In 1919 the Rowlatt act was passed by the British in India that gave them powers to imprison Indians, without trial. Naturally Indians were pissed off with the idea and began striking. This escalated to riots and during the fracas three British bank managers were killed. On the 13th April that year about 5000 Indians were having a peaceful protest in Jallianwala Bagh, which was, and still is an open courtyard cum garden surrounded by high walls with a large well on one side.
Fed up, and keen to end the protests Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer was given the task of restoring peace. He arrived at Jallianwala Bagh with about 150 soldiers and without warning, with not a word spoken simply opened fire on the crowd. Estimates put the death toll at around 1500 with many more injured. Men, women and children were gunned down in a horrific massacre, hemmed in, and an in an attempt to escape imminent death many threw themselves down a well seeking cover. The bullet ravaged well is now known as Martyrs well. The walls still bear bullet holes and what was then the sight of untold inhumanity is now a peaceful memorial to those who were slain on that fateful day. A sobering reminder of human savagery in the face of defiance, but also of hope, of belief, of mans desire for independence and what is rightfully theirs.
Though Amritsar is famous for the massacre, what actually makes it the most visited city in India, what makes it the most important place in the world for Sikhs is the Golden Temple. As synonymous as the Taj Mahal, Amritsar is home to around 100,000 pilgrims per day…But what brought us to Amritsar was not the Golden Temple, or Jallianwala Bagh, or the crazy Hindu temple we ended up finding, it was an event about 250 miles away and it all started 600 miles away in Agra.
There is a chain of coffee shops in India called Cafe coffee day. It’s an attempt at tapping into the up and coming chic Indians who are as keen to be cool as to succeed. But they do good coffee, and so as I sat drinking a cup of Black coffee, Abi always has Darjeeling tea which is a mild almost green tea and Charlie has Assam tea which is strong, (it’s a real wake up call) I was sat reading the Times of India. It’s the best way of finding out whats going on and generally is a collective of the types of stories set to different crimes. The reporting is almost comical actually, but by and large most articles are about corruption, rape, kidnap and murder. But what every article has in common is that at the end it usually says the following “The accused has since gone into hiding” Honestly, it seems everyone who commits a crime in India bails and the police can never find them.
Anyway an article caught my eye – ‘Many killed in floods, many more stranded on Manali – Leh highway due to landslides’ Basically where we were headed has been ravaged by floods and the single road to Leh (the road we were to take) has been cut off. But were not just talking about any road, were talking about one of the highest roads in the world, a road so high that getting stranded un-acclimatised can, and does cause fatalities its a dangerous place to be. I had to therefore change our itinerary. Obviously we can’t head to Manali as planned and so I decided to detour to Amritsar, Punjab. Half an hour from the border with Pakistan, Amritsar would mean we could detour slightly and if I also add on another couple of places we can get to Manali a week later than planned, by which time hopefully all will be sorted out.
Those reading this might be thinking ‘why not just avoid Manali’ but we need to acclimatise and so Manali is the ideal place at just over 2000m (6500ft) But I’ll get on to all that in a different entry.
So, we were headed to Amritsar, a 6 hour journey from Delhi. Due to arrive around 8.30pm at 9pm we had been sat at a signal for ages about 3km out of Amritsar (thanks google maps) The word on the train was that it was likely to be another hour or so. I looked out of the door into the darkness and in the distance saw lights flicking over a bridge. It was obviously traffic and I took the decision to split. We climbed down from the train and walked along the side of the track in darkness. I was slightly concerned no one else had had the idea and hoped we’d pull this off. Sure enough, as Id suspected there were homeless people chilling under the bridge having a fire and I asked them the way out. They helped me and the kids over a wall and before long we were on a fly-over. We mooched down the fly over trying to avoid the lights flying towards us and some guy pointed us through a small wood claiming the road I was looking for was parallel to the one we were on and this was a shortcut. We took it and sure enough it was, not long after we found our hotel, and by 11pm was sat eating Maggi noodles, watching the olympics and wondering whether the green bits were chilli or Capsicum (pepper) As we threw back water trying to extinguish the fires within we realised it was chilli.
