Friday, 21 December 2007

Day 212 - Amritsar

Well I was packed and ready to leave Mcleod Ganj and sat having breakfast will Dan. I didn't really want to move on, so I didn't, I unpacked and stayed another day. The Dalai Lama was due to arrive that day and I asked at the hotel if they knew the route he took, but they suggested going down to the temple. I wandered down there and as I approached there seemed to be a lot of people about and in fact they were lining the streets, so I picked what I thought was a good spot on a sharp steep uphill bend. The crowd kept growing, but it was always calm and strangely quiet, then after about 30 minutes there was a sudden and very noticable rise in the excitement of the crowd and a few seconds later the vehicles came up the road and there in the second one was the Dalai Lama, wearing the wonderful smile that he seems to have in all of his pictures. I only saw him for a few seconds but there is an aura about the man and it has still left me feeling good, even a few days later. I walked down the steep hill to the library and a complex that even has the `Tibetan Parliament - In Exile` along with a number of other official departments. Next stop was the Tibetan museum, but I needed a coffee and a bite first so I went into the cafe at the temple. The tables were all in use, so I was told to sit at a table where a woman sat on her own. She was a German called Suzanni, a really lovely person, and very courageous. She had been in Mcleod Ganj for 2 1/2 months, seeing a doctors that had been recommended to her. I don't know what her illness was but she has a tough life. She lacks the energy to do anything and is affected by most foods so has to do all of her own cooking. As we talked and I learnt more about her I mentioned a quote I had seen from the Dalai Lama about never giving up, no matter what happens. I little later I noticed that she had that very quote on the book mark she was using. I have seen a number of excellent quotes from the Dalai Lama including `Paradox of Our Age` (See photo, you will need to left click unless you have very good eyes). Time slipped by to the extent that I only got to the museum as it was about to close. I once again had dinner with Dan and Anthony, all very sociable.

I saw Dan again at breakfast the following morning, but this time I really had to move on. He is staying until the weekend and attending a teaching given by the Dalai Lama and I wish I was too. The route was down, down, down out of the mountains, but pretty slow due to the rough roads and constant twists and turns. It felt a real anti-climax to be leaving when I didn't want to and to lose the scenery too as the high mountains were behind me. I soon realised that I wasn't going to get to Gurdaspur for the night as the signposts suggested it was much further than I expected. Just before Pathankot the road bridge over a river was closed due to `Damage`, which in reality meant a large chunk of it was missing! I had been warned about it and that the detour added 12k of track on to the route. I didn't fancy that or the walk across the rail bridge as it was also very long. That left me with a wade through the river, which wasn't that deep but was fast. It reached the front panniers so I had to lift the front of the bike which made progress even more of a hazard, but at least I made it and gave my sandals a clean into the bargain. It then became clear that the map was wrong and it wasn't so far to Gurdaspur afterall and I made it there in good time.

That meant I only had to ride 75k to Amritsar giving me the day and a half there I had hoped for. Once I found the Golden Temple I showed them my letter of reservation to which they pointed out I was a day late, but they gave me a room none the less, right next to the temple and for just 100 rupees. The Temple complex is big in everyway. You have to leave you shoes at the entrance, but the storage area was so big that I decided to leave mine in my room and walk in bare feet from there. I have always wanted to come here and I wasn't disappointed. It is the centre of the Sikh religion and all around the outside the buildings are white, enclosing a small lake in the centre of which, accessed by a narrow bridge, is the Golden Temple. It is a pretty good name for it as it gleems gold like nothing I have seen before. There were queues all the way across the bridge so I decided to leave the actual temple until later. Instead I went to Jallilian Bagh, a park surrounded by tall buildings with one access point. It is the park that on April 13th 1919 was the scene of a peaceful demonstration against the British occupancy of India. The British army moved in and opened fire on innocent people that had nowhere to go. Around 380 died including children and another 1500 were injured. There is a large well there which people jumped into it to get out of the way of the bullets and around 120 bodies were removed from it. I sat there quietly ashamed of what the British have done in the past and of the mistakes that we continue to make today. I went back to the temple for dinner. There are massive kitchens and dining areas there and they feed around 30,000 people a day. I just did as the person in front of me did and collected a trays with sections on it, a bowl and a spoon, then walked into the dining hall and sat on the floor in the next line that was being formed. There were prayers as the food was being served, well slopped really. We were given 2 vegetable dishes, chapatis and rice pudding and they kept coming around to give you more if you wanted. It was all a very slick operation and tasted good too, so long as you weren't to bothered that you were served from a galvanised bucket. A unique culinary experience. Once you had finished you carried you dishes out where they were stacked and given to a huge team of dish washers, and all this was for free and they serve you any time you turn up, 24hrs a day. After dinner I took another walk around the Golden Temple that looks so different when lit up after dark.

