Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Golden Temple, new friends and hilarious posturing

We dawdled (me on the internet) getting to our first ever train and just made it. Tessa also received her first butt grab but was in too much of a rush to do anything about it. We sat down in our 3AC (bench seats facing each other during the day, three tiers sleeping pads at night) with two fellow backpackers. From Portugal, they had just came from Nepal and Varanasi and planned to see the Golden Temple as well. We started chatting with Nuno and Vasco and enjoyed hearing about their travels. We also met their friend in another compartment who bore a striking resemblance to Richard Branson (sorry Luis, it's true). We all ordered food, which was quite good, but not included with the ticket like we expected. After dinner, we bedded down for the night with Tessa on the highest berth and me on the lowest. I slept well except for this damn cold and once jerking awake when a little scamp rubbed my foot, presumably to check to see how heavily I slept though he could just like nice feet that had twice gone to the communal train bathroom barefoot. He disappeared as soon as I moved.

All five of us hopped a put-put to the Golden Temple. We removed our shoes and donned head scarves to cover ourselves. We walked through a shallow trough of warm water to enter the temple and purify us. We walked in just as the sun rose over the white walls surrounding one of the most striking sights I have ever witnessed. This picture does it no justice. Covered with over 1,500 pounds (750 kg) of gold, it sits like an inverted lotus flower and symbolizes the Sikh's devotion to a pure life. Four priests inside this temple keep up a continuous chant in Gurmukhi from the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh's holy book. It made it magical. See Lex's Religion Corner at the end of the post for more info on Sikhism.

And now an aside for Sikhs in general. I have to confess: I love Sikhs. I have always loved Sikhs. I wanted to come here first because Sikhs are awesome. Most have giant uncut but well maintained beards with turbans and an imposing physical presence. They make excellent soldiers and the Temple has plaques to many fighting regiments. However, I have rarely found them to be anything but exceedingly friendly and honest. They always feel like people you can simply trust. My walks around the temple strengthened my faith in them as we kept getting stopped by men with giant smiles asking us where we live. Often, that's as far as the conversation could go because of language barriers but we would just both grin enormously and namaste (the hello and goodbye of India, said with hands in front of you like in prayer). We also received almost no rude stares in contrast to the annoying peep show of Dehli where many men would simply try to win a staring contest with Tessa's breasts.

Anyway, we went to the guest house facing the Golden Temple. Never forget: when traveling in India, you can always stay at a Sikh gundwara. You'll recognize it by the giant flagpole flying a green triangular flag. As soon as we walked in looking lost, a friendly man with a giant beard and turban pointed us to another man who pointed us to another man with a lance taller than I am who led us to a room with three beds and dirty sheets. Hey, you can't have everything and it's free. I grabbed my first warm bucket shower in the country while Tessa got hot chocolate with the boys. The Portuguese went for breakfast and the Pelgers walked across the pool on the Guru's bridge. In the small room in the temple, the four singers sat with instruments, reciting from the holy book in wonderful voices amidst the most beautiful gold relief work I have ever seen. Pilgrims slowly jostled through the doorway, touching it with their hands or heads in reverence and then bowed in front of the singers and left small amounts of money.

When we left the temple, we sat by the edge of the pool listening until the man to my right encouraged us to go upstairs and then cross back to the bridge and get food from the communal kitchen which feeds over 20,000 people a day in accordance with the Sikh's dedication to service. We went upstairs and sat above the singers on thick red carpet and admired the
richly decorated interior, a nice contrast to the austerity of many Hindu temples. We stayed quite awhile listening until Tessa's back started bothering her. I will return tomorrow for a longer time.

