May 14, 2013

Amritsar, India

Amritsar, Punjab, India
अमृतसर, पंजाब, भारत

14 May 2013 (Tue)

Lodging: Hotel M.K. Sood, Old Lakkar Mandi, Near Jallianwala Bagh

4 of 5, 14 days India trip

Amritsar, located in the state of Punjab is somewhere Punjabi and Sikh originated from. Punjabi is not to be confused with Sikh, as Punjabi is a race/ethnicity while Sikhism is a religion. There are Punjabi Muslims and Punjabi Christians as well. Some people directly refer Malays as Muslims, which is wrong as they never take the difference between ethnicity and religion into consideration.

Hotel M.K. Sood
We reached Amritsar in the morning from New Delhi by train, an overnight train.

After checking in, we couldn't resist but to dive into the bed for an early power nap, while taking turns to bathe.

There's basically only one place to visit in Amritsar - The Golden Temple.

Ok, if you know a bit about Islam, the analogy becomes more understandable.
Religion Sikhism Islam
Adherent Sikh Muslim
Spiritual Centre Amritsar Mecca
Sacred Site The Golden Temple Kaaba

Get the analogy now?

The great thing is that The Golden Temple is actually open to public, anyone, any religion, any race with no entrance fee. However, it's of course understood that we have to behave ourselves when we're inside, as it's the holiest place for the Sikhs.

Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple)

Sikhs praying at the entrance
Shoes must be taken off and headscarf must be worn at all times while you're in the territory of the Golden Temple.

A numbered token is given at the shoes storage so that the keeper can retrieve your shoes afterwards.

A guard near the entrance will make sure that you put on your headscarf first before entering as a sign of respect.

No headscarf? There's a bucket of headscarves in front of the guard. You may choose your favorite color and design.

There's a horizontal groove in front of you with a small pool of water so that you can wash your feet before entering the complex.

It's built by the 5th Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan (there are a total of 11 Sikh Gurus) in the late 16th century. Harmandir Sahib literally means abode of God, it's called The Golden Temple in English because of it's appearance, due to the gold and intricate marble work conducted under the patronage of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh empire, in the 19th century.

The beautiful golden temple is connected by a causeway from the complex which encloses the lake surrounding the temple. The view is therefore awesome with the reflection of the temple by the lake, called Sarovar. The lake consists of Amrit ("holy water" or "immortal nectar") is where we found the people there bathing in. Apparently it's appropriate as it cleanses someone spiritually, I guess?

Feeling disappointed with the weather...

Suddenly we're approached by a group of Indians who were interested to take photos with us, probably they couldn't believe that yellow Asians would visit this place.

There is Maggi noodles kiosk outside.

Langar Canteen
There's a canteen there, the Langar Canteen) where Langar is the general term used in the Sikh religion or in Punjab for common kitchen/canteen where vegetarian food is served in a Gurdwara (the Gurdwara here is The Golden Temple) to all the visitors regardless of their background for free, and we're one of those visitors.

I was really touched by the generosity of this Langar concept, whereby they welcome everyone and you're just served humbly by the random volunteers serving in the temple. Furthermore, the food was not bad at all!

With one of the Sikhs

The volunteers here employ process layout system (manufacturing engineering term) - those who throw the plates will just throw; those who catch the plates will just catch; those who wash the plates will just wash etc. It makes the bulk cleaning process fast and smooth.

Wagah Border Ceremony

Amritsar is only 50km away from Lahore, a city in Pakistan. So today you gain a geographical knowledge: Amritsar is very near to Pakistan.

What more interesting is - I mentioned Punjab earlier in this blog entry, Amritsar is located in the state called Punjab, and do you know which state Lahore belongs to? It's also called Punjab! Haha... but it's another Punjab state, which belongs to Pakistan. So geographically these two Punjab states are kissing each other at the Pakistan-India border. Another geography lesson for you: there are two countries with the same state name called Punjab.

