You may recall our blogs about the Indian “fortune tellers” in Bangkok? Well, they all claimed to have come from the Golden Temple in Amritsar, so we were quite eager to experience it for ourselves. I was rather hoping something spectacular would happen there to put all my doubts at bay, as one of the Bangkok fortune tellers had assured us that upon hearing the music at the Golden Temple, we would “experience God!”.
Well, we did hear the music, and as nice as it was, it wasn’t a direct experience of God to me any more than a piece of toast is (which can be argued IS God as well I guess..). I also asked some of the Sikh’s about fortune telling and wandering Sikh fortune tellers, which they knew nothing about. Anyway, who wants to know your future anyway?, doesn’t free will and self determination sound much more fun?!!?
“Fortune Tellers” aside, the Golden Temple is an amazing place. The temple centre piece is quite small, and is surrounded by water (walls around the water though), other than a pathway leading to the interior from the back end of the compound. The entire flooring is marble, and almost everything is brilliant white, accept for the centre piece which is of course gold. The central building is adorned with colourful patterns covering the entire interior.
The place is a hive of activity until the small hours of the morning, and you can watch a constant stream of pilgrims walking into the centre and making offerings. During the daytime, there are always Sikh’s performing music by voice, tabla, and electronic organs, and load speakers ensure this can be heard all around the temple (God prefers the Casio keyboard by the way). During the small hours of the morning, pilgrims sleep everywhere around the temple, or sit quietly discussing this and that, and the place takes on a kind of settling quietness. The temple also offers free food to anyone that wish’s to eat it, Sikh or not, and this has helped Amritsar escape some of the more extreme poverty found in most other areas of India. You can stay at the temple for only a donation, and we gladly took this opportunity.
Also in the temple is a Museum, mostly of paintings, which show significant moments in the rather violent and repressed history of the Sikh religion. There’s lot’s of nasty torture scenes, as these guys had a pretty tough time under certain Muslim rulers. One nice little game of the Muslims was to torture to death Sikh followers in front of their respective Guru’s.
One of the most memorable experiences for me of this entire India trip would have to be the absurd show of organised nationalism displayed at the India-Pakistan border every evening. The border is only about 30km from Amritsar (this part of the border is considered pretty safe by the way), so we caught a shared jeep out there for the evening show.
Foreigners like ourselves are privileged to receive reserved close up seating for the display, and as we were walking in front of the 5000 strong Indian crowd to the front, I merely looked up and couldn’t hold back a cheeky grin, at which the Indian crowd burst into cheers??!!. Maybe they were thinking “haha!, go you foreigners supporting us against evil Pakistan!!”. We were only about 50 metres from the border where we were seated. The border is defined by two large Gates, one Indian and one Pakistani. Both gates were open, as this ceremony is performed to officially close the border for the night.
Before the official action starts, the respective Pakistani and Indian crowds start the mass taunting, usually with young testosterone filled males leading the packs. Fists start shaking and abuse is hurled!. Unfortunately, it did seem get more serious than it needed to, as the Indians started chanting “Hindustan!, Istanbul!”. Hindustan is the Hindu movement, and has political as well as religious overtones, and they basically mean we’ll be running Istanbul before you know it. The Pakistani slogan was just the same, but obviously with Islam and an Indian city.
After a while, the guards, who are dressed in army uniforms, but with huge colourful old school peacock like hats on, start blowing their whistles to calm the crowd a little. At this point the fun really begins! Soldiers on both sides start synchronized marching, harumphing and haring as they go (they must have practiced this together), and they march with their legs above their heads, like a more extreme version of the German marching your probably familiar with. If you can imagine this type of marching, synchronized on both sides, soldiers wearing huge peacock hats and wearing stern proud faces, all the while being cheered on by the respective crowds going wild with taunting and cheering, hopefully you can appreciate how absurdly funny this whole fiasco is to the outside observer!!.
The ceremony itself lasts only about 10 – 15 minutes, and the guards close the gates, reopen them, march up and shake hands with the other side then back off in feigned anger (all synchronized of course), stamp their feet and growl at each other, then eventually lower the flags together (I’m sure both sides were trying to let their flag down slightly slower than the other side in an attempt to always keep it higher then the opposition). The gates are then shut, and after they are securely locked, the crowds are encouraged to surge forward for a final bit of angry fist shaking.
We didn’t really do too much else in Amritsar. There was a museum we visited but it wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary. Grant got quite sick for a couple of days, hence his post below. There’s always something slightly amusing about undesirable bowel movements, so I may have sneaked in a little chuckle, but I got some poetic justice if I did. As soon as I left Amritsar I got it myself, and have had it for almost five days now, including the nice 24hour train ride from Delhi to Kolkata- grrr!. I finally bit the bullet and went to the doctor today, so things should be all good soon…. Unfortunately I leave India tomorrow morning, so missed out on my last few delicious Indian curries
Grant’s made his way up to McLeod Ganj, which is where the exiled Tibetan government now resides, and is also the home of the Dali Lama, so at this point we’ll be meeting in Bangkok again in about a week.