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Published: October 11th 2013
After having seen one of the most amazing sights in the world, it’s hard to imagine that anything else is going to compare. Having said this though, our next stop, Amritsar, had the potential to at least be worthy of a couple of days, since everyone we had spoken to that had been here, raved about it. The main reason for this was Amritsar’s gem, The Golden Temple. Being the holiest of Sikh Temples in India, and therefore the world, The Golden Temple generally has between 60,000 and 80,000 visitors per day….and that’s not even on festival days…..to us, that definitely meant this place deserved a visit.
In order to get to Amritsar in the Punjab, we boarded what would be our last overnight train, in Agra. Being that this was to be our last overnighter, we decided to treat ourselves to a 3A AirCon bed for the evening. Hardly upper class, but certainly more comfortable than the sleeper, and why not, we had earned our stripes on those sleepers over the past few months, and truth be told, we couldn’t bear to spend another night breathing in the urine fumes from each station we stopped at along the way.
Having survived, and even dare I say quite enjoyed our last night on a train, we walked across the street to our hotel. Once in reception, one of the first things we noticed was that they offered a tour of things to do in Amritsar. This wasn’t something we thought would be necessary as we only really came here to see the Holy Golden Temple, however this caught our eye. The tour consisted of three things 1) An evening inside the Golden Temple 2) A trip to a Hindu Temple and finally 3) a chance to see the Closing of the border ceremony between India and Pakistan. With Amritsar being only 30km from the border of Pakistan, this is a fairly easy thing to do here, however having heard that relations are sometimes ‘a little strained’ shall we say between India and Pakistan, we were a little unsure as to whether this was something we should actually do. After having chatted to the guy on reception, it was clear our international politics knowledge was a little off, and in fact this trip was perfectly safe, and apparently something we shouldn’t miss whilst here.
So, we hopped in the
car, our first stop was the Mata Temple. Not expecting too much from one more Hindu temple on the list of loads that we have seen thus far, we entered the Temple after having given our shoes in over the road. Once inside, we were told to turn right, go upstairs and follow the path. We did this, and all of a sudden we were cast into some weird maze of a place that had little tunnels to crawl in, ankle deep water to wade through whilst taking in the bright and reflective murals of various Hindu Gods and Goddesses. It really was a bit surreal, and the building with its twists and turns everywhere seemed to be some form of tardis as from the outside, this place did not look big in the slightest. Leaving here, we were glad we saw this strange little temple, as it certainly wasn’t on our to do list, but was definitely something different.
Back in the car, we were then whisked off towards the India / Pakistan border. Having reached our destination, our driver pointed in one direction, and in his somewhat broken English said ‘Urrrgh’ as he pointed. We assumed this
noise and the subsequent pointing meant that he wasn’t coming with us and that we should head in that direction. So, off we went with no idea where to go or what we were supposed to do. Very suddenly, it all became apparent where we needed to be though, as all we needed to do was to follow the steady flow of hundreds of locals heading in the same direction. Having joined the melee, being barged around and pushed in the cramped area, this task was then made even harder when we were target of every salesperson in the area. We were offered water, every type of food, and even asked if we wanted the India flag painted on our face, it was a frenzy of madness. After 5 minutes or so walking, we reached what appeared to be the back of the huge queue which had all the order of a bar at the Reading festival back home, and so we waited. Standing still in this environment surrounded by thousands of locals pushing and shoving isn’t the nicest place in the world to be especially when we were told by our receptionist back at the hotel to be aware
of pickpockets. Having our passports on us in order to get into the place meant that being pickpocketed really wasn’t a valid option, and could spell forking out more than a couple of quid for their replacements. From what we have seen so far, Indian bureaucracy and some of the customs here, means that getting a new passport in this country could potentially be a logistical nightmare not to mention the man hours it would take sitting around trying to explain the situation. Because of this, my hand entered my pocket and held on tight to this precious commodity and I didn’t let go until someone asked to see it (that sounds wrong…?)
So, back in the queue having no one to talk to (Donna was in a separate women’s queue) and getting fidgety, the time had finally come. The gates were open and the men were allowed in. It was like something out of a medieval battle scene. As soon as those gates were open a huge roar from the crowd escaped and the men literally charged for the front pushing and shoving anyone who was in their way. Had someone fallen of tripped, I would hate to
imagine what could happen as this stampede was stopping for nothing, or no one it seemed.
