temple-waters

My DAA trip – Amritsar’s Golden Temple

The host of the hostel was nice enough to find us accommodation in a different hostel at that time of night. Conveniently, it was right outside the gates of the square which holds the Golden Temple. He even got us an autorickshaw to transport us to the other hostel. Once we were there, completing the formalities, taking a shower and finding our beds took a couple hours and we fell asleep by 1:30 or 2 am.

We met a solo traveler at the hostel, a 40-year-old Japanese woman who was traveling through India. She works for a year, saves up and travels to a country for three months. She has been doing this for almost a decade. As someone who has always wanted to do that, I was completely in awe of this petite woman following her dream. I believe starting that journey is what is difficult for me and if I have the confidence (and some money) to travel solo, I might get into the groove and keep doing that even when I am old and grey.

After a few hours of sleep, we walked into the gates of what I am going to call, the Golden Temple Square. It was a few kilometers of space filled with monuments, shops, hotels and restaurants, bustling with tourists and locals alike. Walking through the square and getting to the Golden Temple was a journey in itself of various colors and smells. Just outside the temple, as you step onto the mosaic flooring, you can see that there is a counter where you can sign in your footwear.

We didn’t notice that counter and my friend suggested we leave our footwear with the others strewn about. I think you can tell where this is going, but for the purpose of the story, I’ll come back to that later. The temple is located at the center of the mosaic square.

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We access the temple through an arch and down a flight of stairs. As we climb down the stairs, the temple appears so much closer than it actually is as my eyesight aligns with its height. At the end of the stairs, the place opens into an expanse and the Golden temple stands shimmering in the sunlight, true to its name.

We walked around the temple and basked in the glory of it all. The designs on each structure were breathtaking. The designs on the structures were nothing short of pure work of art.

The entire area was kept clean at all times; when I say clean, I mean pristine. Apparently, even the Sikhs who visit the temple help in keeping the place clean. We saw a Sikh man gather up dust accumulated on one of the staircases onto his palms and carry it away. They are very serious about cleanliness. Also, you should never sit with your legs stretched out, it is disrespectful. You are only to sit cross-legged within the temple premises. Even when you are sitting on a step with your feet in the water, a temple guard will come and politely ask you to not do that.

The largest langar in India can be found at the Golden Temple. Typically, langar feeds up to 40,000 people a day and on religious holidays and weekends, it can feed upwards of 100,000 people. It is only vegetarian food, so as to accommodate people with dietary restrictions. Langar is available 24 hours a day and there is a team constantly cooking in the kitchen to feed every soul that enters the temple. The Golden Temple kitchen has been featured in Mega Kitchens of India National Geographic Channel as well.

A couple of friends were waiting in line to get into the temple’s main building where langar is served. On a usual day, you will have to wait almost 6 hours to get into the building. But, according to a local, if you get there early like 3 am early, then the wait will be reduced to within 2 hours. Once you get to the Golden Temple, you should definitely enter the main building and have langar. It is just something one must do. Once inside the building, you can even climb up one floor and take a look at the rest of the buildings in the square. The experience very spiritual and something everyone should experience.

A couple of my friends had already seen the place and didn’t want to stand in line for hours again, so we decided to stroll around outside the temple, maybe get some breakfast. When we went to gather our footwear, mine was missing. I just knew it in my gut that something like this would happen. Typical. The new sandals that I especially bought for this trip were stolen by some guy, who I hope trips and falls on his teeth. I had to walk barefoot to the nearest store and get authentic Amritsar footwear that had embroidery on it. It was cute so… glass half full?

We asked the footwear store owner where we can get good chai and some breakfast. He pointed in the direction we came from in the morning and asked us to take a small left lane to Prince tea shop. It is pretty famous with everyone there and you can ask for Prince tea shop and they will show you the way. I have to say, that was some excellent chai.

We also got chole bhature in a tiny dhaba nearby, which was super crowded and we had to eat standing at the end of the room before a table become unoccupied. We can’t visit Punjab and not drink lassi, so we grabbed a glass after breakfast. True to the place, it was the best lassi I have had in a long time. It was creamy and the quantity offered is big enough for it to be a meal in itself.

Our next visit was to the Jallianwala Bagh memorial, located 200 meters from there. We got to the see portraits of the people involved in the events and protests, and we got to read the newspaper articles and laws that were passed, which eventually led to the massacre of our people. It was a dark page from history, reminding us about the struggle our people had to go through to get where we are now. Just imagine if we never made it here, made it free, what would our lives be like now. I don’t think there is a comforting answer to that question.

