Amritsar’s Golden Temple (Sri Harmandir Sahib) is the holiest Gurudwara in the world. It has been built in the centre of a holy pond from which Amritsar gets its name (Amritsar means ‘the tank of nectar of immortality’). In a gesture that demonstrates the fact that the Gurudwara is open to all people of all religions, the Golden Temple’s foundation stone was laid by a Sufi Muslim saint. Its four entrances, opening in four different directions, further symbolise that anyone from anywhere is welcome. Two important items contained within the Golden Temple are the holy scripture of Sikhism (the Adi Granth) and the Akal Takht (throne of the timeless one). The original temple was built in the late 1500s, but much of what can be seen today (including the gold covering that gives the temple its English name) was built in the early 1800s. Like all Gurudwaras, this one welcomes all pilgrims to partake in a meal, offering food to more than 100,000 people every day. Many of the Sikh people I have met in recent days as I have crossed Punjab have told me that they visit the Golden Temple regularly for worship. I never saw the inside of the Golden Temple (you have to spend many hours waiting for your turn) and I never took a meal there (I figured I’d had the experience in Raikot, where things are very quiet compared to Amritsar), but I did enjoy soaking up the atmosphere as I walked around the pool that surrounds the temple.
Outside the temple, I responded positively to the touts who were vying to get passengers for a run to the Wagah Border Closing Ceremony. I ended up bargaining for a spot in a shared taxi, getting a round-trip for 100r (AU$2) to the ceremony, which is located about 30km from Amritsar. I had enough time to eat a Subway sandwich before joining a couple of Indian families in a taxi van for the ride out towards Pakistan. What an amusing event! Two grandstands have been built on either side of the Indian and Pakistani border gates. I joined several thousand Indians on a stand that was much bigger than the one just over the border line in Pakistan. The atmosphere was incredible. I felt like I was about to witness a war. Both sides of the border blasted out nationalistic tunes as flags were waved and cheering erupted spontaneously. In case you didn’t know, India and Pakistan don’t really like each other. As I crossed India, I learned not to mention my plans to visit Pakistan because if I did I would cop an earful about how dangerous it is to visit ‘that terrorist country’. The border ceremony apparently began as a peaceful demonstration to promote friendship between the two nations, but it didn’t take long for it to become a way for each side to show its strength. The amusing part is that this show of strength comes in the form of flamboyant leg-kicking, chest-thrusting and arm-muscle-showing. As a tourist, it is a fun show to watch. My tendency to support underdogs meant I wondered what would happen if I shouted out something in support of Pakistan – I don’t think I would have survived to tell the tale. As the ceremony went on, I thought about the fact that after tomorrow I will be cycling between the grandstands as I cross into the 11th country of my trip.
I met up with the Charlies at the ceremony (along with what is probably every other tourist in Amritsar, which was maybe 50 people) and joined them for a couple of beers at the Grand Hotel once we’d returned to Amritsar.
|Accommodation||$ Backpacker hostel|
|Distance ridden today||0km|
|Total distance ridden||18,445km|