Feeling like a superstar in Amritsar

Trip Start Jan 20, 2009
Trip End Jan 19, 2010

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Flag of India  , Punjab,
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

After Delhi we headed north into the Punjab and the city of Amritsar.

After a twelve hour sleeper train we arrived in Amritsar, home to the holiest shrine of the Sikh religion. After checking into our hostel we headed straight to the Golden temple.  We deposited our shoes, covered our heads and washed our hands and feet and went through the main gate.  From a fairly drab exterior the courtyard was a sight to behold.  An enormous lake stretches in front of you, 400m x 400m and in the middle sits the golden temple, a three storey dome topped, square shaped temple.  The top two storeys and roof covered in gold, it is an exquisite site and the reflections in the lake are mesmerising.

Around the lake is a marble walkway which is a blaze with colour of all the Sikh pilgrims wearing extravagant salmer kameez's and the men wearing turbans of every shape and colour imaginable.  The temple attracts pilgrims from all over India so different attiture abounds from penniless holy men in white robes holding staffs to others dressed in bright robes complete with swords and a dagger.  People travel long and far to visit the temple and it was many people’s first glimpse of a Western face; we were stopped many times by people asking for our photo – great for the ego.

My favourite experience was when a huge 6 foot 4 inch holy man saw our digital camera and asked for his photo to be taken with me.  After seeing the photo on the camera he requested we peel the picture of the camera and give him a copy, not only were we the first Westerners he seen, this was the first digital camera he’d seen.  Luckily there were some locals on hand to translate and explain to him this wasn’t possible.  The temple was one of the most beautiful things we’d seen on the trip so far.

Our next stop was 50km west to the India-Pakistan border at Waghda where every evening the armies of the two different countries hold a flag lowering ceremony at sunset each evening to signify the closing of the border.  This is something we had seen on TV years ago and never dreamed we’d see it ourselves.  The border is a simple stretch of road however it is surrounded on both side by huge semi circle amphitheatres, in the middle of the amiptheatres sit the two gates one representing India, the other Pakistan.  Soldiers from each side dress to impress wearing uniforms with hundreds of medals ribbons, hats with enormous mohicans of feathers and even bigger moustaches and beards.  What follows in madness, from goose stepping to marching as quickly as humanly possible, shouting competitions, waving arms at each other and contemptuously pointing thumbs at each other (think Monty Python), it was ridiculous and difficult not to laugh but an absolutely fantastic sight made even more surreal as it was cheered on by 2,000 hysterical people.  It was great fun but difficult to explain without seeing it, Michael Palin does a much better job of describing this than we ever could here.

The Punjab, what an amazing place, it’s a shame we don’t have more time to explore further

Photos can be found here & here

Next stop, the fort town of Jaisalmer (via Delhi).
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