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Amritsar

Arrived by express train from New Delhi, although I think they have to look up in the dictionary for the meaning of express. It was more a stopping service and a whole 3 hours longer journey than our guide suggested. After about eight and a bit hours we arrived pretty much on time. The journey was an experience in itself, with sellers jumping on at the various stations quickly to sell some of their goods, before jumping off onto the platform in speed as the train had started to roll out of the station.

We had agreed to try to see if they had any rooms left at the cheapest guest house we could find in the guide (Tourist Guesthouse). We found the guest house in a very glamorous location on an incredibly dusty road under a dual carriageway flyover at the edge of the Amritsar Old Town and we were in luck as they had a room spare. Tourist Guest House is not the most luxurious accommodation, as the location would suggest, but it’s fairly clean and secure. They also have a nice little quiet courtyard at the back with a table and chairs. To be honest I think anything would have been fine for us anyways after the whole day travelling.

We were very pleased to see the blue sky for the first time since arrived in India. Amritsar is obviously not quite as polluted as New Delhi, but the dirt and dust is just as prominent. Streets are also franticly busy, so it’s quite a contrast when you get to the very tranquil Golden Temple (the centre of the Sikh religion). A complete opposite to the rest of the city it immediately relaxes and soothes your stress with its music and chanting. It is also an impressive temple with its gold-plated centre building of the temple surrounded by holy water (Pool Of Nectar). This is the most sacred part of the temple, and where the original copy of the Sikh holy book Guru Granth Sahib is on display (under a shroud) during the day.

[caption id="attachment_319" align="aligncenter" width="545"] The Golden Temple in Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_320" align="aligncenter" width="545"] The Golden Temple in Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_321" align="aligncenter" width="545"] The Golden Temple in Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_354" align="aligncenter" width="545"] The Golden Temple, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_355" align="aligncenter" width="533"] The Golden Temple, Amritsar.[/caption]

We booked a trip through Hotel Grand to the India-Pakistan border for the changing of the guards ceremony, and a visit to Mata Temple before re-visiting The Golden Temple. The change of the guards was very entertaining indeed – it was very light-hearted, and it has a lot of comedy in the ceremony. The stands were completely packed with spectators which made for a fantastic atmosphere. The Hindu Mata Temple is an amusing place – almost like a labyrinth it takes you on narrow walkways, up and down, through mirror-chambers, crawling through a little cave, and wading in a little stream. All this while passing by figurines, and mirror-mosaics of the Hindu gods.

[caption id="attachment_326" align="aligncenter" width="545"] India-Pakistan Border changing of the guards ceremony.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_327" align="aligncenter" width="545"] India-Pakistan Border changing of the guards ceremony.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_328" align="aligncenter" width="533"] India-Pakistan Border changing of the guards ceremony.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_329" align="aligncenter" width="545"] India-Pakistan Border changing of the guards ceremony.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_330" align="aligncenter" width="545"] India-Pakistan Border changing of the guards ceremony.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_331" align="aligncenter" width="545"] India-Pakistan Border changing of the guards ceremony.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_332" align="aligncenter" width="533"] India-Pakistan Border changing of the guards ceremony.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_333" align="aligncenter" width="545"] India-Pakistan Border changing of the guards ceremony.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_334" align="aligncenter" width="533"] India-Pakistan Border changing of the guards ceremony.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_335" align="aligncenter" width="533"] India-Pakistan Border changing of the guards ceremony.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_336" align="aligncenter" width="533"] Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_337" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_338" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_339" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_340" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Self portrait at Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_341" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_342" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_343" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_344" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_345" align="aligncenter" width="533"] Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_346" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_347" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_348" align="aligncenter" width="533"] Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_349" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_350" align="aligncenter" width="533"] Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_351" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.
Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_353" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Market outside Mata Lal Devi Mandir Hindu temple in Jammu, Amritsar.[/caption]

On our first day after a lovely breakfast at Hotel Grand we wandered up some dusty roads to have a look at the Maharaja Sanjit Singh Panorama. On our way there we passed through what once must have been a magnificent garden (Ram Bagh Park) but now in very sad state with a small neighbourhood of slum-shacks on the grounds by the entrance. Two small kids from these shacks started to follow us and were very persistant shouting what sounded like it could be "change please". For a mere 10 Rupees (12 pence) the impressive and massive Maharaja Sanjit Sing Panorama diorama, depicting various battles of the Maharaja Sanjit Singh's empire, and some smaller dioramas and nice paintings is good value for money. It has clearly seen better days, but it's an interesting and quirky attraction. It's a sad sight to see how all these historic sites with its grand architecture are now just crumbling - literally vanishing by turning into dust. Signs of the grandour of what once were great empires. Also, many traces of the colonial period is withering away. Finding it odd how they seem to have no regard or respect for their historic architecture, let alone their own houses and businesses. Continous maintainance appears to be a very foreign concept. I'm hoping as we're moving further south it will improve on the crumbling, the dust and the pollution. It would be nice to breathe cleaner and less smelly air. A good pitch for some quick but delicious food in Amritsar is "Brothers Dhaba" in the old town. We read about it in our guide and happened upon it on our way back after our second visit to the Golden Temple. Cheap and tasy, and with friendly staff - what more can you ask for?

[caption id="attachment_312" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Lovely breakfast at Hotel Grand[/caption] [caption id="attachment_313" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Ram Bagh Park, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_314" align="aligncenter" width="533"] Two kids following us around asking "change please" Ram Bagh Park, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_315" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Remnants of a once stately house in Ram Bagh Park, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_316" align="aligncenter" width="533"] Gandhi staue in Ram Bagh Park, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_317" align="aligncenter" width="545"] Outside the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Panorama in Ram Bagh Park, Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_318" align="aligncenter" width="545"] A food vendor in the streets of Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_322" align="aligncenter" width="533"] A poor street-kid staring longingly into a coffee shop in Amritsat.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_323" align="aligncenter" width="533"] Some kids posing in the streets of Amritsar.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_324" align="aligncenter" width="533"] Fresh fruit stall in Amritsar.[/caption]

We got a Deluxe sleeper bus booked through our guest house as there are no direct trains down to Jaipur from Amritsar. Were a bit sceptic about what the definition of “Deluxe” would be here in India and found our grounds for scepticism very much justified. The trip was an adventure of its own, and not much sleep by the end of the journey. More about that later...