Well, we’re definitely in northern India now! It has been chillier than we’re used to, and our backpacks have lightened as we are wearing most of our clothes! We only had one day for sightseeing in Amritsar, but that’s enough time to see the top two attractions.
The morning was spent enjoying the Golden Temple, the holiest place for Sikhs.
We spent several hours alternating between walking around the Pool of Nectar and sitting and observing the customs and rituals of the Sikh religion.
As we’ve been visiting many religious places, we do our best to observe in an unobtrusive way, so we were careful to cover our heads, and refrained from dangling our feet in the water (that was a helpful tip from Lonely Planet!)
The Golden Temple is truly breathtaking, and deserves a leisurely visit. Points of interest include the shrines to various deities located around the Pool, and the free kitchen that feeds thousands each day (free with donation). We didn’t eat there, but spotted a mountain of plates!
After a quick lunch at the Brothers Dhaba (which we later discovered is a chain of restaurants, as our driver was waiting outside of a different Brothers Dhaba, wondering where we were), we started the short drive to the India-Pakistan border for the border closing ceremony.
The border ceremony was very exciting. Most of the guidebooks and forums advised us to arrive early, but we noticed that latecomers were not denied admission and were given front row seats, so arriving late might actually be the better option! Foreigners are seated in a separate section which is pretty close to the border, but if you can wrangle yourself a seat in the VIP section you can get even closer. Important tips: leave bags back at your hotel, or in the trunk if you have a driver, and bring your passport to gain entry to the foreigner section. Carry only your camera and a bottle of water.
Arriving early did give us the chance to watch the ‘pre-show’! The emcee invited Indian nationals up to run to the border gate carrying the Indian flag, and many Indian girls started a dance party to popular songs, included Jai Ho (the theme song from Slumdog Millionaire). The air was teeming with excitement and cheers as the crowd and anticipation grew. I did take videos, but uploading video seems to be beyond the capacity if wifi here.
The ceremony consists of a lot of marching and incredibly impressive kicking and stomping by the border guards. The gates are opened, and the guards from each side stomp and fix their hats with many flourishes.
The ceremony is described as a display of friendship, but it looks more like a territorial display. (However I suppose that the gate being open is a display of peace and friendship, given the complex history of relations between these two countries.)
This was one of the most interesting and politically significant experiences I have had so far in India, and found myself entirely enthralled. It was exciting to observe, and a must-see for those traveling to Amritsar.
We ended the day by returning to see the Golden Temple at night. It is just as beautiful all lit up!