New Delhi to Amritsar, India 07.10.2010

Bamboozle: To take in by elaborate methods of deceit; hoodwink.

Another day in dynamic Delhi. My boyfriend decided to wear one of the Indian tunics he bought in Vrindavan, funny, just by changing your clothes it can change how you are perceived. Instead of trying to sell us trinkets and egg whisks (which they reckon are head massagers) they were offering him narcotics “Hey man, nice clothes, nice hair, my name’s Baba, you want some hash?” Somehow, after losing it on Chelmsford Road Delhi doesn’t get to me anymore, kind of like I have an invisible de-stress bubble to keep out the noise. I thought “huh, I kind of like being here” as we stepped out infront of a truck making it screech to a halt and I knew we have arrived, we are Delhiites at last.

We got to New Delhi train station with a hour to spare and thought “uhm, what should we do to pass the time?”, looking into each others eyes and reading each others minds we laughed and pretended to look lost, I pointed to the left, my boyfriend pointed to the right and sure enough within a flash we were approached by a scammer.

Hello, you can’t go into the station, i’m an officer, please show me your tickets!” the smartly dressed man said

We are going to the tourist reservation to buy one” I said.

He led us to an abandoned part of the station and began filling out a white form, while signing a name onto it he said:

Take this across the road to the travel agents, they can help you“. He handed my boyfriend the white form and he in turn began ripping it up, the scammer looked confused:

You know, you are a liar!” my boyfriend said.
His face dropped and he was beginning to get mad “No, i’m not the liar, you are!”
The reply? “No you are, you are the liar!” even more adamant, I began to giggle as this ‘you-are-no-you-are’ game went on and then we walked away.

We bought an English copy of “The Hindustan Times” from an old paper seller sitting on the ground. He got excited and waved some men over, he was pointing to us and telling the men in English “these are my children, my children!!“, he looked like he wanted to stand up and kiss our foreheads. I didn’t understand why he would say this and thought he was either drunk or just very proud that we were interested in Indian current affairs.

We went back, into the main hall of the train station, a guard with a machine gun tried to stop us going any further. I knew he most probably wanted a bribe so I just noticed a police man and made sure the police officer could see that I thought he was my knight in shining armour. He waved the machine gun wielding guard aside and told us the platform number for the suburban train to Nizamuddin where the Golden Temple Express would be waiting. Indian train stations are kind of insane, the digital platform sign said the correct time but the wrong train while a suburban train was waiting on the tracks. Someone told us this was the correct platform for Amritsar but it turned out to be totally wrong.

Stepping onto the correct train I realised the man who sold us the tickets had never asked us what sort of carriage or class we wanted. The carriage was beat up with bars on the windows – an Indian Railways Sleeper Carriage! We were sitting across from an elderly Punjabi man, his wife, their daughter and her baby, a little girl with black ruffled hair. I noticed they had drawn a ‘C’ sign on the little girls forehead with black ink, a dot in the middle, this fascinated me but I didn’t want them to ask why incase it caused some sort of insult. The train pulled out of Delhi, while travelling through the northern suburbs I became a voyeur, peering into the tiny houses, lit either by oil lamps or candles, women cooking over little stoves “Ah this is India I thought” and I loved it. The elderly man in the white turban spoke:

Amritsar, you going Amritsar?”
We said “Yes, for a few days
Golden Temple, free place to sleep, free transport” he said proudly
The Golden Temple is beautiful” I said smiling to his wife and showing them the photo which is in the Rough Guide.

As the journey progressed he told us the train had travelled from Mumbai and that they were going to see their family in the Punjab. I began to tell them all I knew about Sikhism, “Satnam WareHe Guru ji” I said and they all smiled and laughed and said “Satnam WareHe Guru” back. I told them my Indian friends back home had nicknamed me “Krata”, the Punjabi word for sleep as I spent alot of time doing this. Later we discussed Operation Blue Star, the elderly man glancing to the floor, his eyes changing into distant dark pools, said “Yes, I remember, I was in Amritsar in 1984“. I loved this moment and thought of my grandparents and all of the times they had told me about the war in Europe. The Punjabi family offered us some food, they gave us orange flavoured cookies which I found highly addictive. Later I managed to get onto the top bunk, wrapped the passports and money around me and tried to sleep. We travelled on through the night, I woke up and looked down into the carriage at one point, the police were talking to my beloved, he had been caught smoking at the door of the carriage and they wanted 200 rupee. Ofcourse he talked his way out of it and seemed to become friends with one of them. “My home, Europe no good, people not happy” I could hear him say in simplied English as I fell asleep.

