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Saturday, September 15, 2012

One Full Day in Amritsar, India


The Golden Temple 10
The Golden Temple, Amritsar

A trip to India almost always do not work out as planned. That’s what we learned during our first week in India. But India is so huge and colorful that there are a lot of places you can still visit other than those that you had in mind. After missing our train to Jaisalmer, we headed to Dharamsala and spent almost a week there. We had a few more days left before we take our train from Delhi to Agra. We didn’t want to spend three days in Delhi and we knew how crazy it would be to go back there on the eve of Diwali or the Hindu’s New Year. And so we decided to look for a place for a quick stop from Dharamsala to Delhi, which led us to Amritsar. 

I remember how crazy, tiring, and fun that one whole day we had in Amritsar. 

We woke up so early and it was so cold to go to the terminal in Panthakot to catch the 5am bus to Amritsar. We boarded a local public bus with a few other backpackers and some locals. I remember how cold it was during that time and how the bus had to stop many times to load up more passengers. The bus ride was quite scenic as we made our way down from the mountains to the lowlands passing by gorges and rivers. 

After almost seven hours, we arrived in Amritsar. First agenda was to look for a cheap hostel as we only planned to stay there for just a night. I will not give out the name of the dorm we stayed at, but the one thing we learned from that night is to allow ourselves to splurge a little in accommodations in India. We found a really cheap dorm near the railway station which wasn’t really nice at all, but we met some really interesting people there. 

Since we only had one day in Amritsar, we had to visit two of its highlights. 

The Golden Temple 3

First stop was the Golden Temple, which is the most important and sacred place for the Sikh Religion. We just walked from the hostel, and on the streets are pilgrims walking barefoot. Smoking is also not allowed even outside the temple. Near the gate is a small center where you should leave your footwear. Women should cover their heads and dress appropriately, while men should wear a bandana on their heads. You should also wash your feet before entering the temple. 

The Golden Temple 4

The Golden Temple is a huge and beautiful complex with a small lake inside, and at the middle is the Golden Temple which houses the Sikh’s sacred scripture. The temple is accessible via a bridge but you would have to join a long line just to get inside.

The Golden Temple 5

The Golden Temple 6

The place is open to everyone and it’s always full of pilgrims from all over India. You can also sleep inside the temple, it’s considered free but a few rupees is expected to be paid out. On the sides of the complex are volunteers preparing chapati bread for everyone. You can also see pilgrims bathing in the small lake.

The Golden Temple 7

Golden Temple 12

The Golden Temple 9

The complex is really stunning inside. With the Temple sparkling as the sunlight hits its golden walls, and its reflection on the small lake. 

The Golden Temple 2
The Golden Temple

The colorful saris worn by the women also adds to the beauty of the place, especially with the white temples as backdrops. For travelers, expect to be approached for photos as is given when visiting India. ;) 

The Golden Temple 11

Next stop was to see the Indian-Pakistan Border Closing Ceremony in Wagah. We went to one of the hotels near the temple to ask about the vans going to the border. Arranging the transportation was another interesting story where Paul, Max, and I had to argue our way into convincing the driver to lessen the number of passengers. They were trying to force almost 14 people inside the van, when it can only fit at most 11 people. Glad I was with these two guys since I was the only girl inside the van and so I had the privilege to sit at the front. 

After almost half an hour of being consistent with our stand that the driver cannot force too many people inside the van, and pushing him to start driving, we finally left the main town. After more than an hour, we arrived at the Wagah Border. 

Wagah Border
India-Pakistan Border Gates

Before the start of the proper border closing ceremony, both Indians and Pakistanis were dancing and cheering and trying to outperform each other. But during that time the Indians were more celebratory with people dancing even on the streets, it was really fun watching them.

Wagah Border 2

Wagah Border 3


As the sun was about to set, the guards were already doing their own marches. And not just any ordinary march but a choreographed, over-the-top, and intense one. With each guard called, people were cheering. It's a very interesting ceremony that happens every single day. What makes it interesting to watch is how the guards march and stomp their feet but still do a customary handshake at the end. Which somehow depicts the history between Pakistan and India - wars, conflicts, and eventual tolerance. It’s a very interesting ceremony to watch with people from both countries showing off their national pride. 

Wagah Border 4

Wagah Border 5


The night was spent watching the Golden Temple lit up at night and with fireworks in celebration of Diwali. And we felt we had to celebrate it with drinks. Unfortunately no one was selling within the town center, so we had to ride a rickshaw and asked the driver to bring us to a liquor store. The rest of the night was spent drinking with our roommates outside our room with fireworks filling up the night sky.