Monday 7th September
I slept until 8:00, which was late, and had a large breakfast: half a grapefruit, cornflakes, toast and coffee. Then I packed and went to the post office, which took ages. Robert, Ben's uncle, kindly took me to the airport. I was almost resigned to the inevitable problems there.
I was called back from the departure lounge and told I hadn't paid enough for my ticket! How does this work? You go to the airline office, state the date and destination, show them you passport, they issue a ticket for which you pay and then within days they say it was the wrong price (always to low!). Don't they know how much to charge for their on tickets? Well they wanted $24, which I didn't have. They asked to see my passport again. Occupation "student". It seems all was OK, the ticket office had given me student discount and my passport said I was a student. So there was no problem. Actually the passport was issued while I was a student, but now I wasn't - but no one had asked me and I hadn't known that I was getting student discount. In the circumstances I thought it best to keep quiet.
The plane departed on time and we flew North West over more flatness. Not a hill in sight. The view was clear and the patchwork of small fields, dotted with compact and extremely well contained small settlements, extended for miles. Straight lines everywhere except for the meandering rivers which as we moved further North became drier and drier until they were mere trickles. This was the extreme draught about which I had read. Why oh why did I pack my raincoat? English habit I suppose.
Amritsar, 36°C, cloudless and very sunny, but it doesn't seem as uncomfortable as Varanassi, which was cooler. The humidity must be much lower; draught versus flood.
At the airport I spoke to a hotel manager, he was touting the Ritz. Rs60/- night, a complete extravagance, but here I am in a luxury room. Pity about the restaurant though. After checking in the manager insisted on giving me a brief talk on Amritsar and the Punjab. When he had finished I went out to explore. This city seems more affluent that the other places in India I have seen: wide roads, lighting and pavements. At junctions the traffic even appears to obey the rules, many of which are prominently displayed on billboards. Most of the people I encountered were friendly and spoke good English, even the old men and the women; not something I'd found elsewhere.
Road in Amritsar
There are many Sikhs, turbans in evidence everywhere. The atmosphere seemed different. I didn't feel so pestered by merchants and rickshaw drivers. One "No thank you" and I was left alone.
Monday 7th September: The Golden Temple
I walked a long way, I was further from the town than I had realised. I took a rickshaw to the Golden Temple and then realised that I needed a hat, which I didn't have. I bought a cheap shawl.
Outside the Golden Temple
I was asked to take my shoes off and they were deposited in an organised shoe repository. I went in, through the foot bath of flowing cold water. Very refreshing to my hot dusty feet.
The outer parts of the temple are mainly marble inlaid with insignias and the memorials to those who died in wars, but the most spectacular sight was the Golden Temple itself, surrounded by its pool of still, clear water. The pool of Nectar. An atmosphere of calm and the impression of coolness created by the water defied the heat. The marble floor was too hot to step onto and visitors walked carefully on the thoughtfully placed matting. An elderly Sikh explained that it was a place of sanctuary and that they provided food and shelter to anyone in need.
The Golden Temple
Unfortunately, another of the Sikhs thought my shawl and inadequate attempt to conform to the required standards. I was puzzled that the guards at the entrance had seemed satisfied with my efforts and had confirmed it was OK to take photographs. Nevertheless, this didn't seem like the place to cause a fuss, so I left.
I wandered through the streets, lined with all manner of shops and bustling with people. Here you could buy gold and silver, there it was brass; over there crockery, silk, woollens and even musical instruments. You name it, there would have been somewhere to buy it.
A small built man asked me to see his shop. He gave me his card and I decided to go. He lead the way and told me that his workshop was above his home in one of the oldest parts of the city. We went into a small house off a backstreet and up a narrow, steep flight of stone steps. A rope had been stapled to the wall as a handrail. In a small, dark room at the top I was introduced to his wife and offered water and a cup of tea. This was the second time today I had been offered water. The first time was while I was walking to the temple. An old man mending shoes had called me over, told me about Amritsar and the temple and given me water, which I had accepted. I accepted again and while I was drinking he asked me how I liked my tea. "Milk no sugar, please". I got sugar but no milk. I drank it.
The man and his assistant showed me the batiques I'd expressed an interest in. Eventually I bought one for Rs35/-. I had no idea how this compared with the genuine price. Cheaper, more expensive. So what it was part of the experience. I talked with them for a little longer and was offered a meal. I declined and said I had to get back to my hotel. The man escorted me back through the narrow streets to the place where we had met and we said goodbye.
After showering and eating back at the hotel I set out again. I met two doctors in a park. We talked for a while and they told me about the university and the number of medical students. Maybe they were student doctors. Then on to a bakery where I tried a selection of biscuits, which surprisingly I didn't find too sweet and then to one of the many ice cream parlours. I tried an ice cream milkshake with the sickly name of pineapple twinkle which was in fact very nice.
As I walked back to the hotel a young man began chatting to me. Where was I from? Did I work in government services? He continued to chat and followed me through the hotel garden. He kept repeating "Please, madam". I was growing concerned. He asked me for a kiss. I was shocked and panicked at the thought I'd just walked alone with this guy. But then he was polite enough to ask. The hotel manager appeared and he left. The manager invited me to see a ceremony at the Golden Temple with a group of French visitors he was taking, but I was so tired I could only think of retiring to my room for an early night, alone.