A Journey through Punjab

by - July 30, 2017

We travel to Punjab, the land of Sikhs, Murgh Makhani and Bhangra music. Traveling in Punjab means crossing lush plains and visiting ancient temples. Punjab is a treasure trove for the avid tourist. In fact, it offers not only ancient monuments but is also full of historical incarnations. There are museums galore and the same can be said of the sacred places. Certainly, there is no shortage of breathtaking palaces, as confirmed by the imposing Quila Mubarak.

It's no secret that anyone visiting this land of yellow and blue fields has ever gone without permeating the essence of Punjab that emphasizes a romantic and picturesque backdrop. The Temples are the food for the soul and mind of every visitor. The atmosphere in Punjab is very different from that of the rest of India. It is fun and exciting.

The train to Delhi left at five in the afternoon so at about four o'clock we arrived at the station. This time we would travel in AC 2 tier so we would have a little more comfort than in the previous trip to Jaisalmer. About half an hour before the train leaves, one of the guards pastes the list of passengers traveling on it and the seat number assigned to it. This serves to check the data that one already has printed on the ticket.

In addition, it basically serves to get in the right compartment since once the train starts it is difficult to move from one car to another. The train was not so full. The train was punctual, I took the opportunity to write for a while and sleep too. In the train, they distribute bed sheets, pillows and blankets and we move the seats to become bed so we can sleep very well.

I set the alarm at five o'clock in the morning since the train was supposed to arrive in Delhi at half past five in the morning. But it took a little longer. We arrive at the train's final station at about six o'clock. We were a little worried because we had to take the next train at seven twenty and left from another station (New Delhi). We left the train and we took a taxi to arrive at the New Delhi station.

We got off the taxi and went to find the platform from where the train left. Luckily it was at platform number 1 so there was not much to walk. It cost us to find the compartment because it was just on the opposite side of the platform. At about seven o'clock the train arrived and we settled. This time, there were no beds, but seats like airplane seats.

We took the opportunity to sleep for a while longer since the trip was long. The catering people woke us up every now and then to give us food. As we were traveling in first class, breakfast was included. First, they brought the coffee, then some cornflakes, and then an omelet.


Day 1 - AMRITSAR

We estimated that we would arrive in Amritsar at twelve noon but arrived at two-thirty in the afternoon. Between one thing and another, we arrived at the hotel at three thirty in the middle of a heavy rain. We had chosen it on the recommendation of Lonely Planet but the truth was that the place was terrible. The room was dirty and suffocating.

We went for a walk and saw that just around the corner of our hotel there was another one with breakfast included. It has wi-fi and hot water, the two fundamental conditions for a good stay. We decided to change. After shifting we decided to leave and our street has become a big puddle. We only had two days in the city and we wanted to make the most of our experience there.

We took off our shoes and left our shoes in the hall. After crossing a huge foot wash full of water (which is mandatory to pass), we crossed the threshold of a huge portico and went inside the temple. It was early afternoon and it was very hot and slowly we went forward with bare feet on the marble floor. We walked through a corridor with white walls at the end of which was a huge staircase, also white.

Behind it opened the true heart of the temple, with overwhelming beauty. Personally, it left me with my mouth open. Literally, I hallucinated. The temple itself, which as I say is in the center of the lake, is of an intense golden color. At four o'clock in the afternoon, the sunlight reflected on the marble of a clean white color that returned it and threw it on the golden temple that in the center sparkled and shone as if it were a huge jewel.

The luminosity was such that it made me squint at first. The whole is, in a word, impressive. In contrast to the urban chaos that surrounds it, the interior of the temple is surprisingly calm and peaceful. It became a kind of oasis of tranquility and peace and an authentic refuge to escape from the vibrant throbbing of the streets of Amritsar. Slowly, between conversation and photos, the sun was slowly setting.

After a long time sitting watching the changes of light at different times of the afternoon, we decided to go to the true interior of the temple. We cross the golden walkway with the rest of the devotees. There suddenly and without waiting, I could feel in my skin the spirituality. I get overwhelmed by that environment between mystic and fanatic. Once out and back in the vicinity of the lake, we find a group of locals joined us.

