Brother's in Amritsar
On the way from the station to the old town (where we were staying) the rickshaw driver pointed out a popular restaurant called Crystal. We thought it looked good so took his recommendation and thinking it was a popular restaurant it would be easy enough to get a rickshaw there. It turns out it wasn't as well-known as we had thought, or perhaps we weren't saying Crystal the correct way! We eventually got there but not before we had asked a few other rickshaw drivers and then someone who could speak English. Finally, the penny dropped, our driver thought it was hilarious he couldn't understand us before and kept repeating the word Crystal and laughing! We enjoyed a really nice, but slightly expensive meal for Indian standards and then headed out the front of the restaurant to flag down an auto as opposed to a rickshaw, so we didn't have to get out and push our way up the hill! The traffic was heaving but every auto was full, we waited for about 10 minutes and just when we started to get concerned an auto pulled over, it was already full and we asked to be dropped at the golden temple. He said yes and we agreed a price. We were all ready to jump into the back but he made the other passengers move across and I balanced on a small ledge in the middle.
Anyone who has seen a tuk tuk will know they are not huge but in real Indian tradition we managed to cram 8 of us into one; and this isn't even at is full capacity! At first we headed in the opposite direction to the golden temple and we got concerned again, fortunately he was dropping the other passengers off first and then we turned around in the middle of the road and we were on our way, this time in the right direction. Whilst going down a small street we got stuck, there was a gridlock where two cards had essentially got stuck on the tiny roads. We soon became a source of entertainment and the people walking past gave us a wave and a smile. We thought we had escaped the craziness of Delhi only to be thrown into the mayhem of Amritsar!
The next day we found a nearby restaurant called Brothers, we could not be bothered with the traffic and this was cheap and amazing, they served the best thali I have ever had and a delicious Mango lassi to go with it-yum. In the afternoon we got a shared taxi to Wagau the town on the border with Pakistan. Every night guardsman from both countries perform a border ceremony, a similar tradition to the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. However, this is more like a crazy dance off with high speed marching looooong chants, high kicks and aggressive freeze frames, but more about the ceremony later just getting to our seats was an adventure in itself.
We guessed that the shared taxi wouldn't be very fancy when it cost us 100 rupees return (£1) but the jeep was actually quite nice. It wasn't until we all got crammed in that we realised how they made money. James got the worse deal when he had to sit in the boot with three other men and no windows in 35 degree heat. I at least had a window to breathe out of but did have to sit forward the whole way and my bum squeezed into a space about 10cm wide with my hip bashing against the door so much it had a bruise the following day. The Indians with us were really friendly and we managed to have some conversations with them as they spoke a little English. They did ask the funniest questions that in England we would find rude and nosey but it is not thought of like that in India. James was asked 'how much do you earn?' I was asked 'How old are you?' and 'Are you two married?' They all tried their best to help us and the three vets gave us a mini tour of the Hindu temple we stopped at on the way back.
The queuing system and reserved seating seemed a little segregated as foreigners got let in first and then had a separate seating area. James and I didn't have our passports so luckily we look foreign otherwise we wouldn't have been allowed in! We saw why we were let in separately when the gates opened for the Indians it was a mad rush to the stands we turned around to see thousands of people running towards us! If you can imagine a concert that is sold out and has crazy fans that know they'll get in but don't have seat numbers, that was the hysteria created when those gates opened. By the time we were let in, through our separate security gate, two of the large stands were crammed full with women and men separated as usual. It made us laugh that even the foreigner section was segregated into white and Indian looking people and because we were in almost first we watched in amusement as some white people accidentally walked towards the area for Indian looking foreigners. They were soon whistled at frantically by the guards and sent into the white section, it was vice versa for any Indians attempting to get into the white area!
We could see in the distance some very dark looking clouds and then an extremely strong wind hit us. It was so strong that it created a mini sand storm, everyone had to face the other way and be on full alert as huge branches were being blown from the trees. The wind calmed after a good 10 minutes and about 30 minutes after that the rain came. By this point James and I were sat in the stands and whilst other people chickened out running for cover behind the stands we just quote Nan 'it's only rain; we're not made of icing sugar.' This philosophy didn't last too long when the rain only got heavier and there wasn't a dry inch on us. James got concerned about the cameras safety so we wimped out and headed under the shelter. When the rain slowed a bit we moved underneath a ledge and one of the guardsmen walked past us, looked at us and impersonated us, like we were little girls hiding out. After the ceremony I also got a picture with the said guard and he mocked us again! When I asked him for a photo he said 'oooohhh yay a photo!'
We decided to come out of hiding as the rain eased and we when we went around the corner we saw hundreds of women on the street dancing to the music. All the Indians were going crazy for the music blaring from the loud speakers. It was almost worth coming just to watch them dance in the rain. The timing for when the rain did stop couldn't have been better. It was exactly 6:00pm and the border ceremony was due to start. The music was switched off and the women reluctantly took their seats, all the guards started whistling to the crowds trying to get everyone seated. Some of the westerners who had stayed undercover until the last possible moment made us laugh as they didn't want to sit down in case they got a wet bum. Meanwhile James, Me, all of the Indians and a lot of the westerners sat their without a dry inch between us! It is difficult to describe the border ceremony as I just want to demonstrate their marching skills in person but here is a bullet point account of what we saw and heard.
· First it was a long droning call from a senior guard. When I say long he kept it going for about a minute.
· Next came the marching. In various group sizes guards exploded from the barracks with stompy rapid steps and arms swinging from side to side. They marched so quick in fact it was near impossible to get a photo.
· They finished their marching at the gate where they performed a series of very serious high kicks and then a freeze frame with arms flexed about their head like a wrestler after a victorious battle.
· Some of the more important guards did an extra few high kicks and crazy marching right in front of the crowds and then stomped their way to the gate.
· They slammed the gates open and in a mirror image of the Pakistan guards reflected back at us (although they had fancier uniforms-shh!). Both guards got close to each other and then, from what it looked like to us, tried to beat each other on their high kicks.
· Both flags were lowered at the same time and of course they got marched back to the barracks with the same vigour.
· The gates were slammed shut for the final time and the crowds (out of separate exits) were dispersed.
It was an amazing spectacle and in the end we were pleased it had rained as we got to enjoy two shows! The journey back was a lot cooler so James was happy, I still had my four inches of space to sit but everyone was in high spirits. We got a little extra for our money when the driver dropped us at a Hindu temple and the veterinarian guys gave us a Hindu lesson on praying and some of the Gods. The temple was very beautiful, like a mini version of the Sikhs Golden Temple.
We visited the Golden Temple three times in the course of the day and each time something interesting happened. Our first glimpse was the early morning where we were supposed to see it at its best light, I am sure the guide books put stuff like that just to get you up at stupid o'clock. The rain clouds came over and as we were the only stupid white people to get up that early we had to partake in a lot of photos with a lot of satisfied Indians and we left the temple to go back to bed! By our second visit the sun was out and you could see the reflection of the temple in the water, it was beautiful. We did another lap with a few more family shots and then headed to the kitchen area to join the queue for lunch. The Sikhs are amazing and every temple we have heard about or visited they give out free food and it isn't just a one off or to poor people it is all the time to everyone. We didn't have a clue what the protocol was so we did the only thing you can do in those situations; follow the crowd. You get given a silver school dinner like tray, a bowl and spoon. We sat waiting for our turn with a group of young smiley men and then piled into the hall to sit in rows and rows of bamboo mats. Almost as soon as you are seated men walk up and down the rows with buckets of food spooning it onto the plates as fast as the guardsmen from yesterday could march. It was pretty sloppy and you had to endure some curry splash back. We got our chapattis thrown at us and it was time to start eating. The food was really delicious, an amazing feat to feed that many people and actually make it taste good. You could even get seconds of everything. When you had finished you take the tray to the cleaning section and the process starts all over again. The vets from yesterday told us they feed up to 50,000 people a day, I was sceptical until I experienced it for myself. I counted in our hall about 200 people and then we went downstairs and there was a hall underneath with the same amount of people in. We were all in and out in 10 minutes and this goes on for 24 hours! It was really fun to eat with hundreds of strangers and more amazing to see the amount of man power it takes to produce all this food in such large amounts. There were about 80 people washing up, 20 people making chapattis as well as a machine, 80 people chopping garlic, onions or vegetables. And these were the people we could see working, who knows how many people were doing the cooking or the size of the pans! Our last visit was in the evening and we thought we would walk off some of our delicious evening meal of thali, from Brothers restaurant, by walking around the perimeter a few times. On our first lap we got pulled aside by a man who asked if we wanted to know more about the temple. He assured us it wasn't for money he just likes to inform and chat with foreigners. To start with James and I were unsure and shy about what to ask but an hour ½ later we were sat on the edge of the water still chatting to Chaniji and learning a lot about the temple and Sikhism. He named us Emilyji and Jamesji as Indians use this 'ji' at the end of your name as a term of endearment. We got his address and phone number and of course the obligatory photo so if we are ever back or if we have friends who visit we are to put them in touch with him!
We had a train to catch in the afternoon so in the morning we visited the memorial gardens where the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre happened. We found it pretty emotional but the Indians seemed more interested in us. I had one women come running towards me and gave me a big hug, I am sure she thought she knew me we all look the same I suppose! A family stalked us for the whole way round and plucked up the courage to say hello and shake our hands. The mini museum displayed newspaper cuttings and photos of how brutal the English were during that time. We felt ashamed and sad; the empire came at a price.
To cheer ourselves up we went back to Brothers for our last meal in Amritsar and I decided to go for something other than thali and tried Mushroom masala. It was the most delicious curry I have ever eaten; I am drooling now as I think of the taste sensation!
Frustratingly our train was delayed for three hours so we milled about and got in Pathankot at 10:00pm, found the only hotel with rooms available and it must be one of the most expensive in India-£22 for one night!