Nearly a week has passed since I was actually in the Punjab region of India. I miss it dearly. So I’m going to reminisce… and please don’t be offended if you’re from Surrey when you read this (hey, my mama’s originally from Surrey)!
Darryn and I parted ways in Delhi, after an exhausting evening filled with disorder. Our train was late coming in from Jaipur, it was nearly 1 am, and our hotel room had been given away. No matter, we thought. We were in a strip FILLED with hotels – we searched around for quite sometime discovering nearly all of them were full. Crap. We finally found an over-priced shit hole (I’m not being dramatic here) and bunkered down.
We were travelling with Cassie, an American clarinet teacher now living in Bangkok. She went to hop in the shower and we started to settle. Then the hotel porter waltzes into our hotel room demanding our passports (the usual for India – the passport request, not the waltzing into hotel rooms). No knock. Then he proceeds to laugh as I tell him in a ‘stern’ voice that it is not acceptable to walk into a hotel room unannounced.
Anger ensued. We left. So, we were found in the same position – wandering the streets of Delhi in search of a place to lay our heads (which we eventually found, after our standards simply dropped to ‘no bed bugs please’).
And that my friends, is how I ended up with Darryn’s passport in hand as I attempted to check into my hotel in Amritsar with Cassie. And I will freely admit that I held my shit together until I received confirmation that Darryn had in fact gotten onto her Dharamsala (northern India) plane.
After that news, I panicked. I cried silently in the internet cafe, imagining my plans to head back to Nepal and complete a trek drift out the window. I tallied up the dollars I had already spent on plane tickets and my trek deposit and envisioned my broke ass stuck on a bus for over 10 hours simply to swap documents.
Okay, now I was being dramatic. Really it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I was forced to abandon plan A and explore/trek in the Himalayan range in Northern India rather than Nepal. But looking back, I think I was secretly really missing Nepal and its people/culture and truly was eager to return.
Anyways, it all worked out – Darryn’s yogi (I still giggle every time I hear that title) coordinated an excellent plan; one of his employees would ride the bus down to Amristar and back and we would swap the goods. It all worked perfectly. My heart goes out to that kind boy who spent most of his day on the bus for us.
After the fiscal was all settled, Cassie and I got to enjoy Amristar fully. We wandered through an intricate Hindu temple full of low ceilings and cave-like rooms.
We got our palms read (good news, I should live well past 90!) And,we spent hours encircling the gorgeous and jaw-dropping Golden Temple (basically Mecca for Sikhs).
The stark white marble walkways surrounding the holy pond (that the temple is perched on), are perfect for casual strolls, bare feet and all. Once in a while our head scarves would slip and a guard would gently remind us to cover our hair again. We didn’t mind, we were entranced with the soft chanting that carries on 24/7. This is the ultimate place to zen out and contemplate life, spirituality..the list could go on forever. Cassie and I both agreed that we loved the temple even more than the infamous Taj. It’s just more of an overall e x p e r i e n c e. I’m still little sad that we missed eating a free meal with 60,00-80,000 pilgrams (volunteers serve meals daily to all that visit, if one desires). Ah well, next time.
We visited the place several times to see the breathtaking structure in different light.
At night, hordes of young boys would gather around us if we stopped for a moment. Questions would fire at us from all angles and they would giggle endlessly as they took turns posing with us for pictures. It was adorable and loads of fun!
We ended our time in the Punjab region with a visit to the Pakistan/India border to watch the border closing ceremony – which was a celebration of monumental size!
Punjabi music blasts over the speakers, Indians take turns running down the short walkway with a massive Indian flag in tow, women and children dance festively. It’s a site to see! I couldn’t believe how many people come to take part in the spectacle. And then there are the actual guards – they high kick and fast walk like no other!
Needless to say my stomach hurt from laughing so hard by the end of the show.
Now, the ceremony is all fun and games, and it ends with the border gate opening, the guards from both the Pakistan and Indian sides shaking hands and flailing about and the gate slamming shut for the evening.
What I couldn’t figure out was how two countries that despise each other so much have such a fantastic event to share their border. It’s bizarre!
It was also quite surreal to stare across the gate and see the Pakistani people on the other side. They were cheering and chanting ‘Pakistan Forever’ (as were the Indians with ‘India Forever’).
I kept staring up at the Pakistan flag flapping in the hot breeze, a reminder of how many times I’d seen that flag, but attached to horrific news stories of terrorist attacks and state chaos. I didn’t feel much inclined to venture past the gate (even if I did, it would supposedly take up to 3 months to get a visa).
After the ceremony we made our way back to the truck, joking about how we couldn’t find our driver and wouldn’t that be a great call to make to someone back home. “Hi dear, I’m stuck at the Pakistan border.” Eep.
The following morning I headed back to Delhi, sharing my berth with a unbelievably kind family from southern Punjab. We immediately made a connection since the mother’s brother lived in Surrey. This was SUCH a common conversation I can’t even begin to describe how many times I met someone who had a brother, sister, daughter, uncle, son etc. living in Surrey. Everyone wanted to visit there!
Back to the family though. They told me complicated stories of the Sikh history for several hours. Informing me why they always carry mini daggers (usually plastic, often tucked into their turbans or attached at their hip). “It’s simply for protection and not attack”, the father explained to me. The Sikh’s have a rough past – most of it involving being attacked by Muslims and Hindu’s and mostly because of the location of the majority community. Google it, it’s interesting stuff.
They shared their lunch with me and insisted I spend the night with them in their quaint village. I had to sadly decline since I had an early flight the following morning. But they bring a smile to my face every time I think back to that particular train ride. And you know what? I think I have a new-found respect for – get ready for it – Surrey.