|Arrived at Amritsar about 10.30am, an hour or so late. The usual struggle at the station forecourt with taxi and rickshaw drivers chasing us. In the end we took an auto rickshaw to the back of the Golden Temple complex to see about getting a room there. Michael Palin got a very nice room with bathroom and A/C but I had no luck at all. It was utter chaos & I got sent from one building to another and the best I was offered was a couple of bunks in a dingy dormitory with about twenty beds in a line. It would have been free but it was not what we wanted after an overnight train journey, or any time really. Giving up the idea of staying at the temple itself we found a hotel just off on one of the side streets and booked in there.
You can have little idea of the sheer numbers of people that are in Amritsar around the temple area. Chaos, hectic, crazy are all words that spring to mind. There are peomillingling around at all the temple entrances and the adjacent roads. Most have either turbans or orange head scarfs on as it is compulsory to have your head covered inside the temple area as well as removing your shoes and walking through the foot baths.
We settled into the hotel, had a shower and then out for lunch. Then we hopped a pedal rickshaw to take us to the Jallianwala Bagh memorial site. It was the scene of a terrible massacre back in 1919 of local people who were holding a peaceful demonstration in a large enclosed area. There was only one narrow alley leading into the area which was surrounded by tall buildings so fortunately the British commander couldn't get his armoured car in but he did order his men to open fire without a warning and according to records some 1,650 shots were fired and up to 1,500 people died. 120 bodies were recovered from a big well in the area. Where people trying to escape the bullets jumped in and were shot or drowned. I cannot imagine how such a crime could be excused but apparently the General who ordered the massacre was cleared.
As we wanted to see the border closing ceremony between India & Pakistan that takes place every evening we decided to leave the temple visit till later. Then it was another hectic scrum of touts offering private or shared autorickshaws & taxis. We opted for a shared taxi at 100rps each for the 30km ride out to Wagah where the ceremony takes place. As suspected we ended up being packed into a jeep taxi with ten other passengers plus a driver, a very tight and hot fit but at least we were on the middle row and got the window seat on either side.
Yet another chaotic crazy drive out of Amritsar through horrendous traffic with the usual stop at a petrol station to add a couple of litres of fuel. It took about an hour to get anywhere near the border area and park up. We should have known that half India would also be there, especially on a Saturday. A whole sea of humanity was flowing along the road, it was like the crowd trying to get into Wembley stadium for the cup final.
We took a pedal rickshaw part of the way from the car park but still had to make our way on foot for the last couple of hundred yards. At the border the road is closed off about 200 yards from the main border crossing gates. There are a couple of grandstands either side and further tiers of seats alongside the road all the way to the border. All the seats in the grandstands and everywhere else were packed with people and there was a crowd at the first gate. There were people hanging from staircases and railings everywhere and the crowds were shouting and cheering so the action had already started.
There seemed little chance of us getting any sight at all of the proceedings but we joined the crowd at the back by the gate and tried to get a view with little success. I gave up and tried to get up the staircase to one of the grandstands but just got jammed in near the top and got a bit worried about being crushed so gave up and forced my way back to the bottom again.
At the bottom I asked one of the guards if there was a foreigners entrance and he pointed to the roadway beside me where a few people were being screened and then going through. I was asked if I had my passport and when I said yes the guard just motioned for me to go through. All that really happened in the end was that I ended up back near the gate where we were originally but now on the inside. I suppose I was about twenty yards further forward but still a long way from the main action. It was a lot less crowd so more comfortable. I saw Roger back on the other side and told him where to go but that was the last I saw of him until we met back at the jeep at 6.30pm.
Even though the main action was a bit away I was near the guardroom where the guards were coming in and out and there was one of them in a white tracksuit who was acting as a cheerleader and stirring the crowd up. It was getting close to mass hysteria as the Indian crowd cheered and clapped at his antics and those of the guards performing their high stepping marches and posturing. I couldn't see much at all of the Pakistani guards, just the occasional glimpse.
Finally, as the sun set, the two countries flags were lowered simultaneously, the border gates slammed shut and the gates near me opened to let the crowds stream back out. What an experience. I kept muttering "Incredible India" to myself ad anyone else I met. Then we had the awful drive back with all the traffic heading back to Amritsar at the same time. I counted ten people at least in one of the tuktuks which must be a record, it was bad enough for thirteen of us in the taxi.
Back at the hotel Roger decided to settle down for the evening but I wanted to see the Golden Temple at night. Our hotel is right next to the temple complex so not far to go. I had to take off my shoes and socks at the entrance and check them in to the shoe store. You have to wash your feet on entry and they hfoot bathsow footbaths to walk through. You also have to keep your head covered within the temple grounds. There was a Sikh gfoot baththe footbath who confirmed that my cowboy hat was not suitable and set me up with an orange head scarf which he tied for me.
The inner temple complex is a large rectangular area surrounded by tall white buildings. There is an outer walkway all around the central lake. In the middle of the lake itself stands the Golden Temple with a single walkway access out from one end. It was not as big as I had anticipated but was lit up in all it's golden glory. On the outer walkway people were strolling round while others sat on the edge of the water and at one end some men were immersing themselves. A pleasant chanting and drumming was playing over loudspeakers all around the complex.
There were a number of glass fronted rooms where the holy men were reading from their sacred book. At the north end where the walkway to the temple is located there is a large white building, in fact all the buildings except the temple are painted white. On the first floor in a windowed bay sat two of the holy men with what I presume was the main Holy Book. One appeared to be reading from it while the other gently flicked away dust or flies with a silver handled, white haired swotter.
Access to all these areas is open to everyone and I was able to wander around at leisure through thbuildingsand buldings. I even went up into the room where the two holy men were reading from the book. A continuous stream of people was passing behind them, some carrying small offerings. I looked at the queue of people crossing the walkway to the Golden Temple itself but it looked like I'd be there half the night so decided to try again tomorrow. myselftented mysel with strolling around the lake and taking in the music and the atmosphere. So many people even so late in the evening.
On the way out I came to the food hall where they offer free food to all without charge. To see the organisation and work that goes into feeding many thousand people every day was phenomenal. As I hadn't had an evening meal I joined the line of people going in and it was not a small line, there were hundreds. We channeled our way past one man handing out metal spoons, another stainless steel bowls and a third large stainless steel plates with four sections in them. Then it was into a giant marbled floor hall with long mats laid from end to end and just like parking attendants the helpers directed us into the rows which filled up quickly. Once we were sitting down on the mats men with buckets of water, dal, an unknown liquid and a sweet rice passed down the line filling our dishes. Finally another manchapatisout chipatis to all and sundry. It was all very nice and I had no difficulty clearing my plate although I found sitting cross legged on the floor a real challenge.
Once you finish your food you take your plates and make your way out to the rear where yet another man sits collecting the spoons in a bowl and then your plate and bowl are whisked off you and passed by a human chain down to the washing area. The noise of all the steel dishes being thrown around as they pass to and through the washing up troughs is deafening and endless. If McDonalds think they can do fast food for the masses they should see this. All the people serving, helping, cooking, washing up and directing traffic are volunteers.
Still buzzing from the noise I made my way back to the shoe storage area and handing in my tag to a turbaned man I was reunited with them, all very efficient. Then it was back to the hotel for bed. It has certainly been a varied days activities