Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Finally: The Golden Temple

They say the best time to visit the Golden Temple is near sunset. It isn't difficult to see why. The temple itself is of course, golden. But at this time of day, so is everything else! The pool of water that it stands in, the long white boundary walls that surround it, everything glints gold. Gorgeous, fluid gold.

You really must go see it. With your camera...

...or otherwise.

While you're there, you'll get sage advice,

great communal temple food (there's a dining hall behind the arches),

and a wonderful nighttime view.

Go visit. Talk to one of the helpers while you're there. Learn a thing or two about the history. It isn't the only way to do it, but it sure is a good way to spend a day.

If you're anything like me, I think you'll like it.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Day Two: Amritsar, Jallianwala Bagh

On our second morning, we drove down to Amritsar. And by that, I mean 'hurtled at 150 kph down those infamous two-lane highways that connect towns all over Punjab'. At the speed we were driving at, I reckoned we'd reach in half the estimated time, but it took an hour inside of Amritsar city for us to reach our destination. Three hours later, bags dumped, tea drunk, and sun-shrunk, we found ourselves chasing our own tails in Amritsar's wonderfully chaotic streets, hungry, but happy to finally be there.

Like the millions who make the pilgrimage to see it.

Before I start raving about the Golden Temple though, have a look at a few pictures from Jallianwala Bagh. I won't bore you with historical spiel -- which makes for a rather gruesome story anyway -- but coming here really tied up all the loose chronological ends of history from the day before with a really raw sense of the value of being a free Indian. I can't even imagine how the people who live in the apartments below feel, looking out at Jallianwala Bagh everyday.

Okay, so maybe there's a little bit of history in the boards below. Read on, young padawans.

I know, I know, the Government of India really needs to put up better signboards. (Or maybe you need to get glasses.) But let's move on, shall we? To the window above the martyr's well, footsteps in fading winter sun outside the Jallianwala Bagh museum, and the only orange pink araliyas any one of us has ever seen. (Though more fittingly for a city of temples, these flowers are also known as temple trees.)

And finally, pigeons! Those stupid birds that make a house everywhere, anywhere. No matter how hard you try to move them out. Maybe we should learn from that, and the collective courage of the millions of people who moved, made houses and started over across a border dividing faiths.

Just saying.


Next up: the final post in this series, The Golden Temple. I'm excited, aren't you?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day One, Part Three: A History Lesson

Last stretch of the day! This part was all about Punjab and Pakistan. And the military, of course.

This was on our way to an army checkpost overlooking Pakistan. If you ever get the chance to drive through Punjab, do it. Whiz past on the one-lane highways, listening to bad Punjabi rap, watching the fields go by. If you manage to do the whole thing without getting stuck behind a tractor, you're a star. If you manage to take a few pictures while you're at it, you're on your way to being my hero.

This is my sister looking out at the other side.

This is what she saw.

Reflections in...well...the reflection pool, Bhagat Singh Memorial.
After that, we went to the Bhagat Singh memorial, in a village called Hussainiwala. If you haven't read about this, you really should.

Bhagat Singh, Daddy and Rajguru, in that order.
Next, we went to see the lowering of flags ceremony at the India-Pakistan border, Hussainiwala. These are a few of the visitors on the Pakistani side.

This, below, IS the Pakistani side.

The ceremony itself was a lot of this. You can watch a movie on the whole thing, if you wish.

The sun had almost sunk by the time it wrapped up. So we did what cool people do; we went for a boat ride! It had been a long, long day. And we had been every bit enthralled, a whole lot more educated, and surprisingly, still full of energy. It had been a day well-spent.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day One, Part Two: Museum, Guns and More Tanks!

After dusting down ourselves (post-tankride), we bathed, breakfasted and set off to explore what army life in Ferozepur is like. First, we went to the Special Ops Room, which is this cool, underground wartime planning space straight out of a movie. It's so secret that no one knows where it's located. So secret, that I wasn't allowed to take pictures. So secret, I forgot we went there!

Well, almost.

So you'll have to imagine the cold, steel offices, and the mess where food magically appears from the heavens, and the conference rooms with their maps and giant LCD screens. (I bet they watch movies there sometimes.)

Anyway, after all that excitement, we whisked off to the Army Museum, where we exchanged listened to war stories and I realised that the army is important outside of war. Delivering food to natural disaster zones, building bridges overnight, and all that. Good to know that someone's got it covered.

Then, we checked out artillery guns, which is basically what the army calls cannons. These are so heavy I couldn't even open the loading shaft so heavy they need nine-member teams to operate them. Here's the view looking out through the muzzle. Happy trees and leaves and things, right?

Here are the oily rags they use to clean the thing.

And here's looking through the viewfinder that shows you whatever is right behind you.

(Does anyone else think that it's easier to just turn around?)

After that, we got to my favourite part of our noontime adventures: the shooting range! I was so excited about shooting with an actual gun, that I didn't shoot with (my) Canon.

I wish I could show you my target-card, though.

Finally, we went to take one more tank ride, this time on smaller, bumpier tanks that the army uses to transport foot-soldiers over long distances. Above, you can see where they sit, hook up their guns, look out through the periscopes, and fire like crazy. You can also see the smokescreen-makers (the three cylindrical things), and the guy who explained it all to us.

And then we set off for lunch, which was this elaborate, buffet-style thing with lots of mayonnaise. And lemon souffle!

Next time: More historical/political stuff!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Day One, Part One: Tanks!

Can you guess what we did on our first day in Ferozepur?

Yes, we saw a tank.

And took a super dusty tank ride!

I found out that tanks have special smoke-screen makers, which cloud up everything in super-smoke, so that the enemy can't tell how many tanks have just passed. That's great for the people in tanks, or on them, like us. But all the doggies in the empty fields?

They sort of chill out and look around till it all dissipates.

There's so much dust that everything's covered in sun-flare.

Even the cool army guy who has to take us to our next stop.

Next up: Army museum!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Night One: The Indian Railways

A man checks the waitlist at New Delhi Railway Station
New Delhi Railway station is a photographer's paradise. Everything is perpetually in motion (unlike machines of the same name). Above the endless roar of trains, you can hear babies cooing in half-sleep, bags rattling down staircases, and voices that make up a nation all of their own. There are travelers, trains, coolies, suitcases, vagrants, and kiosks everywhere, all at once. The kiosks are by far my favourite, because they sell everything that you could possibly need, including what could only be travel staples in India: Hajmola, the Gita and paper soap.

All railway station kiosks have their quirks. In Karnataka (and most of southern India), almost every kiosk is a tea-shop, selling strong, spiced, thimble-sized cups of tea to langourous travellers. In Goa, they sell Bebinca, a rich, elaborate multi-layered specialty cake. And Delhi has fresh juice shops, shelves stocked with seasonal (and not-so seasonal) fruit. Here, have a picture.

Pineapples in the middle of autumn! Who would've thought.
This was the view from our train cubicle. Seven beds cleverly tucked into one, tiny niche. And so night one was spent in the top bunk, drifting in and out of the comfortable, dark, beyond-world of sleep. We woke up only eight hours later, at the very last station, a sleepy border town called Ferozepur.

(Best sleep I had in a week.)

More on Ferozepur tomorrow, though. 
Tomorrow: Ferozepur, a military welcome.