For the Dasara break we decided to go to the Punjab and in particular focus our trip on Amritsar, although we stayed in Tarn Taran nearby.
On our first evening there we walked to the local Gudwara – which has the largest Sarovar (water pond) in the world. The temple itself was very busy but the walk around the pond was very peaceful, despite being joined by a group asking who we were, where we were from and why we were visiting Tarn Taran.
The next morning we headed into Amritsar with our hosts who knew some people at the Golden Temple. Fortunately this meant that we could skip the incredibly long cue and enter via the exit. The Golden Temple, despite being one of the holiest places in the Sikh religion, proved to be an ‘interesting’ place. Once we had made our way inside, we were greeted by the sight of a holy man pushing paper money offerings through a grill in the floor using a wide flat blade. There was something of a scrum to get anywhere near the front of the crowd.
Once we had made our way through the actual temple we took a walk around the Sarovar which, like the one in Tarn Tarun allowed bathing for ritual cleansing. This involved men bathing in their underwear and women being afforded the privacy of bathing chambers.
Following our walk around the temple we went for lunch in the Langar hall, which provides lunch for up to 10,000 people per day.
That afternoon we went to the Wagah Border but unfortunately, due to the huge crowds, we were unable to get within a couple of kilometers. We turned back and made our way home. On the way home we passed the beginnings of the celebrations for Dassara. The huge huge figures would later be set alight.
The next morning we went into Jallianwala Bagh, the scene of one of the lowest moments in the history of the British Empire. On 13th April 1919 a huge group of non violent protestors met in the gardens of Jallianwala Bagh in response to recent events. British soldiers entered the area at the upper end of the gardens and opened fire indiscriminately. Official figures put the death toll at around 380 while others put it at just over 1,000.
Walking around the gardens, that have been preserved as a memorial, was very moving. Bullet holes were still visible in the walls and the Matyrs’ Well (a well into which 120 people threw themselves to avoid being shot) was particularly poignant as a curfew was enforced after dark meaning that no survivors could be helped.
That evening we made another attempt to visit the Wagah Border between India and Pakistan. I have honestly never known anything like it. The crowd that pushed towards the border for the daily flag lowering ceremony was immense and we spent a very long time in the middle of it shuffeling forwards to the security checks. We eventually came to sign indicating a route for foreign visitors and managed to make our way past the crowd to an area of reserved seating.
When we arrived we saw the ‘warm-up act’ of children running with the Indian flag towards the border and back again. As the ceremony approached the excitement from the crowd built as they were led in patriotic chants – equivalent chants could be heard on the other side of the border from the Pakistan side. We had been joined by a group of Indian nuns who were chanting louder and more passionately than most! The ceremony itself is almost indescribable. Soldiers in full dress uniform from both sides of the border marching at double speed, stamping, shouting and a lot of posturing combined with loud drumming and the constant shouts and chants of thousands of spectators created an amazing atmosphere. And this happens every single evening throughout the year.
The whole ceremony was one of highly choreographed, flamboyant military precision with both countries working closely together to present it. However, it must be remembered that there is still a lot of animosity between the two countries. If you look to the left of hoto 10 above you can see two heavily armed soldiers standing face to face. These did not move for the whole of the ceremony.