Friday, 5 August 2011

Amazing Amritsar.

These two photos were taken one hour apart.

Kathak Dance

Travelling in style..

One of the officials at the golden temple.

Amritsar, sponsored by coca cola.

Iskon Temple

Charlotte, the soldier and I.


The last week has been fairly eventful!

Work has remained the same; I am still planning and writing the content for this book to accompany the educational series. However, I have found out that as well as lesson plans it has to have information for parents to teach their children with – which effectively doubles my work load. It’s very interesting though, I’m relearning all my KS3 geography facts!

Extra curricular stuff has been fantastic this week.

On Tuesday we booked our bus ticket to Amritsar and then went to Iskon (international society for Krishna consciousness) temple, which is a large Hindi temple complex just up the road from where we live. We went at around 6.30 and watched the beginning of a Hindi celebration. They all danced and clapped and wandered round in a kind of spiral shape. It was interesting. The interesting thing about Iskon is that while it serves as a temple to many, it’s also got a museum and a cafĂ© and a place for feeding the homeless. The logo also looks like it belongs in a comic book.

Lovely Charlotte joined us on Wednesday– she was a gapper three years ago and returned for six days to revisit the country she fell in love with. We went to see a film called Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, it’s obviously an Indian film and it’s really very good. No English subtitles, but about one word in fifteen was English, which made it an interesting experience. A typical conversation would go ‘hindihindihindihindi.. you know.. hindihindi I can’t believe it, man.’ It’s not typical Bollywood, only two songs, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The main song was this:

On Thursday we went to Habit to see some Indian dancing. It wasn’t quite what we were expecting. We got to Habit which is a cultural centre that showcases dancing every night and fought our way through the rain to the auditorium. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were attending a celebration of a particular dancer and she came and opened the show. We stayed for two dancers, both in the Kathak style. Kathak is story telling through dance. The Sitar will begin and the Tabla joins in after an introductory piece (thank you music GCSE…) and the dancer engages in very slight deliberate movements for about two minutes. The dancer will then go to the mic and narrate the dance they just performed – in hindi so absolutely unintelligible to us – before adding a sort of vocal accompaniment to the music, in a way that can only be described as ‘Ta..Ta..Ta… TaTaTaTaTaTa… TikiTa…’ for a few minutes, and then going to dance again. Wikipedia reliably informs me that there are ten sections in a Kathak dance, so it’s a fairly long piece. The dancers wore bells around their ankles, so for sections they just moved their feet to make sounds by a floor level mic front and centre stage. Having looked at other Kathak dances on youtube since, I think the ones were saw were just particularly dull. The second dancer was a large toadlike woman who constantly berated her musicians, thus breaking the spell somewhat.

On Friday we went to Sarojini market which is a cut price market selling all sorts. Charlotte and I bought elephant necklaces and Shalwar Kameezs (100 rupees apiece!) which we took to the tailor to alter to fit our size. Everyone should have a tailor, they are frankly amazing. We also went to Dilli Haat again where I finally capitulated and bought the teapot I fell in love with last week (and two mugs.. and coasters thrown in for free!) Later on we climbed into our rickety overnight bus to Amritsar. The sleeping arrangements weren’t the best, a tiny single size bunk for two people. However, aircon didn’t matter because the window was right by our heads, and big enough to fall out of, so if any trees were brushed past we certainly knew about it! We improvised slightly and used Kameez-tying-string to create some kind of safety barrier on the other side, lest a sudden turn lurched us into the aisle amongst bewildered Indian men.

After a night of not so much sleep we arrived in Amritsar and walked to the golden temple, certain as we were of getting accommodation there for the night. We wandered in, shoes stored away in the lockers, hair covered by scarves and spent a fruitless hour in the scorching heat trying to get to where we would book a room. Alas, it was to no avail, and we went to the tourist office in front of the temple and asked for a recommendation for a hotel. We were asked if 250 rupees per room per night was acceptable to us – and it was! That’s about £3.50. We were met by a smiley sikh man who took us back through the temple to the other side – past several coca cola stands selling bottles for 5 rupees (Amritsar is sponsored by CocaCola, I’m almost certain. They have a fountain of a cola bottle in the middle of town and murals of it everywhere. All signs saying pepsi are vandalised, and mass texts are sent among the Indians saying that workers at the pepsi factory have aids and if you drink it, you will get aids. I kid you not.) towards a narrow dark street. He then led us into what appeared to be his house and his sisters and mother greeted us as we walked through the door. Essentially, Harpreet Singh was midway through turning his house into a guesthouse, and upstairs there were several bare looking rooms with airconditioning and comfy beds. We were told that for the weekend we were part of the family and anything we wanted they would provide. We got free water, free tea, free breakfast, free internet – it was amazing! The sisters even took in our dresses for us, and only let us pay them very very reluctantly!

