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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.