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Published: January 16th 2014
The Golden Temple
Sunset on the Harmandir Sahib
We traveled on the Shatabdi Express(3) to Amritsar in the Punjab state. Two reasons for visiting Amritsar are the incredible Golden Temple(1) -- the spiritual center of the Sikh religion -- and the daily Wagah border ceremony (2). OK, a 3rd reason to possibly visit Amritsar is for the sweet shops. OK, another reason is if you are a Sikh.
Amritsar meaning “The Pool Of The Nectar Of Immortality is the spiritual and cultural centre of the Sikh religion, and they are very proud of the city and their unique Gurdwara (place of worship) which is now a major pilgrimage and tourism center.
The Golden Temple is considered holy by Sikhs because the eternal guru of Sikhism, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, is always present inside it and its construction was mainly intended to build a place of worship for men and women from all walks of life and all religion to come and worship God equally. Cover your head, remove your footwear, take a plate, cup and spoon and find an empty spot among the long rows of the hungry. Leave a donation at the entrance / exit if you feel so inclined. the
chapatti, spinach with paneer, dahl and the rice noodles cooked in sweetened milk are the perfect antidote to having walked barefoot on marble with the throngs who circle the tank while light percussion music plays through speakers. At one side of the structure someone is continually reading the holy book. This is a very relaxing and peaceful locale in the middle of a bustling, dusty city. Everyone you meet is friendly and welcoming.
The Wagah Border crossing is the only road border crossing between India and Pakistan. It is located on the Grand Trunk Road between Amritsar City in India and Lahore in Pakistan (these cities are practically twin cities). Every evening a retreat ceremony known as the Lowering of the flags and locking the gate occurs. The ceremony is performed by Border Security Force (B.S.F) in India and Pakistan Rangers by Pakistan. The town of Wagah has been divided by the 1947 partition.
To cries of Pakistan Zindabad (Long live Pakistan) and Jai Hind (Long live India) from the huge audiences the two Border guards strut warrior-like stamping and gesturing, they perform the ritual of “beating the retreat” (the lowering the colours) on their respective sides
Throngs of Indians
The Border Flag Lowering Ceremony Reminded me of a Rock Concert
of the border and closing the gates for the night. Until now, the ceremony has been performed symmetrically by the two detachments, but the aggression has been ameliorated by (very cursory) handshakes by the two duty officers. India has announced that on the Indian side, at least, the tone will be much less aggressive in future. It has yet to be seen if Pakistan will follow suit. A similar ceremony is planned in the near future at a border crossing between India and Bangladesh.
(3) Shatabdi Express
is the distinctive train service run by the Indian Railways. In India, Shatabdi Express is a superfast passenger train connecting the major cities, metro towns and business centers. Indian Railways run a series of superfast Shatabadi Express trains to facilitate people in commuting to different places. The Shatabdi is considered the most luxurious train on the Indian Railroad. From an email I sent Mike Horsey re: a Shatabdi trip from Haridwar to Delhi (NDLS):
> They started feeding us before we even left the station in Haridwar and it continued all the way to Delhi:
> 1. Sandwich with cookies, candy & bag of cashews
> 2. 2 Samosas
Tea arrived multiple times
> 4. A big box of fresh white rolls brought around with butter -- not knowing if anything else would arrive I helped myself to 3
> 5. Bowl of soup (man was it good)
> 6. Main course -- dahl, ghobi, naan and those unidentifiable things they call relish
> 7. Yogurt
> 8. bananas
> 9. raisin + honey ice cream
> I've never been on a train like the Shatabdi -- they even wake you up when food comes around.
Two caveats. The Shatabdi is not superfast; it is not the Bullet Train or TGV -- it is just an express train that doesn't stop at every town and village. It DOES have an on-board kitchen and impeccable service but it still was anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes late arriving at its destination. Random Notes
1. We stayed at the Bharat Hotel in Amritsar. We referred to it as "the Borat". The reason for choosing it (long before we arrived in India) was its proximity to the Amritsar train station and the fact someone would meet us upon are arrival. If you have any sense you will
The Sweet Shop
Sikh's love their Sweets
stay away from this establishment. It is a dump of the 1st order. We have stayed in dumps in India on a previous trip to South India but this one was the dumpiest dump.
2. A sign of the next generation of India's leader was a young lady (probably around 20 years old) we met at the Borat who was collecting statistics on travelers coming through Amritsar. This person and her mother diligently worked on multi-columned hand written spreadsheets of information. We noticed that she spoke English without an accent and questioned her about her training; she said "I am being trained to go foreign".
3. Most of our train travel was at night. Our trip on the Shatabdi from Delhi (NDLS) to Amritsar was during the morning which gave us a good view of the fields and crops in the country side. India has an incredible crop management program. Although, the fields are small compared to North American ones, you rarely see fallow fields -- it seems that every inch of available land is under cultivation. Wheat seems to be the predominant crop in the northern plain while a lot of sugar cane is grown in the
The infamous Indian Railway System
southern plain. Wheat is very important in India, because it is the staple food of most of the people of northern, western and central India.
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