Trip Start Sep 15, 2008
122Trip End Jan 01, 2009
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Leaving out hotel in the ghetto at 6am for our train was a surreal experience. There was dense fog, narrow streets, and dozens of people sleeping on the street. The cool air settled the intense urine and garbage smells of yesterday. Inside of the train station was near chaos, thousands of people all looking for their platform most still half asleep. We found a little book shop at the station that had tons of cheap English books (a treat of travel in India). Even though some people say travel in India is hard, the fact so many people speak English makes it amazingly easy after our experiences with Spanish, Portuguese, and French. We bought a copy of the Life of Pi, a novel written by a Canadian about a young Indian's journey to Toronto, it seemed quite fitting as we will be moving to Ontario after our trip...hopefully ours trip is less challenging than his (update: Arik finished the book and loved it!)
On the train we shared our bench with another Canadian backpacker who is also a Photo Journalist for the Province news paper in Vancouver, small world eh? Our 2nd class ticket cost a beautiful $2.50 and for the next 7 hours we watched India pass by our window. Inside, of the train, was a hive of activity with musicians, Sikh warriors, chai-wallahs and countless other characters mulling about. Outside the views changed between slums, green fields, garbage, and mixtures of the three. For lunch we ate samosas, bought through the bars of the train window; 2 for 20cents and delicious. We learned about Tibet and Myanmar from Sam, in addition to life as a photojournalist in Vancouver.
Once in Armistar, we found a "good value" hotel in the old city, 50m from the birth place of the Sikh religion (The Golden temple, the holiest shrine to the Sikh religion and our main reason for visiting). We tucked into a small vegetarian restaurant for dinner and devoured a couple of tasty Thalis (set meals).
After the meal we headed over to the temple for sunset. We took off our shoes, cleaned our feet, and covered our heads before entering, as is the Sikh custom. Inside the temple there is a marble walkway surrounding a lake, with a massive gold temple in the middle. Worshipers walk clockwise around the temple, stopping to pray, drink the pool water, bathe, and enter the temple
Being the only white people in the temple, we were the second most visited attraction. Lots of stares usually followed by an Indian accented "hello" and a big smile. Several teenagers asked to take our picture, perhaps for facebook or myspace, and after wards we wondered what the photo caption or comments will be...
After some more time wandering the old city with a bottle of Thumbs Up Cola, we walked back to the hotel for an early night thanks to Ole Mr. Jet Leg.
In the morning we met up with Sam for some lunch, walked around the old city and looked for a taxi to the border with Pakistan for the gate closing ceremony, which is legendary.
After crossing numerous land borders during our trip, nothing had prepared us for what we were about to see. Both Pakistan and India have built massive grandstands surrounding the border where people from each country come to cheer on their guards, as they dual each other in a battle of yelling, high kicking, stomping, and scowling. Each side of the border had around 5000 people show-up for the event that is put on every day at sunset.
The beginning of the spectacle included a DJ and dance groups showing which country knows how to shake their hips and wag their fingers the best. Then the gate closing ceremony started with guards yelling a single tone into a microphone for as long as possible. Long yells resulted in cheering and clapping from the crowd. Then the team of guards marched closer to the gate to show off their individual high kicking, fast marching, and overemphasized stomping abilities while the crowd goes crazy cheering, clapping, chanting, and snapping hundreds of camera phone pics as if the guards are the stars of Bollywood
After our taxi back to town we decided to make a night visit to the Golden Temple, get some night pictures, and venture inside the main building. Inside the actual temple worshipers were chanting, offering money, and a priest was reading the largest book we've ever seen (the Original Sikh Holy Book). Later in the night we would witness the ceremony of moving the book from the temple to a separate building on the edge of the lake in a chariot like structure, while worshipers crowded around (see pic).
Most of our time inside the complex was actually spent posing for pictures and shaking hands. If one Indian started talking to us a crowd of 20 or 30 people would form to listen to whatever we were saying. The bolder Indians would come up for a hand shake, a hello, and then move on. One eager young man spent 20mins trying to convince Charis to arrange a marriage for him with one of her friends in Canada. Even after the 100th handshake it still makes us smile, but check back in 1 month to see how we feel then.
Our last full day in town we had some Pizza at a vegetarian Dominoes and moved north to the new city to be closer to the train station, as our return train to Delhi departed at 5:00am.
Both The Golden Temple and the Pakistani border ceremonies lived up to their expectations as an amazing religious place and a shocking display of nationalism. It would be great to continue north to Kashmir or west into Pakistan...but we only have 6 more months and many stops to make. Our next stop will be back in Delhi to meet up with Steph, hopefully to quell some homesickness and have as much fun possible until she flies back to chilly Canada in March.