I spent the whole flight to Delhi with my head in Hubby’s lap. It’s quite difficult in a small plane with 3 seats on either side. I think the guy next to me was just hoping I didn’t get sick on him. By the time we reached Delhi I wanted to collapse. We had to wait for our counter to open to book in and since we were travelling to Amritsar we had to go via the International terminal as security is stricter there.
I refused to eat anything, the thought of food wasn’t a pleasant experience and for days after this we would refer to Varanasi as ‘the place that shall not be mentioned’, as all I could think of was that body floating in the water and the raw sewage being pumped into it and I must have touched or eaten something that came into contact with that water. The most comfortable position I decided was to lie down on the floor in the airport and use our suitcases as makeshift pillows while Hubby went in search of the medical centre. I draped my dupatta (long scarf) over my head to shut out some of the light. A lovely French couple kept an eye on me while Hubby went in search of some much needed meds. Somehow, I thought, that if Pradeep (our wonderful driver who took us from Delhi to Khujaraho) was there with us in Varanasi, I wouldn’t have gotten sick. I know, but at that point most of my thoughts weren’t making sense. Luckily Hubby arrived with a lucky dip of pills from the medical centre and some water.
We finally reached Amritsar at about 6 that evening. It was incredibly windy when we landed. We got our luggage but there wasn’t anyone to meet us at the arrival lounge. Worried, we stepped outside and saw a huge smile and arms waving at us. It was Pradeep! He drove all the way from Khajuraho to Amritsar in 2 days! I was so happy to see him. Feeling a bit better and my spirits cheered on by a familiar face, I was looking forward to the next leg of our journey.
We arrived at Mrs Bandari’s Guesthouse in the military cantonment as the sun was setting. I was still so happy that Pradeep was going to be with us for the rest of our holiday. I instantly liked Mrs Bandari’s. It reminded us of staying with family in Kimberly / Maggagong in the Northern Cape in South Africa when we were little. The beds were rock hard but I was so tired that it didn’t put me off. The incredibly friendly staff made us some yummy dinner before we turned in.
I woke up feeling much better. Yay! It was a good thing as we had some sightseeing to do including the Wagah Border ceremony. It rained during the night and the morning was quite cool. It made for a nice break after the heat in Varanasi. We had our breakfast outside in the beautiful gardens listening to the birds before meeting Pradeep and our guide.
Our first stop was Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple. We walked through the busy market before checking in our shoes. You have to remove your shoes and wash your hands before entering the complex. You also clean your feet walking through a pool of water as you enter. You have to cover your head (the men too) if you want to enter the temple.
Guru Ram Das (the fourth Sikh Guru) started the construction of the gurdwara (temple) and it was completed by Guru Arjan Dev. Guru Arjan Dev completed the Sikh holy scripture and placed it within the gurdwara.
The Golden Temple was rebuilt in 1764 by Maharaja Jassa Singh Ahluwalia. Maharaja Ranjit Singh added the gold plating and marble between 1718 and 1783. Our guide told us that there is about 750kg of gold leaf on the gurdwara.
It was really beautiful. The people were very friendly and everyone wanted to know where we were from. We visited the world famous kitchens (complete with chapati machine!). The volunteers feed about 50,000 people a day (easily double that number if it’s a special holy day). The meals are completely free of charge. Anyone can visit the temple and kitchen, no matter what religion you are. Volunteers also come from all walks of life.
We decided not to see the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh Holy Scripture). The line was incredibly long and we would probably have waited at least an hour. Our guide wanted to try and sneak us to the front of the queue as we were tourists but we refused. It would have been great to see the Guru Granth Sahib but I could never skip the queue. It means far more to all the pilgrims standing in line for over an hour and we felt it was wrong of us to jump the queue just because we were tourists.
After our visit to the Golden Temple, we visited Jallianwala Bagh public garden. It’s a beautiful garden only accessible through a narrow lane. Unfortunately this peaceful garden was the site of what’s known as the Amritsar Massacre.
Brigadier-General Reginald EH Dyer of the British Raj suspected a major insurrection was happening. There was a lot of unrest going on throughout India as people became more upset with British Raj rule and the gathering of more than 4 people were banned. About 1500 Hindus, Muslim and Sikhs were meeting in the gardens. An hour after the meeting started, Brigadier-General Dyer and 90 soldiers arrived and shouted for the crowd to disperse, but the soldiers were blocking the exit. He ordered the troops to start shooting into the densest part of the crowd, including at the women and children. People tried to get out of the way but the exit was blocked. Some, in their desperation, jumped into the well. It’s estimated that about 1000 people died that day with many more injured. Brigadier-General Dyer was forced to retire but became a hero for some with connections to the British Raj.
Our guide lightened things up by taking us to a tailor. They quickly measured both Hubby and myself and promised us we’d have a new work shirt and salwar kameez waiting for us later in the day. We stopped for some yummy food before returning to our guesthouse so I could get some rest and rehydrate. We would be heading off to the border between Pakistan and India later that afternoon.
The drive to Wagah border was relatively quick and the road quite good. We were told to bring our passports and cameras but to leave all bags behind as they don’t allow any bags inside. The female army officer who checked me as we entered complimented me on my salwar kameez (one I bought many years ago in South Africa) and told me to enjoy the ceremony. The people are just so friendly!
We showed our passports and were told to go to the VIP seating area. If you don’t bring your passport you have to arrive very early as there was no seating left in the stands any more. We squeezed our way into the VIP seating, grateful for a spot. The super VIP seating has the best view as it’s close to the border gate but it seems that it’s reserved for government officials.
The Indian side was getting excited as some popular Bollywood songs began to play. Women filled the Grand Trunk Road (the road we mostly followed all the way from Delhi to Khujaraho and then again in Amritsar) and began to dance. A foreign guy got told off by the army guards when he wanted to join. After the women, it was the kids turn to show their dance skills. Things were strangely quiet over on the Pakistani side with the men and women segregated. There was no singing and especially no dancing.
The army guards wear the most ornate headdresses, it’s quite impressive. A big shout off happens where both side shouts slogans to say that their country is the best before a trumpet sounds the beginning of the ceremony. The Pakistani side does exactly the same as the Indian side.
On both sides guards march at super speed towards the gates where they do a sequence of foot stomping that will remind any Monty Python fan of the ‘Ministry of Funny Walks’ sketch. It’s hysterical but at the same time amazing. They kick so high they touch their headdresses! There’s a lot of glaring at each other while guys with machine guns guard the border. But it’s all show.
The two flags are lowered at exactly the same time. There’s the briefest of handshakes between the Pakistani and India guards before the gates are slammed shut.
Once the flag has been returned and after some more foot stomping the ceremony is finished. People go to the border gate to pose for a photo and some guards even pose for photos with families. They’re all smiles now and don’t look nearly as intimidating as they did 5 minutes ago.
I was feeling much better and celebrated with a Kingfisher beer at dinner that night. We had an early start ahead of us as we were heading into the mountains!
I woke up feeling ok, not great but not too bad. I took some of the pills we picked up at Delhi airport at the pharmacy before we headed towards to the mountains to McLeod Ganj, home of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama.