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February 10th 2013
Published: February 10th 2013
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Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 - Trivandrum

We enjoyed our visit to Amritsar. The hotel was quiet, clean and all food is room service. There is no restaurant. The hotel's clientele come mainly from Sikh pilgrims. The shower had sufficient hot water and staff were extremely polite and considerate. Our local guide, Rinku, is a 26-year-old Sikh, who elects to cut his hair and beard and looks like any other 26-year-old hip Indian man. He turned out to be the polar opposite of our Agra guide, not bringing us to any restaurants, shops or factories and soliciting our opinions on what we wanted to do. He gave us a thorough and intimate tour of the Golden Temple. We learned that the Sikh religion is based on kindness to all living things, vegetarianism, and charity to the poor. There are four gates to enter the complex and anyone, no matter what caste, may use any gate. Unlike many other monuments where the royalty enter through an elaborate gateway that will accommodate horses and/or elephants and the common folk have to walk through a doorway. At 2:30 am the holy books are carried on a palanquin from the library to the temple where different priests chant prayers, which are displayed in Sanskrit, Arabic and English on large screens in the courtyard. Prayers are chanted until 9:30 pm when the books are returned to the library on the palanquin. There is no charge to visit the temple and no pressure to donate. The temple provides free meals 24 hours a day and free rooms in an adjacent dormitory house. Single persons and families live in the rooms. We visited each of the four kitchens, watching volunteers do all the food preparation and cooking. We saw tourists, students and people from all levels of society lining up. The dining hall serves 2500 persons at a sitting. Those that are waiting to be seated are served tea in front of the dining hall. The only downside of the visit was having to wear a head covering that made Jane and me look like Russian peasants and no shoes allowed. Later in the day we were brought to the border town of Wagah, which is a few kilometers from Lahore, Pakistan. The road to Wagah becomes lined with semis about 5 km from Wagah. They are waiting to deliver produce and other products, which will be picked up by semis on the Pakistan side. Trucks bringing tomatoes have priority because of the perishability of the product, but some truckers have to wait as long as 2 weeks to unload. Make-shift shelters dot the shoulder and small cooking fires burn. Rinku said this was one of the worst jobs.

The border closing ceremony was everything we wished for. The spectators start chanting "Hindustan sindabad! (Long live India) or "Chiveh, chiveh, Pakistan!" There are 3 times as many Indians as Pakistanis, and they also burst into gleeful dancing on the street. At a certain time soldiers from each side begin strutting and high-kicking toward the fence, posturing and glaring. The gates open and an elaborate handshake ritual is acted out. Then the two country flags are lowered simultaneously to bugle song. Apparently, the two sides are performing like mirror images, but our seats made it almost impossible to see the soldiers on the Pakistan side. The atmosphere was reminiscent of a high school homecoming game and the excitement was contagious.

Yesterday was spent traveling to Trivandrum. We boarded a flight in Amritsar, changed planes in Delhi and stopped for 40 minutes in Kochi. Flights were mostly full and one flight had been set back one hour later. We arrived in Trivandrum 2 hours later than originally scheduled but Jane's suitcase did not. It appears it never made it to Delhi. We have heard it is now in transit. Our poor greeters were tired and bewildered since neither Jane nor I have phone service here and the airline provided no updates about the delays or schedule change. We got to bed around 3 am. Still have not caught up on sleep and the AC in our room was directed towards one side of the room so that both Jane and I ended up donning pants, sweaters and jackets. This has not helped my cough and I pity Jane and Helen who have to endure the hacking. We had a brief city tour today and were surprised to see all the flyers and streamers and flags posted along the streets by the Communist Party and its affiliate. A local election is going on in peace. Tomorrow we begin work on the first of 3 houses. It is really, really hot and humid. I think we will work very slowly and take many breaks.

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