Monday, January 24, 2011

Online once again!


Our travels have gone VERY well but we've had very little time for posting online (and very little access to getting online!).  So, here comes the "catching up."

January 8, 2011

After a couple of glorious days in McLeod Ganj among the Tibetans in exile, it was time to pack up and head to Amritsar to visit Sikhism’s most holy site, The Golden Temple.  What was supposed to be a brief three hour bus drive to Amritsar turned out to take most of the day.  This was due, in part, to having to take a different route than originally planned (which would have been too twisty for our large bus).  Our progress was also delayed because we had to take a different bus as ours had somehow lost its windshield while we were in McLeod Ganj.  The tour buses in India have a separate compartment for the driver and his assistant so the rush of cold air that they experienced was only a minor annoyance to our group.  Nonetheless, our guide Nand Singh contacted the transportation company and they sent a second bus to meet us midway.  We transferred our bags, climbed aboard the new bus, and wound our way to Amritsar to discover that our hotel was right next to an actual Baskin-Robbins -- yum!

January 9, 2011

We woke early to a wonderful breakfast at our hotel (HK Clarks Inn) and hopped into half a dozen tourist cars, which dropped us near the Golden Temple in the heart of Old Amritsar.  The streets are too narrow and too congested for busses and even tourist autos aren’t allowed to get very close.  A good walk in the cold air of the morning market is a great way to wake up.

The Hari Sahib or"Golden Temple" in Amritsar (Punjab, India) on a very cold January 9, 2011

The Golden Temple was a fantastic sight to behold.  The exterior of the temple is covered with nearly 1,500 pounds of 24 carat gold over copper plates (that’s about 30 grams per square inch).  Cameras aren’t allowed inside the temple, which holds Sikhism’s scripture the Holy Granth (read continuously throughout the day).  Equally impressive, however, is the Langur (or kitchen), which feeds over 40,000 people each day – for free.  Donations buy mass quantities of food, which is prepared all day long by devotees giving selfless service (“Seva”).  True to Sikhism’s egalitarian nature, folks of all castes mix when preparing and eating.  Our students had a turn preparing some of the food that would be served that day.

Lauren O' Leary stirring a huge vat of Dal (lentils) while Elliot Longtin awaits her turn.

Kelsey Andersson (L) and Joy Makin (R) flipping chapati (baked flat bread)  in Amritsar

In the evening we traveled to the border of India and Pakistan to watch an elaborate ceremony that marks the closing of the border each day.  With great pomp and bravado, soldiers from each side of the border “charge” the gate in mock aggression.  An emcee on each side stirs up good-natured nationalist sentiment in their respective crowds.  The feeling is something akin to the rivalry one senses at high school football games (“We’ve got spirit, yes we do; we’ve got spirit, how ‘bout you?”) – it’s “call and response” at its best.  Once the gates are flung open, a soldier from each side marches forward, shakes hands with his counterpart, salutes, and then “retreats” as the gates are slammed shut.  It’s great fun and lasts about 45 minutes or so.

Indian soldiers retreating with the Indian Flag following the border crossing
ceremony at the Indian-Pakistan border 

As we returned to the hotel, many of us offered silent prayers for clear skies the next day so that we could fly out of Amritsar on our way to Bodhgaya in the east.  The same, daily flight we planned to take tomorrow had been cancelled earlier in the day and we were getting pretty concerned we’d have to find another route to continue our trek.

More soon.

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