Sunday, September 26, 2010

Whirlwind tour of Amritsar

Alex and I took a risk and ventured to Amritsar on Friday evening. It was a risk because we were still on the waitlist for the return trip (ah, the train in India). We decided we could always fly back if necessary.

Twelve hours there (2nd class AC) and ten hours back (1st class AC), both overnight, meant a very exhausting Saturday in Amritsar.

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But so worth it. The Golden Temple is like nothing else I've ever seen. And within the temple grounds, the people watching is astounding.

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Amritsar was founded in 1577 by the fourth guru Ram Das. The original Golden Temple was destroyed (the Sikhs seem to attract unnecessary violence, which may explain why Sikh men are supposed to carry a small dagger with them at all times) . The current one was build in 1764, but the gilding didn't come until 1802. This is the Sikhs' holiest shrine and priests are inside keeping up a continuous chant in Gurmukhi from the Sikh holy book.


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You can't take pictures inside the temple, but you can from the holy pool that surrounds it. The sacred pool is called Amrit Sarovar, which means Pool of Nectar and is where Amritsar gets its name. Children and men bath in it -- I assume women can't due to modesty requirements. The women splash a little water over their heads. There are men trying to keep the pool clean, one guy was skimming the water, another was collecting dead fish.

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We visited the Guru-Ka-Langar (community dining room) to see how they feed 60-80,000 pilgrims a day. We weren't hungry, but everyone is allowed a meal, no matter your religion.

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After a couple of hours wandering around and into the Golden Temple, we thought we should visit a Hindu temple for balance. We went to the Mata Temple. This is where women go to pray for a baby, but we were careful not to pray. It is a fun house of a temple, which little fake caves to crawl through, a mirrored room and hallway, etc.

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Once we had figured out we were actually off the wait list for the evening train (yeah!) we took a shared taxi to the border ceremony. Shared is a nice way of saying 13 people in one jeep! It was very squished and the leg room from one row of seats to the next was not meant for western length legs. Just writing about it makes my knees hurt.

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The boarder ceremony is like a big competition between India and Pakistan to see who can yell the longest (India seemed to win this one more than Pakistan) and who can goose step the best (I couldn't see Pakistan, so I don't know who won, but I was not impressed with the quality of goose stepping on the Indian side). The entire ceremony takes about an hour and although it was interesting, it was about 30 minutes too long. It ends after they take the flags down for the evening and goose step back into their barracks. That means the border is officially closed.

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I'll leave you with a few random shots in town:

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