From Golden Temple to Golden Tumble

21 May

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April 18, 2012

Because we didn’t have to take the train from Amritsar to Rishikesh until 10:15pm that night we planned on a later start to the day, deciding the previous night that we would meet Dhilbagh at 11am to visit the Golden Temple and Jallianwala Bagh.

When we arrived close to the Golden Temple Dhilbagh stopped the van and let us out to walk in the scorching hot midday sun (lesson learned: early morning and late afternoon are best temperature-wise for activities this time of year in India) through the over-crowded streets while experiencing complete and utter sensory overload: the smells of any number of potent Indian spices mixed with the gutter sludge of dirty water, human and animal waste; the heat of the sun on our bodies, the burning sensation of the hot pavement under our feet as we were made to take off our shoes well in advance of arriving at the Golden Temple; the feeling of sweat running down every inch of our bodies (the hot yoga sweats have nothing on India); the sounds of people shouting and sing-song of horns honking; etc.

We finally arrived at the entrance to the Golden Temple where we first covered our heads with our scarves (mandatory) and walked through a shallow white marble pool of water as it is customary to clean one’s feet before entering. We walked down a half flight of stairs and got our first glimpse of the 4-walled establishment. The 4 walls signify the 4 main religions in India which also means that anyone and everyone is permitted to enter the temple.

The white marble floor was set around the perimeter which encircled a square pool of holy water where men bathed openly and women in a private enclosed portion of the pool. The water was inhabited by huge fish and that I couldn’t help but think reminded me of the koi fish ponds at the Mandarin. (I know I’ll probably go to hell for making that kind of association.)The Golden Temple itself sat close to the centre of the large pool with a sort of flat marble bridge leading out to it where you could go inside.

Shortly after we entered the Golden Temple, my feet still wet from the foot washing, I had what some might call a Golden Tumble. That’s right, I fell in a sort of clumsy splits position slamming my right kneecap onto the hard white marble floor and pulling my left groin muscle. In a sacred and elegant temple, I was the epitome of all things opposite to grace.

We walked around for about 2 hours, visiting the temples, talking to the locals that had come to pray and posing for photos with men, women and children. I was amazed at how easily mother’s handed over their babies to us to hold for a photo (obviously they hadn’t seen my clumsy fall or they may have thought twice).

We exited the temple and retrieved our shoes to make our way to the Jallianwala Bagh which according to the historical recount on the walls inside the Bagh, was a neighborhood invaded by a British soldier who shot up the place killing hundreds of unarmed Indians. The bullet holes remain in the brick walls of the surrounding buildings, each one with a square drawn around it. There was a strict no photography rule inside the walls of the Jallianwala Bagh, which we observed (for the most part), unlike the locals that requested us to pose with them as they snapped photos of us on their cell phones.

On our way out, J.J. and I did run into the principal of an all-girls school visiting the Bagh on a field trip. Slowly his students gathered around to participate in the conversation to the best of their ability with their limited English and only then did J.J. pull out his camera to take a photo of the students posing with me.

After lunch and on our way back to Dhilbag’s van we noticed a turban shop and J.J. decided he’d like to learn how to wrap his head in a turban. In order to learn he was told he would have to purchase the 4 meters by 1 meter of fabric necessary to wrap his head as the Sikh’s do. He decided to go for it and 10 minutes later we had drawn a crowd of locals around the shop, all curious to see the white man in a turban. As we left the shop, J.J. was asked to pose in a number of photos, got lots of laughs and just as many thumbs up from the many Sikh men we passed on our way back to the van. Dhilbag who wears a turban was especially smiley at the sight of J.J. We drove back to the hotel to pack up our things and have a couple of hours of down time before Dhilbag would pick us up for dinner, followed by dropping us off at the train station.

Around 6pm, once we’d loaded up the van with our belongings Pete attempted to be helpful by closing the trunk of the van for Dhilbag who was in the middle of turning on the A/C for us. Unfortunately Pete didn’t notice that the shocks (or is it hydrolics? I’m really not a car person…) of the door were missing and as he pushed down on the trunk the back window shattered, covering our backpacks and the back seat in shards of glass.

Poor Dhilbagh looked like he was going to cry as every nearby local came up to the van and began chipping away at what little glass remained of the rear window. Dhilbagh made a call and arranged to trade the van with the busted window for another one that was fully intact. And so we loaded in to the glass-filled van, me in the very back with only a sarong and my thin linen pants between my bum and the shards of glass. Luckily it was a fairly smooth ride to the market where Dhilbag was dropping us off while he made the car switch and we got out completely unscathed.

We had half an hour to kill as we waited for Dhilbagh to arrive with the new van and we opted to walk around the market which was a textile market. Never before have I seen so many incredible fabrics in sorts of colours, patterns and textures. Each shop’s walls were lined floor to ceiling with rolls of fabric while men pulled wooden carts fully loaded or balanced the rolls of material on their heads or shoulders.

Half an hour later we met Dhilbagh where he’d dropped us off at the market. He drove us to a spot halfway between the market and the train station where we took our time having dinner in the hope of avoiding a long wait for our train at the station. Over dinner we discussed giving Dhilbagh a very generous tip for the trouble we’d unintentionally caused him with the broken back window, something he was noticeably incredibly happy about when we handed it to him at the train station.

And then it was goodbye Amritsar as we made our way on the overnight train to Rishikesh.

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