Wagah Border Ceremony & the Golden Temple

Trip Start Nov 02, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of India  , Punjab,
Monday, March 19, 2012

I arrived after a 36 hour journey all the way from Kathmandu, firstly I got the 18 hour overnight bus that would take me from Kathmandu to Mahendranagar at the west border with India.  From here I got a local bus to the border and checked in with Nepal Immigration for my leaving stamp, then I walked a good 2km along a sandy road and up to the Indian Immigration were I was allowed to enter, after the paperwork was finished again I walked, maybe another km over a couple of bridges and into India.  I threw my luggage on a rickshaw to take me into Banbasa for the Haridwar bus which thankfully arrived soon after, and I was now on a 10 hour local bus which would get me in early evening.It’s just as well I love the bus journey’s, they’re tough going though, your tossed about all over the place and the driving is crazy, but this bus driver is a really cool character, he’s obviously been doing this route a long time and is very experienced so I just sit back and enjoy.  The scenery is very similar as we make our way through lots of small villages, lots of traffic on the roads and I see some very strange loads.  One in particular is straw or hay but it’s busting way over and above the lorry it’s in, it’s nearly double the width, you would never get away with these things at home, it’s way too dangerous!

On arrival at Haridwar although I’m shattered I decide to keep going and head for the overnight train from Haridwar to Amritsar,  thankfully I manage to get a ticket although I don’t have a seat, I’m just in some random class which all the locals are squashed into, it’s the journey from hell.  The bench seats are meant to hold five people, ours end up with 8 either side plus around 4 dangling above us, it’s noisy and a bit fraught the whole way, I don’t think anyone manages much sleep.  People are continusly pushing for their wee bit of space and you just do as the locals do and create your own wee bit of comfort if you can!  Anyone who knows me knows I got my own bit of space and I did actually sleep at some point but I think that was just sheer exhaustion.

At Amritsar I walked out onto the main road and asked at the tourist info directions towards my hotel but at this stage I ended up jumping a tuktuk to take me along and I’m glad I did because it’s further than I was expecting.  It was only around 8am when I arrived at the guest house so needless to say they couldn’t accommodate me yet, meanwhile I had a cuppa and sat outside just enjoying the sun. Unfortunately this rickshaw driver kept hassling me though to go to some other hotel , ‘good price’ it ended up in me nearly hitting him, he was right in my face and couldn’t quite grasp the fact that I was staying here, and he was drunk!  I ended up asking the guy from the guest house to get rid of him because I was seriously going to hit him, god I need a sleep.  As though the guest house knew how I was feeling one of the guys told me to go up to one of the dorms to sleep for a while and he would tell me when my room was ready… I couldn’t thank him enough and I was no sooner in bed than I completely crashed out for hours.

Thankfully I awoke refreshed and in good humour and got settled into a lovely room before heading out to explore, I have arranged to go to the Wagha Border ceremony tonight with others from the hotel which means I can just share the tuktuk price so it’s pretty cheap.  I don’t wander too far this afternoon, just a venture down to see where the post office is as I am going to send stuff home from here, on the way there are lots of fruit stalls on the side of the road with traffic and passers by alike stopping to buy from them, it’s a really colourful display.  

I meet up as arranged with the guest house and head out to the Border Ceremony, I’m a a tuktuk with two Israeli guys, one seems ok, the other appears rude and moody!  We’re no sooner away when the tuktuk driver pulls in and heads over to a stall for food, as I’ve not had anything since breakfast I join him asking what I should get… it ends up the tastiest food with a meat curry in a wee bag with some chapati’s and salad, delicious.  The road out to the border is strangely quite however, we arrive at the border and are shown through to the tourist part, we’re all put in our places and the ceremony starts.  A commentator is getting the crowd all shouting for India while someone on the other side does the same for Pakistan.  Before I know it the guards are doing their high kicks down to the border and facing up to the other side (which the other sides also does), this ceremony happens every day, both sides flags are lowered and the guard is changed etc. before the flags to back up and the border gates either side are slammed shut.  It a great spectacular to watch  them charging back and forth until it is finally over, the uniforms they wear are tan coloured with white belts but the headwear is like a large red fan all gold tipped and they are immaculate.  I can’t believe the height of them, they are all exceptionally tall men all over 6ft, with most a good bit over, after Nepal I’m not used to seeing anyone tall.

