The next day I had booked myself an early
massage at nine, enjoyed breakfast afterwards and then took a taxi or
Haridwar railway station. There a train was waiting for me to another
experience, only an eight hour train ride away…
According to Indian customs
the train got in late at Amritsar but a short Tuk Tuk drive later I
checked in at my room. I grabbed a well deserved beer at a wine shop
nearby after which it was time to go to sleep.
Next morning I had a long
sleep in and an extremely lazy morning. Actually I did not leave my room
till after one and looked for a nearby place for lunch. Fortunately a
good lunch is never far away in India. I enjoyed an excellent “chef
special” chicken curry, a vegetable pulau and garlic naan. Less than 24
hours in Amritsar my biggest wishes at my time of arrival, meat and a
beer had been fulfilled. Strange what a week of vegetarian food and
mocktails (as nice as they were) can do for you.
That day I decided to have a
time out, listen to music and do bugger all. With five more nights in
Amritsar I did not feel any pressure to rush and see things and as it
was Sunday most places seems to be closed after all. The effect that
that a day of doing nothing had on me was amazing. Slowly I was starting
to feel much better again, although my dizziness was still stronger
In spite of having slept
that much during the day I had no problems sleeping through the night
and I woke up just before my already went off. Breakfast was served at
my room after which I took a Tuk Tuk towards the golden temple.
The area surrounding it was
extremely well taken care off, and I had to pass some squares where
large monuments formed the unmistakable centerpiece.
Before I could proceed to
the temple I had to buy a scarf to cover my head and leave my shoes
behind. Only then I was allowed to proceed to the immense Gurdwara
The legendary Golden Temple
is actually just a small part of this huge Gurdwara complex, known to
Sikhs as Harmandir Sahib. Spiritually, the focus of attention is the
tank that surrounds the gleaming central shrine – the Amrit Sarovar
(Pool of Nectar), from which Amritsar takes its name, excavated by the
fourth Sikh guru, Ram Das, in 1577. Ringed by a marble walk- way, the
tank is said to have healing powers, and pilgrims come from across the
world to bathe in its sacred waters.
Floating at the end of a
long causeway, the Golden Temple itself is a mesmerizing blend of Hindu
and Islamic architectural styles, with an elegant marble lower level
adorned with flower and animal motifs in pietra dura work (as seen on
the Taj Mahal). Above this rises a shimmering second level, encased in
intricately engraved gold panels, and topped by a dome gilded with 750kg
The Golden Temple, another
iconic Indian monument, that actually attracts more visitors than the
Taj Mahal. I could not help the goosebumps crawling all over my arms. So
where to begin… I decided to walk around the holy pond in clockwise
direction, as most people did.
There was so much to be
seen, the devotees going for a holy dip, whilst others were totally
occupied with their prayers. At each corner volunteers were offering
free water to everybody who was in need of a zip. The atmosphere was
extremely friendly and every request I made to make a picture of someone
was reacted to with an overwhelmingly friendly smile.
Punjab is the state of men
with beards and they looked absolutely stunning under their bright
colored turbans and contrasting colored dresses. One of the most
beautiful and deep blues I have ever seen combined with a bright orange
scarf or dress. It all had an extremely high fairy tail feeling but the
wholehearted smiles on their faces made it almost unearthly.
Whilst men had a holy dip
in public there were several, carefully covered areas especially for
women so they could experience their dip in a more private atmosphere.
At several areas there were
immense food halls. It is almost unbelievable but on a daily basis
about 100.000 meals are provided for free. Donations are appreciated but
not required to enjoy a simple but tasty meal. Everybody pays what he
or she can, or not…
The queue to the central
golden temple was massive and although this would be the same day after
day I decided to leave that for another visit.
As I was getting dizzy
again I returned to my hotel, where after a simple tandoori lunch I had a
rest and booked a massage. I was brought by an arranged Uber drive to
the location where ‘the doctor’ had his practice. There I had to fill in
a questionnaire about my health status after which a splendid massage
was given, a reason to return…
Next morning I returned to
the golden temple area in order to visit Jallianwalah bagh. In 1919 the
British introduced the Rowlat Act which gave them he power to arrest
every Indian suspected of sedation without trial. Amritsar became the
focal post of resistance. On 13 April 1919 (Baisakhi Day), more than
5000 Indians convened for a peaceful protest in Jallianwala Bagh, a
public courtyard surrounded by high walls on all sides, with only a
narrow lane on the northern side for entry and exit. Under orders to
make an example of the protesters, Dyer arrived with 150 troops and
ordered his soldiers to open fire. When the barrage of bullets ceased,
nearly 400 protesters were dead, according to the British authorities
(although Indian National Congress placed the death toll of this
monstrous action at more than 1000), and around 1500 were wounded,
including many women and children.
Security around the
courtyard is still tight. At places you can still see the bullet holes
in the walls, a monument has been erected as well as an eternal burning
flame. There was some kind of campaign going on, but as everything was
in Hindhi I did not understand what it was about, but most likely it had
to do with upcoming elections. The atmosphere in the courtyard was
peaceful, so much different than on that terrible day of the 13th of
Impressed and overwhelmed I
continued my trip to the nearby Partition Museum, that dealt with the
process of independence that also lead with the separation between
Hindustan (India) and what are now Pakistan and Bangladesh. It was the
most impressive museum in India I have visited so far and definitely one
of the best executed (together with the Gandhi house in Delhi). During a
tour that led you in chronological order past the main events leading
to independence and separation I got a good idea of what had been going
on in history. I could not help feeling extremely emotional and
sensitive after this visit, I needed a short break…
After lunch I had a short
nap but at two o’clock it was time to get on to another visit related to
the separation. A short taxi ride brought me to the India Pakistani
border where I had to walk another kilometer to an amphitheater erected
with only once purpose, to witness a daily spectacle that has no equal.
