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Another early start hit us but this time we were all itching to get going. Rumours were that the journey to Amritsar would take us five hours along the Grand Trunk Road that runs between Delhi and our final destination. Being wizened tourists in India we relaxed and settled in for an expected six hours.
The journey wasn’t without highlights though. Two hours in we stopped at a roadside eatery aptly named the ‘Honey Pot Café’. Sadly there were no pork pies on offer but an array of drinks and snacks with…added honey. Who knew that ordering a cold chocolate-honey beverage would mean receiving cold, salty brown-green water resembling a Manchester canal. Don’t get me wrong though it tasted great!
By 3pm the team had arrived in Amritsar. Immediately it was all system go as we had to secure accommodation in the temple and get to the India-Pakistan border in time for their evening ceremony. A sub-team took on the role of hotel-finders and in no time we were weaving through the throng of Pilgrims, sight-seers, tuk-tuks, cars, rickshaws and cows all moving steadily toward the Golden Temple. 30 minutes later and with a primely-positioned hotel just 10 minutes from the temple entrance booked and paid for, the sub-team jumped back in their car and started speeding their way to Pakistan in pursuit of the rest of the team.
The official border ceremony was another crazy Indian affair. By this point in the trip, we were all well-versed with a good old Indian ceremony so we took our seats in the “Foreigners Section” and began the chant of “Hindustan…. Zinderbaad!”. For those unfamiliar with this ritual, this was a rebuttal to the visitors over the border in Pakistan who were chanting back to try to drown each other out.
With the Sun setting through the worst pollution and smog I have ever seen, we headed back into Amritsar for our first visit of the Golden Temple. The temple was bustling when we arrived. It happened to be a festival for Lord Krishna, a Sikh festival called Namhi and the weekend after Indian Independence from the oppressive Brits! This meant it was either the best time or the worst time to be at the Golden Temple depending on your affinity to running backwards down Regent Street on a bank holiday weekend.
Sikh Gurdwara’s (Holy temples) are wonderful places that support the community they are in by providing meals and places to sleep for all their visitors. We decided to see what the menu was for dinner but then quickly realised that this would be the most memorable meal any of us had ever had. It is said that the Golden Temple feeds 250,000 people daily and may have served up to one million on the day we visited! In something akin to the London Riots, hoards of people banged on the doors until the previous sitting had left and they streamed into the dining hall. Within one second, the mats had all filled up and we were running to sit in the last available seating places. Cross-legged we sat as buckets of dhal were ladled one after the other next to rotis (breads) that had been handed out seconds before.
Making our way out from dinner we wandered over to the Temple. The Golden Temple is situated in the middle of a small lake with a single walkway connecting it to an encircling path and surrounding buildings. At night it is a glorious sight; the black water creates a sense of mystery whilst the sparkling solid gold temple in the middle emits enlightenment. If you were to ever have a religious epitome, this would be the ideal location. Sam, Tom K and Tom G decided to believe in “Carpe Diem” for the night and took their beds on the marble path next to the pond with the hundreds of pilgrims that has also bedded down under the stars for the night.
Amritsar certainly provided a fair few ‘firsts’ for the team — from sharing a meal with 2,000 others to out-shouting people standing in another country — it was an experience that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
Written by Tom Greenwood
LRTT Team Leader
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