My original schedule was to spend an additional day in Jammu on return from Srinagar. To recover the lost time I lopped this off and decided to curtail the stay in Amritsar to two instead of three days. I started early from the Jammu ORH to ensure that I do not miss out on the sights to see and things to do while in Amritsar. By 9 am I was into Punjab territory and soon spotted a Narula’s food joint next to a HP outlet. While I feasted on a MahaBurger and Coke the car got its full quota of fuel. I expected the NH15 to Amritsar to be top of the line. It is not so. In most places the roads are two lane.
One of the major issues while touring the north East and J&K is the communication and connectivity. I have two phone connections, one a Reliance CDMA and the other a BSNL pre-paid. Both are useless in the two regions. Fortunately Mathew Philip had got me a BSNL data card which came in handy, not for its intended use but as a post paid mobile connection. Thus, during my tour of the North East and J&K my blog posts have been behind schedule – at least, from now on I will not have recourse to connectivity as a punching bag for late posts. As soon as I crossed over into the State of Punjab my BB on Reliance CDMA spat to life and the pre-paid BSNL connection became valid.
Instead of going to the ORH in Amritsar first I decided to head for the Golden Temple and spend as much time there. Vehicles, other than with special permission, have to be parked in Parking Centres not very far from the Temple. I gathered my guide book and camera and set out for the Temple after locating a parking lot. The streets are congested and tourists and pilgrims jostle for space on the streets and attention of the shopkeepers. Turning a corner, on the way to the Temple, I came to the Jallianwala Bagh Memorial. As one enters the Memorial and goes through the narrow path leading to the wide open garden ground the feeling is special – one cannot but ‘feel’ the moment when Gen Dwyer ordered the firing on a peaceful, unarmed gathering on 13th April 1919 protesting against the Rowlat Act. The ground, which belonged to many, was purchased by the Congress and converted into a Memorial as a standing tribute to those brave Indians who were butchered; 1650 rounds are said to have been fired and many bullet marks are still visible on the walls in the Memorial. The Martyr’s Well in which many perished while attempting to flee the bullets is also grilled and protected. An Eternal Flame to venerate the sacrifice of the many hundreds who fell to bullets is maintained by the IOC. A Museum houses paintings of important persons involved in the events leading up to the unfortunate firing and thereafter. Another has important documents and other relics of the incident. During the tour of the Memorial I came across two very distinct types of visitors to the historic site. One was a Punjabi family, evidently located somewhere in the West (going by their hybrid accent!), capturing the Memorial on a camcorder. The ‘Father’ was doing the voice over at a wall with bullet marks. He focused on a bullet mark and narrated its significance. He got stuck about the year of its occurrence. The ‘Mother’ supplied it: “two hundred years ago” and the ‘Father’ recorded it as such! The two small children tagged along. The second type I met near the Martyr’s Well. The ‘Father’ hoisted his small child to face the grill and told him about the ‘Mauth Ka Kuah’. He further told the child with passion in his voice that when he grows up he will learn in detail about this and it should inspire his life in this country. I left the Memorial wondering if these unfortunate people would have braved bullets if they would have known what we would do with the ‘freedom’ that such martyrs won for us.
The Golden Temple is not a site or a sight, it is an experience. After depositing the shoes and socks at the designated counter it took me some time to get adjusted to the cold marble walkways inside the Temple premises. You forget about the cold when you get into the Parikrama. The beauty of the gold gilded double storeyed marble Temple and its reflection in the ‘Pool of Nectar’ transports you into a world of awe and respect. It took me more than three hours to walk around the entire complex, appreciate the historical, religious and cultural nuggets, visit the large ‘Guru Ki Langar’ (where more than 60,000 people are fed daily) and get a reasonable idea of the evolution of Sikhism (from the Central Museum). The Pir and Mir outside the Thakt symbolizes the spiritual and temporal powers. Priests keep up chants from the Holy Book throughout the day which is clearly audible in the Complex through an excellent Bose system. Stories of extreme valour, supreme sacrifice and astonishing deeds are described through a series of paintings inside the Central Museum. The attack on the Akal Thakt by the Indian Army is very vividly described and so is its rebuilding by Kar Seva. When I retrieved my shoes after three hours of walking barefoot inside the Temple Complex I could not sense my feet; circulation had ‘ceased’.
My nostrils caught the alluring aromas of delicious foods wafting from the adjoining streets while leaving the Golden Temple at a quarter past four. I looked around for Kulcha and Chole. My hunger exaggerated by the wafting aromas refused to explore any more. I settled into a small eatery and ordered mixed Pakoras. He said something about Rs.30 and I approved. He did look surprised. When it arrived in ten minutes I had a huge plate full of pakoras of different types. The chutney was exquisite. While waiting for the pakoras I had a cup of tea. Another abetted the extermination of the pakoras. My ‘roving’, greedy eyes locked on to the hot, hot jalebis in the adjoining shop and 150 gms were polished off after the pakoras. The entire feast set me back by Rs.60 and I decided to skip dinner. But my body and brain refuse to comply with such resolutions. Out on the street I found a vendor selling Chikkies. I picked up a kg of different types. At the entrance to the Parking Centre were vendors with Sweet Potato baked over hot coals. I could not let this pass. I had one freshly baked potato with lime and masala. It was softer than butter. Ah ha.
Locating the railway station and the ORH was not a problem. Crowded streets, annoyed road users and exasperated pedestrians do not scare or bother me after these many days of ‘experience’. It was too early to retire and hence, I took to a walk. While walking back to the ORH after about an hour I came across a shop selling winter garments. I walked in to check some pieces and the prices. I found a few lovely jackets priced at Rs.750 each. Peter aka Balwinder Singh, the salesman, commented that the jackets were probably made for me. He had me hooked. I thought I looked good in it too! He asked me where I am from. I told him to guess, with the caveat that he would have to accept my offer for the jacket in case he was wrong. He said that I look and talk like a Maharashtrian. Having failed to guess correctly he accepted my offer of Rs.500. I then told him about my journey and he was fascinated. He introduced me to the co-owner of the shop, Deepak, and wanted my thoughts on the people here. When I told him that I found them to be rough and illustrated it, he felt genuinely upset. He said that I should not go away with this impression as ‘a few bad apples’ are there but have not spoiled the rest.
Further down the road I came to a shop selling ‘ready to eat’ meat. I picked up Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Seekh Kabab and Malai Chicken Tikka for dinner with the companion, ‘Celebrations’. Had I decided a few hours back to skip dinner? I do not think so.