anisha shah / Destination / globetrotter / journalist / North India / review / Travel / travel writer / Uncategorized

PRIDE OF THE PUNJAB; GOLDEN TEMPLE

NEW TERRITORY abounds as I leave Himachal Pradesh and enter the state of Punjab. After a few moments at the hotel to drop off bags and freshen up, it’s straight to Amritsar’s landmark Golden Temple, which is best appreciated by night& day.

Fairytale lit-up Golden Temple, Amritsar

I make it in time for the evening laying to rest of the religious scripture. My head’s covered in a shawl & camera is poised. The fairytale golden temple looks magical, lit up, seemingly hovering on the Sarovar lake surface and gloriously reflecting in the still surrounding waters.

LAYING TO REST OF SIKH SCRIPTURES

Lamplit bridge through Sarovar Lake to the Sikh religious scripture at the Golden Temple, Amritsar

The passion of the strong crowds is exhilarating. I join the back of a snaking queue tailing back for what seems miles. The sound of Dhol drum beat begins feint in the distance, growing louder and getting closer until it rattles my heart, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention. A large group of Sikh men, festooned in matching celebratory Turbans, a model of choreography, march the lamp-lit bridge leading into the temple. The moonlight throws their reflections tall across the waters giving them an even greater authority and respect. They enter to lay the religious scripture to rest. Closely behind them, a train of followers chant, bellowing Punjabi prayers: a team of devotees lost in their passion for this pilgrimage. And for many, it is a once-in-a-lifetime spiritual journey.

Grand entrance to the Golden Temple, reflecting in the surrounding waters, Punjab, Amritsar

Inside, the architecture is astounding with exquisite and intricate artwork on the walls and ceilings. It’s very hot and crowded and each group gets to spend around 5 minutes inside before being moved along.

Splendid refined architecture housing the Sikh religious scripture inside the Golden Temple

TEMPLE, FOOD AND SHELTER FOR HOMELESS

The ‘Harmandir Sahib’ (as it’s also known) grounds shelter countless homeless.

Alleyways of the Golden Temple are synonymous with shelter for the homeless

My top tip is to find the toilets. Just outside them, I stumble upon a huge open-air piazza providing bed-space for thousands of pilgrims, from backpackers to families, who have no accommodation. It’s a Flash Mob sleepover; an interlocked lattice of a thousand-odd sleeping bags, making for a spectacular sight.

Lattice of sleeping bags; open-air piazza provides makeshift accommodation for pilgrims

Further within the maze, I happen upon a sprawling food tent run by volunteers, cooking &plating up free food, for those need; an inspiring show of human empathy. This photo is from the next morning’s visit…

Feeding the pilgrims for free; a huge voluntary operation at the Golden Temple to provide to all those that want it

GLEAMING GOLDEN TEMPLE

The next morning’s visit comes as a bit of a surprise. Men have to cover their hair in a makeshift bandana / cloth turban. I watch as families and groups of men are handed a bright orange square cloth and fumble around trying to figure out how that ties on their heads in a bandana. Hilarious viewing as the slower ones really just don’t get it!

Men are given a cloth to tie into a turban to cover hair as mark of respect at the Golden Temple

In the bright light of day, it’s clear that the area surrounding the Golden Temple is anything but…golden. It’s a chaotic and rather dusty and messy urban sprawl.

Dusty streets of Amritsar

A multitiude of colours in the hectic streets of Amritsar

The crowds are phenomenal and aren’t afraid to shove. In true British style, I wince each time too afraid to push back and end up back of the queue, waiting patiently whilst others blatantly push in, in true Indian style.

BEST VIEWS ON AN EMPTY ROOFTOP!

Best view at the Golden Temple complex; rooftop of the entrance building

The gleaming temple is imposing by day; marvellous and grandiose in a top hat of thick gold. The hazy sunshine accentuates the gold, causing it to sparkle like a flawless diamond.

