As I said in the last post, if you loiter long enough someone will approach you and bundle you into a tuk tuk to head to the Wagah border closing ceremony. If you’re foreign, take your passport. You’ll be dropped about a kilometre from where it takes place and you’ll need to clear three security check points. Don’t bother taking a bag. Just take what you need, including your camera. You’ll be thoroughly frisked. And here’s the thing; as a foreigner you get the second best seats. Indian VIP’s get the best seats, you’ll get the second best and the rest of the crowd will amass in the stands at the end. If I ever go back I’ll probably do that, but this time I made my way to the not-quite-VIP stands where I was literally the only human there. I was early.
Typical. I did my best to make myself as inconspicuous as possible as Indians were crammed into the stands and I had a whole section to myself. You can imagine my relief as more foreigners showed up, including a few brandishing DSLR’s. Aaaaaand here’s the thing. I often consider getting a DSLR, I think I take enough photos to warrant the money. But I don’t want to become that person. You know the one. The one that thinks their shot is way more important than yours because their camera is bigger than their head and clearly that makes them a photographer. There were a couple of guys like this here, jumping out into the road and being shooed back by guards. At one point, a particularly arrogant Swiss bloke launched himself in front of me and I asked him to keep back. He wasn’t happy. But here’s the thing, fella. I got here early for a good view. I got here so early I feel like I have welts on my arse from sitting on hot concrete. I may have arse welts. So damn fucking right you will move out of my way and let me watch the uniformed kicky men, bitch!
This ceremony though! It’s fantastic! It starts off with members of the public running up and down with flags which no one in the UK would do. If someone tried to pick anyone out of a crowd back home to wave a flag around the whole crowd would sink back in their seats and pretend to be invisible. Here, it’s an honour. Then for some reason a crowd of women from the crowd will gather and dance. A voice over the tannoy system will get the people worked up into a patriotic frenzy. Then it’s basically half an hour of posturing, gesturing and demonstrating the ability to examine one’s own ankles without having to sit down and make old lady noises with some pretty impressive high kicking. It’s all totally choreographed, everything worked out and agreed between the Indian Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers. And when I say high kicking. Dude. Let’s face it, the days most of us could kick like that disappeared the day we discovered vodka and cheesecake. And the best thing? The stills just look like disco is occurring.
It was dark by the time I got back to the temple and the large quantities of kulcha I’d consumed for lunch had pretty much been digested so I headed to the langar for a feed. This is the community kitchen where every single person who wants food can have it, regardless of who you are, where you’re from, who you worship. It doesn’t matter, everyone is welcome. The last time I went to a langar I wasn’t sure what the etiquette was but here it’s very clear. You join the masses heading to the dining hall as you pass people handing out trays, bowls, cups and spoons, before finding a space on the rows of carpet to sit. Again, it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re equal here. The Prime Minister of India could rock up and he’d still be expected to sit next to me and wait for his food.
I was given some chapati and wonderful tasting dhal and sabji (vegetables). I sat cross legged on the floor and tried to resist the urge to pick the dead skin off my feet. Everyone had their plates on the floor but the floor was a really long way away from my facehole which left a lot of room for error and potentially wearing my lovely dinner as a neck tie. I looked up and down the rows to see if holding one’s plate under one’s chin and shovelling the food in as if one were raised by wolves was in any way acceptable. Hmm. Nope. Seemed not. I sighed and began the task of maneuvering dhal into my chops without getting it everywhere. They keep bringing it to you until you tell them to stop and after I’d finished and put my tray where it was meant to go I wished I had the bottle to ask to volunteer in the kitchen, or to take photos. Curse this inherent shyness, it really fucks up my Instagram account sometimes.
Well if you thought the temple was awesome in the day time, wait til you see it at night. I spent quite a bit of time back beside the holy tank just people watching and trying to photograph a big shiny object in the dark with a shit point-and-shoot. I loved it here. Everyone was so lovely and friendly which was highlighted the following morning after a night of maybe being nibbled on by bed bugs in the dorm. We had our own shower but toilets were the public ones not too far away so I rolled out of bed and shuffled to the toilet block to join what passes as a queue in India. There were loads of women waiting for a cubicle, most of which were squat toilets but there were a couple of western style ones. Queuing here seems to involve the person at the front holding onto the top of the door to make it abundantly clear it’s their turn next. No pressure on the person inside then…
I kind of just hovered around where I thought the back of the mob might be, and a group of women who looked like they might work there started speaking to me and laughing when it became apparent I spoke exactly fuck all Punjabi or Hindi. Not malicious laughing though, just amused. A woman who spoke English stepped in and said they were asking if I wanted to use a shower and when I replied that I just wanted to use the toilet and this was relayed I was directed to stand behind a disabled woman. More what I assume was Punjabi was exchanged and I was told by my English speaking saviour that the disabled woman would go next and then me. It was a western style toilet. Bless them, it was so lovely of them, but when the woman in front of me went in, one of the attendants stood up and unlocked the western toilet next door to that one for me. I wasn’t sure if I had the warm and fuzzies or if I was just desperate for my morning crap by the point.
Amritsar though, guys. I’ve met people that have had bad experiences there, they say they witnessed violence or got ripped off. I saw nothing of the sort. No one tried to rip me off and I was helped whenever I needed it by people who asked for nothing in return. I was kinda sad that I didn’t have longer here, I wanted to get up to McLeod Ganj to meet up with Jessica and her friend but maybe one day I’ll come back. I don’t think I’d stay in the temple again, simply because I’m quite fragile in the mornings before my digestive system has been appeased with a good emptying followed by a hearty refilling with whatever local fare is on offer and staying at the temple is not conducive to the former. The latter of course, it excels. I love the Sikh religion. And not just because I’m a greedy fucker either.
Amritsar, Punjab, India
Stayed at: The foreigner dorm at Sri Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple.