Sunday, October 13, 2013

Delhi to Amritsar

We had another very positive experience of flying internally in India on Saturday (12 October). We flew out of Delhi on time at 11.40am and arrived at Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs, near the northwest border with Pakistan, a good 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. As always VP Singh ensured our guide and driver were waiting for us, ready to whisk us off to our 5 star accommodation at the Amritsar Hyatt. We enjoyed a few hours of relaxation at the hotel and at the big glossy shopping mall alongside the Hyatt – even finding a tuna and salad roll from Subway strangely appealing for a late lunch snack.

We were reunited with Jennie and Wayne later in the afternoon, when they arrived, fresh and exhilarated from their amazing Ludhiana adventure.
Over dinner that night (at the hotel’s Thai restaurant) they shared some of their most amazing experiences…traveling by rail to Ludhiana,

meeting the father-in-law of VP Singh, who is the well connected head man of one of the villages around Ludhiana, sharing stories about the history of the community and enjoying the warm hospitality of all the family members. 

Jennie and Wayne received gifts from their hosts and an assurance from the village elder that he will be able to find out more about Wayne’s great-grandfather who lived in the area in the latter half of the 19th century before his migration to Australia.

We were met by our guide “John Gill” at 9.00pm for our visit to Amritsar’s Golden temple, to witness the ceremony of “Palki Sahib” where the Holy Granth (book) of the Sikhs is taken in a Golden Palanquin to it’s nightly abode, amidst the chanting of hymns, cattle drums & nagaras (trumpets).

To get to the temple complex we had to negotiate the crowded, colourful laneways of old Amritsar town.

John explained some of the beliefs and the dramatic history of Sikhism, the world’s newest religion (only founded in the last 500 years or so) so that we could have a context for what we saw happening at this most amazing temple complex. With John as our guide we always seemed to be in just the right place at the right time for when things were happening. And he made sure our heads and bodies were covered and our feet bare, according to the protocols of Sikhism.

It was another heart stopping moment seeing the Golden Temple that houses the original holy book of the Sikhs (which the Sikhs revere and treat like a holy person).

The Sikh people are renowned for their imposing physiques and their fighting abilities when required. These young warriors in traditional Sikh battle dress certainly look the part! No wonder the British found them so problematic during the time of the Raj.

Amongst all the crowds John found us a wonderful position to watch the process by which the palanquin is prepared each night by the priests for the holy book's short journey from the temple back to its "bedroom".

A lot of layers of linen and silk are involved...

and much decorating with garlands of marigolds....

There are thousands of devotees excitedly surging around the palanquin, but it is all very controlled and devout.

This is the holy book's "bedroom".

Thousands of people are queuing to enter the Golden Temple to pray and pay their respects.

After the holy book has left its temple for the night, thousands of volunteers descend to start the weekly cleaning process (this happens every Saturday night). The place is alive with thousands of people polishing brass, cleaning silver, sweeping and mopping marble, packing away precious gold and embroidered banners. There is so much reverent energy!!

It's most evident inside the Golden Temple itself, but we were not allowed to take photos in that very holy place.

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