…but if they did they’d be hard pressed to beat the pomp and circumstance at the Attari closing of the Pakistan-India Border. I’m in Amritsar at the moment and in the past 36 hours have seen probably the most beautiful, and serene, religious temple in India, the most curious museum yet in India and of course the most comedy official ceremony that exists anywhere in the country.
The Golden temple is a beautiful Sikh temple that appears to float in the centre of a clear blue pool called Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar)surrounded by marble walkways and white domes above the gates. A causeway, Gurus’ Bridge, extends from the gold gilded central temple out across the lake to the far side. The setting is fantastically serene, and everything about the experience of visiting this place only serves to enhance the appeal. Nobody asks you for money inside the temple, after numerous Jain, Christian and Hindu experiences in India this is surprise enough. here is a special place to leave your shoes in exchange for a token (again at no cost), the water with which you have to wash your feet before entering is warm (it’s even colder here than Delhi), there are red material walkways to save your feet the coldness of he marble and they offer free food to all the pilgrims who visit the temple regardless of religion. There are even huge, attractive looking olive and red goldfish that swim near the edges of the water as you walk by. In the temple itself four priests keep up a continuous Punjabi chant from the Sikh holy book which is broadcast around the temple.
Today, resisting the temptation to watch more Australian Open action, (my hotel room has a TV!) I went in search of Sikhism in the town. The first stop was the gardens of Jallaianwala Bagh, a memorial to the 2000 Indians, Sikh, Muslim and Hindu who were massacred without warning by the British in 1819 whilst staging a non violent protest. Sobering and yet I couldn’t help remembering Indira Gandhi who was murdered by her Sikh body guards 1984 is response to the military invading the Golden Temple where Punjab extremists were hiding. No country, religion or cause it seems, ever manages to exist without blood on its hands.
Then I went to Ram Bagh to see the curious and rather interesting museum of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the one-eyed battle hero of the Punjab era from 1780-1839. The main focal point of the museum is a huge panorama of paintings with life size models extending he paintings into 3D showing he great battle scenes from his reign against the hoards of Afghanistan and Kashmir. It was horribly kitsch and wonderful at the same time, especially with the sounds of battle, death and war cries playing in the background!
Next stop was a shared jeep down to the border with Pakistan at Attari, about an hour way. The students from Utaranchal in the jeep decided that we needed a sing a long o pass the time and insisted that myself and the two American girls there join in. It turns out that all the Englishsongs they knew were Backstreet boys, Bryan Adams and Boyzone. So there we were speeding towards Pakistan merrily crooning out Summer of 69, this country simply cannot get any weirder! At the border there is an ornate set of gates dividing the two countries and leading up to each is a walkways surrounded by large grandstand seating which soon began to fill up (less on the Pakistan side, I guess because the country is still in mourning for Bhutto). Each side is blaring out pop music at full volume and on our side we even have an MC to keep the crowd excited. He instigates much chanting and hen a few select members of the crowd are allowed to run down two huge India flags to the gate amid much cheering to wave and jib at the opposing side. There was also dancing, the men and women separated by the border guards to get the party started. The guards themselves were tall serious faced men wearing short olive green trousers displaying six inches of immaculate white spars over black army boots. They had red and black cravats and red and black headgear that would have made the peacocks jealous. Once the official ceremony began they speed marched up to the gates in pairs and proceeded to do some impressively high leg kicks that turned the effort into a funny walk of which John Cleese would be proud. We meanwhile are sporadically cheering and clapping and making a considerable noise as there were several hundred people there. When the gates finally opened the noise swelled and we had our first glimpse of the black uniformed, high plumed Pakistani guards performing the mirror high leg kicking moves of the Indian guards. There was much chest slapping, leg kicking, bellowing and stomping before the flags were finally lowered and we cheered our side back to their posts as the gates were closed. Afterwards I ran to grab one of the guards for a photo, cheesy but so necessary. All in all, the best time I have ever had a border, they should build a gate between England and Scotland and give it a go, it would do wonders for the national pride!