Another quickie blog here from Amritsar, not far from the Golden Temple.
Gotta talk about the border first b/c that was one wild adventure. Our group went to the India-Pakistan border yesterday to watch the closing ceremony they have every day (there is also an opening ceremony every morning). I forget what the exact place is called but it is the only place where people can actually cross the border from one country to another (we couldn’t do that, you need Visas and all that, we were just there for the show). It was wild. First off, we saw tons of marijuana growing along the road on the way there, just humungous pot plants. I tried to get pictures but failed. The other thing we saw lots of were trucks full of sacks of potatoes.
So at the actual border, the gates weren’t even open until 4pm. Before that we hung out at this little rest stop sort of area where people kept trying to sell us CDs, DVDs and Indian flags, as well as tried to get us to buy snacks, drinks and beer, so then the gates to go to the border opened and it was like a total stampede moshpit. At one point I pulled Willa Rose out of the way of a moving car. It was mayhem. We got separated by gender and searched twice. Ben got us somehow to be able to go in to sections of bleachers closer to the border.
There was recorded Indian music playing and on our way to the bleachers, passing super super close to the border we got good earshot of the music playing on the Pakistani side as well. So basically for awhile it felt like a huge outdoor concert with people in bleachers, music blaring on both sides, kids dancing down at the bottom of bleachers near the border, people walking by our section with huge Indian flags, etc. At other points, more as the ceremony got underway, it felt like a national rally, with chanting and call and repeats about India (Hindustan) that I mostly couldn’t understand. I also couldn’t see a lot of what went on, and my camera’s zoom feature was how I caught what I did catch. Took lots of video and my camera battery died midway through. Anyway there was a lowering of flags on both sides, and I was told there were handshakes between people of the two countries. I definitely saw lots of guys in
army uniform down by the border, and throughout the procession to the bleachers, as well as guys in fatigues. it was wild. On one hand, for a pretty hostile border in the world, it felt way more festive than I would have imagined, and on the other hand, there was lots and lots of India pride going on, and the chanting stuff was a little intimidating. It was so wild to think the whole process happens twice a day. We were on the bleachers for a good two and a half hours. It was a pretty unique and memorable experience.
On the way out we were again accosted by people trying to sell us stuff, and the smell of jasmine flowers. It was so overpowering, and is one of my favorite smells in the world. It felt like, on the way back out to the taxi, I was walking through fields of jasmine tea, the smell was so strong and delicious.
After that we went to the Golden Temple — we went the evening before as well — which was awesome. That place is amazing. It’s pretty open, and we ate dinner there in mass feeding, which was awesome to experience, and delicious. Then we slept there. We were part of a handful of westerners (at both places that day), so we had a lot of people staring at us, taking pics of us, taking pictures with us, asking us questions. I had a lot of guys come up to me and tell me my pink hair is beautiful, which was cool. One guy was like, “I have seen everything in my life, but not hair like that.” We talked to a lot of cool people. Then we slept in the temple, outside under the moon, with chanting at all hours. It was incredible. At one point I was asleep and some guys came by and picked up two water bottles of group members that were near me (I was watching a lot of stuff as others were wandering around) and I was immediately awake and alert, thinking they were trying to steal our stuff. Instead they put the water bottles under an unoccupied sleeping bag, so as to hide them, told me to be careful of our luggage, and asked me to put my hand through a loop on my backpack to make sure it’d be secure. It was wild how many helpful and cool people we met.
Also gotta say that the per capita amount of hot dudes in Amritsar is awesome, there are beautiful men everywhere (but none I’m quite as fond of as Snoop the driver from Sikkim), which is just one of the many reasons I am really liking Amritsar and the state of Punjab.