Once this had all calmed down a little, with some help from the arrogant and power hungry troops on horses, a little calm was restored and we safely made our way into the arena. The show itself, once it finally begun, was actually awesome. It was so ridiculous that we weren’t sure if it was supposed to be serious or funny or what? Whatever it was supposed to be though, for us, it was hilarious. Both sides of the border, the Indian and Pakistan troops enter into an array of silly walks, stomps and if I’m not mistaken some Michael Jackon’esk leg kicks whilst squaring up to each other with random fist pumps. This all seems to be kicked off by a guy that shouts into a microphone for as long as his vocal cords and breath will last, trying to outdo the guy doing the same thing on the other side of the border, all the while being constantly cheered by the on looking almost ‘tribal’ audience …..absolutely bonkers!
We were thoroughly enjoying this farce of a ‘show’ when the heavens
opened and from nowhere we were soaked from head to toe with some of the ‘fattest’ rain we have ever been exposed to. Trying desperately to cover our cameras (no bags were allowed into the stands) with our shirts and arms, we managed to stick out the worst of the storm and carry on watching the action to the end, which hadn’t missed a beat due to the rain. A very entertaining and worthwhile use of our time we felt despite the queue and storm.
Sitting in our wet clothes with the AirCon blasting, our bodies shivering we made our way to the final stop of the tour, The Golden Temple. It was now dark, and we were able to stay in the temple for an hour before we had to return to the car. This was fine for us, as we was going to see the temple tomorrow in the day anyhow, and just meant we could see the Temple in the dark, which wasn’t something we had originally planned to do. Again armed with dubious finger directions from our driver, we followed the masses towards what appeared to be the way to the Golden Temple. Buying a
head scarf on the way (you have to cover your head in all Sikh temples) it wasn’t long before we come across the mighty building. As we entered the building, to our right was the kitchen. Here, somewhat unbelievably everyone and anyone can eat absolutely free of charge. Considering this place sees a steady flow of around 70,000 people on average per day, this is something truly amazing. As I went to take out my camera to take a picture of this amazing site, disaster struck and it was clear rainwater from the border ceremony had entered my camera and frazzled it. I was devastated. Having tried it several times and separating the various components to dry them, nothing seemed to be working and I had to face the fact that it was dead. I was going to have to find a way to get this sorted or risk going the next three months without a camera.
Putting my camera away at least Donna still had hers, and having protected it better from the rain than me, hers still functioned perfectly. So, brushing my self-pity aside, we entered the grounds of the Golden Temple. Walking through the entrance for
the first time is a truly inspiring moment. The Golden Temple sits in the middle of a huge sacred pool, with one causeway leading to and from the temple itself. Surrounding the pool is a square walkway made with marble where you can walk around the pool and temple all of which is open to the elements. This is a great feature as although being closed in within four walls, you still feel a great sense of being out in the open where you get a fantastic breeze, cooling you off from the 32 degree humid evening outside the enclosure.
We didn’t actually go in the temple itself as we wanted to save this for tomorrow, so we simply strolled around the walkway a couple of times, in-between sitting and taking in the atmosphere of this magic place, feeling glad we decided to see this at night as well as in the day-time.
The following day we awoke feeling more human after our bout of Delhi Belly had finally decided to subside, however there was one matter still on my mind….the camera. After having got back to the hotel and trying to dry it off with no success
a few times the previous evening , I had pretty much written it off as a loss. Feeling fairly chipper however due to my guts not tying themselves in a knot, I decided to give it one last go before I called the time of death. To our amazement, the green light went on and Boom, it was fully working again. We couldn’t believe it….we were so relieved! I pointed the camera straight at Donna to try take a picture to make sure it worked, and ‘click’ it was absolutely perfect…..we really were very lucky as I don’t think many cameras crawl back from water damage too often.
After this amazing stroke of luck, and having successfully bought our train ticket to move onto Haridwar for the next day, we boarded a more than questionable Rickshaw bike, and heading back into the heavy traffic bound for the Golden Temple once more….this time in the late afternoon. We decided this would be a good time, as this way we could enter the temple in the day time, hang around for Sunset, and then get one more glance in all its glory with the beautiful lights that shine from every corner
during the evening.
Arriving safe and sound (somehow) from our rickshaw, we once again entered the Temple grounds. This time, armed with a camera that worked, I went a little crazy at first taking a vast amount of snaps at every opportunity. Having walked round the grounds again in the day, it is no less special, and once again we took in the great vibe that the place has with its naturally calm ambience. This time, we queued in order to enter the Temple itself, which really is quite special. Outside is a mixture of Gold at the top and Marble for the bottom-side of the building and inside is as opulent and glamorous as any temple we have seen whilst here in India.
So, after having seen the main temple and having walked around a few more times, we just sat and waited for the sun to set, and for night to once again grace this fantastic place. As the light started to fade, there was nothing to do but listen to the chants of the priests taken from the Sikh holy book, sit back, relax and enjoy. One of our more serene and calming moments during
our time here in India, and one that we will forever cherish.
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