Saturday, November 29, 2008
From The Ridiculous to the Sublime
We checked out of the Taj in Delhi and headed to the airport to fly to Amritsar. The Terrorism in Mumbai surprisingly was still continuing. We had a guide whose only job was to navigate us thru the airport or train station. We talked about what was happening, and he said in a very sincere way: “Worry is not a solution”. We liked his attitude. We boarded our propjet and flew to Amritsar which is located 28 Kilometers from the Pakistan Border. The security was very evident to us. We were repeatedly frisked at the airport.
We arrived at Amritsar about 1:30 pm and went to our hotel. We prepared for our visit to the Border. The border is fixed exactly half way between Lahore Pakistan and Amritsar India. We drove the 28 Kilometers to the border. One of the distinctive aspects of Amritsar is the water tanks on the top of houses. These tanks provide for water storage and pressure. The people here create decorative water tanks. Very strange! We saw huge water tanks that look like a soccer ball, others like giant birds, another like a jet plane, all sitting on the roof of the house.
There were armed soldiers and checkpoints along the way. We eventually arrived at the border. We parked our jeep and started to walk with the hoards towards the gate.
Trucks were backed up for kilometers, parked by the side of the road. Each truck will be completely emptied and searched for contraband then reloaded. When we arrived at the border, we ushered towards VIP seats. Think of bleachers at a football stadium. They are quite steep, with thousands of places to sit. One set of these bleachers are in India, a similar set of bleachers are in Pakistan. The bleachers face each other, with the border between them.
Four wars have been fought between the two countries since 1947. They are still firing at each other in Kashmir. The Pakistanis are considered to be behind the Mumbai terrorism. These people hate each other. The Indians incidentally are resentful of the US because of our backing of Pakistan. So what happens every night at this border crossing?
On both sides of the border loud Bollywood and Bhangra dance music are playing. The Indians are dancing in the street in front of the border gate. They are pulsating to the music. Indian flags are being waved by the crowd. On the Pakistan side, Pakistani music is playing and they are dancing and running around waving Pakistan flags. The Indian Border Guards are wearing funny hats and strutting around. They are very high kickers – they kick up higher then their heads. The dancers are eventually cleared from the area between the two countries.
Alternatively high kicking Indian Border Guards march up to the border and strut their stuff. Cheers come up from the Indian, bleachers. But wait. The Pakistanis are booing. The loud speaker starts with pro-India chants. The Pakistanis are drowned out. Oh no. A high kicking Pakistani comes to the border and outdoes the Indian. The Pakistani is more Macho than the Indian. What to do? Two high stepping Border Guards march towards the gate and show them. The crowd cheers louder. Indians have more testosterone then the Pakistanis. Here comes the Pakistanis back with a double kick – take that Indian. Boy can they kick. It is like the musical Chorus Line combined with Busby Berkley but played with guns as props. Maybe it is like half time at a high school football game in Texas if all of the cheer leaders were men in uniform wearing fan-like hats. At any rate, by mutual agreement it must have been declared a draw, the flags are lowered. The Pakistan and Indian Solders salute each other. The gate is slammed shut and locked for the night, and these high kickers can go back to their barracks and then start killing each other. The very happy crowds head back home. It is surrealistic. If they can do this every night, why can’t they get along?
From this ridiculous but entertaining ceremony, we headed back to Amritsar from the border, driving through many small villages. We drove into the Old City of Amritsar (narrow lanes, stalls, vendors, etc.) and arrived at our destination: The Golden Temple. It was dark by now. The Golden Temple is set in the middle of the old city and from the street looks nothing special. We had to remove our shoes and sox to enter. Everyone including me had to cover their heads with scarves. No hair could show. The Golden Temple is the spiritual home of the Sikhs. We then had to wash our hands and walk through water to cleanse our feet. Finally you walk thru an entry and into the complex.
It is overwhelming. I would guess it is the size of two football fields, placed next to each other. It is completely filled with water and surrounded by a marble walkway. You can walk around the water. In the center of the water sits the Golden Temple. 3 stores high it is entirely covered in gold. It is reflected in the water. The Golden Temple is connected to the walkway by a narrow causeway. We really don’t know much about the Sikh religion but they are welcoming to all of us. The Gold is reflected everywhere. Sacred music is played by a group and is broadcast in high-fidelity. The music is all live and the performers play and sing 20 hours a day. Unlike many temples and religions where only the priest class is allowed into the inner sanctum, anyone can go. So we walked down the causeway in the middle of the water into the Golden Temple, it is the heart of the Sikh religion. We are instructed to hold our hands in prayerful contemplation. On the first floor the singers and musicians are playing. On the second floor there is a continuous reading of the sacred texts. On the 3rd floor roof there is another continuous reading and vistas across the water. The sound of the music is transforming. It is very soothing. We walked back across causeway, and sat down by the water gazing at The Golden Temple. We were then ready to leave, but expect to return tomorrow morning.
We then went to a Punjabi restaurant. Our only request of the guide was it must serve real Punjabi food and it must serve wine. We arrived and ordered a large dinner. We then requested wine from our waiter. We were told they only serve Vodka or Beer. I called the manager over and asked about wine. He said “no problem”. Do we want Red or White, Indian or French. We said both a Bottle of Red and a bottle of White, French. He said he would send someone out to procure them. Soon they arrived on our table. The food was excellent, as was the wine. We then returned to our hotel wondering what tomorrow morning will bring. We have a 1:30pm flight to Delhi tomorrow.