While waiting for my other friends, I did a little shopping. I got four Patiala pants and a pair of earrings. Although we can get patialas in Chennai, North India has the best-stitched ones. If you plan on getting something, you should be ready to bargain. That advise stands true no matter where you are shopping in the world. We also got souvenirs from a sword shop, which are plenty in Amritsar. Since the airport doesn’t entertain knives longer than the palm of your hand, we asked the owner to send us the knife via courier. We gave him the address and paid for it and he had it couriered to us later.

Once everyone gathered, we exited the square to get some food. We went into a Punjabi Dhaba whose name board is visible from the memorial entrance to the right. Prior to paying obeisance to the Golden Temple, it is better to have vegetarian food, hence you will not find non-vegetarian food joints anywhere near the Golden Temple. Even the McDonald’s located within the square is pure vegetarian.

lunch-at-punjabi-dhaba

My friends and I had rotis, kulcha, butter mushrooms, and gobi masala. Everything was super delicious. We can’t leave punjab without another glass of lassi for all. We got some lassi to take away from the restaurant and walked back to the hostel. We had to catch the 4:30 pm train to Delhi, so we had a couple hours before we had to scuttle. Only after we sat down at the hostel did we realize how much we needed the rest. We just talked, relaxed and left for the railway station an hour later. The Shatabdi train trip was pleasant and we reached Delhi railway station at 11:45 pm. Our plan for the next day was to visit Agra and we were catching a 2:00 am train to Agra from Nizamuddin railway station. We took a cab from Delhi station to the Nizamuddin station. Our train was late by 30 minutes so we had time to kill.

We got some chai at the food court right outside the station while waiting for the train. Our train will reach Agra around 7 am, and I started checking the visit timings for the Taj Mahal. I am glad I did because that led me to the information that the Taj Mahal is closed for visits every Friday for prayer. You guessed it, we were going on a Friday.

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india-flag

My DAA trip – Quick stop at Amritsar

After staying awake all night, we made our way to the metro station. We stopped for sandwiches on the way as well. Seemed like we were eating once every hour the entire trip :0 We took a train to the Delhi Railway Station and reached there a little after 5 am. We had to get out of the metro station and across the street was the Delhi station for electric trains.

new-delhi-railway-station

A friend suggested we stop for tea. Personally, I am a coffee drinker, but you could tell the tea was good just by the aroma around the small cart.

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After the yummy tea, we headed to the station. The platform that our train would come into was not updated yet so we decided to find a place to relax. The thing that was fascinating for me here was that every station and every junction had an x-ray machine through which you had to run all your luggage. It was tiring at times, especially because a string in my bag got caught and my bag was stuck in the machine. Until the time the officials figured out that my bag was stuck and stopped the machine, the other people who had their bags in the machine would not give me a second to get to my bag. They just kept pushing me around and reaching before me and pushed my other bag to the floor. They were such jerks. There was no understanding by them that only when I get my bags can they get theirs easily. This is why I always argue that people in Tamil Nadu understand and are a lot more hospitable in situations like this.

Once the bag mess was sorted, we walked onto the nearest platform and waited until they announced the platform number for our train to Amritsar. The announcement came a little after 6 am. We hauled our bags to that platform, which had seats along the wall but no other benches were found. The platform was pretty clean for a railway station so we sat down in a circle without a care in the world.

amritsar-train

I would have to note that we were the only people seated on the platform for the entire hour and nobody else did that, at least not as far as I could see.

We took the 7 am Shatabdi train to Amritsar. This train was a great idea because it helped us avoid the March heat and boy was that hot as hell. Out train arrived in Amritsar an hour late, which threw a wrench in our itinerary. We had planned to see the Wagah Border Flag ceremony at 4:30 pm. That seemed a far-fetched dream as we were having trouble getting an uber. Then we decided to take a local auto from outside the station. He was a godsend. He was not only swift in reaching our hostel but pointed out all things “Amritsar” that we should see along the way.

We were cutting it real close, so we were gonna dump our luggage in the hostel and leave immediately to Wagah border. I was once again checking for a cab that could take us to Wagah border from our hostel. The cab fare was super high, but it seemed like we didn’t have a choice now. That is until the autowala bhaiya came to the rescue. He said he could drive us to the Wagah border and back for just Rs.750. The cab fare was thrice that!

