May 8 – 11, 2013
Chandler and I love overnight train rides for a number of reasons: the bunks are generally cleaner than the hotels we can afford, we get good food and we have a lot of time to read. On the two day train ride to Amritsar, Chandler and I were both able to get through two books, one of which was the same so we had a little book club chat over it.
We arrived in Amritsar in the evening and got a bicycle rickshaw to our hotel. I felt guilty asking the man to peddle Chandler, myself and our backpacks with a single speed bike the 4 miles to our hotel for less than one dollar. We hopped off once to walk up a big hill, but when we finally got there we gave the man a huge tip. We couldn’t help but be very impressed with his leg muscles.
Once at the hotel, we discovered that the screen to our computer had gotten smashed on the train somehow. After searching for the power cord so recently, Chandler was almost ready to throw the computer out the window. However, we found an internet café and looked up a computer repair shop nearby and researched a reasonable price for replacement screens. We went to bed, knowing what most of our day was going to be spent dealing with the computer.
The computer situation went really smoothly actually. We went to Sam’s Computer Shop where Sam the computer guy made a few calls and gave a quote within the price range we were willing to pay. He also promised he would have it done in two hours and would check to make sure nothing else went wrong. We told him we were going to the border closing ceremony and promised to stay open until we got back. Sam also gave us a number of suggestions for good restaurants in the area. While in the area, we visited the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museum. This was just a museum devoted to the local Maharajah which had a number of panoramas depicting various battles he was in and showing how he was a great guy.
After visiting Sam’s suggested restaurants, we caught a shared taxi to the Pakistan-Indian border. Somehow the driver managed to fit 12 people into a regular sized SUV. Good thing there wasn’t much traffic on the road. The driver dropped us off a kilometer away from the border and we all went through the usual security measures of metal detector and a pat down. As tourists, we were allowed to sit in a special section while everyone else was divided into a men’s and women’s section.
Once most people were seated, a party erupted. Popular Bollywood music was played over a loudspeaker and the women moved into the road and began dancing and shouting out “Hindustan”. Eventually, an official looking man came out with the India flag which he passed off to a child. The child than ran the length of the road to the Pakistan-Indian border gates and waved the flag at the other side before returning to pass the flag off to the next person. This occurred a number of times before two more flags were brought out some more people could have a turn.
At this point, we noticed that the Pakistani side was starting to fill up and they had begun to play music. People on that side of the border were also waving flags as someone banged on a drum. Finally, everyone was ushered back into their seats for the closing of the border. A trumpet was blown on each side and guards with big headdresses began goose stepping towards the gates. The gates were flung open as the guards on either side of the border met and made elaborate high kicks at each other. The gates were then slammed close, only to be opened again as the next guard approached. This process continued until most of the guards had had a turn, when men were positioned between the gates to take down the flags. The guards on either side of the border mirrored each other’s movements until the flags were lowered and the gates were slammed closed for the last time.
It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the moment. Everyone was constantly clapping and shouting out for their country. Pakistan and India do not have the best relationship, but it nice to see them work together on obviously choreographed motions and good natured competition.
We returned to town in good spirits even though we were very crammed in our taxi. We got dropped off early to pick up our computer from Sam. He had it waiting for us good as new. We ended up chatting for several more minutes about Amritsar and our trip. We found out Sam is a host on couchsurfers, too bad we hadn’t looked into before we came to town.
The next day, we devoted to sleeping in and sightseeing. Amritsar is home to the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and the Sikh’s Golden Temple. After perusing the shops and not finding anything worth buying, we went to Jallianwala Bagh. In 1919, British soldier opened fire on 5000 Indians during a peaceful protest of the Rowlatt Act. The courtyard is walled on all sides, so there was nowhere to run or hide. Many people jumped into well, thinking they could hide there, only to be crushed by all the others also seeking refuge. A large monument has been erected in the center of the courtyard to the martyrs and there were several bullet holes visible in the walls. We try to research the significance of the areas that we are in, including reading books by famous authors and watching movies. I would highly suggest that everyone interested in a quick way to brush up on Indian history watch the film “Gandhi”. Watching the movie gave us a seed of knowledge about the life of Gandhi and the history of India during the independence movement.
Next, we went to the Golden temple, which was a much happier place. The Golden temple is the most holy place for people of the Sikh religion. The obvious difference between Hindus and Sikhs is that Sikhs wear turbans, usually have a beard and carry a knife (we saw a few guys with huge swords), while Hindus do not. The men and women do not cut their hair and the men do not shave their beards.
We started our tour of the temple with depositing our shoes in a locker and washing our feet. We then both adorned our heads with bandanas. Next, we headed over the Guru-Ka-Langar, the community dining area. We sat cross-legged on the floor in tight rows, knee to knee and were served rice, chapatti, dal and a vermicelli pudding with chai tea all on for free, served by volunteers. Hari told us that you will never see a Sikh begging, because they can always get food at a temple.
As it began to rain, we made our way to the central temple. We stopped to perform some seva or labor in exchange for our meal, which for us was drying metal dishes used for drinking water in a large trough of black sand. People seemed to get a kick out of two white people sitting amongst a bunch of Indian ladies rubbing metal bowls with sand and we got our photo taken a number of times.
Finally, we got in line to go into the Golden temple, located in the middle of a man made pond, or water tank as it was called. We were immediately befriended by two young men and an older gentleman. This worked to our advantage, as they took us up to the top floors and onto the roof of the temple, something we never would have had the nerve to do on our own. They were also able to translate some of the writing adorning the walls. After the main temple, we were led to a smaller building as priests were showing off the weapons of the former gurus.
We had a little trouble shaking the younger men off when we were finally ready to go back to the hotel. They wanted to know our Facebook pages, Skype usernames and any other information we were willing to give to them. They also wanted to take one thousand photos in multiple locations. It got a little weird in the end when we were finally saying goodbye. The kids knew that we are married by asked me to kiss him anyways. I laughed him off before Chandler and I ran off to the safety of our hotel.