I took breakfast at the temple too, but it was the same as the evening meal without the rice. The queues for the temple were small so I went in. 3 men were playing music which is broadcast around the whole area, they play 24 hours a day, well, not the same 3 men I assume. The lower part of the exterior is inlaid marble like the Taj Mahal, the top being golden of course. Inside there was more inlay and beautiful paintings. I stayed there a while mesmerised by the wonderful surrounding and the live music. There were areas where people sat but they seemed to be enclosed and nobody was moving, the rest of the people passed through in a bit f a crush. I sat again just outside and people watched for a while, all very colourful. In the afternoon a took a trip to the Pakistan border. Now I am not the type to go to a border just for the sake of it, but this was no ordinary border. Every day when the close the border there is a ceremony acted out with their Pakistani counterparts, which consists of much stamping of the feet, in fact one guy lifted his leg so high I am sure it cant have been attached to him, alot of shouting and a bit of nose to nose eyeballing of their neighbours. All this is done in front of an excited crowd of about 4,000 in specially built grandstands and really has the feel of a football match, a great atmosphere with lots of chanting and roars of joy as the border guards stomp towards each other at great speed. Then the flags are lowered and soon after the ceremony is over and crowds rush down to have their photos taken with the police. Heading back to town was also very similar to leaving a football match.

So tomorrow I head off back towards Delhi, something I dont relish as it is a main road bash the whole way with nothing of interest to see, oh joy!

Well before I go I must wish you all the very best for a good Christmas as this will be my last post before then. Strangely enough it hasn't seemed the slightest bit like Christmas to me apart from the fact that the temperature has dropped somewhat dramatically.


Basher Barlow said...

Beastie... Okay I admit it I was just slightly impressed with what you done then I get my copy of the CTC news letter and find out that you have been slacking all along:

"Mark ‘Monty’ Beaumont is set to smash the record for cycling around the globe in 210 days. In his attempt Mark is cycling more than 100 miles per day, and has just completed the grueling leg across Australia as part of his 18,000 miles epic."

So you already done 2 more days than him and you are not even half way around the globe.. Pathetic son, pathetic. Put your foot down.

PS: The Barlow family will be thinking of you as we sit down to our fish fingers on Xmas day :-)

Jon said...

Hi John,

I've been enjoyed reading your blogs for last few months, also my friends thinks you bit mad and they were amazing with your cycling and I've keep them updates and shown them your blogs.

The photos are so fabulous and it looks very professional and you could sell them very well.

Will you have lentil curry for dinner on Christmas day?

Ric says your journey reminds him of his stay in India in 2003

We want to wish you a very merry Christmas & happy New Year.

Will speak you more in New Year

John ;)

Caff said...

Hi Zibs, will be thinking of you tomorrow as I tuck into some yummy turkey and even more yummy sausages with Aoiffe and gang.......hope you enjoy a bowl of rice or two!........we will greatly miss your company this year. Happy Christmas and enjoy your "new company" over the next few days :-) xxxxxx

David & Lindsey said...

Hi John, wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and as many people have said before great blog and wonderful photos, thinking of you as we ring the bells at Stonesfield on Christmas Morning, take care, best wishes David & Lindsey

pip said...

Hello John

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Poor Student in a couple of weeks. Getting slower every year!

Keep the blog coming

Regards Phil Magnus