Amritsar is a holy city in the state of Punjab which is a neighboring state to Himachal Pradesh which is the state that Dharmasala and Shimla are in. Eight of us including myself loaded up in to two large taxis along with six israeli’s that Rachel met several days ago and we headed off for Amritsar which was about five hours away. Cait and I got up at five am to get ready, I had packed my bag the night before so I wouldn’t leave anything behind. I initially packed a very small overnight bag with the intention of staying overnight. The initial inclination among the group was to sleep at the Golden Temple and leave on sunday morning.
We ended up leaving Dharmasala at approximately 7am an hour later than expected. Rachel and I accidentally miscounted the number of people going on this trip, we thought we had seven when in reality we had eight. This meant that Rachel would have to ride the whole with the Israelis and we stuffed seven in to the van. I sat in the very back with Mandy and Arrindum as we were the ones that got the least bus sick. I knock on wood never get car sick or bus sick or boat sick. The only time I get car sick is sitting in the back our my family’s 2006 Grand Cherokee, go figure.
Before I go any farther with my day I want to through some shout outs to people on my blog. This is a monumental occasion as I rarely do this, if ever. I first want to give a shout out to my cousin Leonard. A few days ago I got an email, which I just checked today, which was sent to myself as well as my cousin Jonathan and his mother my cousin Lita. It was a wonderfully written email regarding my travels the past two years, which was summed up so eloquently. So Leonard thank you, if I ever make my blog into a book that will certainly be in my introduction, to which you will be quoted.
I would next like to give a shout out to my parents, Janet and Joel as well as my sister Jenny (yes we all have J’s for those who don’t know me). I know my parents read every word of my blog, and Jenny hears the highlights from my parents as she is way too lazy to read anything more than 50 words (you know it’s true).
Next I want to say hi to my cousins down in Florida, Betty, Jay, Bonnie, John, Jessica, Ginny, Mike, Brian and Melissa. As well as the cousins from Columbia and now Annapolis I guess, Julie, Brian, Susan, Jack and Steven who is in Hawaii.
I doubt any of my friends read this from back home so I’ll hold off on those except to give ones to “everyone I see is Asian, what’s up Kat” and Jessica (this is two years late?).
Of course who can forget Jordan, Toby, Fran, Aaron, Jeff, Melinda and the kids, Bobbi, Uncle Danny, Erin, Rick and Marilyn. To any of my cousins who reads this that I left off the list I apologize as well to any friends who read this blog as well, hellooooo!
Ok so back to my story: So we left Dharmasala packed tight in to this van like sardines or a clown car where 12 pop out of the tiny car. We first stopped after about 2 hours. The Israeli’s wanted to get some food or drinks. I personally would have kept going as I hate to stop but I had no say in the matter. After about an hour delay (the restaurant took forever), I picked up some warm fanta soda and some Lays Magic Masala chips I was content.
Our next stop was a quick urine break and gas break about two hours after that. At this point we were really close to Amritsar according to our driver. Our driver’s name was Ringcon, he was awesome, I forgot to get a picture of him and I, shoot! Before we got to Amritsar we all decided to get food before our day as we would probably have been cranky otherwise (thanks becky!). The driver took us to a place called “The Brothers,” and apparently was the number one restaurant in the city according to the driver. What was funny was Becky kept asking him the name and she turns around and goes to me “apparently the name of the place is blabbababalgkaga,” basically indicating she had absolutely no idea what the heck he was saying, I started laughing because it was really cute the way she was trying to say the name of the restaurant.
So Ringcon took us to the restaurant and low and behold on the huge banner it said “The Brothers, #1 in Amritsar,” haha, I guess the driver wasn’t lying. I ended up splitting a pizza with Cait, I wasn’t in the mood for authentic Indian food at that point. By the time we left the restaurant and got close to the Golden Temple it was approximately 245PM. Cars could not get close to the Golden Temple till after 8PM because of the amount of traffic it would cause so we had to walk about 500 meters maybe a little more to the Temple itself. It was a brutal walk due to how hot it was out. Man it was as hot and humid as the days in Mumbai if you remember reading about those days, it was hot! Before I got to the Temple I needed to find something to cover my head, so right near the Temple I found this Sikh man who had a shop which sold Turbins. I always wanted to buy a turbin and wear one so I did. Janeen told me, who is Sikh herself that orange was the color of the warriors so I got orange. The guy who I bought it from wrapped the turbin for me and told me that I was his first Sikh friend, that was nice. I explained to Janeen and others that I was not trying to mock the religion but embrace it. The Golden Temple is the most sacred place for Sikh’s. It is like Mecca for Muslims.
When we got to the Temple we first had to deposit our footwear at the booth, cover our heads and then we were allowed in to the temple. It was sorching out and my feet were burning. Luckily there was a huge lake like structure to dip in and to be poured on the marble to keep it cool. We all took a bunch of pictures and walked around. It was definitely rushed as we didn’t have that much. We needed to be back at the Taxi no later than 430PM to drive about 45 minutes to see the changing of the guards at the Pakistan/India border which is supposed to be very cool and famous. Anyway before we left, we first had to check out staying at the Golden Temple. Apparently there was a place for foreigners only which was guarded from the rest of the public to stay for free, and one would just give a donation after they left. The maximum stay was three days according to Lonely Planet. After walking around and asking people as well as I could in Hindi where this place was, this man from Delhi came up to me and asked what I was looking for. I told him I was looking for where foreigners stay, and he said I needed to talk to the manager downstairs and that he would talk to him for us. The old manager took us to a place with some rooms and beds in the main room. I tried to ask him in Hindi to reserve 5 beds for us, he said he would, but I was extremely skeptical that he had no idea what I was saying and since Arrindum, who is Indian was not with me, the communication was lacking.