We finished the afternoon and the sun finally set. From where we observe the visitors in the courtyard devoted to worship, praying or purifying in the sacred waters of the lake, or simply chatting as we relaxed and letting ourselves soak in the environment. It was then when the daylight began to go out when we were surprised by a sudden silence in the whole room.

The solemn ceremony to keep the sacred book began. It was an event that occurs daily at dusk to keep the Adi Granth during the night that will rest safely during the hours of darkness, to be exhibited the next day in the morning with the corresponding opening ceremony at dawn. It is during those key moments in which everyone silently listens to the last sacred songs of the day, interrupting the purifying baths of many of the faithful, when one of the most mystically intense moments is reached.

The faith of many of the attendees becomes more palpable than ever and seems to materialize in the place. Already then, and above all, after the closing ceremony of the day, the rhythm and the atmosphere of the temple change gradually. They become much faster and faster, but also, they become more joyful and cheerful, with an almost festive tinge, I would say. It is time for dinner.

We were presented with a golden opportunity, as travelers, to enjoy a unique experience and a great opportunity to live an authentic moment. But it was our first day and so the jetlag was taking its toll on us, and the fatigue and experiences accumulated throughout the day began to weigh. A huge full moon shone and could be seen through the battlements of the temple.

Intoxicated by the overwhelming atmosphere of the temple and excited to have shared an incredible place we toured the few meters that separated us from our hotel. We started walking and the water reaches us in the middle leg and when we are at the point of no return it begins to rain torrentially. We take refuge in an ATM. As soon as we see an empty Tuc-Tuc we call him and tell him to take us to the bar recommended by LP guide in a shabby hotel with a garden and terrace.

On the way, in the Tuc-Tuc, we get wet as the cars splash on us and the streets are flooded. At that hotel, we hired a tour for tomorrow to go to the Wagah border with Pakistan. We return, walking, to our hotel and we buy dinner at a pastry shop with very good sweets and salty things. We go to bed early because we foresee that tomorrow will be long and wet.

Day 2 - ATTARI

We woke up early and asked for breakfast in the room (there is only that option because they do not have a dining room). Today was Diwali and I wanted to celebrate it in style. I put on my best dress and was ready to dazzle. At 7.40 we are on the street and take a Tuc-Tuc to the Golden Temple. When we entered the Golden Temple, we were again surprised by its incredible beauty. Although this time by day it showed us another face different from that of the night.

Now we could clearly see the plates of pure gold that cover the white marble walls of the temple and all the details that remained hidden at night, even if there were more mysticism and magic. It was full of Sikhs who had gone to the sacred place to pray. They came to us to take pictures and almost always wanted to get with us. I was surprised that many men were eager to take a picture of their son with us as if we were so important.

I could not understand it. As the guide told me, many of them were from rural areas and had come for the Diwali to Amritsar. So they probably haven't seen a tourist in their life. Sometimes also young women and teenagers asked us for a picture with them, and they were very excited. But for us, they also aroused our curiosity and we took pictures of them. In general, we found people very nice, very open, hospitable and cheerful.

After the visit of the temple, we go to the Jallianwala Bagh Park. It is a place created to commemorate the massacre of the British army against a peaceful demonstration for independence in 1919. We can see the bullet holes and the well in which many of them were thrown. It is a nice place to walk. We had a cold tea and went through the bazaars of Amritsar. In the end, I look for a barber shop to shave.

We completed the morning with a visit to Sri Durgiana temple that resembles the golden temple. It is in the middle of a lake with fish and turtles. After a while, it was lunchtime. So we went to the pizzeria and put on our boots to eat pizza and pasta. They were playing bhangra music. A Tuc-Tuc returns us to the hotel. We have shower and lunch before leaving on the tour. At 3pm we left the hotel.

First of all, we visited the Mata Temple. It is a temple in honor of a modern saint with glasses. What is cooler is the labyrinthine journey through corridors, puddles, getting into the mouths of papier-mache animals and seeing almost 100 gods. It is one of the most kitschy things I have ever seen! In a moment of the visit, they give us some flowers that we think we have to throw to the saint but they are to be eaten.

