Amritsar, of gold and colors
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When going to Amritsar it’s mainly to embrace the Sikh culture and discover the Golden Temple, the holiest place for this community.
Sikhism is a pretty new religion (15th century) and quite unknown in Europe. And yet, even without knowing it, the cliché we have in mind when representing Indians is very connected to Sikhs people cause they are the ones wearing the wonderful turban on the head. They are also many to stay abroad so we often meet them in New York or London for instance.
To simplify (a lot), Sikhism is a kind of a mix between Hinduism and Islam. They have some funny habits like never cutting their hair (and cover it with a turban) neither the beard or always having a dagger on them. Because of that, they have some quirky exemptions in India: they don’t need to wear a helmet when riding their motorbike and they can carry a little “kirpan” (sort of little knife) when boarding a domestic flight!
That’s also a religion which promotes equality which is a quite unusual concept in an Hinduism country, rotten by casts system. For example, in Gurudwaras, the temples dedicated to Sikhism, people from every background come on a regular basis to give time and participate to the life of the temple. In every temple, daily free meals are served to anyone and everything (or almost) is done by volunteers. In the Golden Temple, up to 100,000 meals are served every day 7/24 ! It is a must do experience as the organization of this daily miracle is really fascinating.
The Golden Temple is really remarkable as much for the architecture as for the atmosphere of the place. We visited it during Diwali (a Hindu festival but still celebrated by Sikh people) so the crowd seemed very packed but still, the place was very solemn and fraternal with so many things to observe: contrast between the colors on the people and the white – gold of the temple, guardians of the temple with their lance and their uniform from an other age, Sikh families coming from all over the world, indian tourist doing “selfies”, believers bathing in the water tank, huge kitchens of the temple…
It’s also the only part of India where men looks as beautiful as women thanks to their turban, which match very often their pant!
Nicolas wanted to play the full game and had also a turban for the visit (it’s mandatory to get the head covered anyway but you can even get a real one from the shops at the entrance of the temple). This added even more sympathy from the local visitors who were anyway already dragged to us by our baby (it was, at some points even difficult to progress through the temple as we were constantly stopped for pictures…).
We also used the opportunity to be in the area to witness the Wagah border show. When the partition happened, this village was separated in 2 and since 1959 a tragic-comic show is organized for the closing of the border. Well, we’re not sure about what to think about this “entertainment” but still, it’s a lot of fun. Loud Bollywood music and danses, sale of goodies and gate ridiculously shaky on the Indian side. Perfect organization and (too much) seriousness on the Pakistani side.
We also finished our tour of Punjab stopping by Patiala, before heading back to Chandigarh. Right now the main interests of the city are either closed to the tourists either in a very poor state. But what we were able to see was already quite impressive and work is in progress to renovate the heritage sites. This place should be very nice to check in some months (years).