The Golden Temple
In the morning the manager of the hospital takes us with an ambulance to the border with India. Before we left the guy with the rickshaw brought us a bag full of halva-cigars (something like deep fried batters with semolina halva) and then accompanied us to the border to help us cross it. Our 45 day stay in Pakistan expired yesterday but nobody seemed to care and they let us in freely, though we had to wait for an hour because the electricity had stopped and the computers weren’t working. We had to pass hundreds of checks at the Indian border because they were very strict with the people who come from Pakistan.
12 at noon we step on Indian land. The dream that we have for many years, to go around India is becoming a reality finally. We feel elated. I don’t have to cover my head anymore or to be so careful when communicating with men. We can hitchhike anywhere and do whatever we like without worrying that the police will come to guard us. There is no potential danger for terrorist attacks (not that in Pakistan we encountered any danger bit one can never relax 100% there). We can even sleep on the street. But the most important of all is that we are in India – the land of dreams.
The first town after Wagha border is Amritsar – the spiritual center of the Sikhs. They are easily distinguished from the other people because they wear turbans and special daggers (kirpan).
Kirpan – the religious dagger worn by all Sikh people
They have five important symbols – turban, that is symbol of their spirituality, the dagger – kirpan, comb in their hair hidden under the turban, silver bracelet that symbolizes unity, some big underwear boxers made of special cotton that symbolize their cleanliness. The Sikh religion is monotheistic aka they believe in one God. Their most sacred place is the Golden Temple or Sri Harmandir Sahib.
The Golden Temple
We install ourselves on the road and a guy comes and brings us a bottle of rose syrup to coll ourselves down. One rickshaw driver insists to take us and we decide to hop on for 100 rupees (1,5 euro) to Amritsar. The distance is around 30 km. Anyway we plan to only hitchhike from now on or travel in the lowest train class which is super cheap.
Our first impressions from India are great. It is not dirty at all, at least not as we expected it to be. Amritsar looks normal, not chaotic at all. Maybe our senses are a little numb from the many months, better said years we have spent in Asia. The people seem really nice and we thought that there will be many crooks who would try to make us buy stuff.
Pilgrims going to the Golden Temple
The closer we come to the Golden Temple the more colorful the crowd becomes. The people in it are mainly pilgrims and tourists. Some Sikhs wear enormous turbans and have gigantic sabers hanging from their belts. They wear long robes and extended sticks. The crowd is so different and colorful that I start feel dizzy.
We smell odd scents and we hear strange music coming from everywhere. We decide to look for an Internet club in order to connect with our couchusrfing.org host.
It results he lives quite far from where we are and after a few hours of searching we manage to find a city bus that will take us there. At a certain point we also hired a rickshaw with pedals driven by a person – just to live this experience too.
The bus stopped a kilometer away from our host’s house because he couldn’t understand exactly where we want to go. While we were walking towards the house a car stopped by without us even waving at it and it resulted that the driver was a pastor in the same church branch as our friends in Lahore. He really wanted us to sleep at his place but we had already settled with the other people.
The house of Jolly (our host) is luxurious and enormous. It seems like we start the “luxury life” series again. Jolly is a Sikh and he tells us many interesting things about this religion. In the evening he treated Mr. Shushtari to whiskey – the first alcohol he drinks in two months. We decide to go sightseeing tomorrow and we rest.
We are impatient to see the temple and early in the morning we rush there. The city transport costs 10 rupees (15 eurocents) and there is a loud music inside it that makes traveling in it real fun. We arrive at the old city and we enter the small streets, Street vendors sell unknown for us food but it results that it is very spicy. Finally we reach the temple. I have heard many times that India is the most amazing country and one can see anything here but I really understand what this means just now.
The temple is ginormous. It is something indescribably amazing. The Golden Temple is situated in the middle of the artificial lake Amrit Sarovar – the Nectar Lake (the city is named after it). In front of the temple there is an enormous crowd that waits to enter for hours. The lake is surrounded by glaring white buildings where people perform different activities. Before you enter the temple you have to take off your shoes and wash your feet. Once you are inside you have to cover your head with something. Religious songs resound everywhere.
The lake with the Golden Temple
We spend the whole day at the temple. The most amazing thing is that everything is free inside it. There is a big kitchen (Langar) inside where food is served 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We too ate our lunch there. First you have to wait for fifteen minutes for the group before you to eat their food, then 10 people rush in to clean the floor and then the doors of the hall are opened (in fact there are two halls and the building has two floors) a new group of people enters – usually around 500 people. In seconds the hall is full again and everybody sits on the ground. Everyone is given a metal plate, bowl and a spoon before entering. Then other people start bringing buckets full of food and serve dishes of lentils, potatoes and chapatas (bread) to everyone. The bowls are filled with yoghurt. The people serving food pass several times asking if anyone wants more.
Meal at the Langar (kitchen)
People leave their dishes after they finished eating
Hundreds of people work at the temple – some cut vegetables, others cook in enormous cauldrons, wash dishes, clean. The noise is loud and everyone works voluntarily. There are also rooms where one can sleep for free. The foreigners are given separate rooms – we went in one and slept for a couple of hours.
Cutting vegetables in the Langar
Cauldrons at the Langar
There are also numerous small rooms where people read sacred texts 24 hours a day. In another part there is one very big school and one tower shaped temple. Free water and beverages are available on every corner. After visiting the temple or the library with the sacred books you are given a morsel of halva – sacred food (Prasad). There is also a hospital and an orphanage – all for free of course.
