Travel Journal Overview: I’d traveled solo for quite sometime. Now in Lahore I’d be joined by a young German traveler on one of “those” Indian journey’s. This in itself did little to inspire me to travel India. I had not a single inclination that I would enjoy myself in the land of many a backpacker. Would I really clash with India?
Still unsure of leaving I had my mind made up for me as the young blond German Jonas was leaving for sure today. This would be my first border crossing with someone else in a while.
I was not so readily packed, and as the electricity in Lahore suddenly went in the early morning, I had to do most of my packing in the dark as the room had no windows. We left in a 550rp Taxi for the border. I had a feeling that I had left something behind. Later I discovered that I had. A pack of 2500mh batteries, and perhaps worse than that their very nice container. I’,m still haunted in not having that container, can’t get anything similar.
The Wagah border is not so exciting when the ceremony is not taking place. In fact just a lone couple of guards asked us if we liked Pakistan. And like I did. I realized this more as I was leaving than when I was there. In fact it was more because of where I was leaving to.
India would herald an official end to a particularly challenging section of this trip. In Turkey I was faced with the VISA issues. Would I or would I not get the Iranian and Pakistani visas. In the end it turned out that the Indian had taken the longest.
Then there was the issue over entering the Axis of George Bush’s Evil, Iran. A place that by and large was as west as Shanghai on a Barcelona nights walk. People were friendly, neon lights were blinking. Pakistan had the allure of emergency rule hanging over it. Would I get in? The border crossings with the bandits? Being dumped in the desert? The Khyber Pass? Gun running, the works. It reeked of adventure and has an atmosphere to match.
Now I had a feeling all that would be coming to an end. I would be just another tourist in the land of hashish smoking hippies and first time backpackers trying to break into the their lives. Spiritual soothsayers and all manner of guru’s awaited my deaf ears.
I looked over at Jonas as we got stamped out. He was heading for Daramasala, the place of the Tibetan Dalai Lama. Jonas was not a hippie. He was about 24 and the further we progressed across the border the further his arrogance of youth showed itself. Cockiness, but kept under control. Not a bad guy, but on a mission it seemed. I would have preferred to have crossed by myself. Still, Jonas had informed me that we could stay at the Golden Temple for free, along with free food. It was a Sikh tradition at the temple to provide for pilgrims and travelers to the temple alike. I had planned on staying at a hotel nearby the railway, but upon hearing there was also a booking office at the temple sight itself decided a free night at the Golden Temple would be a good idea.
We got stamped into India with little trouble. Indeed the bureaucratic nightmare and rudeness never happened. They dealt mainly with me, and I think age has something to do with some of the reputation India has. They respect people with a few years behind them. Jonas was largely stared at by immigration, while I was given polite head waggles and occasional smiles.
There was a Nepalese girl in her 20’s going through at about the same time as us. I offered her to join our taxi to the Amritsar and she heartily accepted. Though silent throughout the trip, she did well at bargaining the taxi price. She was also more company than Jonas who was getting more silent by the minute. This was the second border taxi I was taking that an immigration official decided to join us as well. At least we were in!
We pulled up to Amritsars main bus terminal. According to Jonas,and the official, there was a free bus from the terminal to the temple. And so there was. Complete with people hanging off the sides and roof. Next bus please. The Nepalese girl left after paying her share, the immigration official just left. Within 5 minutes of being at an Indian bus terminal I had seen 15 tourists more than in the total time I had seen in Iran and Pakistan combined. I was back in tourist land alright. I grabbed a cycle rickshaw and told him where we wanted to go.
After helping push the rickshaw up a hill, and pushing through a crowded market we arrived at the temple. Or rather the outside courtyard like buildings of the temple. There were people everywhere, selling, buying, eating, shuffling and bumping into me. We pushed forward to the temple information office. Shoe removal time, no shoes were allowed inside the temple. It was an office not a temple. And, I hate taking my shoes off. The large fat men inside waggled confirmation that there was free accommodation and pointed us down to the accommodation entrance. Back on with the shoes again.
Bright tinsel hung between buildings at the entrance to both the Golden Temple and the accommodation area. We were greeted my several Sikh guards. A dorm room was available for free, though we were hinted to that a donation would also be accepted.
The main room contained about 30 beds all lined up in a row. There was a grungy shower room that smelled like it was also used as a toilet and along the left hand side blue painted doors that led to small 4 and 3 bedroom rooms. We were lucky enough to get a four bedroom room that had a Canadian in his late forties perched inside. None to happy to have his privacy encroached upon. Lockers lined our room. Jonas had little interest in changing rooms and wanted to be out into the temple area. Apparently our room was the main locker room for all the dorms. Not good!
Jonas did not get it. I explained that if our room was the locker room, people would be coming in and out all the time with bags. Security wise it meant they could rifle through our stuff and pretty much get away with it. I unpacked as many valuable things and jammed them into a locker with my own lock. Jonas had no lock and just stared at this bag. He shrugged it off and left for the temple. While glad he was gone, I also found it a bit much to have just crossed a border with someone and have them disappear like that. I looked at his stuff on his bed, and shrugged as well.
Having secured as much as possible I left for both food and the temple. Food was no problem, before leaving Pakistan I had smuggled a Beef Subway into India in my bag. So I had some holy cow and broke many Hindu laws in doing so. Still with a full belly I made my way to the temple entrance and was pointed at straight away.
Two men leaving the long open air entrance way pointed to my feet and then to the sign behind me. ‘Remove shoes and place here’. Now taking into account that the sign was pointing to the way I was going, I expected to have a little shoe man a bit further up. But no, this was India so the large shoe storage place was behind the sign. I headed over and removed my shoes and again stuffed them into my bag. Then applied the second rule of the Golden Temple and covered my hair with a scarf. Ho Hum… Patience stretching… I never really got all this shoe removal stuff, a sign of respect?? Or to remove unclean things… take a look at the dirty feet around here. And as for head covering… it grated.
I was already feeling India rub me the wrong way …
Some related links from this website that you might like: (including a lot more photographs from Pakistan)
Stories: The Pakistani Truck Painters
Stories: The Last Khyber Pass Journey
Video: The Wagah Border Ceremony
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