that was amazing. The music, singing, clapping, and chanting was very relaxing - it just felt good to be there (see video). As of now plan on staying in Rishikesh for a few days and then we might go to Nainital, a smaller town not very popular with tourists a few hundred kilometers to the East, which I believe will bring us closer to the peaks of the Himalayas. I hope our days continue to be as delightful as our
Amy and I with a Tilaka we got at the bus station in Haridwar on our way to Rishikesh. Symbolizes the third eye.
past few days in Amritsar and Rishikesh!
There are more photos below