Golden

Our detour up to Punjab for the wedding meant that we got a couple of days to spend in the state and so we headed to Amritsar. I am so glad we did as it is home to the Golden Temple one of the best buildings we have seen in our travels in India. We arrived back in Amritsar at 1am after a train journey from Bhatinda and once we checked into our hotel we were out for the count. We had both picked up a flu from being on the go and all the partying at the wedding had worn us out so we spent our first morning in Amritsar recovering and watching TV in bed.

We weren’t completely slack though and in the mid afternoon we headed off to see the famous Golden Temple. The temple is a Sikh temple which meant no shoes and head coverings. We dropped our shoes off at a little counter and hoped to buy a little scarf or bandana as the guidebook said the palace was rife with shops selling them. However we couldn’t find any so we decided to go for the ones that the palace provided. I was a bit iffy as I’m not sure if and when they get washed and I had visions of getting head lice but since we were there and all the locals were doing it we thought ‘why not’. With our head scarves on we headed in one of the main gates to view the temple everyone had been talking about.

They talk about it for a reason. It is absolutely stunning. It doesn’t quite measure up to the Taj Mahal but it comes a very close second. The complex is huge with marble floors and clean while buildings surrounding the water on which the Golden Temple is located. The central gold temple shimmers in the water and in the light of day as it is made with real gold. I’m not sure if words or photos can do it justice. We slowly wandered around the complex taking in the beautiful architecture and detailed sculptures before making our way into the golden temple itself. There was quite a queue to get in as many Sikhs had made the pilgramage to come and pray there. There were even security acting as bouncers making sure it wasn’t over loaded. With a bit of a shuffle and shove at the end we got inside the temple to have a look. In the centre four men were playing music and singing what I assume would be prayers that could be heard over a loudspeaker in the complex. The building shimmered from the inside but we barely go a chance to look as we got caught up in the crowd of people moving through. It was beautiful but we were certainly out of place as tourists as we had to weave through people praying on the floorand bending to kiss the ground. I felt like we were intruding on something so after a very rushed look we left to go back outside and view from afar.

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The temple draws massive crowds so it was interesting to people watch – the people in solemn prayer, the families visiting with children as tourists, westerners taking photos. We whiled away an hour just waking and looking which meant we were still there at dusk. It was even prettier bathed in a soft glow of pink. We headed out of the temples and onto the streets that form a bazaar around the palace. It was crazy noisy and busy and the shopaholic in me was dying to go crazy but I was good and refrained from buying anything. We were still feeling a little worse for wear so we headed back to our hotel and relaxed in the quiet.

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We were better tourists the next day and had arranged a tour of the Pakistan – India border closing as well as a few temples. The border closing was crazy! There really is no other word for it. We drove for about an hour up to the border and then walked through security, showed our passports and scrambled through the crowds into the V.I.P area for foreigners and got our spot. As we arrived the ceremony had just started and couples of Indian girls were running the flag up and down the road as guards watched on. Then the music started and all the girls jumped onto the road for a massive dance party. It was like being at the wedding all over again. The crowd clapped along with the music as they watched on and when Jai Ho came on they all went crazy. From what we could see of the Pakistan border not much was going on over there but the Indians were certainly making up for it.

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Once the dance party finished the guards came out and began their march. First one of the soldiers does a huge long wailing cry into the microphone and then two soldiers march down to the gates. The MC then runs arounds the crowd urging them to cheer and chant as the guards work the I magic at the gates. This was repeated on the Pakistani border I am sure but due to the crowds we couldn’t see much. The soldiers then did this crazy sort of kick  march at the gates to cheers of the crowd. Its hard to explain really what was going on because there was so much happening and so many people standing and shoving to see I mostly saw the back of peoples heads. At the end the flags are dropped and the ceremony is over and the stampede starts. We were pushed and shoved and ended up climbing a fence to get out – so much for being V.I.P’s. Thankfully we survived with everything I tact and headed on to the next stop.

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The Mata Temple was our next point of call and since neither James nor I had read up about it we had no idea what it was all about. We wandered in and got directed along a flight of stairs that led us along a windy adventure through the most colorful and jazzy temple I have ever been in. I say adventure because it was like a crazy house at a fun fair. We had to walk up a massive slope, get on our hands and knees and crawl through an opening, walk through rooms covered in mirrors, past massive distorted statues and through a tunnel of water. It was interesting but hard work not getting lost!

