Delhi, Amritsar, Dalla and back again
Trip Start Jun 30, 2008
80Trip End Dec 31, 2009
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The past week has been one of the most amazing because of the diversity of what we have seen and done. We have done things and seen places I'm sure the average traveler would not see nor experience. We normally don't move so often but this week we visited India's capital, New Delhi and went to Amritsar and Dalla in the Punjab. We had been invited to stay in the Chandigarh (the capital of the Punjab) but felt we needed to slow down some. People have been amazingly friendly and generous whether they had a little or a lot.
We arrived late in the evening to the wrong Delhi train station and then began the search for the place I had booked that no one seemed to know its whereabouts. By 11 pm the four largest family members strategically laid on the double bed, Monique on a large chair and James on the floor of our Delhi hotel room for the night.
Our purpose was to apply for our Chinese Visas which turned out to be more difficult than expected. We found out that as a tourist we could only get a single entry, 30 day maximum stay open for 6 months. This is not really good enough for what we plan to do. We wanted a 6 month multi entry visa with stays of 3 months at a time. This was clearly not going to happen. I therefore had to beg and pleaded for a 6 month, duel entry of periods of 90 days. We won't know what we get until we go and pick them up. I'm sure the saga will continue one way or another.
Most of India can be summed up as: " Garbage garbage everywhere not a place anywhere where no garbage garbage everywhere". Garbage bins are almost nonexistent here. Everyone throws their garbage on the ground wherever they are. You can be following a bus down the road that had just stopped at a rest stop and witness all the wrappers etc of what was just purchased town out the window as the bus drives down the road. We still can't do this. We in fact have to give our garbage to an Indian to throw it on the ground. Some habits are too hard to drop!
The massive poverty is most evident in the cities. It's heart wrenching seeing thousands of very poor people (mostly women and children) every hour.
Delhi to Amritsar
I have been to India on two other occasions in the past 20 some years and have wanted to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar but for one reason or another never made it. We didn't know what to expect (therefore our expectations were low) as we held onto our train tickets scheduled to leave at 9:05pm. By midnight our tickets were tucked into my pocket as we all watched all the rats run around collecting and eating garbage and human waste scattered all over the railway station. Although Janice sat on a bench with her feet up on our backpack Monique loved watching the real 'rat race' by running up and down the platform to see how many rats she could find. The first one she saw Monique said "look dad! A kitten!".
In the filth and grime of India you will have trouble finding a people so optimistic and easy going anywhere. Case in point, while standing on the platform (watching the night life of rodents) a man came up to us and asked us what we thought about India and that we should be 'open'. As Janice sat still huddled in a ball not looking like she was going to say anything because of her good manners I said " it has too much garbage, too many people, too much poverty, too much noise, too much pollution and the train is now 3 hours late!!" The man smiled and said "what do you think of the Indian people?" I had to admit that the people have been fantastic.
Within minutes this businessman from Mumbai (Bombay) traveling first class on the same train had us all laughing (even Janice) bringing another 'side' to the situation. He said only in India can you see what we have been privileged to see. When Janice complained about the rats he said "you can have one if you want. A gift to you from India". Our conversations quickly passed the time and before the 'rooster crowed' we were on the night (now morning) train to Amritsar.
I had booked 2nd Class NON AC sleepers for all of us thinking that it would be too cold if we had an AC sleeper only that AC is for Air Conditioned (either hot or cold) where as back home I think of AC as cold. Not only that, but we didn't get berths all together which we didn't feel comfortable as it would be dark and could not split up so I negotiated all but one person to leave and find another place.
Janice decided to sleep next to the artificial leg and one legged woman rather that in the hallway as people walk right past you in the dark as you sleep. An hour into our 11 hour journey I knew we were in trouble as we only had the clothes we had on and the temperature kept dropping as we went north into the mountains. I looked around for blankets or whatever as I could see things were not going well. The children had fallen asleep but I could see they were getting cold (I know because I was freezing) so the old lady next to Janice gave us one blanket. It was difficult to decide who should get it so we decided the child on the lowest bunk (warm air rises) would get it.
I had slept a few hours but could sleep no more knowing that my family was cold. I was able to get one more blanket and use my fleece jumper and vest to cover the rest up. I would rotate from child to child and quickly rub their back, legs and feet causing friction trying o keep them warm. In the end the journey turned out to be fine because when I asked how they slept they said "good". I'm not sure if it was the cold or the leg leaning up next to Janice's face that will remind her of the journey to the Golden Temple.
The Golden Temple - Amritsar
I think we all forgot about the night and ride as from here on everything went so smoothly. We walked off the train and were attacked by taxi drivers wanting to take us hither and tither but we just kept walking and found out there was a free bus to the Golden Temple. We took the short ride to the Temple and were given a free room for our whole family. We dropped our things and went to the largest eatery I have ever been to for brunch Indian style.
On a normal day 200,000 view and are served free at the Golden Temple (1 million on a celebration day). You would not believe the efficiency. As 20 sit down to eat people walk back and forth serving you on the floor as 20 are getting up to leave followed closely behind by the cleaning crew.
