Posted 03.05.2009, updated 07.05.2009
02.05.2009 - 04.05.2009 30 °C
First of all I have a new camera! I bought a 6 MP little second-hand Kodak in McLeod before leaving. So far it performs quite well. Sorry about the date in the lower right corner. I thought the date-stamp would be some kind of digitally encoded date in the JPG file-header. Who would have thought it actually prints it big and yellow on the picture itself!? I disabled it now.
The Holy City of the Sikhs is Amritsar, the location of the Golden Temple. The Golden Temple complex is truly impressive. There's a big pond around the Temple itself, then a walkway where pilgrims walk around (clockwise of course...) and take baths in the pond. Surrounding the walkway is a big square building, like a fortress wall, where some important Sikh relics are kept (There are all kind of books, swords and other stuff displayed and people praying there, so I assume they're relics).
Every morning (too early for me to wake up) there is a procession where the Sikh holy book is brought to the Golden Temple by singing monks. All day long there are then monks that sing passages from it nonstop, and these songs are played from loudspeakers all over the temple. Every evening the book is then brought back to a safe place.
I was allowed to stay in the small room during the evening ceremony. The Holy Book is fastidiously unwrapped, then the head priest chants a few passages from it, and it is then carefully rewrapped in many layers of white cloth. Since this seems to be the holiest of holies from the Sikh religion and since I was the only white (and thus obviously non-Sikh) person in the room (containing around 50 people in total), I didn't dare take any pictures of the ceremony. But here are two of the procession that moved the book back to it's night place:
The Sikh welcome everybody in their temples. To make this absolutely clear there are dormitories where one can sleep free of charge for three days, and in the Temple complex there's a huge kitchen that continuously serves food cooked by volunteers to pilgrims and visitors. For free as well. Now that's hospitality! The whole place runs from donations. In the Sikh religion equality is very important. Thus for the meal everybody, rich and poor, sits on the ground next to each other:
I won't stay long enough in Amritsar to find some other cultural objects of interest, so here are some random things I have seen:
An official sign from the local Police Force. Blogspot and Gmail!!! Can you believe this? Welcome to the Indian Police.
This is a little street stall just outside the Temple complex. I photographed it because they actually sell Nestea Ice-Tea!!! It's just the powder stuff, but after so many months of abstinence I can't describe the bliss when drinking real Ice-Tea again.
On my first day here I met some students from the States. We went together to the only open India-Pakistan border crossing at Attari, a village close to Amritsar. Every evening there is a closing ceremony that is famous all over India and Pakistan. Since we are foreigners we were lucky enough to get places in the VIP area. The ceremony consists of the border guards of both sides parading in front of each other in an intimidating manner, while crowds go wild to the sound of “Hindustan Zindabad” (Hindustan forever) on the Indian side and “Pakistan something” on the Pakistani side. There's music, drums, a master of ceremony and everything. At some point the two commanding officers shake hands and the gate is closed for the night. It is one of the most ridiculous things I have seen any military do, it's hilarious to watch. I'm glad they have this sort of theater performance to take a lighter side to their rivalry. Here are some pictures and movies:
Here's one of the Border Force soldiers in full attire. The uniform is already more reminiscent of a theater costume than of a battle dress. The Pakistani's uniforms are similar (especially the head-cover) but in black.
Before the ceremony starts, there's a lot of dancing going on. Many spectators (mostly women) dance on the street to the sound of the music being played. I wonder if this spectacle is partly for the benefit of the Muslim women who remain bravely seated on the Pakistani side...
Here's a view of the Pakistani side during the ceremony with the open gate in the middle. The women are on the right side (colored dresses) and the men on the left (mostly in white).
Here's the gate (between the two flags), the street, and the Indian spectators:
Here are some soldiers performing part of the ceremony. Watch the soldier in the back near the gate at the beginning of the movie. The long shouts you hear are military commands of some kind. The Pakistani and Indian parts are somehow synchronized, so you usually hear the commands being shouted from both sides:
After 6 months of tamperingand playing with my linux system finally became unbootable today (Microsoft systems usually resist around one week of the same treatment). I had to restore the factory settings, which means that I have lost all my data, especially all the customization of my laptop, a lot of music and all my movies! This is a very heavy loss.
I have now had some good experiences with couchsurfing. Here's a link to my couchsurfing profile. Read through the about stuff and join if you're interested. It's a good way to meet people from all over the world if you're too busy to travel yourself: