Sunday, August 5, 2012

briefly india

I ran into Alex on the morning I left Vientiane. Since I saw him in Chiang Rai he had ridden his bike through Laos and arrived in Vientiane the night before. So we caught up for breakfast in Joma cafe and he related his adventures - which made my own seem paltry and insignificant by comparison! It's always fun to have a "random-return" meeting while on the road.  

I crossed the border back into Thailand which was relatively easy, and took a very cheap flight back to Bangkok. Two more nights here in a smart airport hotel to rest and recuperate and then I found myself back in India.  

I'd forgotten just how tough India can be for the taveller. The heat, the smell, the dirt and rubbish and the swirling maelstrom of humanity certainly takes some inner strength to deal with.   My first encounter was with a thieving money changer at the official exchange office at the airport. I only needed to change $30 as my room was prepaid ahnd I was only staying two days. He tried to shortchange me $5 from it! I was too tired to rant so I just made him give me it back and headed off to get a taxi. Second rip-off opportunity! Get used to it.  

Finally settled into my hotel which was only 50 metres from the entrance to the Golden Temple.   I should add here - there are really only two good reasons to visit Amritsar: the Golden Temple and the changing of the guard at the Wagah Gate border - the only current road border crossing between India and Pakistan.  

Now I have stayed in countless numbers of cheap budget room in my travels around the work during the last 35 years - and I think I found a contender for the very worst!! I should have taken the option to sleep tinned sardine-like in the temple dormitories with the pilgrims. It was only after the first night that I realised how bad it was and the second night I was beyond caring. I adopted the Mantra: "location...location...location"  

The temple is really quite wonderful - and in hindsight best viewed in the evening. The lighting really makes the place sparkle. The kitchens in the grounds creates an unholy racket as they provide free food to the pilgrims so there is washing up (a task every seikh tries to fulfil once in his life) going on incessantly - and when you hear the noise it's like an epileptic brass band tuning up.  

My first evening I walked around the edge of the pool that the temple sits in, and became an object of complete fascination for the locals. With thousands of people milling around I didn't see another Westerner during my circuit. One group of Uni students gave me the usual grilling "Where are you from, how old are you, what is your job..." etc. My responses are well rehearsed through long years of practice!  

My second afternoon I went out to the border to watch the Wagah Gate ceremony. I think I first saw this on a Michael Palin doco and thought it would be great to go and see it. The border is about a half hour car ride - my hotel organised a shared taxi that would also wait until the ceremony was over and bring me back.  

On arrival there is an absolute crush of Indians and a few bewildered looking foreigners. I had already been tipped off that there was a foreigner VIP stand so I spread the word to as many Westerners as I could see and we were eventually seperated from the surging crowd and led to a section close to the gate.   We had to sit through about an hour of fervour whipping nationalism as people continued to arrive. During this time Indians were given large national flags and proceded to run down the road to the border gate and back again in mock provocation. No doubt Pakistanis were doing the same thing on the other side.  

After a bit of a sing song the officially ceremony began. A number of guards in their finest peacockery marched down to the gate with exaggerated high goose-stepping with such extraordinary suppleness and agility it would have put Nadia Comaneci to shame. The Indians went wild - and it was hard not to get caught up in the whole ridiculous pompery of it all. Worth the effort!   Tomorrow I am back at the border - this time to walk through the gateway myself.  

(ps: I accidentally wiped the photos from this bit of the trip so I'm afraid I have to rely on some pix from the net!)

golden temple

temple at night

wagah guards

wagah gate

1 comment:

Hannah said...

Your travels sure are taxing my google maps - the temple is stunning but worth those two night's sleep???
Waiting for pics from your mountainous Pakistan adventures - please;-)
Traveling vicariously through you while we continue to build. Travel safe -
Hannah and Kyle