Rooms where one can sleep for free
Everything is done in service of God and humanity and anyone who wants can offer his/her help voluntarily. Strange feelings arise in one’s heart here. Is it really possible to feed and accommodate the multitude of people that come here every day for free (!?!?!?!)? I am in awe of the faith the people here show…
02 – 03.06
These days we feel somewhat weak and we get up late. Then we go to see the summer palace of the maharaja. The place is shabby and ill-kept. On the next day the improbability events continue. On the map we saw a temple named Mata Lal Deve and it was marked it is an interesting landmark so we decided to visit it. It was situated in a small neighborhood outside of downtown. The temple was built in honor of an old lady who ate only fruits, drank milk and was enlightened by a woman saint named Chintpurni. There were satues of her all over the place. Many women come here to pray to get pregnant.
When we enter the temple we climb a staircase and we enter some strange psychedelic labyrinth-cave. We go down then we come up, we squeeze through corridors left and right. Everywhere there are small crystal bottles and statues of deities. Some halls look like fun-fair. The doors resemble jaws of dragons and other fairy-tale creatures. After this weird tour we sit in the main hall where music is played and people serve sacred food (Prasad). At the end we eat halva with flower blossoms – food that is supposed to fix all your problems.
More from the “psychedelic” temple
In the afternoon we go back to the Golden temple – we decided to sleep here and do service in the kitchen (Langar). The weather is rainy and cool and there is a gigantic queue in the central part of the temple but it moves relatively fast. We decide now is a good time to enter. We wait for only 20 minutes and we are in. While we wait we hear entrancing song praising God. The texts of the songs appear on some big screens nearby so the people could sing together.
The Golden temple at night
The moment we arrive at the entrance the evening prayer starts and they stopped letting visitors in. We have to stay outside and pray for 20 minutes. After all this we feel like we are in trance and head to the kitchen to help with washing the dishes. The feeling is great, the pilgrims come here to work for an hour or two and they change all the time. In the evening we go back to our room in the temple. There are people sleeping everywhere even outside the rooms. The room for the foreigners that even has air-conditioner is now full of some hippies. We are in a separate room with two Germans, there is a fan in the room and the atmosphere is very calm.
All the morning we try to activate the sim card we bought earlier but with no success. At noon we go back to the house of our host to take our luggage. The house is in the outskirts, near the airport and we decide to start hitchhiking here. The road we are on circumvents some villages and then joins the highway.
We plan to go to Daramsala wher Dalai Lama lives. The city is also a center of the biggest Tibetan community in the world. Then we will go to Kashmir region where the high season starts. The roads are being open and the snow at the passes with the highest altitude is melting. Then when the weather gets cooler we can go back to the plains. Now we know that in the 6 months that we plan to be here we won’t be able to see even half of the things we wanted to see.
Before we go to Himachal Pradesh we want to spend 2-3 more days around Punjab and to explore the places that are not popular among tourist, which means everything outside of Amritsar.
The good thing is that in this season all the tourist go in the mountains or do not come to India at all and you don’t meet much and that is exactly what we like. These days the weather is cloudy and rainy and often the temperatures are below 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) so it is perfect for us. Hitchhiking is great here and almost all the cars stop. The only problem is that usually their destination is only 2-3 kilometers away from where we stopped them.
Besides this people are really nice and all the time somebody comes to us and asks us if we need help or anything and they are very kind. We started waving at the trucks and this turned out to be a good strategy because they usually travel long distance and they are happy to have company.
Other good thing is that everybody knows we are hitchhiking so we don’t need to explain to everyone who stops what is the idea and the philosophy of this way of travelling. We managed to pass 100 km. for a few hours but the last truck brought us to the main road. The people inside the truck were Muslims from Kashmir and they left us exactly in the town we anyway planned to sleep in. They were fascinated that we were in Pakistan and said that they really want Kashmir to belong to Pakistan.
The town we are in is called Mukerian, it is around 20 km. away from the main road and is quite populated. We noticed that even the furthest and smallest road are full of cars and trucks and the asphalt is perfect, with no holes. In Punjab the hitchhiking goes easily and nicely so one can go even in the most remote places travelling like this – which is exactly our idea.
We found some free maps of Punjab and on them there are some temples marked that we couldn’t find in no other guide or even Internet. On the map it says that the town of Mukerian has a big Gurdwara – Sikh temple where they offer free accommodation and food. Of course we can always pitch our tent wherever we want but the area consists mainly of agricultural lands and is quite populated so we think it will be best to sleep at the temple. In addition the Sikh temples outside of Punjab are much less so we want to be able to enjoy them fully.
The Gurdwara in Mukerian
It took us quite some time to find the Gurdwara (Sikh temple) because it was situated outside the town and when we asked nobody understood where we really want to go. We were surprised to find so many people here who don’t understand English – we frankly didn’t expected it because many people in India speak English. Obviously we have to start learning Hindi. At the end we found two women who took us to the temple. When we arrived everyone was looking at us strangely – I think here they have never seen foreigners, and even less foreigners who want to sleep at the temple. We felt they accepted us with open arms but the Sikh people have such a serious look in their eyes that one feels iffy at times. They accommodated us at a very big and room with a fan. In the evening we dined the usual – salad and dhal (lentils). When you finish you have to clean your plate with ash.