Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Apparently all the cute boys are in Punjab...

I spent just about a day and a half in Amritsar but it was enough to make me want to stay. Partly because, yes, the cutest Indian boys have been hiding the entire semester in Punjab. The other part of it is a bit difficult to explain over a blog. For some reason I felt more compelled to talk to random strangers in Amritsar. Bhangra, the traditional Punjabi music, is also quite captivating, as my friends and I quickly discovered. But there was much more to Amritsar than just cute Punjabi boys and fun Bhangra music.

Here's a quick recap of what we did. We miraculously got hold of the last room available at the Golden Temple. We ended up paying 50 rupees per night per person. Let me do that math for you: that's a dollar. Down side: you get what you pay for. Up side: when you decide you have to be at the Golden Temple at 5am because that's the best time to visit it, it's quite convenient that you're already there. But, yes, the Golden Temple is quite beautiful, especially at 5am for those who can muster the energy to get up and deal with the cold Amritsar morning. It was really interesting to see that most of the visitors at the Golden Temple were actually all Indian and where there simply to pray as a part of their daily activities. It was beautiful simply to sit there, watch everyone else sit still and pray in the middle of the water. Definitely one of the most peaceful experiences I've had so far.

After napping for a few hours and drinking some chai we headed out to explore the city on a few cycle rickshaws. First stop Jallianwala Bagh,  the memorial gardens dedicated to the Amritsar Massacre where British soldiers shot at a gathering of unarmed people without notice. It was actually really touching. Then we had some lunch at Brother's Dhaba, Amritsar's famous restaurant that's almost a century old and went for a little shopping. Yes, I know. I do that a lot but in my defense, this time I bought nothing for myself - all gifts were purchased for very deserving people.

Anyway, then came the part we had been planning all day long. We arranged to be driven an hour out of Amritsar so that we could make it to the Wagah Border. For those of you who are not familiar with India's geography. Amritsar is way up north and to the west, just on the border with Pakistan. Now, some of you may know that Indo-Pakistani relations are not in the best shape due to the violent partition of British India into the two countries. Happenings on the border can get pretty rough; the entire semester our Academic Director strictly forbade any of us from going to Kashmir, one of the most beautiful places in India. It's also coincidentally one of the most conflicted. However, the Wagah Border just an hour outside of Amritsar is a ceremonial border between India and Pakistan where they have a retreat ceremony everyday at sunset. This is what we were there for.

The retreat ceremony started as a kind of solidarity between the two halfs of the broken village amid all of the conflict and has been held since 1959 by both India's Border Security Force and Pakistan's Rangers. You have India on one side and Pakistan on the other, with only their respective gates in between. India's BMF collects its flag and puts it away at sunset while Pakistan's Rangers do the same with the Pakistani flag. The next day the flags are returned to their place where the Indian flag and the Pakistani flag fly side by side. Either side is packed with spectators; India's side chants "Hidustan!" and Pakistan's chants "Pakistan!" I saw so much patriotism in everyone's eyes and heard it in everyone's voices, including Pakistan's. At the same time I could feel the solidarity spread through the gates and envelope the crowds. Seeing that, being a part of that was one of the most emotional moments I've had in India thus far. I'm afraid I cannot do my feelings justice in this blog. All I can say is that for a while there I forgot that any borders fragmented the world at all.

After the ceremony, I managed to push my way through the crowd of really rowdy Indian men waving Indian flags and holding their camera phones ready to document the moment and snag a few pics myself.  Let me tell you that this getting this picture was not an easy task. It was definitely worth it, however. I got some shots with no one but BSF in it and was standing just ten to twenty feet from Pakistan. I'll take what I can get, for now. You can see one of the pictures just below and I will soon be adding more to the photo page of this blog. If you look behind the man holding the automatic weapon you can see that there are two gates, one with India's flag painted on and the one just behind it, with Pakistan's flag.

And now I'm in Goa beach hopping for the next few days, which is quite the stark contrast from what I witnessed out on the Wagah Border. It's just a bit more relaxing so I have time to upload some pictures. I'm currently uploading pictures of the banquet and Amritsar on the photo page of this blog for all of you to take a look. I'll get back to you on my experience in Goa as soon as possible.