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Published: March 7th 2015
Our trip to Amritsar got off to a great start with the train arriving about 3 hours late at Amritsar, so that we could enjoy an extra long sleep in the 2 berth cabin, and arrive well rested in daylight. Result! We then went straight for breakfast in a totally vegetarian, Mcdonalds. (Strange how familiar brands, even if nasty, can seem appealing when away from home!). Straight after this we went to the Golden Temple. We were both really impressed by its beauty; and also by how clean and well ordered it is. Loads of visitors, but an unhurried atmosphere, facilities to leave your shoes and your baggage before entering without long queues, and free literature outside on Sikhism. We spent a few hours there until it was time to check in at our hostel. This is the only dorm style accomodation we are using on our entire trip....the reasons being its very good reviews on trip advisor, and that we are intrigued to find out more about an 'eco hostel' in India. (Just as well we recovered from the Delhi Belly, as so far we opted for ensuites only in India). It turns out that the hostel is called eco
because they have filtered water in the kitchen to refill your water
bottle and are making an attempt to sort out the rubbish for recycling. Most people staying were much younger than us, and everyone sits on floor cushions. Staff are really helpful...making chai and snacks, having books and info about Amritsar and India generally, and organising tours. Our room was almost ensuite, as there were only 3 of us in the dorm sharing the bathroom.
That evening we were the only 2 taking their tour of the Golden Temple, which was absolutely brilliant. We were given an explanation about Sikhism and Sikh history, before walking to the temple with our guide.( Even having a guide to walk there was good, as we have not really been venturing out on our own here after dark.) The temple looks even better when lit up at night. He showed us the dormatories and homeless shelter at the temple, and the massive kitchens. These kitchens feed 100,000 people every day! and are the largest communal kitchens in the world. We had dinner there....chappatties and dahl and rice pudding followed by chai (free, but you make a donation, if able). I had
a go at rolling out chappattis, so some people would have been eating my squareish chappatis instead of perfectly circular ones that night! After this we stayed at the Golden Temple to see the Holy Book being 'put to bed' in a cermony which involved carrying it to its night time resting place all wrapped up in a sedan chair.
The following day we went on another hostel tour, sharing a taxi with 4 others, to see the evening ceremony at the border with Pakistan. On the way there we stopped for a lunch, and stopped to see an ornate Hindu temple. The temple was very very colourful indeed. There were mosaics made of fragments of mirror and coloured glass and tinsel. In the Hindu temple, also, food was being served. We hadn't planned to go to the Whakka ceremony at the border....it was a spur of the moment decision which turned out to be a good one. The ceremony is held on both sides of the border simultaneously every evening as the gates are shut across the road between the 2 countries. Each side the crowd tries to outdo the other in making a lot of noise, egged
on by comperes (similar to tv game show hosts), dressed in white. There is a lot of macho high stepping and marching about by the guards accompanied by drums to echo the footsteps. And of course the guards are very colourfully dressed with big head dresses. My favourite part was just prior to the actual ceremony as the crowd are getting settled and expectant. On the Indian side Bollywood music is played and women dressed in lovely coloured clothes run with flags up to the gates and back. Then a crowd of women start dancing in the street to the Bollywood music. It is such a stark contrast to the proceedings on the Pakistani side, where the women are clad head to toe in sober colours and sitting in a stand seperate from the men.
The taxi brought us back just in time for a quick chai at the hostel before taking the overnight train back to Delhi. From there we would be having an extremely long train trip to Goa.....over 30 hours....longest of the trip.
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