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jana

Two Hobbits in North India

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So Hobbie is probably swamped with life in general and will put her pictures up soon. Until she does, let me start off with the pictures that I have managed to download. Here beginneth my account of our excellent adventure...

 

First, we took the train from New Delhi to Amritsar. It's a very nice train, even if it does leave at the crack of dawn. Once you get on the train, you get a cup of tea with a baby pack of biscuits and a very dodgily-captioned pack of wet tissues.

 

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We reached Amritsar around noon, found a hotel, dumped our bags and decided to go walking to the Golden Temple. Hobbie's been here before but years ago and I've never been to the city before, so we were bona fide tourists. Consequently, we got sublimely lost in the grubby, winding lanes of Amritsar's old city.

 

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irma-walking.jpg

 

Don't get taken in by that striding image as I was. Within about two hours of this picture being taken, Hobbie decided to swoon and for the next 2 days, she was in bedrest mode.

 

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Being the diligent sort, she did manage to take her daily phlog photos, despite all this.

 

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So for the next two days, this is how the day would work out. Get up in the morning. I'd have breakfast and a cigarette.

 

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Hobbie would watch, and occasionally take a photo, if she had the energy to pick up the camera.

 

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Then once I was convinced that Hobbie wasn't going to have any further medical adventures, I'd head out to the old city to see the Golden Temple.

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The old city is a difficult place for me to describe. It's not pretty in any conventional sense, although when you see some of the surviving buildings, it's obvious this must have once been a very picturesque town.

 

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What we could see now was a prosperous city that was rather desperate to become modern. Buildings are being broken to let new multistoried towers rise. Wires and advertisements obscure what's there of the old-fashioned homes.

 

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On the way to the Golden Temple, you go past Jallianwala Bagh.

 

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It's a public garden in which the British had a bloody massacre (General Dyer locked a large crowd of Indians, including women and children, in the garden and then ordered his troops to shoot everyone. It's known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre). Not much of that history remains, except in the narrow entry to the garden, which still has some of the original bullet holes.

 

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Get out of Jallianwala Bagh and turn left, and you'll see the Golden Temple's dome within a couple of steps. It's in the distance but it is after all, golden.

 

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This is the entrance to the Golden Temple. You walk in through these gates and then deposit your shoes and socks at the counters. It's all very well-managed and is run by volunteers.

 

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First view of the temple:

 

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And now for the endless shots of the Golden Temple:

 

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The Golden Temple compound has a number of places that are important to the Sikhs, including two places of worship or gurudwara, the Harmandir Sahib (which is the actual golden temple and in the middle of the lake) and the Akal Takht, which is another gurudwara. There's also a Sikh museum and library in the compound.

 

A marble pathway runs along the rectangular lake at the centre of the compound. When you walk into the compound, you can basically just walk along the pathway and the route essentially allows you to see the Harmandir Sahib in the middle of the lake from all angles. You can walk along the edge of the water or you can walk in the covered area. Most people sit in the covered area.

 

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There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people who visit the Golden Temple in a day. You can tell the tourists from the locals by their cameras. Tourists use actual cameras while locals go nuts using the cameras on their phones.

 

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It's strange to see the armed forces in the Golden Temple, and that too cheerfully taking photographs, because for me the first thing I think of when I hear of the Golden Temple is Operation Blue Star. Ordered by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the military operation was to suppress a group of Sikh revolutionaries who said they wanted their own country. When the rebels took refuge in the Golden Temple Compound, Gandhi sent the army there. Tanks rolled on the marble of the Golden Temple compound, the Akal Takht was virtually gutted and hundreds were killed (on both army and rebel sides). It's one of the more horrific things that happened in India.

 

Afterwards, the Army rebuilt the Akal Takht but the Sikhs pulled it down and rebuilt it themselves with money gathered from donations by Sikhs from all over the world. This is the Akal Takht today.

 

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These two staffs are known as Miri (earthly, pragmatic authority) and Piri (spiritual authority). I don't know enough about Sikhism to know their precise significance but they are considered very, very important.

 

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The place where the woman is kneeling is probably where the rebel leader was finally killed by the army. In any case, it is definitely a little bit of the old structure that they've left there to ensure no one forgets the horror that was Operation Blue Star.

 

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Weirdly though, despite the extreme violence that this place has seen, there is an incredible serenity to it. I went back to the Golden Temple three days in a row and I spent hours there. I've rarely felt so calm in my life. It's like the universe slows down and quietens for a little bit. All you have before you are these beautiful structures and around you are the hymns that are sung to the holy text. It's incredible.

 

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The Langar, or public kitchen. Thousands, and I mean thousands, of people are fed here everyday. I ate there on one day, and it wasn't too long a wait since it was in the middle of the week. The food is simple, slick with ghee (they generally translate it as clarified butter but it's way more rich and flavourful than that. It's basically made from milk cream which is heated and melted and all sorts of gooey things. What you end up with is a oily liquid that smells and tastes of dairy warmth).

 

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I love the pinkish stone against the sunset sky.

 

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Sunset at the Golden Temple.

 

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(Yes, I spent many, many shots trying to get the birds. Thank god for digital technology.)

 

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I still can't get over the fact that a place can have so much gold in it and not look tacky. :lol:

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