Elephants and the Golden Temple

After Shimla, we headed to Amritsar, home of the Golden Temple. We stopped off on the way in Chandigarh, which is the capital of two states – Punjab and Haryana.

Chandigarh has the highest income per capita in India, and it kind of shows. The streets are clean and there isn’t a beggar in sight. The city was designed by a French architect who split the area into sectors, and ensured that there is a certain amount of grass, houses, schools, hospitals and places of worship etc. within each sector – very organised, particularly by Indian standards!

I didn’t find it a particularly appealing city – it seemed to lack any character for me, and didn’t inspire me to take many pictures.

We took a boat ride on the lake there.

There are places to visit here such as the Rock Garden, which contains things made out of rock.. I didn’t really see what was interesting about it!

Early the next morning we hit the road to Amritsar. I’ve never seen fog this bad before.

Note – autofocus is useless in fog.

Amritsar is home predominantly to Sikhs, which is why you’ll notice most of the men wearing turbans.

The Golden Temple (literally a temple made of gold) is considered the most important shrine in Sikhism, and I expected it to be packed with foreign tourists, which wasn’t the case at all.

Heads have to be covered for both men and women, and shoes can’t be worn in the temple or surrounding areas, so were left here.

The temple itself is surrounded by water, which people can bathe in, although the areas to do so are separate for men and women.

The temple was originally built in the 16th century but was attacked by Afghans in the mid 1700s, so was substantially rebuilt in the 1760s. For some reason the temple looks a lot more modern and newer than it really is.

Anyone who visits the temple is welcome to eat there, any time of the day or night. The food is donated by people, and made and served by volunteers.

This is a kind of daal – it was quite delicious!

You can see here just how many people are involved at one time in the preparation of meals.

Traditional steel plates are handed out to people

Volunteers walk up and down the rows of seated people, serving food – and you can literally eat as much as you want. I think it’s astonishing that this happens 24/7, especially with the amount of people that visit the temple.

Washing up – again by volunteers

We returned again at night

It was beautiful and very serene

We went inside the actual temple, where religious men were chanting. I was told by a man at the entrance that I couldn’t take any pictures inside, so I didn’t attempt to.

At around 10pm a ceremony was performed (which apparently happens at the same time daily) where the holy Sikh book is carried out of the temple on a carriage.

While it is inside the temple on display, pilgrims pray in front of it, while musicians play nearby. I hovered around watching the whole thing – it was very peaceful and there was a great atmosphere.

Accommodation is available within the grounds of the temple (for a small sum of money), but there’s also place for people to spend the night indoors for free.

Close to Amritsar is the Wagah Border, which is the only road border crossing between Pakistan and India. They have a ceremony here every day where soldiers from both Pakistan and India perform some kind of eccentric display to commemorate the independence of both countries. This is free and open to the public.

As you can see, a disorderly ‘queue’ formed outside. There is no concept of a queue in India – people just charge to the front, pushing others out of the way!

As soon as the gates opened, people literally started running ahead to get the best seats to view the ceremony – and there were thousands of people who packed into the area.

While people were getting seated, Indian Independence songs were played, while people danced.

(Google Video is being temperamental so the following clips might not work!)

Those from Pakistan sat on the other side of the gate and the two sides were completely separated for the whole ceremony. It was interesting that there was no dancing or much music on the Pakistan side – it seemed much quieter and sombre.The ceremony then began with the Indian soldiers marching towards the India-Pakistan gate.

At the gate they lowered flags and stomped in a rather bizarre way. Unfortunately the view wasn’t great so we couldn’t really see what was going on over there!

‘Vande mataram’ means ‘Hail to the motherland’. We were told to respect the Pakistan side when it was their turn to chant.

You can just about make out the Pakistani people in the distance.

After Wagah, we went back down to Delhi which was around a 7 hour drive. When we got to the hotel I noticed a little puppy limping around outside. It was such a tiny helpless thing, and someone noticed me trying to take a picture of it, and he lifted it up to move it away from the front of the hotel

This is something you would never see in a Western country.. but here dogs are seen as pests and feeding them is not really encouraged. However, I really couldn’t just see this dog in this state, so I went in search of some food I could give it.

The only thing I could find that it would be able to eat was some soft bread with butter.

People around me were staring, wondering what I was doing feeding a stray dog. A man even kicked it when it started to drink from a puddle near him..

The dog was so cute and it literally gobbled up all the bread. This old man was watching nearby from a richshaw, and he thanked me for being so kind. He started talking to me, and said he’d never seen anyone make so much of an effort to feed a dog, which was kind of sad really.. to think that people could treat a little dog with disregard.

Anyway, we headed south the next day to Jaipur, known as the Pink City, which is in the state of Rajasthan. I had one objective here – to sit on an elephant

I always assumed elephants would be a common sight in India, but there only a few places in the country where you can really see them (and ride them), and Jaipur is one of them.

We turned up at Amber Fort at 8am and still had to queue for around 45 minutes to sit on an elephant. Out of all the places I’ve visited in India, this had the most foreign tourists.

This was my elephant, called Champa!

They all marched up the winding, cobbled streets of the fort.

(By the way, below is my 10,000th picture made with my 350D! An elephant’s butt..great, eh!)


Champa could take money in her trunk and lift it to her master – impressive.

Every state in India has unique characteristics. Below are typical Rajasthani women, whose saris are always vibrant, and worn around the head in this way.

Below is Jal Mahal, a deserted palace in the middle of a lake, which is now also filled with water.

We went to City Palace, which is the main palace in Jaipur, home to the current Maharajah of Jaipur, and where previous kings of Jaipur resided.

Buying a ticket was a confusing affair, with no orderly queue – I’d come to expect this by now in India!

Walking around the palace..

There were also art galleries where photographs weren’t permitted, but I took one of a couple of the artists there. These guys are twins and both are deaf and dumb – when I tried to talk to them, one of them wrote ‘deaf’ on a piece of paper.

Rajasthani puppets are a common sight in Jaipur.

Walking around, two girls saw my camera and asked me to take a picture of them. As I went to take it, a woman behind me started shouting at them telling them that they should only let me take their picture if I pay them.

One of the girls was scared off and she starts moving away, pulling her friend with her, as you can see.

Kinda funny, since they asked me for a picture. I noticed many women in this area had the ‘pay me or don’t take my picture’ attitude.

Jaipur was great. I was happy enough to be able to see elephants – very exciting

And.. that’s it from India!

It was a great trip, and I hope to travel down south later on in the year.. but first I’m going to Uganda next month. Now that will be a very new experience.

Wow, long blog! Thanks for reading/looking/skimming


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