The following day I make my way to the Golden Temple where I’ve been told there’s pilgrims accommodation, I get a rickshaw to take me with my luggage and find the tourist dorms.  There’s 3 rooms with 3 beds and a full dormitory and thankfully I’m in one of the small rooms.  I pretty much dump my stuff to head out exploring when I’m approached by a Russian artist who asks if he can draw me, I would quite like that so I agree and we head out to gardens at the side of the temple where I sit for around an hour and a half.  He sits me down on a bench and starts, but before I know it there’s a large crowd of Indian men all standing and sitting behind him making all sorts of nodding gestures.  They’re looking at which ever part he’s of drawing of me on the paper, to me, and back to the paper and back, assessing his accuracy, it takes me all my time just to keep a straight face because I find it really funny.

After a while he’s done his rough draft which to me looks finished but he’s more work to do on it and asks if I can spare more time tomorrow which I agree, so far it looks great I’m already delighted.  We walk back round towards the dorms and I leave my shoes and put on a headscarf and venture in for my first look at the Golden Temple.  Firstly I pass the kitchens and eating area which are full of people, I’m not sure what the deal is here yet but I believe you can go in at any point for tea or food, so maybe after I’ve seen the temple I’ll sus it out.

When I go through the archway I’m instantly in awe at the temple which is in the middle of water and surrounded by grand white buildings, I stand to take a photo when I arrive and I’m suddenly bombarded with requests (mainly from children) to have their picture taken with me.  I end up passing my camera over too, to do the same.  I end up standing for around half an hour before I finally get the chance to move on but not too far before a young couple ask me to take their picture, then a group of around ten women and kids behind me all want a picture and I find it really weird, I’ve never experienced this so much.  

The young couple although Indian, are living in London and I end up joining them on the way to the temple, they keep me right on purchasing an offering to give when entering the temple which is some sort of Indian sweet which I buy before joining the queue etc. On the walk up to the temple you are meant to pray and generally be respectful, and given that it takes around an hour with everyone pushing for some reason, I have time on my hand and just enjoy the experience.  

When I reach the temple I give my offering and you are given some back which you eat after you’ve been inside, the whole time I am there they are reading from their holy book which is broadcast throughout the entire temple complex, it’s also on a couple of big sceens which include the English translation which is helpful as I feel I can take part in their prayers.  For some reason when I came into the complex, I didn’t realise that the prayers were coming from inside the Temple, I don’t know where I thought they were coming from… honestly what am I like!  If I had been up before sunrise I would have witnessed them in a ceremony which involves bringing their holy book into the temple but I never managed to be up early enough.   

Anyway the temple is a facinating place and is made from solid gold, it highly decorated with intricate designs and I sit for a while just listening and taking it all in, before I go outside and join everyone eating the offered sweet, which is very good although very sweet.  Again I sit a while and before I know it one of the high priests is passing out some of the sweet and hands me some more, I just follow what everyone else is doing in how they take it, it’s like being offered communion.  After a few prayers of my own I go to leave, washing my hands and face which everyone is doing, and I go back out down the long walkway and into the main square again.  It was a very spiritual visit and I found a great peacefulness in going into the temple, time now to sus out getting a cup of tea and going for dinner.

Dinner is an experience, you are given your stainless steel thali dish and cutlery on the way upstairs to the dinning hall, once the hall is ready you go in and sit on a mat cross legged and you are served your food.  We are sitting in long lines and it’s buckets they come round with, firstly throwing you a couple of chapati’s so I just follow suit and hold my hands out like every one else, then they add dhal, curry, rice, whatever has been made for that day and everyone tucks in, no one hangs about too long.  Once everyone is finished, we all filter out passing your plates and cutlery on the way out which are separated by volunteers into huge containers to be washed.  I head into the dish wash area and lend a hand for a few hours, I join a long line of ladies washing up and I am welcomed in.  They have everything so well set up that the dishes are done in no time, and the whole cycle just keeps gong 24 hours a day, it’s an amazing operation the way it’s all organised and an experience taking part.  I stayed at the temple another day, starting my day once again by sitting for my portrait before heading into the temple, and I loved every minute.
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