The Half Century!!
Trip Start Jan 08, 2005
135Trip End Ongoing
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(Poms - you should remember this number one hit from summer 2005!)
I had heard so many different stories about India including robberies, illnesses, diseases and a whole host of other horrible experiences I was afraid I wouldn't like it. They say you will either love it or hate it. I really hoped I would love it - we had planned on spending a lot of time there!
We had a few forms to fill out at the border and had to state what was in our bags. We summarised, of course, and just mentioned clothes, so it was a bit of a worry when they wanted to search our bags. Oops.
The guard went to look through David's bag, got a short way through, discovered a couple of cameras but got bored and turned his attention to Melvin. After unsuccessfully attempting to turn on a huge x-ray machine, gave up on us all and wished us a nice stay.
As soon as they let us out of the gate, guys were offering us lovely cold beers but unlike Michael Palin in 'Himalaya' we declined. It wouldn't look good turning up to the Golden Temple stinking like a brewery.
We negotiated a vehicle to get us to Amritsar and off we went. David and his Sikh friends in London had been talking about the Golden Temple for ages so I was eager to see what the all fuss was about. All the roads to the centre were closed so we had to then get a couple of cycle rickshaws and we were in. We got shown to the foreigners accommodation and chose our beds. It was great! We had our own Sikh guard outside 24 hours and our own shower! We met our room mate, Uri. My first (and best!) Israeli.
We scarfed up and dumped our shoes for a walk around the temple. There's a fair bit of water on the ground as you are required to walk through a foot washing trough which then makes the marble quite slippery. It's quite a spectacular site. A golden temple sitting in the middle of a small lake. There were lots of people walking around. Men taking a dip in the sacred waters. There are chains attached to the stairs for those who can't swim. The little boys and girls go in starkers but the men put on special bathers as descretly as possible holding small cloths round themselves right there on the main walkway. We went round and walked the bridge into the actual temple where it's packed with people sitting on the floor listening to four men who chant all day and night until the sacred book, the Guru, is put to bed. The building is elborately decorated inside with beautiful stone inlay. The outside is of course, gold. On the next level is the real 400 year old Guru. Priests read from it constantly. There are people seated inside on the first floor either reading from one of the many small prayer books available to borrow or just watching the proceedings below. The second level leads out onto the roof where there is another copy of the Guru that is read from constantly by priests. There is a constant flow of people through the temple throwing money at the priests sitting with the covered copy of the Guru. They get some sort of bread in return. We then decided we were hungry and went off in search of lungar which is the free food provided by all good Gudwaras. We went into the huge three story building that serves as the lungar hall, collecting our metal army issue meal tray, bowl and spoon on the way. There are rows and rows of dirty material to sit on and men come around with buckets of dhal, rice pudding and baskets of chapati!! It's very filling because you can ask for as many refills as you like. It's a bit of a production line though. As soon as people are finished the floors are squigied and the next lot start filing in. This goes on 24 hours a day!
We went out to walk off our free feed. Not being religious myself, the music is surprisingly very calming and was nice to listen to whilst strolling round the small square lake. A young guy, going by the name of Hari Tej Singh, approached us and wanted to practice his english. He spoke really well and picked up loads of interesting information from him. We took him to dinner at the lungar hall but time was getting on and he was eager to get us a good viewing position on the first floor for the 9pm bedtime ceremony of the Guru. People flocked to the temple. It's televised live everyday! The singing stopped and a priest started praying. Everyone joined in, except us. It was amazing! The Guru is unwrapped slowly and carefully with each piece of material folded and placed lovingly into a decorated box. There are about 8 or 9 pieces. It's then wrapped in a piece of clean white cloth, and again, and again. This went on for a while before it gets placed on a cushion and covered with a blue sparkly piece of material (bedtime blankie!) and put into a puregold carriage. Hari ushered us downstairs to watch it's progression through the crowds of people. We raced through the crowd. Men (only) take short turns carrying the carriage towards it's resting place. Hari was having words to a Sikh guard. All of a sudden David was being shoved through the crowd and had a hold of the sacred Guru carriage!!! He couldn't believe it! We followed it up to Akal Takhat where it is locked up for the night. Lots of people were taking pictures with their mobile phones. The devotion is unbelievable! We walked round some more talking to various people and watching people bed down for the night anywhere they could find. Luckily we had an actual bed! We met a Skih family from Hornsby who had an Indian restaurant just round the corner from David's Mum's place! We got some free chai and spoke to more people. Every time we stopped a crowd gathered. The longer we stayed in one spot, the larger the crowd. We eventually went back to our room where everyone was up and talking. We stayed up until 2am (way past bedtime!). David went for another look round the temple and said it was packed. Diwali celebrations were tomorrow.
After the restrictive privacy of the muslim world in Iran and Pakistan I was brought back to harsh toilet reality. The women and girls here in India have no shame. The actual toilets weren't too bad, it was the pissing on the floor in the middle of the toilet block that got me. Also the non shutting of doors. The bums. There were some misplaced turds too but I managed to avoid those. The floor was soaked with a possible combination of urine and water but obviously some people don't have shoes, otherwise you'd wear them, wouldn't you? God knows what some women get up to in there. Floods of water come out from behind the doors that were closed. They seemed to find it interesting that I was there. As I walked back across the courtyard to the foreigner dorm a young skih passed me and whispered 'Helloooo baby'. Whatever..............