Glimpse of the magnificent Golden Temple from back of a tailing queue

I try not to get too caught up in the chaos of sightseeing today, instead finding an idyllic spot and just sitting a while to absorb the aura of the marvellous beauty. And through a bit of perseverance, I find just that. The photos below have been taken from the rooftop of one of the buildings.

Flying the flag of Sikhism; orange silks topped with Khalsa at the fairytale Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab

Crowds below queue to enter the ‘floating’ Golden Temple in the midst of Sarovar Lake in Amritsar

Beautifully-maintained temples and museums within the Golden Temple complex

Family of pilgrims admire breathtaking views over the Golden Temple complex

Don’t be afraid to explore every nook and cranny. Each building has a second floor if you can find the tiny staircase. As there are no guards or barriers, I follow it all the way up onto the rooftop. And I’m the only person there. The views from here are breath-taking. I overlook the entire complex as people below rush around. Up here, i’ts calm and even more grand.

A Sikh man sails the silks to create religious symbolism in traditional orange; Golden Temple

To my left, a man is climbing ribbons as he decorates a building in the traditonal orange Khalsa sashes; striking against the backdrop of the large holy lake.

Glistening gold and marble turrets of Golden Temple contrast to graffiti and delapidated backdrop, Amritsar, Punjab

Bold blue skies contrast with gold and white spires against a slum background, Golden Temple, Amritsar

Also from the rooftop, you can see just how contrasting the temple complex is to its surroundings outside. On the neighbouring rooftops; graffiti, degradation and poverty. Yet the buildings and paintwork within the complex are fairly well-maintained.

Gleaming gold and polished marble spires from the rooftop of the Golden Temple

Up here, it’s a surreal perspective. It’s all domes and turrets, gold and white, striking and stark. Keen photographers cannot miss this spot. With a good camera, it’s possible to capture a whole host of turrets and towers sparkling against the hazy baby blue sky.

The glorious Golden Temple ‘hovering’ upon the holy Sarovar Lake

Queue of colourful pilgrims line the bridge through Sarovar Lake in the Golden Temple complex

Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab, India

 I feel honoured to be here and there’s a certain positive energy that resonates throughout the vast complex. It feels great to sit back and assimilate it.

Clock Tower at the Golden Temple complex in the Punjab

JALLIANWALA BAGH‘ SITE OF INDIAN MASSACRE DURING BRITISH RAJ

Jallianwala Bagh, remnants of the British Raj; steeped in tragedy and remembered in history, Amritsar

In the afternoon, I encounter an upsetting trip to neighbouring ‘Jallianwala Bagh‘, the site where it’s estimated 1300 men, women and children were slaughtered by an army ordered by a former British army general. ‘Bagh’ is the word for park, which it now is, for local workers to enjoy their lunch break and couples to wander through. But the bullet holes are still visible as is the protected ‘Martyr’s Well’ into which 120 people jumped and died in a bid to save themselves from the gunfire.

The chilling alleyway of Jallianwala Bagh still bears bullet holes in walls; a reminder of British Raj in Amritsar, Punjab

  It’s a chilling reminder of the British Raj  in India during WW1 and an unusually bittersweet experience for any Brit who’s family heritage is Indian. I don’t have any photos of the well and reminders because it feels disrespectful. So I simply observe, read and try to understand.

WAGAH BORDER: INDIA vs PAKISTAN

Late that afternoon comes, perhaps, the most anxious journey of the entire 6 weeks in North India. I’m heading to Wagah border, between India’s Amritsar and Pakistan’s Lahore, to watch the ceremonial lowering of the flags. I’m forewarned it will be utter mayhem. As someone who does sometimes suffer from Claustrophobia, I’m clearly on edge. Upon arrival , rightly so, it seems. The hotel manager has warned me that around 50,000 people queue up to get into the stadium that can house around 15,000. This is no lie. The queues have no order, no form and I’ve no idea where to join. Children are suffocating near the front, as are small Indian women, being shoved and crushed against the metal gates. I refuse to join that. Sensing a panic attack coming on, just watching , I back away and decide to take it very slowly.

