Friday, March 19, 2010

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.

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