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First impressions were always important to note upon entering a new country, after just a day or 2 you could become accustomed to the vagiaries of a place so that you forgot the differences which defined it from elsewhere. And certainly India made an immediate impression. First of all there were bicycle rickshaws on the streets and beer to be had openly too (not exceeding 8.25 per cent volume!), complimented by a hammering of hard sell tactics proferring food, flags, CDs, you name it. Women were immediately more visibly present too, with a fair proportion with uncovered hair, if liberal was one word then frenetic was another. This time perversely it was for the men to cover up, it being still the Punjab, we were in heartland Sikh territory and the turbans were out in force. After a remarkably civilised local bus journey into Amritsar our very first cycle rickshaw ride was a memorable event, we got shunted from behind by a car and were sent flying. After being thrust a good 10 feet in the air I only just managed to land on my feet running as did Mannfred, fortunately nothing lay ahead to smack into but the rickshaw wallah got it in the balls though. In hindsight we were lucky it was actually one of the very insecure feeling open top ones with nothing to hold you in, many had canopies which would have probably trapped us inside or smacked into our heads.

Besides being the first city from the border, there was only one reason to come to Amritsar, but come they did in their millions. We were plunged straight into the holiest city of Sikhism, where the thing to do was join the throng of conventional pilgrims, hospitality to all comers was a cornerstone of the faith after all. So we stayed very cheaply at the Golden Temple complex, their holiest shrine where you were welcome to a bed or room for a small donation and you sat on the floor in a massive communal hall to collect your free dinner. They serve 30,000 meals a day round the clock to pilgrims here, concocted from massive photogenic cauldrons which we spied through an open window. The crash and clatter of the washing up is ceaseless and audible down the street, all done out of charity by volunteers.

Meaning "Pool of Nectar", Amritsar was founded by the 4th Sikh Guru and the subsequently added temple sits amid the lake where the holy "Original Book" is housed. After the novelty of going out to find Kingfisher beer, there was strictly no booze or tobacco consumption anywhere near the complex as the faith dictates, I was kept awake half the night by its incessant recital to music over loudspeakers. They had also picked the most "ungodly" hour of 4am to remove the book every night from the temple to another neighbouring sanctuary.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in India

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