After we’d spent a while in the cool, refreshing and showering ourselves we wandered out to look at the golden temple again. Here I began to experience firsthand what I had before only heard rumours of: being a tourist attraction in my own right. Oftentimes people will just shove a camera in your face and take a picture, much more preferable is when someone asks you first and then arranges their friends/family/baby around you before taking a picture. It can get ridiculous though, with people swapping in and out, taking the photo then being in the photo. And once one person has asked, a whole flood of people then wait to be in the picture with you and what was initially you being polite has ended up as being fifteen minutes of being continuously photographed. Anyway, it was blazing hot and we hadn’t eaten yet so we wandered through dark and twisting streets to find a restaurant to eat at  (Chris has an aversion to street food so whenever we’re with him we have to eat indoors.)

After lunch we went to the site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre which is now a memorial garden. The whole garden is set out so you can see where the soldiers stood, and you can see the bullet marks in the wall. It’s very sobering.

We then wandered through the streets again, walking past people baking bread in stone ovens, past rows of men at sewing machines, past a flour factory. The amazing thing about walking around India is that very often you can look inside people’s homes due to just an astonishing disregard for their own privacy, or holes in the walls around them. We walked down a residential road and it looked like we were reaching a dead end, but I had a hunch and kept walking on. We came to a cotton factory, and the workers let us in to see the machines at work. It was such an experience!

Afterwards we returned home, but not until after I had stopped at a sweet shop to get some coconut burfi. I have fallen in love with Indian sweets, they’re incredible.

At 8.30 we met Manu outside the golden temple. Manu was a friend of Harpreet’s and he was going to show us around the temple and explain to us about Sikhism (earlier he had come to our room with a baby bird and let us play with it!) It was such an interesting tour; he took us to all of the parts of the temple complex and explained to us about the history of Sikhism and their beliefs. He took us into what was sort of like a Sikh communion, but instead of bread and wine they are given a sticky sweet brown substance with a crushed biscuit sprinkled on top. Afterwards we sat on the steps by one of the pools of nectar and chatted – anachronistically Manu’s ringtone was My Heart Will Go On from Titanic! At 10.30 we went to see the holy book being taken from the golden temple into its resting place for the night. Every night and morning they go through this ceremony that hundreds upon hundreds of Sikhs clamour to see. With Manu guiding us however, we were in a perfect location to see everything happen, from the blessing of the cloths that it rested on, to it actually being carried into its room. The rooms are glass fronted so you can see that it has its own bed and a hefty air conditioning system.
We retired to bed after that, after having resolved to get up at half three to see the opening ceremony at 4am the next day – which we did, only to discover that it was exactly the same but in reverse. I may have been blinded somewhat by tiredness at that point though. I do recall it being very peaceful though, despite the probable thousands of people there. Many people just lie in the cloisters and sleep. Men dip in the pool of nectar around the golden temple – the same water that pilgrims drink in the temple itself.

We went back to bed, and then got up for breakfast with the family which was a Punjab special that they only ate on Sundays, a kind of potato and onion and vegetable chapati thing. It was indescribably tasty! We resolved to actually get inside the temple today and returned to it. However, despite very obviously being lost tourists, no-one could tell us where the queue began or ended. At first we were queuing in the men only line, then when that was pointed out to us we joined the women’s line, only for us to get to the front and be redirected to the tourist’s entry point. People of Britain, never underestimate the value of a well-placed signpost and people who queue patiently.  However, this tourist fast track system is amazing. Instead of waiting for at least three hours in very cramped and packed conditions under a scorching sun, we just rocked on past and straight in. It almost makes up for being continually ripped off the rest of the time. The inside of the temple is beautiful, it’s very small, but if you go upstairs, people can take small prayer books and sit in the windows and read to themselves. The view was fantastic but photos weren’t allowed.

That afternoon we went to Wagah, which is a ceremony on the border of Pakistan and India. Essentially, you arrive at a place, and it’s got a kind of carnival atmosphere, there’s street food everywhere and thousands of people milling around. Then, at a specified time, you’re allowed through the barriers and a great surge of people rush forward, only to be stopped by mounted police who let people through so many hundred at a time. After that you’re split into men and women to be searched, and then slightly further down the line you reach a kind of semi auditorium with banks of seats. To our dismay we saw everything was full up already. However, being a tourist again has its advantages, and we were shown to our own bank of seats, very close to the actual border.

It’s very hard to describe the ceremony, it began with pairs of women or children running with the Indian flag towards the border, and waving it at the Pakistanis. Then a lot of women came down from the stands to dance in the centre to Indian pop music. After that, a tall man in white got the crowd excited with some pantomime style audience participation about how great India is. Then a very long and complicated ceremony begins. The soldiers have red plumes on their heads and they walk in a way to make monty python proud, supposedly in imitation of fighting cockerels. Before each walks, they have to make a loud ‘Aaaaah’ sound for as long as they can into the mic, and the soldiers in Pakistan do the same simultaneously – it’s a competition to see who can go longest, Pakistan won every round when we went. After a lot of funny walking and ceremony, the flags were lowered at the border and the ceremony was over. We got ourselves limed corn on the cob and went back to Amritsar.

We packed our things away and went to the bus stand, where we waited inside and watched a Bollywood film of suspect origin in the booking office, before getting on a considerably nicer bus than before and going home to Delhi. It was an amazing weekend.

No comments:

Post a Comment