My holidays seem like such a long time ago now, it’s a race against time to update my blog before I go home. Today signals the first day of our last month in India, with it comes emotions which I know will resurface at the end. Unfortunately almost all electrical equipment I own has been infiltrated by horrific viruses on the school computers, so I may be able to upload some of my holiday ones but you will probably have to wait 30 days for any more recent photos! I last wrote about being in Mumbai and the exhausting, 3 day journey to Jaipur. Let’s begin again where I left off.
Jaipur was a hot, sticky, mess. Persistent hassle from auto drivers, market sellers and dogs meant that every time you ventured outside you had to be on guard. The cloudless blue sky and beautiful pink walled city, picturesque in imagination but chaos in reality, was the setting to an unbelievable explosion. It is difficult to explain the manic atmosphere of Jaipur, to put into words the shops which are crammed with goods and how they just burst with everything you could ever imagine, to describe the normality of tired abused camels wandering down the middle of the road or to create a picture of the looming historical monuments just appearing in between the commotion. Our five days in Jaipur allowed for some time to relax and we took great advantage of our beautiful guest house which was a paradise amongst the madness of the city. Of course, we visited the many sites the city has to offer; including the Amber Fort (one of my favourite sites from the whole trip), Hawa Mahal, City Palace and Janta Manta. We also took great advantage of the wonderful shopping, indulging in mirror work on shoes, bags and bangles as well as the lovely leather jutis (slip on pump style shoes) available everywhere. Jaipur was also a chance to catch up with some friends: we had dinner with Holly and Alice who are volunteering in a blind school in Hyderabad, and were reunited with Sarah after saying goodbye in Anaikatti. After the colours of Jaipur, we were prepared for some spirituality as our next stop was Amritsar, home to the Golden Temple and a massive pilgrimage site for Sikhs all over India.
We arrived in Amritsar later than ideal, a days travel by train, beginning with a 4am encounter with dogs, meant we were tired and keen to reach our destination. The train journey further North proved how different the opposite ends of India are. Deserts merged into forests and clear sky became stormy. We exited the station to be greeted by a downpour of both rain and darkness and one overpriced auto rickshaw later, we arrived at our hotel. Despite all descriptions and maps showing our accommodation to be right next to the Golden Temple, we were yet to see it. The next morning we ventured into Amritsar a small set of winding streets all surrounding the temple, which was almost visible peeking out in front of some buildings.
That night we visited the temple for the first time. Depositing our shoes with a kindly man on the front desk who directed us exactly where to go and what to do, we covered our heads with our doopitas (shawls) and walked across the foot baths (despite the serenity of the place I couldn’t help but think of swimming pools when the foot and mouth disease was rife.) We passed under huge white arches which were connected to a wall surrounding the site. Inside there was complete calm. The white walls which marked the walkway around the water provided an enclosure and offered protection to the holy bathing pool and temple. I can’t find the words to describe the temple, but it felt powerful, inclusive and peaceful. Situated on a platform in the middle of the water, you could access it by a walkway suspended over the water. The inside of the ornately decorated temple was beautiful, but the true magnificence was sitting by the water side, in silent meditation. We sat, legs crossed, side by side on the tiles and focused on the temple. Men bathed in the waters, bobbing up and down in a prayer ritual and melodic sounds in a language we couldn’t comprehend echoed around the courtyard. The Golden Temple has eating and accommodation provisions, we stayed in the tourist quarters-a dormitory style set of beds with thin mattresses filled with other tourists, the type we tend to avoid. The eating hall was an experience like no other. The sense of community and spirit which just exuded from the people urging you along, passing you plates and spoons and bowls, guiding you around corners and sitting you down in narrow rows. If you wanted more roti you cupped your hands as men came along and dropped them into your palms. The washing up chaos is something else, I did have great intentions of helping out but the clashing and banging was enough to scare me away.
Whilst in Amritsar we also paid a visit to the Pakistani border. Crowds of people, stalls selling juice and snacks, face painters and blasting music greeted us as we made our way towards the crowd. Hustled into the ladies line, we waited until the barrier opened and they surged forwards, army officials separated groups of women with long wooden sticks. Once through the barrier, women began racing to get the best seats. We snuck past the sign for ‘foreigners this way,’ and tried to cover as much of our white flesh as possible…unfortunately no such luck and we were sent to a separate row of foreigner seating. Even so, the pride beamed on everyones faces, alongside chanting of ‘Hindustan’ and other pro India slogans, loud music played, women danced and overly dressed army men ran up and down to the border gate. Each country raced to the finish line, competition to see who could get there first, and briefly shook hands. The ceremony is publicised as friendly, but I couldn’t quite help but feel that there were some underlying tensions amongst the crowds.