Day 25 – Amritsar
Amritsar is a place of many joys. Not the least of them is the amazing lassi, kebab and naan they make there. Two out of three, I had the night I arrived. Check.
There were three places I HAD TO visit here. The Golden Temple. The Jallianwala Bagh. The Wagha Border.
First up, Golden Temple. The darn thing is actually made of gold. Hard to believe but then everyone says so. My bad luck (or was it good), I came here on a Sunday. Practically the whole of Punjab (and for some strange reason it seemed, Bengal) was out to pray to Guru Nanak. The lines were snaking and didn’t seem to have an end. I decided against going into the main temple. Went through some of the smaller temples and paid my respects. The place is super clean despite the number of people there. There are fish reared in one part of the central pool. It was great. But then I am not a very religious person. I will stop here.
Then was Jallianwala Bagh. Next door to the Golden Temple, this is more m type of place. The story goes thus. General Dyer of the British Army corners a lot of people (there must have been a lot since over 1200 died) protesting peacefully in a park which has but one open entrance (which by the way can take no more than two people at one time). He covers the entrance and starts shooting indiscriminately at the people. They run towards the two other entrances which are locked from outside. The shooting is concentrated there. There are bullet marks still visible on the walls. The cries of the people you can still hear if you listen hard enough. There is a well which takes over 120 who dive hoping to save themselves. The well is not more than 20 feet deep and it is almost nauseous to imagine 120 dead bodies in that little pit. This was one of the greatest tragedies of India’s war of independence. A ghastly attack on innocents. There is so much I want to say but will keep it for later. Jallianwala Bagh was my history book smeared with blood. All my history lessons were shattered that day. There is a huge difference between reading and seeing.
Also met this gentleman at the park
Came back and slept through the afternoon. Left at 3.30 for Wagha Border. Wagha (about 40 kilometers from Amritsar) is one of India’s few land based international transfer locations. Every evening there is a retreat ceremony where the flags of both countries are taken down for the day and India’s BSF and Pakistan Rangers parade together. Its a sight to see. And I was there to see it. On a Sunday.
It seemed like a festival at first. Over 5000 people were there from the Indian side. An equal number from the Pakistani side. There were patriotic songs being played on our side (no doubt to drown out the songs being played across the border). People were waving flags. There were slogans of Hindustan Zindababd (Long Live India), Vande Mataram (In The Praise of The Motherland) and Jai Hind (again, Long Live India) being shouted every second. People were going nuts. Love for the country was flowing like free wine. People were everywhere. Looking for vantage points on top of railings, staffs, roadside – everywhere. It was mayhem. Then the ceremony started.
The guards stamp their footdown in their parade as if to smash the Pakistanis with their foot. The scene is the same on the other side of the border. The march has gusto. A lot of energy. A LOT. One needs to be present to see the power being shown off on both sides. That seems to be the single point agenda of this ceremony. For 25 minutes, slogans are shouted to outdo the other party (and the crowd joins in for good measure), feet are stamped with all the power in the world and in general, two countries are all of a sudden reduced to the shoe size of the two border guards doing the parade. Its a lovely sight as much as it is a charade. Its amazing. People on this side ridicule their slogans (“Jeele Jeele Pakistan” or Long Live Pakistan) and anything else they can come up with. But in all this, there is one thing that can as easily be forgotten as it can be seen.
The Indian Side
The Pakistani Side
Stamping the foot
At no point of time in the whole time does anyone spew any blood on the other side. No abuses. No calling names. No saying they are the enemies. No saying we hate you. Just good natured outdoing of each other. Like competing hostels. Or colleges. All this becomes all ther more apparent when the ceremony closes and people converge on the closed border gates. People say hello to the people on the other side. Ask their names. Ask them how they are. Desperate to get a view of their brethren on the other side. Its touching. And it defines who we really are. The same blood (as a matter of fact, the same blood that was spilled in Jallianwala Bagh). The same language. The same feelings. India and Pakistan can be as apart as they want to, the people will remain what they are. Brothers.
Another evening dawns on India
And on Pakistan