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Our final stop was the Golden Temple but this time to see it lit up at night. It was just as stunning with the golden building lit up and shimmering in the water. Since we had seen it the day before we had a wander around to see it at night before heading to the free kitchen. The palace operates a free kitchen which feeds over a hundred thousand people a day. We gave a small donation however since we were there for pure tourism reasons. We were given a Thai plate and bowl and guided to upstairs where rows and rows of carpet were set out. We sat down and joined the locals an waited for our food. Volunteers come along and pour dhal, curry and rice pudding onto our plates and water into our bowls. There were men walking big baskets of chapati around and to get one you had to hold your palms out and wait for them to drop it into your hands.  We sat cross legged and ate with our hands and the food was really yummy. Considering they serve so many a day and we received it hot and fresh they must certainly have the system down. Once you are finished you get up and take your plate to the washers who get rid of the mess and start the hard task of all that washing up. It was really amazing to see how much they can do to feed so many and just another reason that the Golden Temple is such an amazing place.

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The next day we were up bright and early at 4am to get on a train to our final destination, Udaipir. We had a great time up in Punjab and I would have to say it was one of my favourites (as most places tend to become) because we had experienced so much great stuff there. I was also happily surprised by the food – we are getting a little bit over curry but the food we had in Punjab definitley reignited our love of Indian flavours. Its hard to believe we were going to skip this part of India completely and I’m so glad we didn’t as I highly recommend a visit to everyone.

Tying The Knot – Indian Style

Going to an Indian wedding wasn’t always on our travel plans but when Hamish mentioned him and Michelle were going to one in Punjab and it probably wouldn’t matter if we tagged along we changed our itinerary to fit it in. Don’t worry – we weren’t wedding crashes, the groom Karendeep is a close work mate of Hamish’s said more the merrier. Karendeep lives in Melbourne but is originally from Bhatinda and when his parents thought it was taking him too long to find a wife they did it the more traditional way of arranging a bride. It wasn’t a blind wedding though and Karendeep had met his bride Jasimeen several times and was happy about the match. My feelings about arranged marridges as side (I dont really agree with them) it was promised to be one hell of a party. There was the ‘engagement party’ that evening with the ring ceremony followed by the actual wedding and further celebrations the next day.

We met Mish and Hamish in Amiritsar and shared a taxi to the town of Bhatinda. It was really pretty scenery and as we got further out of the city the road signs were less and less in English and I was excited about heading off the tourist trail (the city with a population of over a million doesn’t even get a mention in the guidebook) and experience something uniquely Indian somewhere off the grid. We had a bit of a delay due to a peaceful protest blocking the highway which meant once we arrived at our hotel we had to quickly meet Karen and his cousin before a quick freshen up before we headed to his family home.

Once we arrived we were greeted with lots of waves and shy smiles before Michelle and I got ushered into some seats to get our henna tattoos done. All the female in the family had already had theirs completed and it all looked so intricate I thought it would take ages. I completely underestimated the professionals  and they had done both sides of my hands and arms in about 20 minutes. The long part was waiting for it to dry as it takes up to two hours to dry completely. We were then given some delicious home made food but couldn’t eat it – thankfully the boys were lovely and fed it to us. Since we were in a regional house the food was all eaten by hand so it must have made an interesting scene to watch us four attempt to do it. The whole family were so welcoming and those that spoke english came and chatted an we were played with food and drinks which is just a perfect example of Indian hospitality.

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We sat in their courtyard and chatted away as the rest of the family got ready. It was interesting to see the men’s prepare their hair and beards and then wrap their turbans. All the women went off to get dolled up and all came out looking gorgeous in sparkly tunics and dresses with their nice long hair all done. I felt fairly under dressed in my best summery dress and sandals! Once they were all dolled up we headed off to the wedding venue. We drove along and there were three massive venues on the street all lit up with fairly lights. We arrived at ours and walked the red carpet (literally) as we got papped (literally) – there were so many photographers and even a video camera with huge light on it.

The venue was set up beautifully with big marquees filled with drapes and fairly lights full of couches and tables outside in the cool evening air. Inside there was a massive hall with a DJ playing loud Punjabi music but my favourite part was the food. There was two massive aisles off turreens and stalls with all different types of food. Not to mention the tandoori oven and full bar. It was like walking into a food court. We waited on some couches for awhile for the groom to arrive and were instantly surrounded by ten waiters offering us whisky and sodas (the only alcohol offered), soft drinks, food, desserts or just to come over and look at us. And that’s what everyone did!

