Great Amritsar themed book - The Sari Shop
Bajwa dramatically illustrates the class gap in contemporary India in her debut novel, focusing on the fortunes of Ramchand, a lowly, disaffected clerk in a popular sari shop. The novel opens with Ramchand happily going about his duties serving the shop's mostly upper-class clients. Opportunity for advancement comes from an unlikely source when he attracts the attention of the beautiful, literate Rina Kapoor, whose family hires the shop to provide saris for her upcoming wedding. Inspired by his foray into a wider world ("there were cars and flowerpots and frosted glass trays with peacocks on them"), Ramchand embarks on a half-baked self-improvement effort that includes a reading program and some unintentionally comic attempts to learn English. Shortly afterwards, though, Ramchand sees the other side of Indian life when the wife of one of his co-workers, a woman named Kamla, descends into public drunkenness. Ramchand is a tenderly drawn character, reminiscent of Naipaul's innocent strivers, and the rest of the cast is vividly sketched. There are several typical first-novel flaws: the narrative is slow in the first half, and Bajwa's transitions between her character-driven subplots are occasionally uneven and erratic. But Bajwa's loving attention to detail—Ramchand washing his feet with lemon juice before he visits the Kapoors, the malicious chatter of the sari-shopping ladies—paints a compelling, acerbic picture of urban India.
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Okay this is the only way to get inside the Golden construction via a bridge I supposed the correct word for it. Anyway, the crowd of the day is average as this photo but need a short while to queue. I saw so many tourists just like myself among these Sikhs, they never care to ask why or where you come from, so we were happy, everybody happy.
Wagah Border Ceremony (Pakistan/India Border)
About 30 kms outside of Amritsar is the only road crossing to Pakistan. It is known by the Pakistan name, Wagah Border. The Indian name is Attari.
Although traffic between the two countries has stopped a couple of hours prior, each day around sunset thousands of Indians, Pakistanis, and foreigners gather to watch the changing of the guards and the ceremonial lowering of the flags with the Indian BSF (Border Security Force) and the Pakistani Sutlej Rangers.
Guards on both sides - in full dress uniforms - display their synchronized marching - in a friendly competition, each side trying to outdo the other with their high-stepping and foot stomping.
Arriving from Amritsar, cars, rickshaws, buses, etc. drop you about a half mile from the entrance. Security officers will check you before you proceed. You are not allowed to bring any bags, backpacks, or even camera cases(!) in with you. If you get to the security point and have any of those things, you can leave them at a small stall nearby for a few rupees. (I would not recommend leaving anything of value here.) They are very strict about this - we were not even allowed to bring in our baby's diaper bag. Once through the security point, you can either take a cycle-rickshaw or walk to the entrance.
Just before the large entrance to the viewing stands on the Indian side are "Welcome to India" and the "India The Largest Democracy In The World Welcomes You" signs, along with a touching memorial monument of two hands shaking with the inscription "Dedicated to 10 Lakh Punjabis Who Died Unsung in 1947". There's a sort of ramshackle Indian Customs booth and a very small BSF Museum which is worth a quick look. It has a small model of the "gate" and how it locks.
If you are elderly or with an elderly person, you can enter through the main gate. You will get a seat (the best seats in the house) on the low walls along the narrowish two lane "road". If you are a foreigner (bring your passport), you can go through the gate (toll booth style gate) on the left side before the entrance. Follow the path around to the VIP section. (Do be nice; I don't think they have to let you into the VIP section.) All others enter up the stairs to the left on the main entrance. The viewing stands on the Indian side hold somewhere over 6,000 people.
The crowds are warming up. There's likely to be Indians dancing in the "road" to some patriotic Bollywood songs. The stands are absolutely overflowing. On the Pakistan side there are separate sections for men and women, with an empty section in between. Behind us in the stands of the VIP section are 4 men waving large Indian flags.
The ceremony starts and there is alternate cheering from each side. Military commands are bellowed as guards start to march towards the gate. New guards go to the gate, old guards come back. This continues for some time - with some additional military maneuvers - until simultaneously the flags of India and Pakistan are lowered and retrieved. Finally the gates between the two countries are slammed shut until the following morning.
When the ceremony is over a chain is put across the street from between the general and VIP sections. The VIP section is closer to the gates and if you are sitting there, you can go and take some photos of the guards or even go up to the gate to take some photos. They don't allow much time for this so go check out the gate first!
I just loved the pomp and circumstance, the Sutlej Ranger's uniforms, the good natured rivalry, and for some inexplicable reason - the gate, which I just thought was so cool. You could tell that the guards really enjoyed putting on a "show" in what otherwise might be a pretty boring job.
But I think the thing that struck me most, was realizing that - all of the politics and other sh*t aside - we are all just human beings. I really thought this ceremony was special.
On the way out, there is a small souvenir store which just sells small photos, keychains, etc. They were each Rs 10. It's worth buying a couple of items to support the BSF. Near the store is a long barbed wire fence. Just a note: This is NOT Pakistan. It was so funny to watch people standing there for photos, some waving their Indian flags thinking this was Pakistan.
The actual ceremony starts about 5:30 p.m. and lasts about 30 minutes. I recommend leaving Amritsar no later than 3:30. We arrived about 4:45 and the stands were already packed. If we had not gotten seats in the VIP section, we would have been standing all the way at the top of the stands and would not have been able to see anything! You might want to bring binoculars in any case. There are no issues about safety; it's perfectly safe. Go and enjoy!
Golden Temple - Darshani Deorhi
This is the gateway you walk through that takes you onto the causeway that leads you across the pool and into the Golden Temple itself. You walk through a pair of splendidly decorative silver doors and past sacred verses carved on the walls.
Golden Temple - Kitchen
The kitchen or Guru Ka Langar is open 24 hours to all visitors irrespective of religion, caste, creed and nationality. Approximately 50,000 visitors eat the meals prepared here so you can just imagine the scale of the operation that is undertaken. The kitchen, which was smaller than I had expected, is where volunteer cooks prepare meals such as chipati's and cooking them on large open hot plates and cooking curry in large pots. It was a hive of activity and the smell was fantastic.