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Rangla Panjaab

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Great Punjab!

Photos for this will come shortly I have them on CD but I can't find a machine with the right software to resize them - having computer problems again and an internet cafe in the Punjab infected my camera with a virus although it didn't stop it working. D thinks he has cleared it now although I shall be exerting caution before plugging it into my laptop.

The Punjab is an interesting place very Indian and unIndian all at once. The first shock happened shortly after our bus from Manali to Amritsar (yes it was another marathon bus leg - my arse was not best chuffed!) moved over the border into the Punjab D was asleep so he got the biggest shock - Punjabi people are massive! They are tall and most definitely well built. Having got used to being comparative giants being well fed Europeans it was most strange to feel small. D went to sleep seeing the small wiry people of the Himalayas and woke to a stampede of large turbaned Punjabi's launching themselves onto the bus he was most alarmed for a second or two.

Second shock was the auto rickshaws are larger makes sense larger people equals larger rickshaws but still surprising especially at 5am in the morning when we arrived (but at least we and our packs fitted in more easily).

Amritsar is particularly grotty even for an Indian town and was exceptionally dirty, smelly and congested. I understand why my Punjabi friend Debbie always says that the Golden Temple is Amritsar's only redeeming feature (the Golden Temple being the Sikhs holiest site) and whenever she goes she endeavours to spend most of her time there and as little as possible in Amritsar itself. However the people are truly friendly which makes up for a lot of the grot. Our hotel was in the middle of a large market and we became local celebrities - most would shake our hands as we passed and not even try to sell us anything! The major exception was the sunglass-wallah who persisted every time we passed him even though we would both be wearing sunglasses. The food was also great - Punjabi's love their food and insist the portions are well cooked, large and exceptionally tasty.

The Golden Temple was well worth tolerating Amritsar. It was beautiful, tranquil and everyone we met was very welcoming. We were smiled at by one of the crocodiles followers of the militant Guru Gobind Singh (who wear the most impressive uniforms) on the way to the temple. We were asked to do the usual photocalls of us standing next to Indians we have only just met but the requests were much more polite and friendly than usual. I worry about just how many photos of us are circulating the subcontinent.

Firstly we were aided to the shoe stands (yes another no shoes temple) and were told about washing our feet before entering. Two small girls helped me to cover my head most elegantly with my scarf (women must cover their heads before entering the temple) and were so happy at being allowed to do this that they kept shaking my hand - having no Punjabi I was only able to smile my thanks.

Once you enter you are almost overwhelmed by the peacefulness. A Sikh gentleman then accosted us and gave us a brief rundown of the history and pointed out the main areas of the temple, this saved us the effort of looking for the official guide which we were in the process of doing. The temples gold reflects beautifully in the sacred pool of nectar that surrounds it and went you enter the temple itself the beautifully sung kirtans moved even a hardened non-believer like myself. The inside of the temple was sumptuously decorated with marble, copper, jewels, mirrors, inlaid ivory and silks. The ceilings and walls were covered in patterns and decoration it was hard to know where to direct your eyes to first. We were impressed that we were able to go up onto the balcony and then onto the roof where the dome and smaller surrounding domes are gold. The temple houses the Sikhs holy book. All in all it was a very moving experience.

Sikhs like to bathe in the Amrit – pool of nectar, they take their dip naked and I can honestly say I never expected to see so many naked Sikh men in my lifetime.

After visiting the temple we got a rickshaw-wallah to take us on a tour of the town which was as grim as we expected, he also took us to two Hindu temples both of which were very disappointing having visited so many architecturally splendid ones. The last temple we visited was possibly the tackiest temple it has ever been my misfortune to enter – plastic idols and tacky tinsel really describe it finer features. To add insult to injury we had to crawl through a pool of water which smelt decidedly of urine (there was no back way out – so it was a hold your nose moment and take the plunge - NICE). As a reward the priest at the other side gave us each a garland of flowers, a sweet and a red mark on the forehead, this was no compensation! We then returned to our hotel at my insistence to wash.

Posted by Jude at 12:53 PM

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