Tuesday 8th September
The night was hot. I think it was the hottest yet, or maybe it is the design of the more modern hotel. Breakfast was not inspiring. I wondered how much it was costing me. This is the only "proper" hotel I've stayed in.
I went into the city by rickshaw and my first visit was to the Golden Temple. This time more appropriately attired. Shoes off, through the flowing footbath and once again into the peaceful, calm sanctuary with music and singing quietly audible in the background. The temple guards (or wardens?) walk around looking impressive and imposing in their tunics, turbans and swords. Some posed for me to photograph.
Guards at Golden Temple posing for photo
An elderly Sikh and his wife gave me some of the temple food to try. It tasted good. later I found that it was made of a mixture of cereals boiled with water and sugar: a type of porridge. One of the many people, keen to instruct me in the ways of the temple told me the food is sold to Sikhs to give as offerings inside the temple itself, from where it is either partially returned for the donor to distribute or distributed entirely by the temple staff, presumably to those who seek food and shelter within the temple where they are cared for free of charge.
I was shown around by a series of "guides". After my experience elsewhere I was worried they would persist and follow me until I tipped them, but each seemed happy to impart their information, wish me a happy stay and move on. One man talked to me for a long time and finally gave me his name and address. He asked me to take a photograph of him and send it to him. He said he had written to the Queen when Prince Charles married Lady Dianna and that he had received a reply. He was very excited about it. I took the photograph and when I returned home had it transferred from slide format to print and sent it to him. I didn't want to be outdone by the Queen, especially as I had met the guy and benefitted from his knowledge of Sikhs and the temple.
Sikh family visiting the Golden Temple
I decided not to go into the temple itself because it appeared as though some sort of service was in progress and it was obviously a holy place and not a mere photo opportunity. It would have been intrusive to go in and take pictures while they prayed.
The Sikhs founded Amritsar in the 16th century. The temple was begun in 1563 by, I think, the fourth Guru. There are 10 gurus and the arms and swords associated with the Sikhs date from their wars with the Muslims. The Sikhs stress that their arms are for defending their faith and that they never fought to convert others or to capture land. For more information about the Golden Temple and the Sikh faith, history and traditions visit the All about Sikhism website.
I left the temple and headed off along a nearby street and was surprised to see an outdoor hand basin at the edge of the road, and even more surprised to someone using it!
Outdoor washing facilities
I was recovering from the surprise when I realised a group of men wearing turbans, waving flags and sticks and chanting what I took to be slogans was approaching. I moved into a doorway to watch them pass. It was only later, after my return home and the news about the Sikh uprising of 1982 that I realised I may have seen a small part of the protests.
Sikhs marching past
At some point I must have turned off the wide street and I found myself wandering through the narrow streets of the market place just looking, listening and inhaling the smells. Taking pictures too. Very few people seemed to mind me "snapping" them, but with my oh so slow film most of the activities that attracted my attention were in places too dark and shadowy. I have had to develop a steady hand. How will the many pictures I've taken on 1/30th second exposure and my widest apperture come out?
I alarmed myself on a few occassions when I realised I was lost. Or at least I'd lost my bearings and the narrow, tightly packed alley ways all looked the same aleaving me unsure how to return to the more familiar parts of the city.
Here there were stalls selling multi-coloured goods, cloth, clothes, bric-a-brac and further one there were workshops, artisans carving wood, sewing, binding books, polishing semi precious stones and further still the shops selling these local crafts. Everyone was busy. The same as the other towns and cities, and yet something struck me as different. For a while I didn't realise what; but eventually it came to me. The craftsmen and the traders were ignoring me; at least they weren't following me and trying to persuade me to look at and buy their wares. Oddly this made me more inclined to look for items I could purchase as small gifts and momentos to take home. I'd be leaving India in two days time.
I ate lunch in a small cafe and then took to the shops again. I bought a Kashmir wool, hand embroidered, silk lined cape for my Mum. It set me back a lot: Rs220/- including the 10% tax. Maybe I couldn't afford anything else now. I made my way out of the alleys and back to the wider roads. Someone started to follow me; a young man who became a nuisance. I couldn't shake him off. He persisted, I felt intimidated, but there were plenty of people around, reason told me I was safe but I didn't feel it. I saw one of the may little police booths at a nearby road junction. The policeman was directing traffic. I walked towards it and sat down nearby. I watched the policeman, the buisance lngered. I noticed a small flight of steps down to another road level just behind the policeman. I walked past him and "escaped" down the steps. I had been grateful to the presence of policement before, especially their ability to disperse rickshaw drivers just be appearing nearby.
The people of Amritsar I spoke to were very proud of their city and their Punjabi heritage. They claimed to be richer and more educated than other states in India. Was it true? I don't know, but it seemed to give them an air of confidence. But for some partition seemed to have a lasting legacy. I heard claims that the best agricultural land was now on the other side of the border in Pakistan. Many shop signs proclaimed businesses of Amritsar and Lahore. I wondered how many still had family members plying the same trade a few miles away on the Pakistani side of the British imposed border.
That evening I took one last walk into the city from my hotel. Maybe I would go to the ceremony in the temple. I sat reading in the park for a while and then strolled through the streets watching the shopkeepers closing up. A man called to me. He wanted me to go into his house. "You come. You come". His tone was forceful and sounded like a command. I hoped it was merely a request, losing something in translation. Maybe he wanted to buy my camera like the group of men who had called to me in similar tones earlier in the day. However, unlike them he did not follow me down the street and stop me when I refused and continued walking.
By the time I arrived at the temple I was extremely tired and it was still far too early. I didn't have the energy to wait so I returned to the hotel and slept.