Sunday, 26 August 2012

Amritsar, India

After some sleep and a hard earned breakfast it was time to explore the first of many cities on the itinerary that have a choice of a temple, a fort or a palace as the main viewing interest. In this case, Amritsar has the Golden Temple, which happens to be the Sikh's most important and revered shrine.

Many people, regardless of religion undertake a pilgrimage to this site where they are afforded bread and board for their troubles.

Getting to the temple is easy, just ask any rickshaw driver to take you there or venture there yourself on foot, most tourist guesthouses are in the vicinity of the temple. Once there, everyone has to take of their shoes and leave them in the storage facility provided before entering the temple grounds via a shallow pool of water so as to cleanse feet upon entry.

Within the grounds the temple takes centre stage, shining in the sunlight and sparkling at night, it looks impressive and beautiful as it stands out from the holy lake that surrounds it. Worshippers come to bathe in the water but if you are just sitting down and soaking up the atmosphere, cross legged is the only way forward so as to show respect.

Inside the temple, there is always a throng of people praying, either alone or as a group, with musicians playing spiritual music accompanied by the chorus of worshippers whose voices echo off the walls of the cramped space within. Incense, offerings and prayer books are all available and people of any religion are welcome to come and pray.

Besides the temple itself, the kitchen and dining hall are a wonder unto themselves. Everyday, hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers come here to help with the preparations, cooking and distribution of food to those who come to the temple. Some 60,000 people a day come to the temple, or so I was told.

As you enter the dining hall building, plates, bowls and cutlery are handed out to each person, who in turn are ushered into the big dining room where they choose a place of their choice to sit down. Volunteers then come round and fill the plates up with food apprpriate for the time.

In the morning, a simple offering of chai and biscuits is available. For lunch, a delicious thali spread of sweet coconut rice, dal and chick peas with chapatis is on offer. The amazing thing about all of this, is that it is free for anyone who wants it, admission to the grounds is free too, the place really is open to everyone.

Of course, donations are more than welcome and for a place like this they are necessary in order to function. However, with the generosity of the volunteers it's not hard to see why this facility is open all year round for everyone.

Kitchen and dining room

Golden Temple by day

Golden Temple by night

Golden Temple at dusk

India -Pakistan border closing ceremony 

The India -Pakistan daily border closing ceremony at Attari - Wagah is also a highlight of Amritsar. With these two countries always at each others throats, it is refreshing and somewhat surreal to see this complete show that goes on. It's pure theatre.

Around 3pm onwards, crowds staart to gather on both sides of the border to take seats in the custom built grandstands for the event, it's that popular. Come 5pm the place is packed to the rafters and all that could be heard from the Indian end was Hindi music, heckling at the Pakistanis, chanting, the national anthem and general noise from the few thousand people who come to witness this strange yet hilarious event.

Proceedings get underway with flag waving, scores of women queuing to run the length of the short section of road to the gates where the borders meet waving their respective flags in the faces of the other nation and much to the joy of the onlooking crowd.

After this, music just blares out of the speakers around the stands, with the women dancing in the road, the men cheering the women on and fiercly singing pro-Indian songs followed by more chanting.

As the festivities come to a close, the crowd's anticipation reaches new levels as the soldiers come out upon instruction and line up. One at a time, the soldiers then proceed to scream at the top of their lungs, do the most over the top salute, turn and power march to the border to meet their Pakistani opposite. Standing directly in front of each other, they then try to out stomp, out salute and out handshake each other before returning to their station.

It's pure Hollywood and the crowd laps it up. One guy was so beside himself that he was just screaming at the top of his lungs, either that or he was just hamming it up like the soldiers.

To conclude, the flags of each nation are lowered and folded away. The soldiers then face their opposites across the border, scream at each other until the crowd starts to join in too. They then stomp around, slam the border gates in each others' faces as hard as physically possible and march back down to the barracks amidst cheers from the galleries. Brilliant.

Indian grandstand

Pakistani grandstand in the distance

Getting pumped

Wave that flag

Marching to the border gate

Marching back

Game face

You can just make out the other side
Calm down

No comments:

Post a Comment