My friend Gokoulane was a punctual animal who believed that if you are late for another person, it means that you don’t respect their time. Ever since we heard that our train was going to be an hour late, his face was holding a disappointed look like he was forced to eat a sour lemon the entire trip. I understand how he feels about time and the fact that this day was supposed to be Wagah border day. The moment we reached the hostel, I threw my bag into the luggage room and was ready to go. It was now or never as we had to catch a train back to Delhi the next afternoon and would not get another chance to see the ceremony. It has been a long trip to that moment and the others wanted to at least wash their face before leaving again and it wasn’t sitting well with Goks. Despite all the setbacks, we managed to leave with enough time to get to the border.

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Once there, all vehicles should be parked at a considerable distance from the border entrance, maybe one to two kilometres. We had to walk the rest of the way, pass a check post and get to the viewing arena. Our photographer friend, Kavi, had given me the battery to her camera to hold onto until we get there. But as they were running enthusiastically to the arena, I was strolling behind as my sandals were new and they were already boring a hole into my foot. Once I reached the arena entrance, I saw Remya was waiting for me. Goks and Kavi were nowhere to be seen. They had already gone in and secured seats and we were left to fend for ourselves.

wagah-border

The arena was packed with curious and patriotic Indians. Remya and I did not get seats and we had to stand in one corner of the first-floor elevation. I tried filming what was going on, but the mobile camera could only get so much. I felt very bad that Kavi did not have her camera’s battery with her. I later found out that she was seated very close to the action which only made me feel worse.

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After the ceremony was over, we stopped to eat some Aloo tikki masala and pani puri. It was super delicious, especially the aloo tikki.

paddy-fields

On our way back to the hostel, we stopped by a wheat field to take some pictures. It was a lovely evening and was a great sunset.

chicken-tikka-masalaWe reached the city around 8:30 pm. Since it was late already, we decided to have dinner before we went to the hostel. Our autowala bhaiya recommended a place. We had roti, naan, butter chicken and chicken tikka masala. The chicken tikka masala was to die for! We could have licked that bowl clean, it was that good. We bought dinner for bhaiya as well and left the restaurant at around 10 pm.

The hostel was close by from there. We paid bhaiya and thanked him for being there for us today. We still didn’t get into the hostel because we saw a dessert stall opposite the hostel. We went in for some falooda and another thing I can’t seem to remember the name of. After dessert, we were so full and sleepy. We were all ready to take a shower and hit the bed.

Unfortunately, the hostel host at the time informed us that there were no rooms available and we had to find a different hostel. Even though our luggage was there, we hadn’t checked in and five other people needed rooms so he gave it to them. The host working in the shift before him had not given this guy a heads up about us. The host tried calling a few other hostels to find us accommodation. It was past midnight and we didn’t have a place to stay in or a bed to sleep on.

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My DAA trip – Goodbye Chennai, Hello Delhi

A few hours before the actual day-one of my trip started, I was at work. The plan was to leave on a Tuesday. So, I left work early that day and went straight to the airport. Two other friends walked in five minutes after I did and we met right outside the entrance of the domestic departure gate. I was as excited as a little kid in a candy store. You have to understand that the childish excitement in me was embarrassingly obvious only because of the fact that I had never been inside an airport before, let alone on a flight.

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The time of firsts

Travel Background

To put it in few words – I don’t have one. I have never been on an actual trip with friends before. Unless you count that one school trip to Cochin and Munnar a decade ago. This Delhi trip was pretty unexpected for me. One evening, a close friend called me up and said that a few friends are planning a trip to Delhi, Amritsar, and Agra and asked me if I would like to join them.

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Nostalgia inside a city bus

There are so many things that we feel nostalgic about. Usually, it’s food that floods us with memories of our past. Green mango slices smeared with chili powder, Rs.2 per hour rented bicycles, mint candy that looked like cigarettes are some of the things that the 90’s kids will know pretty well. One such blast from the past I got today was the city bus.

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Let there be sight

A cold breeze blows through my hair as I ride along on my Honda Activa. It has been my partner-in-action for the last five years. I loved riding in the chill of the evening breeze, the moments just before the rain hits the ground, with music playing in my ears. But even with all my love for the rain, it is still a nightmare for me to ride while it is raining. That is because I wear glasses and have worn them since I was fourteen years old and I hate them.

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Let’s talk ‘Padmavati’

We have all heard about the controversy surrounding Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s latest movie creation, ‘Padmavati.’ Ever since the movie trailer was created, there has been a lot of protests against the movie. From the historical facts to the portrayal of Padmavati’s character, people have been questioning everything about this movie. Some politicians have even banned this movie from releasing in their particular ruling states.

So, why this much hate towards a movie?

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