We went back to the room and found the boys. By this time, we were all ready for lunch. Unfortunately, Luis had some sort of bad allergic reaction to a food (which has never happened before) and had to start taking cortisone. His medical doctor dad told him he couldn't eat any spice so we had a little goose chase until we finally tracked down a pizza joint we heard about it. The best thing about cheap western style restaurants in India is that you rarely know exactly what you are getting. At food stalls you can look at what you want and nice restaurants have good descriptions in English that make it fairly clear. These cheap places only have names that give no clue. This is what we ordered and this what we got:

special fries = regular fries

golden fries = fried little ears of corn

tomato pizza = decent personal pan pizza with a piece of cottage cheese on each tomato slice

and my order which made me mad:

salad and tomato burger = a burger bun with mayo, lettuce, and two slices of tomato

NO MEAT. IT SAID BURGER BUT THE ONLY BURGER PART OF IT WAS THE BUN. Sorry. I guess I didn't get all of the bile from that out of my system yet.

I grabbed a nap at the hostel and then we hopped in a taxi with our new friends. The first night they told us they were going to the Pakistan border to see the nightly ceremony. I heard it's a pretty neat thing to see. In fact, it's one of the 12 things highlighted on the inside page of my current bible: Lonely Planet India. However, I didn't realize it was so close until they told me about it. They invited us to share the ride and we piled into the taxi with a Sikh (hooray!) driving us about 45 minutes to the border.

I am so glad we went. It's one of the funniest things I've witnessed on my trip so far. Pakistan and India (who are always tense if not hostile) have an elaborate thirty minute border closing every night. Except for the quickest handshake you'll ever see, they pretend to completely ignore each as they flourish march around the field and lower their flags in exact unison. In addition to ridiculously elaborate costumes, they even wear taps on their shoes to enhance the theater of it.
I got my cute shot of the day: this flirty little guy wouldn't stop smiling at the pretty girl his own age in front of us.
A large number of stadium style seats ring the only road border crossing between the countries and they fill up every night so people can cheer for their respective country. In the cheering competition, I think Pakistan won everything but the numbers. They had cool black costumes, a fan base (though small) that cheered like they had electrified seats and elaborate flag wavers dancing around in front of their crowds. India let women and girls come to run the flag in front of the seats. To the everlasting shame of the family, Tessa refused to go down and run with the flag. For some reason, foreigners got the best seats in the house so we saw everything quite well. I spent most of the time giggling and enjoyed myself immensely. I'm going to attempt to embed a youtube video of it in this post.Let me know if it works.

We got a ride back to Amritsar in the cab and got dropped off at the train station while the boys continued up north to Dharmasala, home of the Dali Lama. We agreed to meet in Goa by the 28th. I am glad that we made this trip. I love this temple and will spend all day tomorrow sitting here enjoying it. I'm also happy we got to make some new friends and have someone to hang out with when we hit the beaches.

Lex's Religion Corner:

Sikhism broke away from Hinduism in the 15th century when Guru Nanak Dev rejected the caste system and declared an inclusive religion focused on family and hard work. A belief in equality lies at the heart of Sikhism and is shown in all aspects including their acceptance of all, regardless of caste or creed. Sikhs believe in one God, rebirth and karma but reject the worship of idols. The Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh's holy book, contains hymns from the ten founding Gurus among others. The last Guru, Gobindh Singh, instructed the people to treat this book as the eleventh and last of the Gurus.
Sikhs believe in the concept of Khalsa, a chosen race of soldier-saints. They observe strict moral conduct including abstention from alcohol and tobacco and engage in a crusade for dharmayudha, righteousness. They have five kadars (emblems) you can use to recognize an observant Sikh:
kesh - unshaven beard and uncut hair (that's lifetime no cutting any hair) symbolizing saintliness
kangha - comb to maintain the hair
kaccha - loose underwear symbolizing modesty
kirpan - sabre or sword symbolizing power and dignity (yes, they always have a weapon if possible, I wish I had a religious reason for a weapon, does survival of the fittest count as a religion?)
karra - steel bangle around the wrist symbolizing fearlessness


Anonymous said...

Lex and T.M.
I love reading about your travels and I'm glad to see some photos.The video you attached came through fine and was really interesting.Love to you both.Aunt Patty

g0|_1g0r5| said...
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David Goligorsky said...

Lex, reading every post and loving it! Thanks for the stories and please keep them coming. You are a masterpiece.

Alaina said...

You shouldn't be eating any meat anyway, you heathen!