From Rishikesh I took a shared rickshaw to Hardiwar. The couple I was sharing the rickshaw with were going to another location there, so the driver arranged for me to get in to a very shared vikram for the last bit of the trip. To those that don’t know, an auto rickshaw is sort of like a golf cart with the body from a tilt-a-whirl instead. There are larger shared ones called vikrams, which have three benches: one for the driver and two behind facing each other for the passengers. Apparently it’s possible to fit at least fourteen people in one vikram. Maybe more if the people know each other, we did not.
I arrived at the train station and people-watched for a while since my train was scheduled for a few hours later. While waiting, a family that was sitting nearby “adopted” me. They offered me some chai, then some biscuits, and the son-in-law spoke with me mostly, although I managed some meager conversation in Hindi. The family was a couple maybe my age, and their daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild. The mother had the kindest face, and they were all very sweet and helpful. Another advantage to traveling alone is that you’re much more likely to be spoken to than when traveling in a group.
The train was a “sleeper”: An overnight train on which you get an open bunk with some sheets, pillow, and blanket. Sleep, however, is not something you get much of, as the bunks are hard, and you’re in a cabin filled with lots of people who invariably snore.
I arrived in Amritsar and found a reasonable hotel, and rested for a bit. My main purpose in coming to Amritsar had been to see the Golden Temple and Jallianwalla bagh. The Golden Temple is the most venerated temple of the Sikh faith, housing their scriptures, the Adi Granth. It’s actually part of a large compound with several buildings, in which the main temple sits in the center of a large pool of water, connected by a bridge. There is a museum, hostel, and a community kitchen that feeds the 100,000 visitors that come on a daily basis, free of charge. I had read about the temple and seen it in films, and although the actual experience was a bit different, no less satisfying.
Here’s a link to my experience.
And the best photo I got:
Another powerful visit was to Jallianwalla Bagh. During the struggle for India’s independence from England, several thousand men, women, and children had met for an observance in a large courtyard in Amritsar. General Dwyer ordered troops to assemble in and block the exit points and then ordered the troops to open fire on the peaceful group. Many tried to climb the walls or jump in a deep well to avoid the volley of bullets which lasted for ten minutes. After the munition was expended, the official count was nearly 400 dead and over 1400 injured. Now the courtyard is a peaceful park commemorating this senseless tragedy.
My last tourist attraction was the border ceremony. Amritsar is about 30km from the India-Pakistan border, and each day the border closing is enacted with much fanfare. It’s a well-attended event by tourists and locals, at least on India’s side. So I and 9 other tourists climbed into an suv taxi, rode for nearly an hour and then walked through numerous security checks to get to the open seating near the border gate. The ceremony started with women volunteers running up the road to the gate with flags, and running back. Patriotic songs started playing over the loudspeakers, and women started dancing in the road. Even western women from the audience joined in, and I thought, “Looks like fun, I’d love to do that”. I stayed put for a few minutes until I realized that staying back would be something I’d regret later. And the next thing I knew, I was dancing along with about fifty women in front of thousands of people in 95 degree heat. It was a surprise even to me, but a lot of fun, and there was a sort of sisterhood between us women that felt quite sweet.
Next was the marching. With great pomp and posturing, the guards on both sides took turns high-stepping to the gate and making exaggerated stances of might on their respective sides, lowered their flags and slammed their gates shut. Sure, a lot of it is for show, but I’m pretty sure the assault rifles that the soldiers carried were very real.
And a funny YouTube video of the ceremony. This is much better than what I got with my little camera from the nosebleed section in the stands.
I haven’t said much about the food here yet. There’s been no shortage to talk about, although recently my appetite has been less than usual. Goddess Kali has been poking me in the belly saying “Don’t think I’ve forgotten you. We will meet before you leave.” But I did manage a Punjabi specialty that is definitely worth sharing.
Kulcha is a flat bread with a hidden filling. It can be potatoes, cheese, onions or spices alone. The bread is rolled out with the filling inside, and then cooked in a little bit of oil, served with a lentil sauce, an onion sauce, and a heavenly splat of ghee on top. Oh my goodness. I went to the Kulcha walla section of Amritsar and saw this hole-in-the-wall place that had people in it (people eating are a good sign). The mixed kulcha had all of the fillings, and one heavenly kulcha was less than $1.00. You can’t beat that with a stick.
I’m now in Delhi, chilling out in a schnazzy hotel with great internet, but that story is for my next post. Be well and happy, dear readers!