After speaking with the manager we all had to walk quickly back to the taxi to ensure we would get to the border crossing on time. Since Rachel wanted to be with us, we squeezed 8 in to the taxi and headed off to the border crossing. I had heard through the grapevine that at the crossing there was a special portion of the stadium seating that was reserved for only for foreigners, known as the VIP section, and I was eager to find this section. When we got to where the taxi dropped us off thousands of people we walking to the stadium where you sit and watch the proceedings, there were also thousands already there, I became nervous that we wouldn’t have a place to sit and would be stuck standing somewhere off in the distance.
At this point I made Arrindum talk to the guards we saw in Hindi as to where this alleged VIP section was located. One guard pointed us in the direction across the street from where we were already standing, so we went across the street and again Arrindum spoke to the guards and they let us right in. At that point I was gleaming, I had found the VIP section and hooked everyone up who was with me. Even though it was so hot, I ignored the heat and anxiously walked to the next check point. Here we were padded down, bags searched, nothing out of the ordinary for a religious site in India. When we got to the special seating of the stadium we had a choice of the whole section. We picked a place about half way up so we were high enough to see everything, but not too far back, just right. Arrindum then asked me if I wanted to try and run with the flag of India to the border, which was a custom done at this changing of the guards procession. I said sure so we went down to the crowd, tried to pump them up with the India pride and run with the flag. We didn’t get to run with the flag but we did get to run to the gate or as close as we could get before the guard stopped us. Apparently it as getting close to the start of the procession so they told us to go back to our seats. I was a little bummed about not being able to grab the flag and run, but I took what I could get.
We had to sit in the scorching heat for a while until the procession started. Before it all started the MC got the crowd going with chants in Hindi, Sanskrit and one more language I’m forgetting. It was cool and eventually I knew how to say them and Arrindum translated them for us all.
We were so close to the border you could clearly see the Pakistani side and hear their chanting which was similar to ours, but instead of Hindustan (India) they would say (Pakistan). It was also easy to see that the men and women were separated and were sitting on opposite bleachers.
I was so close to Pakistan I could have run up and spit on it, or touch it but I would have first had to get past the guards with guns and the several feet of no man’s land which separated the two countries. This “no man’s land” was formed according to international law, similar to the DMZ which separates North and South Korea (which I have been too, and is much scarier).
Once the procession started there was a lot of feet stomping and basically both countries would try to antagonize and show up the other side with how high they could kick their legs up and stamp their feet. It was really intense. At two different points the gates opened and the guards were basically toe to toe like a heavy weight battle, and shook hands, but then became extremely aggressive. They never crossed the line but stayed either on their side or within No Man’s land. Don’t worry both sides had guards with big guns watching the whole thing. If they crossed the border it would be a violation of international law and we don’t want that between two countries with nuclear weapons and a quick trigger finger, now do we?
After the procession was over, we were all dying from the heat. I was sweating profusely and needed water asap. Becky had instituted a buddy system after we almost left her at the Golden Temple, my buddy was Becky and the person responsible for me was Sarah. The system worked for the most part, and we needed it as there were thousands of people in the streets trying to get to their, bus or whatever.
Once we got near the taxi we bought some water and tried to get beers, but the vendor I wanted to go to was out of them. On the way to the border ceremony I promised I would come back so I tried to be loyal. From the border ceremony we told Ringcon we needed to be taken to a travel agency or someone who could arrange another car for us. Janeen, Rachel and Mandy wanted to go back. This kind of screwed the rest of us out of about 400 rupees each as now the second leg would only be split 5 ways instead of 7, what can you do right?
Ringcon told us to sit in the car and let him do the talking as he could get a better price, since if the guy saw white people he would try to rip us off. Ringcon came back and got a good price, we said goodbye to the others and Ringcon took us to a hotel that was actually the pick in the Lonely planet. There we had some food, which I didn’t like that much and several well earned Kingfisher draught beers. When we were done with the beers and food we decided to head back instead of staying at the golden temple. I was skeptical that our beds were not secured and that we would have no place to stay. The hotel we were at was offering us a good deal for a rooms, which would set us back 400 rupees, but I was concerned that Arrindum would not feel comfortable that much money. 400 rupees is really not that much (less than 10 dollars), but it is a lot by Indian standard. Anyway after some discussion among the group, and assurance by Ringcon that he could drive us back we decided to see the Golden Temple at night and head home. Ringcon also told us about his family and showed us a picture of his wife which was nice. Apparently he was 28, Nepalese, born in India but parents were from Nepal, he looked about 40 and had a 1.5 year old daughter. What was shocking was that he only made 3000 rupees a month or about 75 dollars and paid 1000 rupees for rent. This was a real shock to us considering we were paying the agency that arranged our car 5500 rupees. This meant that Ringcon saw none of that fee and basically relied on tips.
After seeing the G0lden Temple at night, which was so beautiful considering it was lit by lights all around, Sarah and Arrindum got some Sikh swords (i regret not getting one, I was just too darn tired), we got back in to the taxi, now only five of us, which was much more comfortable and headed back to Dharmasala.
Since there was no traffic, we got back at 415am, paid and thanked Ringcon for a great trip, tipped him extremely well and walked up the steep hill in front of our hotel. I passed out when I got back to the room, Cait took a quick shower, but I was so tired. I took a benedryl before we left from Amritsar to try and sleep in the taxi, this meant when I woke up though, I would be so groggy and I was when I got back to the room.