This time we embarked on a six-hour journey from the Himalayas to Amritsar, which is located in the northwest part of India close to Pakistan. It was a rough drive and I found myself very irritated by the horns, the bumps, the cows, the dust and the people. Take information overload and multiple by 100. We drove through villages, cities and even farms (detours) to get to Amritsar. Some streets resembled the Wild West, while others were constructed with asphalt and perfectly paved. Every time we saw the sign, “Take Diversion, Work in Progress,” I giggled. A road with 20 feet piles of sand every few feet is definitely a work in progress.
When we finally arrived in Amritsar, I freaked over the quality of our hotel. The long journey mixed with the hunger in my stomach did not help matters. I demanded to see the room and then called the tour company and asked to be moved. The commotion in the lobby brought a lovely woman and keys and after checking out three rooms, we settled on a penthouse style room. Let’s not get too excited. It does have cable, it is clean but the Ritz Carlton it is not. Coincidentally, it’s the Ritz Plaza and the staff is so eager to please, they jump at our every request.
Amritsar is the spiritual study of the Sikh religion and the capital of the state of Punjab. There are about 1.2 million people living in Amritsar so it’s a medium sized city. The region is best known for Punjab suits, pashminas and carpets and the Golden Temple (see below). We learned Buddhism in Dharamshala and now Sikhism in Amritsar.
Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world with approximately 30 million Sikhs most of whom live in Punjab, India, however, they only make up for two percent of the entire Indian population. Guru Nanak Dev founded the Sikh religion during the 15th Century. Sikhs follow the teaching of the first 10 gurus and then a type of scripture, which is essentially the writings of six of the 10 Sikh Gurus. They also meditate and seek justice for all humans.
Sikhs are prohibited from the following:
- Cutting hair – men and women (men wear turbans and women mostly braids or buns)
- Alcohol – no drugs, alcohol or tobacco (hence the fruit juice on every corner)
- Blind Spirituality – no superstitions or pilgrimages, no idols
- Material possession – no material wealth
- Sacrifice of creatures – forbidden
- Non-family oriented living – a Sikh is not to live alone or celibate
- Worthless Talk – backstabbing, bragging, lying is not allowed
- Priestly class – No priests. The 10th Guru abolished them
- Eating meat killed in a ritualistic matter
- Having premarital or extramarital sex
After the hotel room drama, our driver escorted us to the changing of the guard at the Pakistani/Indian border. I got a little nervous but abnormally excited when I saw a directional sign that read, Islamabad 365 Kilometers but remembering my mother’s words, Jill and I remained on the Indian side. As we walked closer, we started hearing roars and shouts of OOH and AAH and clapping. We found stadium seating and a ceremonial gate with soldiers on the Indian side dressed with red Mohawk hats and tan uniforms and the Pakistani soldiers dressed in similar fashion but in black. The Indian soldiers were fun and light hearted, whereas the Pakistani soldiers appeared stoic. It was fascinating to see a mere 20 feet away women covered according to the Islam religion and a large gate with the Pakistani President’s mug shot and the words PAKISTAN. Jill coined the ceremony a dance off with Indian and Pakistani soldiers marching to the roar of the crowds, spinning and sometimes jumping in long split like steps. It lasted about 25 minutes and when it was all over the gates were closed and the people disbursed.
We celebrated our Thanksgiving Day at the Golden Temple. It is the central religious place of the Sikhs. To say it is magnificent is one thing; to say it’s awe inspiring is quite another. It’s an enormous stark white fortress with four outer walls and four entrances with a small ornate Golden Temple situated in the center and surrounded by water. The Temple was built in 1588 by the sixth Guru, who wanted a temple for people of all backgrounds and socioeconomic levels to worship.
Even more impressive than the Temple itself is the fully operational kitchen, which works to feed more than 100,000 people EACH day. Whether you are poor or not, you are welcome to eat here. We watched volunteers stirring soup, baking chapattis (tortillas) and cleaning dishes all to serve the community. (Pictures below). You would have thought the Temple was trying to feed the entire Northwest by the number of plates, bags of flour and size of the heating pots. The Golden Temple is not to be missed on any visit to India.
On a side note, Jill and I are very popular in India. We will likely be appearing on billboards soon. We probably had about 30 pictures taken with local tourists until it was taking too much time and becoming so embarrassing that we had to start saying no. Jill started referring to me as Madonna and herself as Katy Perry. We posed with young girls, young men, mothers and fathers and even grandparents. In this very conservative culture where men and women are very separate it seemed ridiculous for us to be posing especially with nearly naked men dunking themselves in the holy water behind us and women fully covered restricted to dipping in the holy water in an enclosed and separate quarters.
Finally, I want to conclude giving you a full picture of what I have learned thus far about India. It’s L-O-U-D and noise is only part of it. Picture women dressed in head to toe hot pink, turquoise, yellow, red and covered in jewels on their forehead, wrists and ankles. The men are more demure yet modern dressed in suits and sweaters and jeans unless they are Sikh in which case they wear bright purple, yellow, red and orange turbans. There are horns and they make all sorts of sounds and come from anything with a wheel. Women who are married have red dots between their eyes called Bindi’s. A dot on a man simply means he worshipped at Temple that day although many say they wear a smudge/dot just so others know they are religious. Women with a red line or jewel from the hairline down the forehead are wearing this to announce their recent marriage (honeymoon phase). Cows are sacred. You will find chicken and mutton (cheap lamb) to eat on the menus and in most cases lentils, chickpeas and lots of naan (Indian bread). I prefer garlic and cheese naan and boy do I love this dessert called Rava Kesari that looks like applesauce and tastes like a grainy heavenly sensation of honey and gooey goodness.
The power has just gone out in our Ritz Plaza hotel. I am busy writing, while Jill has already called the Front Desk. My response, “this is why I told you I wanted to get new batteries for my flashlight.” The answer from the front desk, “five or 10 minutes.” Jill upon hanging up, “Everything is 5-10 minute here.”
Happy Turkey Day to everyone in the USA.