Punjab: Ludiana & Amritsar (Golden Temple)
The next train to Amritsar was severely delayed so we decided to bus it. We took a rickshaw to outside the city where the buses stop on the side of the road and you jump on while it’s still moving. The buses are packed with people and are hot and dirty. We sat on the engine cover beside the driver, while Karan and Akash were sandwiched between a few big ladies. By the time we’d got to the outskirts of Amritsar we’d had a enough and jumped off to try find an A/C volvo bus, which are the nicest buses in India. However, there were none so we took auto rickshaw down to try get a cab, but they wanted to charge us 1100Rs, the rickshaw driver said he’d take us for 600Rs so made this poor man drive for 70kms (3.5 hours). There was a festival on that night so the traffic was horrendous. On the way we bought disgusting beers, played charades and Akash even had a drive. We stopped for lassis and icecream half way and gave one to the driver, he ate it like it was the best thing in the world! It was the craziest thing ever, it got dark and the rickshaw didn’t have a light, we thought he was lighting a candle to see by, but it was just a beade. Both boys come for well-to-do families so had never gone a trip like this before, so it was hilarious to all of us!! At Amritsar we picked 2 local boys who directed our driver to a nice hotel. After a nice shower we ordered room service and sent the waiter down to the shops to buy some whisky and vodka for us, then passed out.
We had planned to get up at 6am to get to the temple early, but the boys slept in, and we also found out one of Akash’s friends, AP, had come down during the night. It wasn’t until 9 that we left for the temple and the line up was huge. The Golden temple is surrounded by a big white wall with a giant lake in the middle that the people dip in, same as the one in Delhi, but in the middle of this lake a narrow causeway leading to the temple that is made of gold. It was built in the late 1500s and every Sikh tries to make at least one pilgrimage here in their lifetime. All around you can here the chanting/reading and there are musicians that play. We let the boys go inside and while we took photos and listened to the musicians. People kept coming up to us and asking to take our picture. There were giant carp in the lake that followed you when you walked past and came to the surface begging for food. Afterwards AP bought us a steel bangle each and we treated everyone to a cheap lunch of aloo and gobhi parantha (potato and cauliflower stuffed thin pancake).
The trip home was another adventure. As before we bought standing only tickets and planned to bribe the ticket collector, however this time, he wouldn’t have a bar of it plus the train was full. So we spent 4-5 hours in the standing carriage. When people get on the trains it is like a violent brawl and fighting to keep your space requires strength and stamina. Luckily for us we were with 3 big boys who made a human fortress around us! Kids were being passed over head to go to the toilet, women were trying to crawl between the guy’s legs, everyone was squashed in like sardines except us! For the last 2-3 hours we finally made our way to the A/C chair compartment as seats had become available. It was such a relief to sit (and sleep)!
At the station we got a cab home. Other drivers had to push start the cab, the front seat was not attached to anything and he had to stop half way to put water in his radiator…we finally got home exhausted and dirty, but also so much more enlightened.