I woke up again in the night, I didn’t know how late it was, I was feeling bad, really bad and almost fell onto the floor while trying to get down from the bunk. I noticed the group of Spanish girls in the adjoining compartment had wrapped themselves in mosquito nets and didn’t  know if they were doing overkill in their paranoia or knew something we didn’t. I got to the toilet looking around in confusion, the railway company never cleans the toilets and I mean NEVER. The train jolted and I fell INTO the toilet, this was bad and I was stunned – I could have burst out crying had I not been so horrified about the idea of walking through the carriage covered in god-knows-what . There was no water coming out of the taps so all I could do was pull up my pyjamas, wake my boyfriend up and watch him laugh at me as I whispered. The incident came to a close with my boyfriend chucking my pyjamas out the train window and helping my get presentable. If I could explain how I felt? The Night Of The Living Dead.

It was around 7am and we were pulling into Amritsar, I could see people beside the rail tracks, squatting out in the open with bottles of water to clean themselves. I felt like a zombie, we wandered out of the train station and said goodbye to the Punjabi family. We walked, then they came, the pack of cycle rickshaw drivers:

Golden Temple, 50 rupee” they were saying. We told them we didn’t want to go there.
Another one said “Golden Temple, 100 rupee” My boyfriend was telling them to leave us alone. After one man had asked us if we wanted to go to the Golden Temple we said “No” and then the driver standing RIGHT BESIDE HIM who was listening would then ask if we wanted to go to the Golden Temple with him. When you are tired and in this situation you have three options, (1) laugh, (2) cry, (3) lose it.

We wandered along the main road away from the Amritsar Junction and tried 5 hotels. We couldn’t find a room, they were all full. It turned out to be one of the Gurus birthdays and the city was fully booked. I was feeling even more wrecked as we stumbled along, every now and then telling rickshaw drivers to get out of our face, tired and hungry without a clue where we were going. Eventually we saw a luxury hotel and thought “Screw it, lets stay here”. We checked in, it must have been about 10am, all I wanted to do was shower and sleep. Some television channels were playing Sikh Devotional Music (Shabad Kirtans) live from the temple, so we let this music be our bedtime story as we nodded off in the oversized and very wonderful bed. I woke up just as it was getting dark – my boyfriend was shaking me awake, I was burning up and freezing cold and very very confused, he looked worried. Not wanting to worry him anymore than he already was I told him I was okay and showered. Guru Nanak or God or Ganesha or Buddha must have answered our prayers as we found a western pizza place, the same chain whom i’m sure has tried to poison me in Delhi, I won’t name names. I had some tortilla and Bisleri as my boyfriend went through two pizzas, pasta and lots of Mountain Dew.

We took a cycle rickshaw to the Golden Temple. I felt confused, as if things were taking longer to register in my mind, I noticed shops selling washing machines and wide screen televisions, the shops actually had glass doors but it was all a halcyion haze! I realised we were in a very different part of India from Vrindavan, far more western, the people probably better off financially. A pack of teenage boys spotted us from the sidewalk and began shouting very excited as if they had spotted movie stars, they were all rushing over and I thought “Oh god, not now please”.

We got to the Golden Temple and after taking off our shoes and covering our heads we walked towards the Amrit Sarovar, the brilliance and christmas lights reflected in the water. I thought of the first moments of my own life, just when you begin to notice the evening news and the images I first saw of Amritsar, only it was 1984 and the complex had been burnt out and there had been tanks instead of tourists. I thought back to that age when I was small, realising at that age I never thought I would ever be there. We walked around, listening to the Kirtans, people were smiling. We headed towards the causeway and stood in line, watching the gigantic goldfish swim in the water of the Amrit Sarovar, the crowd moving forward only to be stopped by an old man in a turban who would every now and then pull the wooden bar back across, demanding that the crowd stop. As we reached the door of the Hari Mandir people were getting down and kissing the steps, it was very moving and I could feel a lump in my throat, overwhelmed by the spirituality of it all. Inside we approached the Durbar Sahib and spotted Guru Granth Sahib and threw money infront of it. We went to the first floor, in awe of the animal and flower motifs and the chandelier and sat on the marble floor, listening to the hypnotic Kirtans and feeling safe, the way you feel safe when you are home, the outside world blocked out.

The Golden Temple photographed October 2009

I have always wanted to visit Amritsar, this is my first trip to India and for me it is just as essential as visiting the Taj Mahal. Ironically and typically, nothing ever works out the way you plan. Instead of wandering around Amritsar, visiting Wagah and exploring little villages in the Punjab countryside I have been very ill in the hotel. I don’t know if there was something wrong with the pizza in Delhi, maybe falling into the toilet incident, or maybe I have malaria, I just don’t know. We went out again in the middle of the afternoon, this time it was worse. Normally I like the smell of the street food but this time it is making me want to vomit, the diesel fumes are even worse, and the heat, I feel like I haven’t been able to process things within my mind as I could before. I’m terrified that I may have malaria and all I can do is thank God that i’m staying in this hotel in relative luxury, if this had happened in Paharganj then i’d have just wanted to die.I feel really sad that i’m missing Amritsar and we have decided to not go into Himachal Pradesh but to go back to Delhi when I have more strength, I want to be nearer to the Embassy incase this illness turns serious.

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2 thoughts on “New Delhi to Amritsar, India 07.10.2010

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