This is my 3rd time traveling around the world but for me the Golden Temple has been the most fascinating (no dad, not because it was free!) because I didn't have many expectations but we were all blown away with its beauty and who and why the Golden Temple attracts people. It's such an amazing sight to see thousands of faithful followers who come and pay homage. I have seen and been into way to many churches and religious buildings that I have very little interest in the structures. However, I seem now to be more fascinated with who make up the buildings than the buildings itself.
While sitting waiting for the sun to rise one morning a 70 year old man came over and asked if he could sit with me. We got talking and I found out that he had been the Chief Civil Engineer for the whole Punjab state. Now retired he arrives at the Golden Temple every morning with his wife at 5am to spend 3 hours in prayer and meditation. As a teacher of Sikhism I learned a lot from him. He has read the Koran, the Bible and studied many other religions. When he visits his two sons who are neuro surgeons in America he speaks at different temples. The Temple is open 24/7 and a Guru sings the Holy Book while people listen. It takes 46- 48 hours to read the entire book. This happens day after day.
We also had the good fortune of visiting the Pakistan border (30 km for Amritsar) where a competitive daily ceremony goes on for the lowering of each country's flag. For awhile you might think that war is going to break out when each country broadcasts their patriotism to the other side by way of song, dance and marching.
Past clients of mine found out we were traveling in the Punjab and so contacted us to come to their new big house. Last year I saw drawings of a 7 bedroom, 4 bathroom monster home somewhere in the Punjab. So of course I said 'why not'. The Saran family drove 2.5 hours to pick us up in their truck and take us all the way back to their farm. As I said earlier, Indian people are very generous and sometimes over look minor details. In this case we arrived at their farm only to find a large skeleton of a structure with still a year to go before completion.
Like what has become our motto "don't worry this too shall pass" we dropped our bags on the floor in the middle of the shell of the house and took tea. (Check out the photos!)
We were treated to a fancy Indian dinner at a posh restaurant that I was sure we could not afford. It turns out the food was relatively cheap but the whiskey was not so our host who enjoyed the drink a little too much regularly checked on the truck and helped himself to a good stiff drink.
I realized that the kids are really beginning to think for themselves and help others in the process. The moment that made me proud was when we got up to leave the restaurant Sophia told us all to grab a couple napkins given our current living situation we would have more luck finding a Hindu who eats meat in the Punjab than a roll of toilet paper!!
One item on our list of 'to do' in India was to attend a wedding but as time passed we were told that it was too early in the year but on our way to see the dentist we found out we were going to a wedding (seems you have to be open and things just seem to happen). Had we known we would have cleaned up a little better and I would have even shaved! Again, I have to say that Indians know how to party and put much emphasis on relationships and family. We all had lots of fun meeting people from all over the world as people came back to their village to celebrate the wedding of one of their own friends or family. I met politicians, businessmen, professors, doctors, and body guards. I was handed a sawed off shotgun with a ring of shells but turned down a revolver when I noticed it was loaded. Being on the road for so long and watching and calculating everything we spent we all enjoyed being waited on for whatever and however much we wanted.
It has been almost 6 months since we have been to a dentist in Peru and we wanted to have all our teeth checked as well as James and Sophia's retainers before leaving for China. We got all this done for the cost to of 6 tooth brushes - 100 rupees or $2 US!! Labour is so cheap here men don't shave but go and get a shave every day. James and I got a hair cut that cost us .20 US!!
That evening I was invited to go to a dance/bash to celebrate another wedding coming up. This was one of the most bazaar experiences I have ever had. I'm pretty secure as a person but I was challenged when Gurupinder a 17 year old that we visited with held my hand as he led me down a darkened alley with piles of cow dung stacked high on either side toward the source of very loud Punjabi music. As we approached on of the villages homes the music got louder and louder and as we met people Gurupinder with the biggest smile on his face would tell me that this was his "very bestest friend". He kept holding my hand and kept introducing me to more and more people as his "very bestest friend".
As I was taken into the courtyard I was pulled into a crowd of about 20 Punjabi men dancing to music so loud that my head was about to explode and my heart had arrhythmia for the bass of the 10 foot tall speakers. I went along (attempting to dance and wave my hands in the air to music I don't understand) because every time I tried to escape I was pulled back into the middle of the crowd. When I did manage to escape to a back room with a dozen or so guys I was able to sit and speak to a few men. As I sat there man after man came up to say 'hi' and introduce themselves.
I was amazed how closely linked people are in the villages as they celebrate and spend a lot of time together. It is not only in the good times but also during sad times as I witnessed how the mood of the village changed after the father of the bride died the night before at the party I was at of a heart attack. (I hate to say it but I would not be surprised if the music didn't do it) I noted that women have a minor presence in social affairs as it is mostly a man's place. Women however are seen working from dusk to dawn.
Without question India is an amazing country with everything from language, dialect, food, clothing, and customs changing every 50 km. It is also one of the most difficult countries to travel in because with so many people vying for a better 'spot' the noise, dirt, garbage, stench, and hustlers wears on you after awhile.
India is very dirty and polluted on the outside but the hearts of the Indian people are clean and pure. We won't be sad to leave India only the fine people who live there. We have a lot to learn from this culture as they have some to learn from ours.