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Part 9

               Amritsar, the Golden Temple, the Pakistan Border and Last Gifts

 

          Checked out of the Asia Hotel 8AM morning of the  26th. Amazing. My bill for all my lunches and dinners there (breakfast came with the room) was only $42 out of my pocket. As westerners know, one could live in Dharamsala for $100 a month, house rent included!

          Then the 6 hour long drive from Dharamsala and the Himalayas to Amristar in Punjab country, populated by the turbaned Sikhs. One stop for my lunch at the only decent restaurant all the way – which, nevertheless gave me diarrhea all night.

           Nicer trip than going from Jammu. Partly it was sunny daylight all the trip and the driver of the Summit Travel Agency vehicle was willing to answer questions as best his English could manage. 15 years as a driver for Milhap and Summit, unmarried 32 year old in a family of 3 boys, 4 girls. Tibetan whose ancestors were in Tibet. Never went to school. And amazingly, given the incredible traffic jammed roads driving all over India contends he never had an accident!

          I took scores of both still and video cam pictures (from which I could also extract stills) all the way to the Plaza hotel in Amristar – once a Walled fortified City surrounding the pride and passion of Sikhim – the Golden Temple. Second only to the Taj Mahal in beauty and reputation.

          As soon as I checked in, I wanted to see the Temple, for I was flying out at 9 next morning.

          It was all it was cracked up to be. Elegantly beautiful, and the very center of Sikh religious passion.

 

          I had to remove my boots and socks and wash my feet by passing through marble lined shallow pools of water to enter the free admission temple grounds. Devout Sikhs prostrating themselves in its very presence. Took plenty of pictures, and bumped into a couple conference attendees, who took pictures with my cameras of me wading through.

Me washing my feet before going into the PRESENSE of the Golden Temple

Worshipping Sikh visitors to the Temple

 

7th Cavalry in India!!! Shades of Custer

 

          And I was able to buy a few gifts and book that tells of its history. My diver, a Buddhist, while we drove most of the way through Hindu country – with roadside temples for a little spiritual pick-me-up all the way, admitted that, while both the Hindus and Buddhists are pacifist (no Tibetan soldiers in Dharamsala) the Sikhs of Punjab are warlike. They were attacked so often over the centuries, they had to become militant, and good warriors.

          So it was only a little shock to see MANY panels on the marble walls of the Golden Temple and its outlying buildings (it is in the middle of a lake, itself.) with tributes to Sikh units, like the 6thParachute Regiment which fought on the side of the Indian army against Pakistan in the 1965 war, or a panel extolling the virtues of the 7thSikh Light Cavalry (Garry Owen guys!) , and of course lists of dead soldiers from various conflicts. Got pictures of those too.

          Then as I left I found a Internet Café in the most jam packed, busy, honking, pedestrian, bicycle rickshaw, motor bike streets I can imagine. That way every day he says. Normal traffic in India.

Internet Cafe Famers Market in busy Delhi Street Food

                                  The Indian-Pakistani Border Daily Ceremony       

   But no time to add pictures, because we THEN had to drive 35 kilometers due west on the road to Lahore, Pakistan, right up to the border, where every evening at 5PM the incredibly turned out and drilled Indian Border Guards  (they are not Indian Army – they are a different service entirely) put on a drill display as part of their Retreat Flag Lowering Ceremonies. Sharp as any West Point Cadet ceremony, and with the exaggerated snap and crack they must have learned from those ceremonially minded Brits when they ruled India.

Punjab Country Soldier at the Ceremony Sign aimed at Pakistanis crossing the border into India
The Pakistani Border in the distance, Daily Ceremony here in India The Marching Ceremony -derived from 1800s British Army Drills when GB ruled India Hordes of people walk miles daily to see the 5PM Flag Lowering Ceremony

          But the astonishing thing was that at least 5,000 Indians overcrowded the bleacher stadium, it was standing room only for me, crowding Indians. And it goes on every night, when so many drive and walk ONLY to that ceremony to watch its 40 minutes, and then go back the same way they came – because you can’t cross the border into Pakistan! And as the commands are given the loudspeaker driven voice gives a chant that is responded to at the top of their lungs by the crowd of Indians. More synchronized shouting than at a College Football game!

          Then back to the hotel. Lamb kebob and beer dinner, while Indians sing with odd instruments for as background music. Up early, diarrhea tailing off, reformatting my large digital files for the net.

          Fast paced day, but more contact with street India than I had yet encountered.

Part 10 – Last Shopping and Departure

 

          I had asked the Bell Captain for suggestion to do good shopping for nice gifts the last day I would be here. He obliged, called a car to take me there, and would standby, for just a couple hundred rupees.

          Another mad driving dash through the packed streets of this city of 10 million to an Export location.

          Had to go downstairs to the rooms, pretty much hidden away, just a street address.

          Four attendees, lots of valuable fabrics, some jewelry displays, and quality throughout.

Lots of quality goods Kashmir fabrics for the adults Clothes for my great granddaughters

          So I shopped, to the tune of $450 or 20,000 rupees. For things for the adult members of the family.

          In the midst of the sessions, with tea, two of the attendees broke away like clockwork, went to a rug mat that was oriented just so, dropped to their knees and prayed to Allah.

          They all were Muslims from Kashmir – the contested place between India and Pakistan. But with fine fabrics.

          I was pleased.

          Then the driver took me to yet a second nice store, with street level presence, where I could find unique gifts for the younger relatives, down to months old Nathan, my great grandson.

And toys for great grandson

          That was successful also.

          I returned to the Hotel, packed everything, ate a light last supper, and was picked up by a car at 8PM to get to the International Airport, for the many stepped checks necessary to get ready to board American Airlines 293, leaving for Chicago at 0055, the 29th of October.

          I still had diarrhea so things were uncomfortable, and soon I was on the way home. 

 

  

 

 

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