Every afternoon, just
before sunset, members of the Indian and Pakistani border guards meet at
the border post between Attari and Wagah to engage in a 30-minute
display of military showmanship that verges on pure theatre. Officially,
the purpose of the ceremony is to lower the national flag and formally
close the border for the night, but what actually occurs is a bizarre
mix of pseudo-formal and competitive marching, flag-folding, chest
beating, forceful stomping and almost comical high-stepping.
I have never ever witnessed
anything like this before. The sheer atmosphere, the patriotism on each
side, the crowds cheering and the loud music coming from both sides
making it a cacophony of noise that was unbelievable. Each side tried to
outdo the other side. Groups of women were waving Indian flags while
they ran towards the border, being held at a safe distance by security
forces. Sellers of national caps and flags seemed to have golden
No pointing of camera to
the Pakistan side Sir… Yes Sir, sorry Sir, but who was stopping me
once the ceremony was in full flow and the chaos amongst the ecstatic
crowds was complete…
And then the ceremony
started, a well orchestrated show of force between the Indian and
Pakistani officers. The crowd loved it and so did I as I found myself
screaming along ‘Hindustan, Hindustan…”. The ceremony ended with
lowering the flags of both countries after which the gates at both sides
where closed with a Big Bang. At that time the crowd went mad once
again. Next morning the gates would be opened again until sunset when
the whole ceremony would be repeated. What an event !!!
That evening I did not feel
very hungry as I somehow felt a bit bloated and not at ease. It soon
turned out why as the next 30 hours I felt so incredibly ill and
miserable…. It turned out my lunch earlier during the day was the
cause of this misery. In between my toilet breaks (how much fluid can
one loose) I slept a lot. There is nothing worse than traveling on your
own in a situation like this. Feeling helpless, weak and vulnerable with
no one around to support you. I was close on cancelling the trip and
return home but I knew I was in no state to arrange or make this journey
right now. Maybe for the better… Even a highly necessary walk to the
bathroom (and there were plenty of those) was an effort.
Two nights later the worst
seemed to be behind me and although I drank a lot I had no appetite and
even had issues finishing off a bowl of boiled rice for breakfast. I had
to force myself to even have a couple of spoons as there would be no
strengthening without any form of (solid) food.
It then hit me my stay in
Amritsar was coming to an end and with having lost precious time I would
have to make choices on what to see. Time had run out to visit
everything still on my list.
So after a very slow start
in the morning I got the energy to get dressed and grabbed a rickshaw at
the Main Street in front of the hotel. As soon as my driver started
cycling I soaked up the atmosphere and realized what I had been missing
whilst sick in bed.
My first place to visit was
the Sri Durgiana temple, a Hindhu variety of the Golden Temple. Like
it’s more famous counterpart it was located in the middle of an
artificial pond and as there was no queue I could easily make it to the
heart of the temple.
My driver had proposed some
points of interest and the next one was the Mata Tempel, another Hindhu
place of worship. Now this is without doubt the most outrageous and
bizarre temple site I have ever visited. Hindu temples are known for
being vibrant and colorful places but the Mata Temple is just on another
level and even though I’ve been to hundred of temples in India this one
completely took me by surprise.
When I entered the Mata
Temple it just looked like another Hindu temple, although an especially
colorful one and there were many colorful, elaborately decorated golden
shrines in the main mandir. When I looked to the left I was guided
towards a small door, and once I passed through there and climbed the
stairs the surprises and the fun really started to begin!
Hindu temples are known for
being vibrant and colorful places but the Mata Temple is just on
another level and even though I’ve been to hundred of temples in India
this one completely took me by surprise.
This temple reminded me of a
fun house or house of mirrors that you find at the fair ground with its
labyrinth of psychedelic narrow winding stairways and passages,
colorful, garish and slightly tacky mirrored mosaics line the hallways.
At times I even had to crawl through narrow tunnels to make it to the
There must be hundred of
statues of deities meaning that you can pray to almost every single god
you can image (and most of which I didn’t recognize) whilst taking in
the crazy, out of this world carvings, mirrors, mosaics and statues.
Once I made it downstairs
again I did enjoy the ceremony in the main hall where it seemed
sensitivity had returned to this place which was completely out of this
My next stop was Ram Bagh, a
beautiful garden with an old summer palace located in the center. But
instead of visiting that my driver brought me to a building with a huge
panorama, commemorating important victories during the ages.
Then it was time to return
to my hotel for a short nap so I could recover from my short tour. My
condition still was not the same, I had a long way to go.
But if there was one thing I
certainly did not want to miss out on was the sight of the Golden
Temple in the evening so shortly after sunset I took a Tuk Tuk to the
golden temple area and walked the last bit towards it. With the lights
being on now the streets looked even prettier than during daytime but
the best was still to come.
As soon as I had left my
shoes at one of the many shoe keeper stalls I made my way to one of the
entrances. I could see the golden temple through the gate and that was
when my jaw fell wide open and goosebumps ran down my spine.
The gold was so much more
intense than during the daytime and the temple and surrounding buildings
formed an almost surreal reflection in the pond.
I was blown away by the
sheer beauty, a scene that could easily have come out of a fairy tail of
1001 nights. It appeared I had chosen my timing right as the evening
prayers had just started. I decided to walk one circle around the pond
and soak up the atmosphere the best I could.
What can I say, magic pure
magic. It does not happen often I have tears in my eyes because of the
sheer beauty surrounding me but witnessing the evening prayer at the
Golden Temple definitely was one of those occasions. What a way to
finish of my visit to Amritsar.
Continue to the Bangalore Experience