Golden temples and bizarre border behaviour....

Trip Start Sep 25, 2003
Trip End Apr 23, 2005

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Flag of India  ,
Monday, January 10, 2005

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From Delhi we headed north to the holy Punjabi city of Amritsar with its golden temple, so important to Seikhs, eating and staying in the pilgrims accommodation at the temple complex, and admiring the wonderful array of coloured turbans. The border closing ceremony at the India/Pakistan border was another highlight with its associated pomp and ceremony and thousands of spectators marvelling at the spectacle from grandstands.

Nitty Gritty:
Whether it was travel sickness or the start of a bug, R was sick on the train and after little sleep we arrived feeling pretty ropy. THE place to stay in Amritsar is in the pilgrims quarters at the golden temple and R wasn't too sure about this so we decided to stow our bags at the luggage storage outside the temple and check the place out.

Having arrived early in the morning, the sun was just rising when we reached the temple. After removing our shoes, washing our feet and donning head coverings (R bought a 'golden temple' headscarf), we entered the temple complex. The golden temple sits on an island in the centre of a lake surrounded by a walkway and the rest of the temple complex, which is vast, and marble, includes a huge dining hall where some 3000 pilgrims are fed each day, and the resthouses where the pilgrims stay.

The morning light was amazing and the temple shone. The devout bathe in the waters of the lake as the sun rises and the whole complex, being marble, glowed. It really was a sight to behold. The temple itself holds the holy book of the Seikh religion and inside the ceiling and walls were lavishly decorated and pilgrims prayed as a priest recited passages to a musical accompaniment, which was broadcast to the complex and was mesmorising.The temple itself wasn't very big and being jostled was part of the experience.

At about 9.30pm the holy book leaves the temple for overnight safekeeping off the island. It is carried in a paloquin like thing with pilgrims anxious to help lend a shoulder - it looked to be extremely heavy. Once in the 'safe' room the book is wrapped in floral velour blankets for the night.

Accommodation for westerners at the temple is by donation and we were provided with beds in a simple dormitory. We were lucky enough to get 2 beds in a 3 bedded room off the main dorm, shared with a lovely American girl - not only was the room quieter, but it was warmer and felt homely. The toilets were spotless and this was amazing considering the number of people staying at the place - at night people were sleeping all over the floor of the rest house as there were insufficient beds for them and we felt bad that our dorm had spare beds in it.

One of the most fascinating parts of the visit were the men's turbans - all shapes, sizes and colours and the most intricate of tying styles resulting in some real beauties. Some, we discovered, are fashion styles / colours with men matching their turbans to their shirts and others were considered to be more holy, black and low key.

A visit to Amritsar would not be complete without a trip to the India / Pakistan border where in pomp and ceremony the borber is closed each evening before a crowd of some 5000 people seated in grandstands, on either side of the border gates. Whilst the guards go about their business of walking in a Ministry of Silly walks style (Monty Python fans will know what we mean), lowering flags and opening and closing gates in ceremonial splendor, the crowds are wipped up into a patriotic frenzy by chaps with a PA system and after the final crechendo, as the last flag was lowered and the gates closed, the crowds thronged towards them waving flags and singing, and then...we all went back to close to Pakistan, and yet so time...

After a rejuvenating sleep until lunchtime, we hit the dining hall for a pilgrim lunch of dhal, chappatis and gulab jarman (syrupy dessert) - nutricious and filling. Lunch was taken crossed legged, sat on a mat with a metal tray that was filled by passing wallahs, and not a place to linger, as after our sitting and a quick floor sweep, the next mass entered eager to be fed.
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