Hello from Amritsar, a site of great importance to Sikhs worldwide. We (Joe writing this post) have spent two nights here and are now heading down to Delhi, from where we’ll begin the Rajasthan loop.
We left the beautiful Srinagar at 8am on Saturday (21st) morning, on a journey south to Amritsar. First was a 10-hour jeep to Jammu. Toby and I were in the boot for this one, sitting opposite each other on fold-down seats. Our necks felt the lack of a headrest but the extra space was welcome! The scenery was magnificent though, winding down away from the mountains, the environment almost alpine like, with wild baboon-looking creatures roaming the roads. In Jammu we transferred to the train, our first in India and what will be our main form of transport across the sub-continent. The station was busy with locals and (Indian) tourists going all over India. We were the only two in shorts and I felt like a celebrity when approached by a large Indian family and asked all kinds of questions: “Do you like cricket?” “What is your occupation?” “Where do you hail from?” Etc..
The train lasted five hours but we slept for most of it. Guards passed up and down the train frequently, often stopping to make sure our bags were locked together. They carried long wooden sticks, the size of baseball bats, much more effective than the British Transport Police! We were in sleeper class (The lowest) but the nighttime breeze kept us cool and we arrived in Amritsar at 03:00, eventually getting to sleep at 05:00AM! Thus ended a day of travelling of nearly 24hours!
Yesterday (Sunday 22nd) evening we attended the infamous border ceremony, 27km west of the city. This is an exercise in pomp and circumstance from both the Indians and Pakistanis. Border guards with feathers for hats parade along a short strip, before slamming the gates shut, at which point everybody (mostly Indian tourists) rushes forwards to take a picture. There was much raucous cheering, clapping and blowing of horns. The atmosphere was akin to a sporting match!
This morning we visited the Golden Temple, the site for millions of Sikh pilgrims worldwide as they come to listen to the sublime musical readings and to bathe in the purifying waters of the “Pool of immortality-giving Nectar.” The city, a labyrinth of narrow streets and bazaars is full of colour and bicycle rickshaws as thousands head daily towards the temple. The city’s modern history is blighted by massacres, chiefly the 1919 shooting down of thousands of pilgrims by British troops. Thankfully we were still given a reasonably warm welcome! The temple’s golden apex (the richly gilded Harmandir) towers above Amritsar. The temple sits across a reflecting pool, and is more of a complex, with different shrines and rooms. The city was founded around the pool, believed to have healing powers, and granted in perpetuity by Mughal Emperor Akbar to the Sikhs. The small golden temple shone across the water and inside was beautifully ornate, detailed paintings and inscriptions. For me (Still Joe rambling here) it was perhaps the best temple I have ever visited. We had to wear a small piece of bright orange cloth to cover our heads. It is an amazing place and one could really sense the significance of this place for the Sikhs around us.
The 6pm sleeper train we wanted to take to Delhi was fully booked, so we`re on an overnight train which arrives into Delhi at 04:15. JOY. Let`s hope there`s some good coffee waiting at the other end! In the meantime we’ve uploaded a lot more pictures from the trip, (hotel lobby WiFi!), so if you fancy – take a look.