“What do you mean two?!?!”
Today was filled with a packed itinerary of all the highlights in Amritsar! The morning began with an amazing breakfast at the Hyatt, which had many of us in tears of excitement. The first site we visited following breakfast was Jallianwala Bagh, a garden converted to a memorial to commemorate the martyrs of the 1919 peaceful gathering at the hands of the British. The garden was beautifully kept and it was (and still is) difficult to believe that such atrocities could have taken place. Many of the original structures were still standing and contained bullet holes from over 1000 rounds fired at the innocent gathers celebrating their harvest festival. Stories of survivors and family members of martyrs were posted throughout the garden, which (for me) made the event more real and personal. We later learned from our tour guide that this massacre was the spark for Indian Independence, which was granted in 1947. In the garden there was a quote in Hindi: “Vande Mataram” which roughly translates to “Bow down/salute the motherland.” This stuck with me, as this massacre was the driving force for Indian independence and unified the country for a common cause.
The next stop on our tour was the Golden Temple, which we had visited the night before to view the night ceremony. Regardless of the hour, the grandeur of the Golden Temple is breathtaking. It’s hard to believe that such delicate detailing and architecture was thought of and created. The outside is beautiful, but it’s the inside that is even more ornately decorated. The center shrine, which contained the Sikh holy book was something out of this world with how extravagant and beautiful it was (I can only imagine how much time was spend on designing and creating that!). On the top of the temple, you could see the entire enclosure and the amount of people at the temple. To put it into perspective, on any given day, over 100,000 people visit the temple to pray, visit or to eat/volunteer at the community kitchen.
Speaking of the community kitchen, that was the next stop on our tour of the Golden Temple. The kitchen had huge cauldrons used to feed upwards of 50,000 people all day long. To run this kitchen, it requires much help and anyone is able to volunteer! This ranges from cooking to cleaning to serving food. I was overwhelmed with joy and faith in humanity that so many people were donating food and their time in service of others. Maybe next time we’ll jump in and help!
Throughout the tour of the Golden Temple and it’s complex, we happened to make a new friend—an older man whom we think worked at the temple. He walked with us as we visited each area, would count to make sure all ten of us were there, and would ward off any strangers trying to take our photo. Although it was hard to communicate with him, I appreciated his kindness and ensuring our comfort.
Upon completing our visit at the Golden Temple, we drove out to the rural outskirts of Amritsar to visit villages and observer the daily lives of farmers in the Punjab state (fun fact from John: the state of Punjab provides over 1/3 of the crops in India!!). Most of the tour was observed while we were on the bus, passing huge fields of corn, rice, and wheat. We stopped by one plot that was a few a few hundred feet away from the border of India and Pakistan. We observed how they were building new pipelines to bring water to all of the fields, how they were flooding certain plots to start growing rice, and how they tended the soil for crops they already sew. We later entered a house being constructed and walked to the roof. The fields seemed to go on forever in all directions. The next stop on the village walk was to the electric barbed wire border between India and Pakistan. At the specific spot we were at, there was an Indian army post used for surveillance. No photography was allowed, but we were able to learn a lot from John about the border and the partition of India and Pakistan. After saying bye to the officers, a few of us were fortunate enough to ride on an ox-drawn cart!
The next site (like I said earlier, a day packed with site-seeing) was Pul Kanjari, an old bridge, bathing pool, temple and old trading center (before the partition). The story goes that Maharaja Ranjit Singh (a king) would rest there with his troops and one of his favorite things to do is watch a dancer Moran, of the kanjari caste. One day, she was crossing the canal and lost her shoe and refused to dance. In response, Maharaja Ranjit Singh went ahead and commanded that a bridge be constructed. The bathing pool was a stunning stone structure, which contained a temple at the highest point to prevent flooding. There was no water in the pool while we were there, but if there were, then three separate entrances would be used- one was for men, a private enclosure for women, and a ramp for animals. While there, we had a fun photo shoot (our group really enjoys taking photos) ranging from Jack and Rose from Titanic to pretending to be models on America’s Next Top Models. From a distance we viewed the ruins of the bridge (we weren’t allowed to get close) and a monument commemorating the soldiers from the battles in the 1970’s against Pakistan, whom reclaimed the area from Pakistani rule.
[Pic of us pretending to be models, maybe a picture of the whole thing, group pic]
The last stop we visited was the Wagha Border, another border area between India and Pakistan where daily, there is a “changing of the guard” type ceremony. There were quite literally thousands of people whom were trying to reach the border to watch the ceremony. We were seated about 30-40 minutes before the ceremony was supposed to begin. The “hype man” had different sections cheering, patriotic music was playing, and then women ran out waving the flag and proceeded to dance to Bollywood hits. The time finally came that the ceremony was going to start. The best way to describe the ceremony is a macho-man competition between the guards in India and guards in Pakistan. It would start with who could yell the longest (circular breathing must be useful here) and then who could kick the highest and appear the strongest. For a brief time, both gates were open and in no man’s land, the soldiers were performing and bringing down their respective flags. Once that was done, both gates were promptly (and forcefully) closed and the ceremony had concluded. While this was very much a competition between India and Pakistan, some communication between the two had to be established to choreograph such an intricate ceremony, which I thought was remarkable and beautiful because it is often easy to focus on the negativity and animosity between both countries.
Once the ceremony was over, we had one thing left to do before wrapping up the day- leaving the stadium area which we were seated and getting back to our bus. In the chaos of leaving, we accidentally split up into two groups (one group of three and one group of seven) but we already established a meeting place and were comfortable getting there. I was in the group of seven and we passed by a guard whom was taking pictures. Another group’s tour guide was kind enough to take our picture with the guard. Upon returning my phone to me, he says “The other two beautiful girls from your group are further ahead.” The first thing that came to mind, which I proceeded to half yell was, “What do you mean two?!?!” as the group was supposed to be three people. The next ten minutes were spent scoping around to see if we could find a member of our group and finding different ways to express our concern that only apparently only two of our members were together. Some included “Whatchu talking about Willis” and “What do you mean two” many times. To end this chronicle, everyone was accounted for and the group of three didn’t actually get split up, one person was just talking a picture with a baby.
Today was absolutely amazing, filled with beautiful monuments and rich history! I’m looking forward to traveling to New Delhi tomorrow although I’m not that excited to wake up at 3:30am!