Today went to the Silver Temple, a Hindu temple with a lot of silver amazing doors, and a small shrine to Durga, as well as statues and paintings of other Hindu deities. It was cool, I am developing a stronger and stronger affinity for Durga all the time, but it was also in the pouring rain. Half of our group went on to the next location, but I stayed with a few others in order to experience the temple, sri Durgiana, and also to experience the Golden Temple some more, eat there again, maybe help out with the feeding. For those that don’t know, the GT is the holy place for Sikhs, and it has a pool of holy water in the middle, which is awesome, and also does mass feeding of anyone. It’s all systematic, you go in and get plates and spoons and sit on the floor in rows (in a huge hall with mass amounts of people), and people come by with rice pudding, some curried stuff, dhal and chipatti bread) and then you eat and clean up and then go get chai in same fashion. Apparently the GT feeds anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 people a day! It is really incredible to see in operation! Feeding and inclusiveness of all peoples are supposed to be features of all Sikh temples.
Oh, I cannot forget, I have to talk about Delhi! To get to Amritsar, we had to take a long ride from Darjeeling to fly to Delhi, where we stayed overnight to get up early and catch a train to Amritsar. So we stayed at the same hotel we originally stayed at when we first got to India, almost two months ago. So this was like Delhi: Revisited, and it was a completely different experience. The driving and traffic from the airport didn’t phase me at all, or anyone else in the group. We barely got approached by beggars in Pahar Ganj (the area where the hotel is), I think partly b/c we’re accustomed to the country by now, and with time here, our postures and body language have changed. I felt like a different person that I did when I first arrived in Delhi. It didn’t feel overwhelming at all, and it actually felt good to be in more typical India with crazy traffic, lots of noise and activities, massive people, etc. I was loving it! It felt like a good measuring stick in a way, to see how far we’ve come in the last almost two months. I even walked around by myself at night for a short while (when we first arrived, I was terrified walking around in a group in broad daylight), so it felt awesome. There was also a massive parade going on, which was cool to see.
I have been going back and forth about this for awhile now, and thought up until recently that I would end up going home with the group on May 5th, but as of a few days ago, after the trek and after the experience in Delhi, I’ve decided I want to stay longer, just by about two and a half weeks or so, probably with another girl in my group and travel around. We aren’t sure yet what we want to do, but the airline allows one free change on the return flight so it feels like it’d be a crime not to take advantage of that and be in the country a bit longer. So that’ll be early to late May. And as of now, it’s wide open as far as where to go and w hat to do. We’ve got lots of ideas running around. So….suggestions? Story Teller? I’m up for an adventure! I feel like my thrill seeking side has definitely been ignited a bit as of late.
Ah, Chrys, and to think you had second thoughts about this trip, now you’re staying for more :DI cannot wait to hear about your connection to Durga. And to see all of your pictures!
Did I not warn you about the opium?? Ha…Ha…The change of guard ceromony at Wagah Border is a recent tradition, at least by Indian standards, just a couple of decedes old. It is a litmus test for the reletions between these countries. I wish you could have seen the ceromony after the Lahore Pact. It was not at all this aggressive and chauvinist. Things a not at their best these days and I am afraid it shows at Wagah.I am very impressed to hear the ‘no booze. no drugs’ pledge.I couldn’t agree about the jasmine. I have lived here all my life and jasmine can still do that to me. Do you know we have an epic poem “maha-kavya” written on the jasmine.There are temples in india that feed hundreds of thousands everyday. Seriously I mean lakhs. But I have to admit the vibe is one of the best at Golden Temple.I can think of Rajasthan and the temples of the south. You probably can do only one of them, and I have to warn you Rajasthan is quite expensive, as are the tourist distinations of the south.I am concerned how you will manage by yourself. It is not easy to travel as a white woman in India. I hope you have someone who will join you and be helpful. My dear, where ever you decide to go in India you will find things to see. Perhaps Gujrat with the tour of Sabarmati ashram if you are a fan of Gandhian ideology. The beaches of Goa are certatinly a favourite. You could sit in your hotel room and look out of the window to see more things here than anywhere else.Any news about the other two colleges?Good Luck.