I now contact you all from the city of Amritsar which, if you look at a map, is situated far in the north-western corner of India, only a few miles from the border with Pakistan with the nearest big city being Lahore.
I mention all that because it's relevant but only later on. You see I didn't come to Amritsar just so I could wave at Pakistanis through a thick wire fence - after all, I do that most days at work - but instead because Amritsar is the holy city of the Sikh religion and the home of the Golden Temple, the Sikh Kaaba, Wailing Wall or Holy Sepulchre.
I was introduced to Sikhism some seven years ago whilst studying Comparative Religions at Edge Hill University. In an excellent two-week course we covered the six major world faiths and Sikhism was the last that we got to. To be honest I wasn't looking forward to it much; I was expecting another Hinduism which I have always really struggled to get my noggin around, but when it was presented I discovered to my delight that it was a faith which resonates a lot with me and my values. Founded by Guru Nanak some five hundred or so years ago, it's a faith with equality before God at its heart. I read more and asked Sikh students and was fascinated. And so, when it came to planning a trip to India, there was one place that was always going to be top of the list.
The Golden Temple, built by the Fourth Guru, is a tiny temple covered in gold leaf situated in the centre of a large pool. All around are other buildings associated with the faith: the Sikh Parliament, the Sikh Museum, pilgrim accommodation and an enormous Langar, but the holy of holies is the temple itself in which the original copy of the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granith Sahib Ji is kept.
Well, I'm pleased to say that it didn't disappoint. The temple, although busy was peaceful and serene and I sat for some time in the temple itself meditating.
But before that I went to the Langar. I've mentioned that word in the last two posts so I suppose I should explain what it is. Well, Guru Nanak taught his Sikhs, (lit. disciples), that one cannot concentrate on God with an empty stomach and that it is a meritorious act to feed the poor so every gurdwara, (Sikh temple), has a langar, a vast communal kitchen and dining room in which volunteers prepare the food and wash the dishes and everyone eats together as one. It's amazing. You can be sat in a line with a woman on one side, (unthinkable in Islam for example), a beggar on the other, a rich man after him, yet as you eat you are all the same. Naturally, for an old unreformed socialist like me, that makes sense. Now how do we get them to introduce something similar in our cathedrals? Free food in the name of God, count me in!
V-log of trip to Golden Temple
Now I mentioned earlier that Amritsar is near the border and so it is which is good because at the Attari Border with Pakistan there is a daily spectacle unlike any other on earth. Every evening the two countries close their borders with a ceremony full of high-kicking, shouting and full-on jingoism. It's so funny that both sides now have stadia so that crowds can watch the proceedings and the thousands that attend try to shout out the other side. So along I went, ready to stand up and bawl "Hindustan Zinzabar!" in reply to every Pakistani "Pakistan Zinzabar!".It was hilarious and in the battle of the nations I'd give the scores as follows:
Crowd size: India 1 - 0 Pakistan
Loudest shouting: India 0 - 1 Pakistan
Uniforms: India 1 - 1 Pakistan
So it's a tie but I'd give it to India personally since they had two rather hot female soldiers at the gate whereas the Pakistanis could find only men.
But there again, I'm biased...
Indo-Pak Border Closing Cermony
However, after that things all went downhill. I've been loving the food here even if it is very greasy, but last night some Punjabi kutha caught up on me and I was rather ill. I'm better today but feeling weak and miserable. And so, after dragging myself round a Hindu temple that looks virtually identical to the Golden Temple and a weird cave temple, where I hung out with Carlos and Montserrat, a lovely Mexican couple, I've retired to this internet cafe to while away the long hours in peace until my train back to Delhi.
V-log from Amritsar's other Golden Temple
With Montserrat and Carlos at the weird Mata Cave Temple
Next update (hopefully) Agra.
Uncle Travelling Matt