Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sightseeing in Amritsar

I love India! I hate India! I love India! This country is completely insane. I did so much preparation and planning. I did so much advance reading. None of it truly prepared me for things here. I'm not saying that is all bad!! Because it's not. I'm learning do much. In one week I've experienced things most people only dream of, and have seen places even fewer people have actually seen. That's why my parents stepped in to help me out so I wouldn't cut my trip short. So I'm going to stick it out the full three months after all.

And damn it's nice to be back on the somewhat beaten track. *Laughs* It's nice having others around who understand me when I tell them how unnerving the attention can be at first and how amusing it is when people want their picture with you (happens all the time!).

I slept hard last night, didn't wake up until almost noon. So I got up straight away and went to the Golden Temple. Bargained with the cycle rickshaw driver (I know I got a damn good price, too, so I'm all kinds of proud of myself) and off we went! Cycle rickshaw vs autorickshaw is a hugely different game! I was white knuckling it the whole trip. And on big hills we had to get off and walk.

But after navigating the chaotic streets of Amritsar I got to where I was going. Found my way to where you deposit your shoes, and followed the throngs of people to the temple, making sure to pull my pink dupatta up over my head as I went.

Waded respectfully through the trough of water set before all entrances to wash my feet, and then there I was. It is spectacular beyond reason. The clear sky made the reflections in the pool even that much more serene. And the singing permeating throughout just made me want to sit and meditate.

It was also colorful!  The women in their saris, the children, the flowers.  It was everything India is in my imagination.  The people were also very funny.  So many people want their picture taken with you!  Kids, women, old couples.  You're just a total novelty to them.  I remember when I was staying with Gauri and Rohit, Gauri said that when I came out the first day wearing the pink salwaar kameez, it was the first time the boy who lives with them (god I can't remember how to spell his name!) had ever seen a foreigner in Indian clothes.  It's not something I would have ever thought of before I came here.

It was a very hot day, though, so I figure I'll come back tomorrow with my sketchbook and find a place in the shade. Partake in the free meals that are offered to all. And perhaps give in to that desire to meditate.

Got back to the hotel and was GOING to take a nap. But I remembered the guide book saying this hotel did a very good tour of this one Hindu temple, the India/Pakistan border closing ceremony, and the Golden Temple at night. There was one spot left for today and it was leaving in 15 minutes, do I said sure!

Our first stop was Mata Temple. Oh my god, I would never have visited otherwise and I also glad I did! It was like a fun house inside. Mirrors and fun and interesting things to see and tunnels to crawl through and a long tunnel of water to wade through and laugher and singing and everyone having a good time and wanting to make sure we did too! Tons of people asking to have their pictures taken with us. It was just awesome.
The next stop was the Indo-Pakistan border. Every day just before sunset the guards put on a big show to thousands of visitors. 20,000? As foreigners we got to sit in the VIP section and got damn good views of the whole thing.

Prior to the actual ceremony were activities to get the crowd up and excited. Races. Dancing. Music. When Jai Ho came on I was very excited because even though I have no idea what I'm saying I do in
fact know all the lyrics to that song and so I danced in my spot and sang along. Oh man that got attention! I swear, every person in the Indian section next to me saw me and turned to stare. Many were taking photos and a few had their video camera on me! I just smiled and kept singing. They smiled in return and sang with me. Huge applause for me afterward. The people sitting round me were all "how do you know that song" and I was like SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE!! It's the Oscar winning song that closes out the film. Love that song.

Then came the ceremony. Oh man it was fun. Total rooster strutting and high kicking at each other at the gate! It was well choreographed, and from my vantage point I got a lot of great photos and videos. But for the most part I just ignored my camera and enjoyed the experience.

One thing I hadn't noticed til the end was on the Pakistan side of the gate. The men and women were separated. It's another of those things you know in theory happens, but to see it in person is another matter. Totally weird for me.

I had a lot of fun at the event, though. It was on the list of things I had hoped to see in India, and so I'm totally thrilled to have gotten to go.

Our final stop was the Golden Temple. And holy just... wow. I'll just share a photo so you can see what I mean.  So dazzling at night.


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I'm staying in Amritsar for one more night, then I think I will be heading south. It's just so wickedly hot here that I want to go lay on a beach and relax for a while. So the manager here at the hotel is going to help me figure out how to get from here all the way to Goa. From Goa I'll make my way back North and explore Rajasthan on my way to the Camel Fair.

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