First stop, Amritsar
I've been on the road now for 10 days and I'm currently writing this blog in Manali in the Himalayas looking at snow topped mountains. I left Delhi and headed towards Amritsar with a stop over in Sirsa for one night. I arrived in Amritsar the next day ready to start my activities I had planned. After getting to the first hotel I discovered that it was on the main road, next to a rail crossing, and nowhere to park my bike so I rode around a bit (no much fun in rush hour traffic) and I soon found another hotel which happened to be closer to the Golden Temple.
The Golden Temple
The next morning I headed out early as I had a full day of activities. First stop was the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib). I've always wanted to see this place as it looks so amazing, I wasn't disappointed. You walk down a main avenue littered with shops, food stalls, and hawkers to the main entrance. You have to leave your shoes at the kiosk and you will need a headscarf which you can buy for 10 rupees or use one from the basket at the entrance. Once through the arch entrance the temple is straight in front of you, shining like a beacon beckoning you in.
I watched Sikhs, as soon as they entered, began to pray. Some stood and prayed, others dropped to their knees, with some even lying down. Around the Golden temple are various rooms which accommodate Sikhs who stay here. There is also area for eating which serves free food for up to 40,000 people a day, really nice food as well
I strolled along the beautiful white marble path around the temple and decided to queue to go inside. There was a huge queue, with the usual hustle and pushing to get in quicker. After about an hour of queueing I eventually made it inside (You are not allowed to photograph inside the temple although there were plenty of people taking selfies on the roof!) and followed suit as the Sikhs got on their knees and touched the entrance plinth as they entered. Once inside you are overwhelmed by the amount of gold with hand painted mosaics and patterns. Musicians play while the words of the holy book are chanted throughout the day. More prays are said and money put in front of the musicians as an offering. Then you are taken by the flow of people outside. You can go up another level and look down on the people entering to pray. The last level is the roof top where you get a great 360 degree view of the complex. I really enjoyed my visit to the Golden Temple and will remember it for the rest of my life.
Jallianwala Bagh Park
Jallianwala Bagh Park is situated a stones throw from the Golden Temple. It's famous for very macabre reasons. In April of 1919 some 15000 Indians were protesting. New laws had been passed prohibiting the Indians movement and there could be no more than 4 people gathered, no processions or protests. The crowd was multi-faith and included many women and children. The park was surround by dwellings with one entrance and exit which the army had come through. Under the orders of Brigadier General Dyer the soldiers opened fire.
More than 1500 people where wounded or killed, with some even putting the death toll higher. Looking at the park now it's hard to imagine what happen here. There are some reminders, various walls that have the remains of the bullet holes in them as well as plaques describing what happen.
There is a small museum with pictures of those that died. Definitely worth a visit.
Attari-Wagah border crossing
All around the Golden Temple area there are touts wanting business for the Border crossing ceremony with Pakistan. This is something I really wanted to go to. After paying 200 rupees and getting a scappy piece of paper with a phone number on it and told to meet outside the park entrance at 2.30 sharp. I wondered if I would ever see him again, however true to his word he arrived (all be it 10 mins late) and we were ushered to a back street where there was a rickshaw waiting for us. I then realised that there were a few of us going, 3 girls from North West India, 3 guys from Delhi, 2 guys from Mumbai, the driver and me,10 in all cramped in to this little rickshaw (it's also 20 miles from Amritsar to the border) We eventually got out of the city and on to the dual carriage way along with everybody else who was heading for the border. After some time we arrived. Along the way I had befriended the lads from Delhi and we decided to stick together as we need to meet the rickshaw driver later on. After a 20 min walk we arrived at the border, well nearly, there were the security checks to go through, standing in line and waiting. (If you are a foreigner you can go in a special line and get special seating). We eventually got through and what a sight
Like some roman colosseum rising from ground, it was huge. I was asked if I wanted to go to the foreigners area however I stayed with the guys and I'm glad I did.
We went up 4 levels, with 2 hours before it started, it was packed. There was an MC who was reving the crowd up into a frenzy. Bollywood music blasting out and chants being shouted. Girls from the audience ran along the road with Indian flags which sent the crowd even more wild. All this time you could look through the gates and see the Pakistani side doing the same. It was like some bizarre competition as to who could make the most noise. I soon found myself getting caught up in the whole thing. I was chanting and shouting as the atmosphere was electric. I looked over to where the foreigners where and it was very subdued. Definitely made the right decision.
Then it all went quiet. The next thing the place erupted as the border guards came out. The noise was deafening. As the orders echoed around, the crowd going wild , the strange ceremony began. I had compromised my good view point to be with the Indian crowd so my pictures aren't great, however it was worth it. Go on YouTube, there's plenty of great footage. The guards performed their ceremony, shook hands and it was over. We flowed with the crowd back out ready for our night time rickshaw ride back to town. It was definitely worth going and being with the Indians. I think I was the only foreigner in the crowd.