The visit lasts no more than 20 minutes and after it, we go towards the Attari border with Pakistan. On the way, to prepare ourselves for the party that awaited us there, we began to sing. First, we started singing slow songs, but then we ended up singing everything, and the driver was already freaking out. Well, in the end, to thank him for his patience, we sang a song dedicated to him, in which we said he was the best driver, to which he did not stop smiling.

Finally, we arrived at the place where we were going to witness the famous ceremony of which we still had no idea what it would be like. We got off at a place from which we had to continue walking to the border. It was curious to see the long line of colorful trucks that waited for the border to open the next day to go to Pakistan. We came to a place where we had to pass a security check.

After passing the controls, we came to some steps where people sat down. It was already very crowded and we found some places on the side, although others preferred to sit on the curb of the road and see everything more closely. The place was surrounded by the soldiers of the border and the ceremonial guard who carried a curious red fan on their head (also the Pakistanis wore a fan but of gray color).

The emotion was palpable in the air and the great show was about to begin. First came a few women of the ceremonial guard but without the fan on the head walking very energetically in the direction of the border and stopped very close. Then the men did the same who did carry the curious fan and stopped in the same place. They launched a series of screams that sounded very aggressive! The Pakistani soldiers did the same thing.

It was a tremendous party, with loud music and people from each side shouting frantically: Pakistan Zindabad and Jai Hind. And then the screaming contest begins. One of the ceremonial guards of India begins to shout at the same time as one of the ceremonial guard of Pakistan. The champion is the one who holds the cry longer, and this is repeated several times. Then the border opens and a ceremonial guard emerges from each side to shake hands in a gesture.

Then comes the famous part of the flags. The flags of both countries are lowered and there is a point where both cross, with all the symbolism that represents. After that, the doors are closed and the show is over. That was more fun than I expected. I was imagining that it would be something more serious and solemn, but quite the opposite. With the high we had, we just wanted to continue the festival in Amritsar and celebrate the Diwali.

On the way, we continue to sing to the misfortune of the driver who must have been fed up with us. We told him to hurry because we wanted to arrive in time to see the famous Diwali fireworks, and it was also best to see them from the Golden Temple. Shortly after arriving in Amritsar we started to hear the fireworks. So we gave ourselves as much as possible to go to the Golden Temple and see them.

We did not enter but saw them from the entrance of the temple and we only saw the last ten minutes. They did not look bad although I suppose that inside the temple it would be better. After that, we went to dinner at a restaurant, where there was traditional Punjabi vegetarian food. There I meet a Punjabi boy. I asked him if he could take us somewhere to dance and celebrate the Diwali in style.

But he explained that there was not as much party on the street as I imagined. What a disappointment as I thought we were going to dance the bhangra until dawn and that it was going to be like New Year's Eve and that there would be partying all night. Well, nothing is further from reality. We went out with them to the street to take a ride. I do not remember seeing candles on the street, but we were quite nervous trying to avoid the numerous firecrackers.

The local boy wanted to show us a famous typical sweets shop but when we got there it was closed, so we continued walking. Some started to follow us and threw firecrackers near us. After a while there stood, we finally got a tuk-tuk. The way to the hotel was fun as everyone greeted us as they passed. When arriving at the hotel the fun is not over as we thought. We met a small group who were in the same entrance celebrating Diwali.

They invited us to join their celebration and for them, they gave us all flares to light them. They played music at full volume in one of the cars that were wide open. Then they started dancing the bhangra in a circle and encouraged us to dance with them. In fact, some took the opportunity to get some of us to dance. I took the opportunity to bring out the steps of bhangra I knew which caused furor and surprise among them.

They told us that they were the team of a Punjabi film. One was the producer, another was the director, another was the music director, and the others were the actors. One of the actresses showed us some steps that she made in the dances of the film and we tried to imitate her. We had a great time and they also had a great time with us.

