Friday, March 18, 2016

A Wedding in India - Amritsar

Wednesday, March 2, 2016 (continued)

The road to Amritsar was much better than we'd been told (or maybe I'm just scarred from the road to Tamba in Senegal...). We ended up stopping a couple times to use the restroom (sorry, Roger!) and to grab dinner at the Haveli in Jalandhar. I was shocked at how clean all of the rest areas we stopped at were, even the very small roadside cafes. They put American rest stops to shame! The Haveli was also really, really nice. Definitely unlike any rest area I've been before - it had a sitdown restaurant inside, and lots of little booths for different types of food, drinks, and souvenirs. Harpinder recommended getting the special Indian tea, a masala chai, and it was one of my favorites that we tried on the trip.

Even with all that stopping, it only took about five hours to get to Amritsar. When he dropped us off at our hotel, the Amritsar Ramada, he motioned something that made it seem like we should wake up at 5am, see the Golden Temple, go to back to sleep, and then do some shopping or see some other things. We didn't completely understand, but didn't think it was such a big deal, until he called Tej's father (again - sorry!), who explained to Roger that he'd actually hired Harpinder to take us around Amritsar, not just drive us to and from. We politely declined the 5am wake up, and agreed to meet up at 7am the next day, when Harpinder would take us on a guided tour through the temple.

The hotel had lost our reservation and it was outrageous in decor (sort of like if Kim Kardashian had decorated a hotel), but once it was all worked out, it was a very comfortable spot with a great breakfast the next morning.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Harpinder was right on time, and we all headed out to the Golden Temple. There's a parking garage about a half mile outside of the temple, and from there you either have to walk or take a rickshaw. We walked, but I think if we hadn't had a guide, we probably would have taken Caitlin's advice to get a rickshaw. We did take her advice to buy a scarf for Roger, since men have to cover their heads. They're available to borrow at the temple, but since the temple has 100,000 visitors a day, it seemed worth while to buy one for a few rupees and avoid the possibility of lice. Harpinder tied it on for Roger, since he was apparently doing it wrong:

The temple is the most sacred temple in the Sikh religion, and immediately upon entering, you could feel how holy the place is. The temple itself floats in the middle of a pool that is supposed to have healing powers. Once we got to the temple complex and checked our shoes, we started to walk around the pool in a clockwise direction, stopping at important spots as Harpinder directed us to read signs or just take in the sights. It was truly one of the most serene, beautiful places I've ever been.

Once we were inside the temple itself, we couldn't take any photos, but it was stunning, and I'm so glad we went in with someone who could lead us around. Music was playing all around the complex, and I asked Roger at one point if he thought it was live or a recording. Once we got to the first level of the temple, we had our answer. A group of men was sitting, chanting and playing music, and it was being projected throughout the complex.

We walked up to the next two levels, finally stopping on the roof-top level. We sat inside while Harpinder prayed for a bit, and then admired the view from the top. On our way out, we were each given our first taste of Karah Parshad, a sweet, blessed halvah that is sort of like taking communion. After finishing it, Harpinder showed us to massage the leftover oils into our hands. It feels almost silly to type all of this out, but being there and taking part in this small ritual was an incredibly moving experience that I wish I could convey in words.

After we finished our walk around the temple (and purchased some Karah Parshad to take home with us), we went to the langar, or free kitchen, for breakfast. They serve tens of thousands of people—regardless of who they are—everyday, and the food is all prepared by volunteers. The food was very tasty and filling. A word of advice: Harpinder told us the water there isn't filtered. This was after I'd already drunk half a bowl of it. I was fine, but it's something to keep in mind if you visit.

After the temple, we went to Jallianwala Bagh, a memorial at the site of a 1919 massacre where the British Indian Army killed between 400 and 1000 Indian civilians in the public park.

Although I don't think anything can really compare to the Golden Temple, it was a very moving site, especially the Martyr's Well.

After that, we stopped at Ahuja Milk Bhandar for the best sweet lassi in Amritsar. It was completely delicious, and it was also when we found out that a secret ingredient in lassis is butter. We were drinking it, and Karuna asked, "What is this solid stuff in here?" I posited that it might be the same cream top that forms on milk when it separates, and Harpinder just said, "Butter." So it was.

Afterward, Harpinder suggested we stop in at another temple, but I think we were all pretty exhausted from all the travel we'd been doing, and we opted to head back to Chandigarh instead. Harpinder pointed out the road to Pakistan pretty soon after we left. We'd originally hoped to see the border closing ceremony the night before, but we arrived much too late to make it, unfortunately. We stopped at another Haveli on the way, which was also great, and were back before we knew it.

That evening, we headed to the Willow Cafe across from the Hotel Mountview to meet up with Caitlin and Tej; say hello to Chloe and Francisco, who had just arrived from Mumbai; and to pick up my petticoat from Abby (thank you, Abby! You are a lifesaver!). It was a lot of administrative stuff (figuring out dance lessons for the following day, paying people the money we owed them, etc.), but it was also nice to sit and chat and hear about what everyone had been up to.

Next up: It's wedding time!

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