Sunday, 24 April 2011

"Madam, snap please" Amritsar and Wagah border - Steph

Hello!  I know I said I was going to write more posts over the last week but my GI and I got into another fight so I was feeling a bit sluggish.  Things are much better now and Joe and I actually just got back from an amazing trip to the India-Pakistan border.  On Friday night we left around 7:40 on a sleeper train from Dehradun.  The train was quite an experience.  There are three little bunk beds that are stacked so tightly together that you can't sit straight up in bed.  Luckily, the middle one folds down so you can use the bottom bunk to sit before you are ready to snooze.  The entire car is just stacks of beds so you are very close with your bunk neighbors (which makes me super nervous about the person who was hacking up a lung all night and probably gave me TB).  The ride was about 12 hours and I slept ok...although my sleep was frequently interrupted by people turning the lights on, talking, singing, snoring, begging for money, and selling chai. 

We got to Amritsar which is the holy city for the Sikh religion.  After a quick breakfast we visited Jaillanwahal Bagh which is site of a masacre which took place in 1919.  The story goes that 1500 Indian civilians were peacefully protesting and otherwise enjoying what was a communal park area when the British soldiers arrived, demanded that the Indians clear the area (which by the way was physically walled off on three sides and the British were thus blocking the only exit).  They waited about thirty seconds and started firing.  The monument now is a wonderfully peaceful place with a beautifully manicured garden, which in some ways is kind of eerie, but a nice place to visit and remember those who lost their lives. 

On a side note, at this garden I had my first (and definitely not last) experience of the day with "Madam, snap please."  People would come up to me, say this line and then hand me their child, hoping I would take a picture (snap) with them.  I complied, because really what is it to me but a chance to hold a cute little baby.  But, I just would love to know what they tell people about the picture.  Am I just a random tourist, or do they claim that I am famous or what?

Then we were off to the Golden Temple, which is the holiest temple for the Sikh religion.  We had to wear head coverings and take our shoes off and wash our feet in accordance with their practices before we entered.  The entire compound itself is an unbelieveable sight.  Huge buildings entirely made of white marble, a beautiful reflection pond filled with koi and "nectar water" which is holy.  In the center there is the Golden Temple which is just as it sounds, a temple completely covered in gold.  Amazing.  There were people bowing down and kissing the ground and bathing in the holy water.  Although I certainly am not Sikh, it was beautiful to see how happy and grateful people were to be there. 

We then went to buy an offering...which was interesting.  It was a very greasy sweetened porridge that was given to us in leaf bowls.  Joe and I bought one for a dear friend's family and then one each for our families.  I was so excited to have this offering blessed and see the temple...until I saw the line, holy moly.  We stood in a line literally shoulder to shoulder for two hours in what felt like million degree heat.  There was a tent shading us and some fans blowing but somehow it just wasn't enough to overcome the Indian sun.  We finally made it to the temple, and our offering was taken by a Sikh man who reduced it to a more manageable amount (as we were supposed to eat it) and then we went inside.  We were able to give our offering to some men who were seated in the middle of the temple and in exchange we received a bright orange cloth with two sugar discs to share with those for whom we prayed.  (Get ready family, I'm bringing it home).

Finally, we went to the Wagah border which is a very peaceful part of the India-Pakistan border where everynight there is a border closing ceremony.  This was awesome.  It was a little difficult to figure out how to get in but once we discovered that we could flash our passport and get basically VIP treatment, we were set.  We got to sit very close to the actual border and watch and listen as the Indians and Pakistanis tried to sing and cheer louder than the other side.  Both countries completely filled their stands and at least on the Indian side there were plenty of people who were still hoping for a seat.  The soldiers then did this crazy ceremony where they would bark out a loud command, slap their feet vigoursly on the ground, and march at lightning speed to the border gate.  They all also frequently kicked their legs straight up so that their knee literally almost touched their nose.  I have no idea how they were this flexible, it was amazing.  All in all it was just awesome to see two countries have so much pride and excitement and meet on good terms.  I went home a very happy camper.

We took the sleeper train back again last night and today have been preparing for our week in a rural village.  Today, in an effort to pack a bit for this adventure I took some things out of my backpack and to my delight a GIANT cockroach climbed out.  Awesome.  My host mom came and after partially fumagating the room with some Indian bug potion the monster came back out and she killed him.  I since have unpacked and shook out my entire bag and then sprayed it with DEET, hahaha. Yes, I know this can cause cancer but you should have seen this bug, it could have killed me.

I know this is super long so I promise I'm almost done...but just to let you know where we'll be for the next week...we are going to a rural village Patti.  There we will do yoga twice a day (hoooooray!) and seeing locals at health camps.  We will be hiking on Tuesday and Thursday to other villages to hold camps there.  I'm pretty pumped.  After that Friday we are off to Delhi and then Saturday to Germany so Joe can finally meet my family!

I hope you are all well!  I think of you often and can't wait to see you again!!


  1. I love that you are a celebrity in INDIA! This post warmed my soul, you guys are the very best. I also would pay money to see Joe in yoga pants this week. One more week! Then go directly to Germany and drink lots of beer and eat lots of big pretzels. Miss you!

  2. WOW Steph!!! I laughed so hard at your description of the train ride, I can just see it! And, I'm assuming your cockroach experience involved a similar act of bravery as your reaction to the giant billion legged bugs in Little Italy.

    I can't wait to hear about the rural town and I'm so excited Joe will get to meet your family!

  3. The sleeper train sounds like a youth hostel from hell! I'm so glad you guys survived. And if you weren't a celebrity before, you sure are now! Think of how many photo albums you're in!!

    I can't wait to see all your pictures, everything you describe sounds amazing (except for the monster bug, I don't really need to see him).

    Enjoy your last week (yoga yay!!) and have a blast in Germany with the fam! Miss you tons!