Thousands of Indians pack into the stadium for the Wagah border ceremony to witness lowering of India and Pakistan flags

CRUSHING CLAUSTROPHOBIC CHAOS

My tip would be to wait on the far side and let the bulk of the crowd pass. If you’ve an international passport, such as a British one, there is separate allocated seating inside, which is much more pleasant. But getting through the gates is extremely chaotic. The guards do not help, screaming and shouting at people with their batons in a most intimidating manner. I feel like one of his herd of cattle. Sure enough, the closer I get to the gate, the more I am completely enclosed and can barely see through a sea of people. My heart’s pounding and I break out into a cold sweat with that feeling of pins and needles. I’m convinced I’m about to drop and pass out but it’s only short-lived and I’m quickly through the worst of it, surviving past the craziness.

Indian Official at Wagah Border Ceremony, Punjab, India side border with Lahore, Pakistan

Once inside, it is worth the wait, as Indians and Pakistanis, on separate sides of the border, dance and sing to popular Bollywood music and cheer and jeer.

Girls sing, dance and cheer to popular Bollywood music on India side at friendly Attari Wagah border ceremony with Pakistan

But expect full-on crowds and stifling heat. Another tip – be sure to carry a bottle of water with you. It is a must and isn’t available to buy inside.

 

 

 

 

 

WAGAH BORDER CEREMONY

The show begins and is loud and interactive, sparked by a former Indian cricket-player. On the Pakistan side, men and women are quietly sat on opposite stands and the crowd is scarce relative to the India side, which is heaving, mixed and loud.

Men and women sit on opposite stands on Pakistan side at Attari Wagah border ceremony between Amritsar, Punjab and Lahore, Pakistan

Members of the crowd take it in turns to parade the central court, carrying the respective flag, to a backdrop of popular India music. The patriotism is rife.

Pride of India; flag waved on Indian side at Wagah border ceremony between Amritsar in India’s Punjab and Lahore in Pakistan

Then; a friendly stand-off between the guards either side of large metal gates. The ceremony culminates in the gates opening and the flags lowering as a mark of respect for each other. It’s humbling to watch.

Indian soldiers march towards Pakistand border to open the metal gates and lower each country flag as sign of mutual respect

Pomp and glory as Indian soldiers march at Attari Wagah border ceremony between India and Pakistan

Leaving the ceremony is much more organised and normal. It feels like leaving a concert. After the day I’ve had, it’s time for bed. Tomorrow, onwards to Chandigarh, the capital of the Punjab.

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2 thoughts on “PRIDE OF THE PUNJAB; GOLDEN TEMPLE

  1. Upon entering, one is idimmeately taken aback by the sheer excellence and professionalism of the exhibition. It is evident to see that the passion and enthusiasm that the curators of the exhibition have has been coherently displayed through the bountiful walls rich of historic artefacts that anecdote the journey of Harmandir Sahib and one can’t help but smile. The exhibition is clear to follow and whilst meandering through, the distinct aura of the Golden Temple is unmistakable. The openness and acceptance of the exhibition mirrors the openness and acceptance of Harmandir Sahib.The exhibition captures the essence of Sikhi, which I must say allowed me to idimmeately feel at home. It encourages the very basic beliefs of what a true Sikh stands for; that we are the religion of humanity and except all regardless of creed, colour, disability, caste, gender or race. Anecdotes from people of all backgrounds from various time periods are flaunted from corner to corner of the exhibition; images that have the bewildering ability to leave one breathless in a mere glimpse saturate the room; passion overflows and humility overwhelms the on-lookers. Few exhibitions have the power to evoke such an array of emotion. There is no denying the time and dedication that has gone into creating this masterpiece and I urge all, those of the Sikh faith and those of others, go and appreciate the rare beauty that has been captured for all to see, but hey, don’t take my word for it, go see for yourself.

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