|Our first trip with our driver - and the very cool Ambassador car (check out the pics - it was designed in the 60's but built in the 90's) was to Amritsar in the very north of the Indian state of Punjab. In fact, it was so far north that we were actually only 30 mins from the Pakistani border - and only a few kilometers from there was Lahore.
First stop was to the Indian / Pakistani border - but not for the hostilities that you would expect. National pride meant that the closing of the border gate each night resembled a cheerleader festival at an American baseball game.
Each army unit tried to out do the other in pomp and ceremony, and the locals (and tourists) came along in droves to support or watch. We arrived at the Indian side of the border an hour early, thinking we had plenty of time - yet the stand was half full. Luckily being tourists they ushered us to the VIP section before the crowds really arrived and it was standing room (or squashed room)only.
Seriously - this ceremony takes place every day, and the atmosphere was like being at the footy Grand Final. Schools organised field trips and the men looked like it was Friday night at the pub.
The picture show the pomp that was on display, but what what amazing was the cheers from the Indian audience. From the Pakistani side - all you could hear was 'Pakistan, Pakistan' to which the Indians (which were 10-fold in size) replied 'Hindustan, Hindustan'. It was friendly yet patriotic - and great to see countries that had been at the brink of nuclear war having a border 'chant-off'.
Weird, yet interesting. Much like so much of India that we have seen.
However, this was not the reason that we had made the trek to Amritsar. Whilst the 1.1 billion people that make up India are predominantly Hindu (82%) and 12% are Muslim. There are still many people who are Christian ( 2.3%) and Sikh (1.9%). For these religions it still represents a few million followers given the size of the Indian population. The Sikhs are predominately found in Punjab and Amritsar is their spiritual home.
The Sikhs are an interesting religion and have a strong belief in equality. They rejected the Hindu caste system and believe in one god (unlike the 30,000 odd in Hinduism). But they do believe in Karma and reincarnation. Their leaders abstain from alcohol, tobacco and drugs and they believe in 5 kakkars or emblems that denote the brotherhood. They are:
kesh - the unshaven beard (Sikhs never cut any body hair, and mostly have impressive ponytails & beards)
kangha - a comb, to maintain the uncut hair
kaccha - loose underwear to symbolise modesty
kirpan - a sabre or sword which symbolises power, but where it is kept (24 hours a day)made Scott wince as it could seriously jeopardise their manhood
karra - a steel bangle to symbolise fearlessness
Most Sikhs take the surname of 'Singh' which literally means 'lion' to show their fearlessness, but it only had the effort of Scott walking around calling for 'a Mr. Singh, is there a mister Mr.Singh in the audience' to amuse himself and confuse all the Sikhs in the room.
So we made the journey to Amritsar - the home of the Sikhs, to visit their Golden Temple. After 5 months of travel, we thought we had seen many religious monuments and there wasn't much left that could amaze us - the Golden Temple proved us wrong. Wow - that's all you can say when you first walk in and see the golden building in front of you - especially all lit up at night.
What we didn't anticipate was that we would end up the tourist attraction for the night, with many travellers to the Golden temple due to the festival and public holidays of Diwali) wanting to take photos with us, rather than of the temple. Babies were thrown forward, children told to stand straight and many a hand was shaken or an introduction made. Scott & Adele were the biggest tourist attraction in the Golden Temple and it seemed that everyone wanted to have their photo taken with us. Which was great fun until 2 hours later when we still hadn't moved on and really wanted to go home to sleep.
We are beginning to understand what fame is like. All these Indian families with holiday photos of Scott & Adele on their fridge is a scary concept indeed.