As we rubbed the sleep from our eyes we tried to find our way to the golden temple and it wasn’t long before I noticed something about Sikhs. They are beard maestros. There were some awesome beards gracing the faces of Sikhs. Naturally we tried to be respectful of the beard situation and so played funniest beard. When Abi suddenly pointed to a guy with a beard a few feet long and curled, and laughed loudly as she said “Ha ha ha ha ha check out THAT beard” I realised we should play something a little more subtle.
After walking for about an hour because we got lost, some guy ran over and started trying to stick something on my head, I pushed him away and saw about twenty people all trying to stick things on our heads. I was about to start handing out some thousand hand granny slaps and it transpired that we had arrived at the perimeter of the golden temple and heads had to be covered. For ten Rupees you could buy a head scarf, Mexican style. Most places that require you to cover up the head, shoulders, knees etc provide these for free and i figured the Golden Temple would be the same (and it was) but the kids were already looking like ninjas and loving it so I handed over 30 rupees and off we went, them thinking they were awesome, me looking like a dick.
Sikhism is completely open as a religion and so there was no charge and no ‘special rules’ for non believers. Literally you walk in, wash your feet and you are free to go wherever you want. The only problem we had was trying to keep our mouths shut. Every time either of us got a glimpse of the golden temple, set in the centre of a square pool of water with the whole complex walled by marble grandeur and temples, we had to stop our jaws from hitting the deck. It is as beautiful as any building I have seen anywhere in the world and naturally one must ask – Better than the Taj Mahal? Maybe, Ill let you know when we visit at night when it is illuminated in the dark. But damn, it is absolutely gorgeous and, as we sat trying to figure out how to fit the 750kg pure gold dome in our pocket Tom and Jerry style, I explained to the kids that in front of us was about $43Million worth of gold. As we sat in awe, a guy with a kingsize beard walked passed and we snapped out of the stupor and went and joined a small crowd watching 4 of the worst singers I think I’ve ever seen. It was surreal, sat watching these guys to the backdrop of one the most beautiful buildings in the world and I was waiting for the beat to kick in. Turns out we had gatecrashed a prayer. We sloped off and spent much of the morning exploring. We decided to head into the Golden Temple itself and so found the shortest queue and joined it. Once at the front we were ushered to the front of a different queue, we had inadvertently joined the queue for prayer and had been ushered to the mooching queue. And mooch we did, and as we stood on the roof of the golden temple, blinded by the reflection – Me feeling lucky, kids spotting fish in the water – Things were good.
The deal with the golden temple for Sikhs is that each Sikh is supposed to come and volunteer for a week at least once in their life. You can see them washing pans, cooking, washing the floor. Actually for anyone looking to hit up Amritsar on the cheap dont think you have to bang a turban on, and cello-tape a beard on to get the free food served to 80,000 per day or the free beds at the back of the temple – Nope, its open to everyone, though quite obviously donations are gratefully accepted. I would suggest minimum 40 rupees for food and minimum 100 rupees for the bed.
After being blown away by the golden temple and keen to return the following night we headed to a mall for some air con and samosas. It really is amazing how much heat saps your energy and enthusiasm. But then, how quickly it returns once you get cooled down.
The final place we visited is a place called Mata Temple. Getting a fair price on an auto is hard in Amritsar, we have been given some outrageous prices and so chose to walk. Naturally we got lost and actually ended up finding a play area. The kids played, I read and the silence was disturbed by Abi claiming a scorpion had bitten her. I did the five second test (Count to 5, if the person is still stood there chilling, they are fine) and realised it hadn’t, but bailed anyway.
Mata temple is like no other temple we have ever seen, it’s like a fun house complete with mirrors, caves and low ceilings (first time Ive ever touched a ceiling in my life) I noticed that it was full of women and so did a bit of research. Turns out women go there who want to get knocked up. Had I known this in advance Id have handed out my room number since there were some real stunners in there.
And that was that, a place we hadn’t planned to go to had been a real refreshing day of stunning temples, fascinating – yet saddening history, and awesome beards. All we have to do next is figure out how to get to the Pakistani border, see in midnight at the Golden temple and then make our way to the home of the Dalai Lama – McLeod Ganj. Can’t wait 🙂
Just for a bit of humour below is a photo taken at Jallianwala Bagh, the guy on the right is holding Charlie kicking off at the other guy in the photo that it was his turn for a photo. The other guy is also holding Charlie trying to cheesy grin it like nothing is going on. Bizarre, but true.
Anyway – We kick on with a smile 🙂