Wagah is the road border crossing between Pakistan and India, situated in both these Punjab states, 28km away from Amritsar and 22km away from Lahore. Wagah border ceremony is a joint military practice that takes place EVERYDAY ever since 1959 between security forces of India and Pakistan. We were there to observe the ceremony but before that we're stuck outside the gate for almost an hour until the soldiers riding their horses announced its opening - made us stand for so long... By the way, we travelled from Amritsar to the border by taxi instead of auto rickshaw because it's over 20km from Amritsar.

Having entered through that gate, we're packed in the people like sardines. Fortunately enough, they separate the 'packing' lanes between males and females, so the females won't be taken advantage on. Being pushed by the crowd, we arrived at the security checkpoint and after that we may proceed to the international border 'arena' where we can watch the ceremony.

Can you spot Emilia and Susan? =)

Border Security Force
There was a mass dance by the women going on along the Grand Trunk Road (the road that connects Amritsar to Lahore and crosses the Wagah border) at the border prior to the ceremony. I guess if you want you can actually join the dance. Haha...

I don't understand a single song as all the songs are in Hindi, but there's this song being played, called "Jai Ho", the ending song of Slumdog Millionaire. Although it's in Hindi, but there's an English version of the song, adapted and performed by The Pussycat Dolls, renamed to "Jai Ho! (You Are My Destiny)", which is the 09/10 Temasek Hall Orientation Camp's mass dance song during my 1st year in NUS, which triggers a lot of memories... ❤❤

Also called the Wagah border closing 'lowering of the flags' ceremony or The Beating Retreat ceremony, it started off with the boisterous parade by the soldiers from both the sides. Although I could literally see Pakistan from my seat, it's a bit far from my sight and I couldn't really see what the Pakistan Rangers were doing, I could only see the Border Security Force in front of me. Wow the way the march looks energetic but funny, it looks like a formal ceremony to me but the way they marched which includes hopping looks informal, but I liked it.

There's a leader or speaker in front on the stage initiating some cheers, with replying cheers from the audience, which we don't understand, again it's in Hindi. There were also cheers from the Pakistan side although it's less audible from where we were, and it was like playing freshmen orientation games.

This daily military drill in the evening ends right before sunset, and the sun sets at the Pakistan side, as it's in the west.

Myriads of spectators

Male Border Security Force

Sunset at the Pakistan side

Sizzling Brownie @ ₹190
We didn't observe the full ceremony but having the important former part watched was sufficient. In any case if we'd like to watch again, we can come anytime right, since it happens everyday. No I'm just kidding... it's too preparatory to travel to India. Haha...

So we left Wagah and had dinner in Amritsar. It's embarrassing as we entered a restaurant (Crystal Restaurant), ordered one sizzling brownie and left because a while after entering we found out that it's too atas (high class) to dine in. Felt ashamed, we asked for the bill and shifted to a more affordable restaurant (Sagar Ratna) across the road.

Dal Fry @ ₹120, Tandoori Aloo @ ₹125, Gobhi Manchurian @ ₹120, Hot Garlic Rice @ ₹120

Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) revisited
The beauty of the glowing Golden Temple brought us back to it at night.

The reflection of the lights at night makes it an even more glamorous attraction.

We didn't visit the temple in the morning, as the queue was tremendously long at the causeway. And so we visited it at night. The queue seemed to be less crowded, but it still took us a while to make our way into the temple.

While queuing, they're certain periods where some sort of rituals were being carried out where everyone has to sit or kneel down, and the Sikhs were probably praying in union. After that everyone stands up and queue again.

And I managed to take some photos inside the temple. I always take photo at those "Photography is prohibited" area, because I'm naughty. =P

Inside the Golden Temple, the ceiling is made of gold and precious stones

We're leaving this religious city, moving up north to the city of Srinagar, in the region of Kashmir. We took a morning bus the next day from Amritsar and headed towards Jammu for a half day stopover before moving on to Srinagar. Although we got to sit, but it's pretty squeezy, uncomfortable and hot. We had a hard time trying to sleep during the 4 hours journey.

Javin Tham A master's degree graduate in engineering, a musician at heart, loves playing with soft toys.

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