There was a moment when they said they had to leave, although I think it was not because they wanted to finish the party anymore. They said goodbye to us, wishing happy Diwali once more. We went into the hotel with a tremendous rush, as if to go to sleep. We went into one of the rooms and there we were watching some videos of Bollywood and laughing for a while. After we went to sleep, it would be about 3 in the morning.

Quila Mubarak Patiala

Day 3 - GURDASPUR

The next day we planned to visit Tarn Taran Sahib, a village of Sikh warriors on the outskirts of Amritsar. Then we walked to the restaurant where we had dinner last night. There the guide was waiting for us at 11 o'clock. By tuk-tuk, we go to a bus stop where the bus would take us to the town where the Sikh warriors were. The bus was full of locals and no tourists. So on entering, we were again the attention of all eyes.

After about 15 minutes, we get off. There was the gurdwara of the Sikh warriors, and they were there, living in a village next to the temple. Surely no tourist ever went there, so I think I was lucky. We entered the town of Sikh warriors who were more than happy to receive us. They posed for our photos and some also wanted to pose with us. They appeared to be very fearsome with their weapons.

Precisely they were preparing for an important exhibition in a kind of Amritsar open ground where they were going to simulate a battle. They were preparing their horses and they were wearing their best clothes with their weapons hanging. We took pictures of the children, and how you could tell that those children were different. There, too, was the village chief, sitting on a kind of lounger with several men around him.

We asked him for a picture. But he did not change, agreed to it and remained solemn without losing his composure. There is nothing better on a trip than interacting with the people of the country. That was worth more than visiting any monument or tourist attraction. It was also something unexpected, and a pleasant surprise. We look at the altar from the outside but do not enter.

Next door was a room where some were preparing a marijuana lassi, which surprised me. They were very strict with tobacco and alcohol, maybe not with marijuana. Lassi is a traditional Indian drink made from yogurt, and they apparently added marijuana to it. More than one of the group joked about taking one and getting a buzz for the whole day, but finally, nobody dared.

Then we took the bus back to Amritsar and got off at the same stop where we caught it hours before. I went to the center because I wanted to go around the market before returning to the hotel. We only found a street with some shops and it did not convince us too much. We did not buy much and we started to feel hungry. Since we did not have time to get to the hotel food, we decided to go to the Punjabi restaurant where we were last night.

We order pilau rice with coconut and nuts. So I enjoyed it a lot, better than having eaten at the hotel even though we would have had to pay for it here. It was time to leave, as it was getting late and at 5 we had to leave the hotel for our next destination. It was a farm in Gurdaspur. We had planned to make a stop in Faridkot recommended by LP guide but our driver opted for Gurdaspur.

We get a tuk-tuk at a good price to go to the hotel. It took a while for the tuk-tuk to find the hotel and I had to ask a couple of times, and we were already desperate because we were late. We arrived at about 4:30 p.m. and we still had to pack our bags to take them to the farm. We were all ready to leave the hotel at five in the afternoon.

The car took us to the farm. With some difficulty, we reached the farm. We lost several times because the road was badly marked and the drivers did not know the way. The owner of the farm was waiting for us there. We left our luggage in the rooms reserved for us. Around late evening we sat down to dinner, and what a piece of dinner we got. We were also very hungry after so much travel.

It was buffet style and we could choose between several things. There was salad, rice, vegetables, chicken, dal, and chapati. Then there was an ice cream for dessert and also the tea that suited me better. The bhangra show ended and dinner also. I went to bed to sleep.

Day 4 - PATHANKOT

We had breakfast at the farm. At 8:15 p.m. the car we had booked to go to Dharamshala and Mcleodganj arrives. The driver is a Sikh who comes in uniform with his matching turban. We communicate with smiles and gestures. Getting out of Gurdaspur takes a long time until we get to the highway that takes us to Pathankot. We change state leaving Punjab and enter Himachal Pradesh. The last kilometers are eternal and it starts to get cold that forces us to wear sweaters and socks. We are in the Himalayas!

That was the end of our adventure in Punjab, a place that we loved because of its people and the wonderful Golden Temple.

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