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As we were wandering around a young girl called Max came up to us and started chatting, asking all the usual questions such as ‘where are you from?’  ‘How long have you been in India?’. It wasn’t until a little later she told us that we were the first foreigners she had ever seen and spoken to. She was a really smart girl and such a good conversationalist it was hard to believe she was only 12. As we were chatting more and more people came over asking for our names and for photos. It seemed that we wouldn’t be able to have a quiet night and celebrate from afar.

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We had a break from all the attention when the bride arrived and we got to see Jasimeen for the first time. Her family lead her in with a procession and she looked gorgeous in a white and blue dress that sparkled like crazy. She was quite a shy and demure bride as she met Karendeep on a stage in the hall set up for photos. They sat there for hours smiling for photos with different members of the family and any friends who jumped on stage. While this was happening we helped ourselves to some of the delicious food on offer. I was some of the best I’ve had in my time in India and it was a great opportunity to try a few things that were new on Punjabi menu.

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It was then time for the ring ceremony which involved the family gathering around, showering the couple with gifts and the bride and groom swapping rings. Once that was all done it was onto the dancefloor and I can tell you the Punjabi’s know how to dance. We joined in and attempted as many Bollywood moves as we could. They had a ritual of the females dancing with a lit up pot on their heads and the men following them with a big stick as people threw money around them. No one really explained why but we gave it a go anyway. By this stage all the formalities were over and the bride and groom joined us on the dancefloor and had some fun. However we were all knackered and headed back to the hotel ready to do it all again the next day.

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We were up bright an early the next morning to head over to Karendeeps family home again for more preparations. As today was a more formal day everyone was in even fancier gear and Michelle and I got to wear sarees! I had bought one on my travels as soon as we found out we were going to a wedding and Karen’s family was kind enough to arrange an outfit for Michelle. We duckes into a room to get dressed and luckily for me Karen’s aunt, Mannah, helped me wrap it around. As there are many different ways to wear one we attempted two before we settled on a third way that a rookie like me could walk and dance in. It was a bit of a process as my petticoat, blouse and cloth were arranged and pinned and I have a whole lot of respect for the women who wear them everyday and work, sit on the back of motorcycles and wander town in them. Mish was lucky with a skirt, top and scarf combo the only problem being it was too big but with a bit more pinning we were ready to go.

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As we headed back to the venue we were asked to join the procession with Karen and we wandered the road with the family as he rode on a decorated horse with sword in hand as bagpipes played. One of his Uncles was kind enough to explain that this was a gallantry display meant to represent that Karen would save and protect his bride once she was his. We arrived at the venue and Karen and his family was greeted by Jasimeens family where another ceremony was held. This time it was to join the two families and garlands of marigolds were given to each other. Once that was over Karen met Jasimeen in the temple for their official ceremony. We used this time to relax on the couches under the marquees and people watch. We weren’t getting as many requests for photos but we did get to meet more people as they were really friendly and interested as to how four westerners were at a Punjabi wedding.

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After the temple ceremony, Karen and Jasimeen walked back in as husband and wife and we followed them into the hall for more photos and and another ceremony of placing garlands of flowers over each other. Jasimeen looked beautiful in her red and gold outfit to match Karen’s gold tunic and red turban. They both looked much more relaxed and happier as all the guests went up to the stage to offer their congratulations. We spent the afternoon feasting on more delicious food and taking lots more photos. This time we spent most of it with Jasimeens family and it was nice to meet her sisters and brother as we had met Karen’s whole family too.

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It was all over too quickly and the bride and groom left for the afternoon. It was kind of sad to see Jasimeems family say goodbye as she was led off by Karen’s family to their home. She will be moving to Australia soon too so i am sure they were sad to see her leave. We went back to the home to pick up our stuff and change back into our civvies. The party was going to continue on there but we thought it was best to let the family have some time without westerners intruding and spend some time just the four of us as it was the last time we would all be together for awhile.

It was such am incredible, fun, colorful experience and these guys sure know how to party. It was amazing to be involved in such a cultural experience -the tradition, the food, the dancing and getting to wear a saree. Just amazing. I almost want to urge everyone to go out and befriend a Punjabi and weasle their way into their wedding. It felt really special to be welcomed by so many people into such a family orientated event and we were lucky we got to share Karendeep and Jasimeens special day.