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Adventures in India, Part Three

It was sad to leave Orchard Hut, almost like saying goodbye to distant relatives after finally meeting them for the first time. From there, we took a car to Pathankot, where we got on a train heading to Amritsar. Since it was a relatively short train ride, we got the authentic Indian experience by riding sleeper class. Sound nice? No AC, and I believe it's the cheapest reserved seats available on the train. Finally, to give us the full authentic Indian experience, the train came to a halt for long enough to indicate that it wasn't going anywhere for awhile. People jumped on another train passing by, but we had too much luggage to move quickly, so we stood next to the train to get some air (everyone else out there was male!). Finally, we found out what the deal was: "engine broke, they are bringing another one." Awesome.

But we made it to Amritsar in time to get to the Golden Temple to see the nightly ceremony (Palki Sahib) where they bring their Holy Book from its day spot to its night spot. It was great to get the opportunity to see the Golden Temple both in the day and at night because the atmosphere was very different. The gold against the blackness of night was very majestic, but in the daytime, everything looked more peaceful (except the crowd of people trying to get inside the temple). There were people all over, bathing in the water, sleeping next to the water, eating from the free cafeteria, and chanting. For such a famous temple, it was impressive that it really felt like a holy place, not a tourist attraction.

Amritsar also marked the end of reasonable temperatures for me on this trip, going from the pleasant 70s of Chamba to a blazing 100 degrees. We also visited a modern Hindu temple in Amritsar (very different!) and Jallianwala Bagh, the site of a British massacre that is now a memorial. Finally, we made a trip to the India-Pakistan border to watch the very odd daily border closing ceremony. People packed into the stands on both sides of the border, and as they were waiting for things to begin, they played music on the Indian side and a bunch of women went down and started a dance party. Then announcers began the pep rally portion, shouting "Hindustan!" (echoed by the opposite side's "Pakistan!") followed by lines I really did not understand (though I did understand the "Allah!" shouts from the Pakistan side). Then soldiers did some funny marching, lowered the flags, and closed the border. For two countries that are supposed to not get along, they sure had to coordinate well to do this ceremony. As we followed the crowd out, I had two guys following me asking to take my picture, not an uncommon thing for foreigners in India to experience, but the fact that they were following me made me feel like a celebrity. :)

Then it was time to hop on an overnight train back to Delhi (AC this time, thank goodness!). I sadly said goodbye to my tour group after doing some shopping, and hopped on a train to Agra. The next morning I got up early enough to get to the Taj Mahal at opening time, 5am, and was rewarded by getting to experience it before all the crowds flooded in. It was really beautiful, and it's hard to get a real sense of how big it is from just looking at pictures. Agra has a number of amazing tourist sites, but otherwise it's an unpleasant place to be. Hot and polluted (I think we were at 110 degrees, but it felt hotter), full of people trying to sell you stuff or get you on their rickshaw. The heat was really killing me, so I saw the Agra Fort and then had to get back to my hotel ("No, Mr. Rickshaw Driver, I do NOT want to go to a bazaar!"). I'd already checked out, but they let me sleep in a room for a few hours for $5.

Took a train back to Delhi (it was late and then silently showed up at a different platform - I was the only person from my berth to actually make it to the right place right away), then flew out the next morning to Chennai. But that's for part 4!

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 19, 2010 9:07 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Adventures in India, Part Two.

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