Diwali - the Festival of Lights
Trip Start Dec 29, 2010
152Trip End Dec 05, 2011
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
We know Diwali as the Festival of Lights, and Indians mostly celebrate it by going to the temple, visiting friends and family, exchanging gifts and having a huge fireworks bonanza. We had planned to see the fireworks display at the Golden Temple, but that only started at 7pm. What were we going to do with the children all day?
Our hotel, despite being the best place in town, was a tricky place to hang out with the children: no real outdoor space for them to run around in and dubious food at difficult times of the day. So we headed to a park with a couple of balls and managed to eek out a morning’s entertainment. Given that it was a special day for Indians, and Manjeet was away from his family, we took him out to a nice restaurant in town, and had the usual Indian fare. He very generously gave them a Diwali present each which kept them entertained for the rest of the time in Amritsar and will probably see us through the rest of the trip.
Our hotel was conveniently located almost opposite to a welcome and familiar sight: Kentucky Fried Chicken. The fact that all the restaurants closed early for the holiday gave us the perfect excuse to go there for dinner.
On to the fireworks display and another opportunity to do some amazing people watching. It was even busier, with thousands of people all heading to the Golden Temple, lots of families, lots of Sikh warriors, and a very small handful of westerners. One Austrian man, so surprised to see other Westerners, joined us in the stampede to the Temple, chatting as we tried to keep up with Manjeet.
We sat on the fringes of the Temple watching everyone walk past, us taking photos of them and them taking photos of us. We did see a cute baby though, no older than about 2 months, wearing a full-on white turban. I should have tried to take it out of its mothers arms and posed for a family photo, like so many people have done to Benjamin!
And then the fireworks started. Unbelievable. There were rockets and explosions all over the sky, lighting everything up and making the most incredible noise continuously for about 45 minutes. Then we had to leave again. This was not for the feint-hearted. We were all channelled towards the main staircase leading out onto the street, and there was a horrendous scrum to get out. With all 3 children on our shoulders (Jamie on Brad’s, Zach on Manjeet’s and Benjamin on mine) no one gave us an ounce of leeway, and Georgie and I found ourselves pushed some way behind the others, stuck in a crush at the bottom of the stairs. Poor Georgie was the object of some horrible dirty old Sikh man’s affections, and someone else tried to touch my bottom, until I turned around and screamed in his face. Thankfully Manjeet came to the rescue, virtually pulling us up the stairs and back to the safety of the group.
The children did so unbelievably well to take the crowds and fireworks in their stride. The evening was a true assault on the senses, even for the adults. Once again, the people watching alone was incredible, and we felt privileged to be part of the experience. We stopped off at KFC once again on the way home to give the kids a well-deserved ice cream.
Next day we planned to go and see the border crossing between India and Pakistan which has become an entertainment spectacle as the border guards on both sides display amazing marching and high-kicking skills. This takes place at sunset every day, and so, once again, the children had the whole day to kill at the hotel. Thankfully they made friends with a 6 year old girl in the hotel – Jessica – so played with her and their new toys from Manjeet. Jessica lives in Mumbai, but her dad is from Oxford and mother from Venezuela.
Both families set off for the border at around 4 o’clock-ish and we were staggered by the number of Indian tourists and westerners heading to watch the 'show’. We were herded into the VIP tourist areas and took our seats in the grandstand. It was something I had really wanted to do here in India, and I wasn’t disappointed . Again, just watching Indians as they cheered patriotically and chanted patriotic slogans was enough entertainment. But the display by the border guards was amusing as well. As the Lonely Planet says it is reminiscent of the Monty Python 'Ministry of Silly Walks' sketch.
Back to the hotel with very tired children, a quick bedtime, then out again for Brad and I for one last trip to the Golden Temple. Brad had always wanted to eat in the Common Kitchen and we also wanted to witness the nightly procession of the holy book (the Guru Granth Sahib) out of the Golden Temple to its night-time resting place.
The dining hall in the Common Kitchen was impressive: lines of people from all walks of life, all eating the meal of lentils, rice, naan and curd. People come down each line with each dish, and keep coming round with seconds and thirds, so everyone can eat as much as they like. Brad loved the experience, tucking into the food – I tactically shared his, despite the man opposite us gesticulating that Brad should go and get me my own plate and give me my own food.
Next we went to see the procession, and were amazed to watch lots of Sikh men jostling and pushing in front of the pelanquin to try to have a go at carrying the precious book. Brad and Manjeet followed the general male crowd, following behind the book while I took the women’s route out of the area. Brad was stunned when Manjeet manouvered them both so that they could have a turn at carrying the pelanquin . An unbelievable privelege for Brad as the only westerner there, and even for Sikh’s, very few ever get this opportunity in their lives.