I've done a few stupid things in my life.
Like the time I had a few beers, fell asleep on the train home, woke up in Brighton and decided that it might be a good idea to walk home...30 km later I gave up, phoned my dad and got lift the rest of the way home. At least I can blame this event to being a teenager...but not this time ...
I feel asleep waiting for my 2am train to Amritsar. Completely sober, I woke up at 4 am. Now I suspect that any normal person would have cursed and have gone straight back to sleep ... No, I decided that this being India, I should go and check to see if the train has left anyway ... which it had. By this point I'd left my hotel room and was now stuck in Bikaner at four in the morning. So I went to the Private bus stand, where, not surprisingly there were no buses. But I was lucky to find a travel agent who was already open for the day (probably for people like me). He took pity on me, sold me a ticket and let me doss in his shop until the first bus in the right direction arrived .... that was at 6am. I was a little fortunate as the bus was a sleeper, but it only got me half way...
Sikh guardian patrolling the Golden Temple at Amritsar.
So I got to Amritsar, a little later than planned and in a lot less comfort. But it was worth it; The focal point for the Sikh faith, the Golden Temple was awesome... I was simply awestruck by the sheer beauty of a gold covered temple glistening in the middle of a lake, with the quiet chant of a sikh reading from the holy book in the middle. This was followed by an invitation to lunch from a Sikh at the colossal dining hall, where i joined at least a 500+ people to eat during a 20 minute shift. he Dining hall opens its doors to everyone and for free. Its part of one of the key tenets of the sikh faith - is equality for all, whatever caste, religion, colour and creed. The temple also has four doors; one for Christians; one for Muslims; One for Hindu's and one for Sikh's. All are welcome. Having seen the huge disadvantages you have being a member of an 'untouchable' caste in India, I really understand the importance and symbolic aspect of this for all Sikh's. Whilst traveling in India it has not been uncommon to hear of stories of high level castes (Brahmen for example) refusing to eat in the same place as a member of an untouchable caste. In parts of Rajasthan there were even separate wells for the different castes to use.
Amritsar is also home to a Jallianwalla Bagh memorial where a certain British Brigadier General, by the name of Dyer mowed down several hundred non-violent protestors during the british raj era, around 1919. Having seen where the massacre took place, a park with only one entrance & exit, through which General Dyer marched in, I am gobsmacked on why anyone in their right mind would consider such an action and continue the order to fire for 5 minutes ! General Dyer was asked to retire as a result, but the British residents in India raised a staggering £26k (probably more like £500k in todays money) to supplement his pension fund during retirement. No wonder, this was a turning point for the British Raj and the Indian independence movement. Its a sad episode which leaves a very negative focal point against the British Raj.
Prior to missing my train, I stopped over in Bikaner to visit the uniquely weird rat temple at Deshnok. Rats are everywhere, sleeping, squabbling and thriving off the constant offerings of food from pilgrims. I had to make one of the most forced similes of miles of my life, surrounded by rats, while wondering if one is going to accost me. Thankfully that experience is over!
Rats drinking an offering of milk.
Wondering around Bikaner, i saw my first Guru, or as some guy kindly explained to me ... he was a living god, of the Jain variety, since he had found enlightenment. He had a good bunch of devotees all dancing and clapping. There were posters up and around town with his image... it was a spectacle, and n a strange way, it felt a little bit like an evangelical Christian gathering, except this was a Jain Guru.
I plan to visit Pakistan tomorrow, so I had to go as see the outrageously laughable border ceremony at Wagga, where both the Indian and Pakistani border guards enact a border closing parade. Its a stupendous contest to try and outdo each other with a series of moves straight from Monty Pythons ministry of silly walks, but all with a deadly serious tone between two countries that are still technically at war. Its well worth checking out on youtube.
So tomorrow, I'm off to Lahore in Pakistan. I plan to spend a few days there before returning to India and heading to the mountains ... its still incredibly hot and I need a break from the fierce heat.