Friday, March 19, 2010

Weekend in Amritsar @Day 2

The lights could have been stars. I was standing just at the entrance of the parikrama of the Golden Temple. It was dark at 6.00 am in the morning and the temple glittered in itself and more in the water below. As I walked around the parikrama towards the temple, I must say that a sense of quietness came over me. Hundreds of devotees, the chanting prayer voice and the obvious reverence of the caretakers compelled me to stand aside near the sarovar to soak in the atmosphere all on my own. How often do we have this feeling of calmness in a huge bustle? It needs to be treasured.

Seven of us are visiting the Harminder Sahib or the Golden Temple. Our heads covered with duppatta’s and hankies, we make way slowly towards the temple complex itself with platefuls of ghee drenched prasad. As we approach it, my two year old nephew Aryann, remarks that “ the Golden Temple is very golden”. True it is, almost covered with gold sheets with only few marble pillars to be seen. We enter and bow to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The temple has three storey’s . We climb each and pay our respects. We slowly file out clutching our Prasad donas. It is light now and people are dipping in and out of the sarovar. Aryann, is happy to see the fat fishes while Myra (my year old niece) is happy sitting on Sanjay’s head, getting a balcony view of all the going-on. We spend some time around the parikrama clicking pictures and dipping our feet and hands.

It is time to head back to the hotel for breakfast. There is a selection of Indian and continental options and I opt for Indian. After thick aloo parathas, curd and pickle washed down with tea, I am all set to visit the Jalliahwalah Bagh and maybe some shops.

The Jalliahwallah Bagh is a landmark in India’s freedom fight. A protest was organized against the Rowlatt Act on April 13, 1919. About 20,000 people participated in this and had collected at the Jalliahwalah Bagh, then a private garden. General Dyer, trying to control the crowd, asked his soldiers to fire at the crowd. Many were killed by bullets and more injured in the stampede that ensued. The walls of the Bagh are marked in white boxes depicting areas where bullets were fired. The well where many jumped to save their lives can still be seen. An Amar Jyoti (eternal flame) in the garden marks respect for the martyrs.

After a solemn morning, we head to the market streets of Amritsar. We are keen to buy salty snacks, pickles and some of the famous “phulkari” cloth materials. The next and last stop before we catch our train to Delhi is a dhaba. We head to Surjit’s dhaba famous for its fried fish and chicken. I, being a vegetarian, stick to paneer tikka which is super soft and delicious. My roti and dal tadka are quite tasty too and we all dig in.

The afternoon passes and we are soon put still in the train seats. As I am sitting, I realize I am tired. The trip though short was hectic and my eyes are drooping shut. I am unable to enjoy the views from the large train window of the landscape passing by but the pictures of the last 48 hours flash through my sleepy mind- hundreds of us Indians shouting out Vande Matram, a thali of hot food swimming in butter, a flame alit, the silver moon in the dark sky against the very Golden temple!

Weekend in Amritsar@ Day 1

We are on a two day trip to Amritsar- 5 adults and two small children. The Shatabdi train from Delhi to Amritsar departs on time at 7.20 AM for its 6 hour route. It has been long since I have been on a train journey and a large group always means more fun. And fun we have- switching seats, chatting and passing around an unending supply of snacks.

We reach on schedule and head towards the Carlton Inn and Suites, a newly opened hotel barely 5 minutes from the station. The lobby is pleasant and we are very happy with our rooms. The are large and modern with flat screen TVs and bright framed modern art on the walls.

However, we quickly shower and change as we have to be off to the Wagah Border last by 3.00 PM. Wagah Border, is a border gate between India and Pakistan. Every evening at about 5.00 PM there is a parade and ceremony while taking down the national flag before sunset.

We file into an Innova and pick burgers and Pepsi enroute as lunch. The countryside is a slideshow of green sugarcane fields. Yellow flowers indicate some mustard in between. It takes us an hour to reach the Wagah Border. In the least it is a mayhem of cars, rickshaws, hundreds of people, food stalls, kiosks, men selling the tricolor flags and visors to cash in on the temporarily heightened feeling of nationalism everyone feels when here. Security is tight and one cannot carry any bags- not even camera covers. Stuffing any money we have into pockets, we walk towards the entry gates. The personnel check us and file us towards stand.

There are 2 separate sections- one for the men and one for women. The crowd, even on a weekday is astoundingly large. Atleast a thousand people are here, cheering for India and hooting for Pakistan. “Vande Matram”-the sentry calls out and the crowd roars back. “Hindustan….” he goes and the crowd bellows “zindabaad”. Soon they put on patriotic film music and many come down from the stands to dance away. I have never seen anything like this before. It is a spectacle on a scale of its own. The crowd on Pakistan’s side is much smaller.

There is a parade and both the sides together take away their flags. We have been here since over an hour and the heat is now getting to us. We head back towards the car and the city. Dinner is in order and a friend has recommended Prawah da dhabha. It is a completely vegetarian joint. Be prepared for large portions and dollops of ghee and butter! It is soon time to wrap up the day as we are going to the Golden Temple early next morning.