So many people. Diwali was here. We grabbed Melvin and went off in search of breakfast. Whilst chilling in a little hole in the wall drinking coffee, we saw a huge ear pass by. My first Indian elephant!!!! I raced out to get a photo but only managed it's ass. When we got back to the temple, it was too crowded to get in so we climbed Baba Atal Tower for an overall view. It was great! We then went for a look round town and a visit to Jallianwala Bagh (garden). It's a memorial for the 2000 Indians who were killed in 1919 when the British army opened fire on unarmed Indian political protesters. There is a Martyr's Gallery and an eternal flame within the gardens. There are bullet holes marked out in some walls and a well where over 120 bodies were found of protesters who had tried to escape. Sir Michael O'Dwyer, who had ordered the shooting, met a grizzly end in 1940 when he was assassinated by a Sikh in London. We went back for more lungar, but had to fight with the thousands of indians for our army issue meal trays and accessories. There were so many people we had to sit out on the balconies! No rice pudding either!
Melvin was off to get his night train to Delhi. So Rachael the Kiwi, David and I tried to get back into the temple to see the fireworks but it was so crowded we only just got down the main stairs so we went off in search of higher ground. Rachael asked a guard who pointed to a doorway. We went through where we saw a sign restricting access so we went through it, of course! It led up some stairs through a few rooms. No one stopped us so we kept going out onto the rooftop. Fantastic views! It seemed the whole of India was packed into the Golden Temple. There were a few other well dressed Skihs up there kicking off all others trying to to climb up on to the roof. They hadn't said a word to us though. David chatted to them and it turns out they were from Southall in London! We couldn't believe it! They were really nice and invited us to eat dinner with them in their private dining room. That particular section of the temple was paid for by the British Sikh Society. We chatted with them whilst we walked around the temple, crowds gathering everytime we stopped. I started to get annoyed though. Guys/men kept touching my bum. I had managed to hit a couple of them in return but they didn't even flinch!! I'd have to hit harder! I told David the next time it happened and we both turned round to see a young Sikh smirking, so I ran back and slapped him big time across the back. He turned to find an angry David's finger in his face along with a few warning words. Unfortunately the young chap we had made an example of was one legged, complete with Long John Silver stick leg and crutches - but even holding his two crutches he'd managed to get a handful! Another guy came up and asked what had happened so David explained that they wouldn't like it if white men touched their wives on the bum so they should not touch white women. A protective circle accompanied us to the steps out and we retreated to the safety of our little foreigner dorm.
We decided to get out of the chaos of the Golden Temple and visit the Hindu Temple of Shri Durgiana but as we were passing the train station on the way, we decided to get our onward tickets towards McLeod Ganj. But my God!! What a shitfight that turned out to be!! I joined the women's queue thinking that would be faster. Ha! The next woman to join the line pushed up against me and squashed me into the woman in front, who didn't seem to mind. I soon understood why. Loads of women were trying to push in! Little buggers! There was practically a riot going on at the front with both the women's line and two men's lines merging at one tiny weeney window. The police turned up with sticks and tried to get some order happening, telling all the blow-ins to get to the back of the line. Everytime someone else turned and tried to push in, I'd give them a tap and the lady behind me would tell them to go the back. That's team work!! The closer to the front I got, the squashier it got with more women desparately trying to reach the ticket window. I was very thankful it was a women's only line. The woman behind me was pushing into me so hard, I ws sure I could feel her nipples in my back. David was standing nearby watching with amusment. He probably wished he was in my place! I had to laugh! It was amazing! Brought back memories of mosh pits. It was getting so I couldn't breath! The police were there again with their sticks clearing the pushies. Elbows at the ready for my turn at the window, I was pleasantly surprised when the men held back for me!!
So tickets in hand we went on to Shri Durgiana. It was similar to the Golden Temple, sitting in the middle of a small lake. There were two small girls (I think) heavily made up and dressed in amazing blue costumes. There were people chanting and dancing round and round in a circle with food offerings on the floor. There were statues of various gods painted in gold and covered with colourful flowers. As we walked around the edge of the lake, the local children were letting off fire crackers all over the place! Diwali was being celebrated here too! After ringing all the bells we went off to another Hindu temple, Mata. It's a bit different from your normal Hindu temple in that you have to walk, crawl and slip through varioius grottos with lots of different statues for different deities. They are all covered with flowers and other Hindu offerings. Apparently women who want to become pregnant go to pray there. There were loads of women there. We went back for more lungar but were ripped off- no rice pudding! We then went for a wander round the kitchens where they cook up up the huge vats of lentils and rice. The people there were great and didn't mind us taking photos, in fact they asked us to! We then went round to find the chapati maker. It makes over 6000 chapati an hour!! No health and safety here - in we walked peering right into the flames of the oven. It's cool. The dough is mixed, then rolled into balls, rolled into little round patties, squashed further then they go through the flames and voila! Instant chapati! Fabulous! There are also people making chapati by hand to keep up with the demand. We went round to find some free chai, as you do, and whilst waiting around we were grabbed, sat in a little back room and fed chai with a bunch of old, grey haired, green turbaned sikhs. One of them asked me how I liked India. I told him I was enjoying myself but that the young men were very naughty. He knew straight away what I meant and said it was the influence of television, which, to a certain degree, is true. They were really nice and kept trying to feed me saying I needed fattening up! We watched them making massive pots of chai for a while then went back to the dorm as we had an early start the next day. My plans for an early night were thwarted though when Uri turned up with his friend, Irit. We chatted to them for ages.
My introduction to India had actually been relatively painless. Except for the roving hands (which I had been warned about) I had really enjoyed myself!