Although I last posted Part 2 of our India Adventure yesterday, so much has happened in the past day that I want to write about.
I’m writing most of this section at about 6 AM on Monday morning. I find that this is the best time for me to write my blog as I often get up much earlier than Barb and writing early in the morning isn’t cutting into any “real” vacation time.
More of Delhi
On our last day in Delhi, our driver took us to several more places around the city. We had quickly gotten the impression that Delhi had an abundance of interesting sites to visit and that you could probably spend a whole week here and not see all of the major must-see things.
Honestly, if we were to return here I don’t think that we could stay more than a couple of days in Delhi if at all. The sites in Delhi are wonderful but getting around the city is always going to be a challenge. Delhi just isn’t set up to encourage exploring the city on foot to discover different parts of the city. For example, just trying to cross any major road in Delhi on foot would take your life at risk.
By Sunday we were packing up again and heading north to the Punjab region for our one night stay in the city of Amritsar.
When we were planning the itinerary for our India trip, we knew that we were going to be in India during the holiday of Diwali. When we knew that we were going to be in Amritsar during Diwali, a lot of people (all of Indian background) told me that it was going to be a pretty big celebration. They all seemed to be pretty excited about us being here during Diwali.
To be honest, I wasn’t really sure how much they were overblowing it. We have Diwali celebrations in Vancouver and I figured that it would be bigger than what we experience but how big of a celebration could it really be?
Diwali was last night. What Barb experienced last night easily ranks in the top celebrations that we’ve experienced in any country. Ever. It was beyond anything that we could have ever imagined.
Almost everyone who comes to Amritsar visits the Golden Temple as it’s the major place to see in this region of the country. Our hotel in Amritsar was fairly close to the temple and it enabled us to walk to the there for the first time as soon as we arrived. Barb knew that I also wanted to go again at night to take some night photos of the temple so we knew that we would be going for at least a second time.
We learned that going into any Gurdwara (Sikh temple), anywhere, requires that your head is covered and that you remove your shoes. Although we had heard that you could get a loaner headscarf at the temple, we bought one from one of the many street vendors selling them.
The Golden Temple is a pretty impressive sight to see at any time of the day and the energy of all of the people there really adds to the experience. You can walk around the perimeter of the large square pool and see the temple, which is in the middle of the pool, from all sides. In several sections, people are lighting candles near the water and in other sections, people can be seen bathing in the water. I got some attention when I pulled out my large Nikon camera to take photos but no more than interested looks. More often we would get smiles from the other people around us in the temple and we always felt welcomed and safe. I asked one man who was holding a spear if I could take his photo and he was very happy to oblige.
When we returned to the temple for the second time later on that night it was significantly different from our first time just hours before. The main difference was that there were probably an additional 100,000 people there. When we got to the temple, fireworks overhead celebrating Diwali were occurring and for the most part, we watched them from the outside. It took a considerable effort just to make our way inside, navigating our way through the 10’s of thousands of people all congregating near the entrance.
After a few tense moments of being crushed by the crowd, we were eventually able to break through and finally walk around the perimeter. We still need to navigate through the crowds but were able to find empty sections here and there to take a breather and take photos. My impressions that the temple would be more impressive at night was completely accurate but it was more impressive that I could ever imagine.
By the time we left the temple, over an hour later, and walked back to our hotel we were both exhausted and just ordered room service for dinner. Our hotel room looked onto the neighbourhood houses and for the next several hours many people were lighting fireworks from their roof-top balconies. When I say “many people” I mean hundreds of homes just from what I could see.
Perhaps more impressive than the fireworks many people were lighting were the sky lanterns into the sky. Glowing and slowly rising into the night they left a much longer impression than fireworks.
The fireworks went on into the night, long after we went to bed.
I suspect that our experiences with Diwali today will be something that Barb and I will be reminiscing about for a long time.
Very close to Amritsar is the Indian border crossing with neighbouring Pakistan known as the Wagah border. This border crossing is very famous for the Lowering of the Flags ceremony that occurs daily between the Indian and Pakistani military.
Long before we had left Vancouver, many people had told us that this border ceremony was a must-see event and that we should see when we were in Amritsar.
To be honest, neither Barb or I planned to see this as we both thought that it was going to be somewhat interesting but we both thought that it wasn’t going to be our thing. In the end, we decided to go but didn’t have high expectations.
I’ve got to admit that the event was completely different from what I thought it was going to be and in the end glad that we went.
The first thing that we quickly learned is that the border ceremony is a complete theatrical event complete with pounding music, Bollywood-style dancing and flag-waving cheers. A few hundred metres away on the Pakistan side of the border gates, it appeared to be the exact same thing occurring with the except of the dancing girls. On both sides, thousands of people packed the stands to cheer on their country’s military, all to a very theatrical atmosphere. Eventually, the military participants came out to thunderous cheers and began the gate closing ceremony. Complete with high foot marching, foot stomping and fist waving, the whole process had an over the top feel to it.
Barb and I were directed to a special section of the stands where most of the non-Indian people were. I’m still not completely sure if this was an honour given to us to be closest to the gate or to be segregated from the “real” audience who were cheering loudly while our section was mostly silent.
I have to admit that I’m not completely clear about the politics between India and Pakistan but given the tone of the show and the military aspects I have to assume that it’s not peace and happiness.
Nonetheless, if you’re in the Amritsar area, I feel that this is worth the few hours to attend the border closing ceremony and should be considered a must-do event.
Now that we’ve come back from Amritsar and are spending the night in Delhi again, tomorrow we’ll be moving on with our driver to a new region of the country. I’ll check back in a few days with more details.
In addition to the photos in this blog post, I’ve uploaded quite a few new photos onto my photo blog: http://photos.excellentadventure.ca/India-2016/