Friday 28th Dec.
This morning we woke early because we had to say goodbye to the mountains and make a long car journey to Amritsar.
On the way we had to contend with a large flock of sheep and mountain goats.
We crossed an old bridge dating from British times and stopped at a village for a snack of fried river fish.
Amritsar means ‘Pool of the Nectar of Immortality’, so named after the pool within the Golden Temple. Deep in the Punjab, it is the holy city of the Sikhs, and as such, is intimately linked with the history of the Sikh peoples. All Sikhs endeavour to visit the Golden Temple at some point in their lives, and bathe in the holy water. At night, we walked through some narrow streets to the Golden Temple.
8 things you may not know about the Golden Temple:
1. The Golden Temple is also referred to as “Darbar Sahib” or “Harmandar Sahib”, and is one of the oldest worship places for the Indian Sikh. It is located in Amritsar, Punjab.
2. The entire top of the temple is covered with pure gold, adding to the beauty of the temple.
3. The temple is surrounded by a manmade lake that boasts a lot of exotic fish in it. To get to the temple, you have to cross a bridge.
4. The temple has entrances on four different sides to show openness and acceptance.
5. The temple was initially built without any gold coating. It is during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the ruler of Punjab in the early 19th century that the temple underwent full renovation and made into what it is today.
6. Before the temple was built, the first Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak, used to meditate at the site. It was not until the fifth Guru, Guru Arjana that the temple was built.
7. The manmade lake around the temple is known as ‘Amrit Sarovar’ which is translated as ‘Pool of Holy Nectar’.
8. The temple is considered so holy, 35% of the pilgrims that visit it are from faiths other than Sikh.
The Water tank and temple were built at the end of the 16th century, some years after a leper was allegedly cured after bathing in a shallow pool at the site. Destroyed several times by invading forces, the temple was rebuilt in 1764 by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and 100 kilograms of gold was added in 1830, giving it its name, ‘Golden Temple’. The Golden Temple is home to the Adi Granth, or original holy book, which is a collection of hymns of the great saints. The book is a focus of devotion, while it’s kept in the Harmandir Sahib (in the Golden Temple) during the day, it’s returned to the Akal Takhat (another building with a bedroom) every evening in what is known as the “Putting to Bed Ceremony”. Despite the long queues, we managed to blag our way to the front to see the book being wrapped up.
In the morning we returned to the Golden Temple & watched people bathing in the water, which is believed to wash away all illness. We then explored the vast dining halls where all visitors, regardless of their religion or wealth, are invited to eat together.
The kitchen is run by volunteers, where we saw vast cauldrons full of dhal and groups of women rolling out 100s of chapattis. I really liked the “chapatti queen” – a machine which can produce 6000 chapattis an hour.
The kitchens as a whole were probably one of the biggest operations we have ever seen – hundreds of volunteers help to shell peas, butter the chapattis, cook dahl, soup and chai.
More than 100,000 people are fed free of charge on an average day. During special events, up to 200,000 eat here. Everything is done on a volunteer basis (including the washing up),
and is run on donations of money, food and hard work!
Nearby is the Jallianwala Bagh
There’s a memorial to more than 1,000 demonstrators and innocent bystanders who were killed or injured when the British, under the command of Brigadier-General Dyer in 1919. (He later faced court martial)
We visited the Partition Museum which opened in 2016 in the former British era town hall.
A history museum chronicling 1947 partition of India & Pakistan through photos, documents & artifacts. Nothing very cheerful there ….. And no photography allowed!
One of the strangest tourist activities we have done – we visited the border with Pakistan at Wagha. Here we saw the nightly Closing the Border ceremony, where just before sunset the Indian and Pakistani armies conduct an amazing spectacle of national pride. Soldiers from each country parades up and down while the audiences on both sides shout encouragement, such as ‘Hindustan Zindubad’ which means ‘long live Hindustan, home of the Hindus’. This ceremony ends with the national flags being lowered slowly so that neither is ever higher than the other. The atmosphere was a little bit like a World Cup match because the audience were waving flags and chanting.