Reached Jalandhar, the city where our teammate and Acara Corps Fellow, Maninder hails from. Luckily for us, after our long journey, his father picked us up in his car to take us to their home rather than taking us in another rickshaw or bus. Even though we got in after ten, his mom cooked us a feast and we ate untill 12 am. It was much needed and appreciated given the lack of provisions and healthy eating, due to our village trips. Although most of Indians are Hindus and do not eat meat, Maninder and his family belong to the Sikhs community and they eat meat. It was really good to get some protein in our diet since meat has rather been non-existent for us for the last week.
The next day, we started our day with a large breakfast. Then a 2 hour drive west to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. True to Sikhism’s inclusive nature, everyone is welcome at the Sikhs’ holiest shrine, the Golden Temple. Before entering the temple, each visitor has to remove shoes and socks, wash their feet and cover their heads with scarves.
Sikhism is a religion that began as a reaction against the caste system in the 15th century. Sikhs believe in one god and believe in rebirth and karma. A belief in the equality of all beings lies at the heart of sikhism.
The 750 kg pure gold plated temple glittered in the middle of a holy pool which spanned the size of two football fields. A causeway like bridge leads to the two-story temple. Cathedral spires towered over the marble walkway which surrounded the pool. About sixty to eighty thousand Sikh pilgrims flock to the temple everyday and it took two hours of pushing and shoving through the claustrophobic causeway with thousands of people in 115 degree F, to reach the temple in the middle of the pool. It was quite an experience. Priests inside the temple kept up a continuous chant from the holy book which is broad-casted around the temple complex using loudspeakers.
Throughout our stay in the temple, we were to pay our respects as any Sikh would, which included getting down on our knees and bowing and touching our head on the floor at every entrance to a shrine. After going through the Golden Temple, you are given some holy food which you eat and then move onto encircling the temple on the marble walkway surrounding the pool.
It was a very interesting and intense experience. It was hard to compare, for Sikhs, the Golden Temple is like Mecca, and you can definitely see the seriousness in prayer and pure religious ferver everyone at the Golden Temple seemed to be experiencing at the time. I myself maybe would have been in the same mindset if I had not been burning my feet on the marble floor, and pushing through crowds.
After the Golden Temple, we preceded to a memorial known as the Jallianwala Bagh where some 1500 Indians holding a peaceful demonstration in an open space surrounded by high walls were trapped and massacred by the British. This was quite a solemn experience.
Next, we drove an hour more west to the Indo-Pak border. We went to see the border bravado where every late afternoon, just before sunset, members of the Indian and Pakistani military meet at the border to engage in a 30 min display of theatre. The flag lowering, closing of the border ceremony was a fusion of colonial-style pomp, goose stepping, and considering the two countries’ rocky relationship, a surprising demonstration of harmony. India-Pakistan tensions are always high, with terrorist attacks in India coming from Pakistani insurgents (Mumbai bombings two years ago)
So popular is the event border crossing, that grandstands have been specifically constructed to accommodate the patriotic throngs of people. Prior to the ceremony the spectators (some 10,000 Indians) paraded the Indian flag, played loud patriotic music and pumped up the crowds patriotic fervor with song and dance. The Pakistani side were equally vociferous and patriotic (although slightly less in number). The whole experience gave the slight feeling of a high school pep rally. Then, with a bellow from the guard room, a squad stomped out, and paraded dramatically to the border with kicks so high the soldier looked in danger of kicking himself. From the audience roused thunderous applause and repetitive chants of “hindustan zindabad” (lone live India)
The gates were flung open and commanding officers of both sides shook hands and saluted. Then both flags were simultaneously lowered and folded and the gates slammed shut. The border was now closed for the night.
After the ceremony, we spent the evening driving back to our teammate’s house to enjoy a large dinner. We all woke up at 6 am the next morning to another large breakfast, last minute hugs from Maninder’s amazing parents, and then back on the train to Roorkee for more BioServ business (details to come).
Until we speak again,