Saturday, September 30, 2006

In love wih India

I am in love.
Truly and completely head over heels in love with India.
The people, the cities, the trains, the streets, the food and even the noise, the poverty, the dirt and the crowds....I am in love with every part of India. My heart feels like it is overflowing and it is an amazing feeling!!

For those of you who have been here, I am sure you are nodding to yourself (saying yes, yes...we told her...) and for those of you who have yet to experience India's soul - you can try to imagine, and then you must multiply that imagination by a million. In two words : 'life alterting' or perhaps 'karmic intervention' is a better pair. But you get the idea.

I spent my last day in Delhi touring around the city and visiting the infamous Red Fort, India gate and spend the afternoon drinking Chai in a market cafe. It was incredible.
The next morning I woke up early to catch a train to Amritsar. My train was scheduled to depart at 6:50 am and being that I have had a cold for the past week I had popped a few cold tablets just before leaving my hotel. Maybe not the best of ideas - since when I arrived at the train station I was feeling a little disoriented and managed to get on a train leaving for Calcutta, rather then Amritsar. As karma would have it, I quickly realized as the train departed the station, jumped off at the first stop and caught a rickshaw back to New Delhi Station. I thought I had missed my train since it was only a few minutes before 7:00am. Luckily, my actual train ended up being well over an hour late and I made it to Amristar as planned.
The trains here are something else. Loud, crowded and full of energy - there is never a dull moment. Between watching the antics of the Indian family I shared my seat with and the vendors who constantly go up and down the aisle selling everything ("Chai! chai ! chai!!! toothbrush? or bananas?) I was very entertained for my 9 hour journey between Delhi and Amristsar.
When I arrived into Amritsar I decided to catch a free bus to the Golden Temple. This temple is the ultimate place of worship for the Sikh religion. With over 30000 pilgrims visiting each day, it truly is on the same level as Mecca.
The free bus was perhaps the most crowded bus I have ever been on - arms and legs out the window and people packed in tighter then was an experience. Luckily it isn't a far drive between the train station and the temple.
The Golden Temple is open to all people of all faiths and they have several large dormitories that can hold the thousands of visitors each day. They have a free dormitory especially for foreigners (donations arwe greatly accepted) and a kitchen that serves up some delicious (and also free) lentil soup, dahl and chapatis for anyone who wishes to eat there...yummy!
The temple itself is perhaps the most incredible place I have visited in my life. It is covered in 750kg of gold and is set amid a large pool. The complex also has several other buildings including one that holds a museum dedicated to the Sikhs struggle for independence against the Indian government. All day there are 4 Sikh Guru's who chant the words of the Sikh holy text and it is accompanied by music - this is piped throughout the complex on speakers and adds to the incredible spiritual vibe of the temple.
Each morning at 4:30am there is a special ceremony where the holy text is carried from one of the buildings into the Golden Temple. The same ceremony is repeated each night - and both times of the day it is equally special.
I managed to wake up each morning to watch the ceremony and the sunrise over the temple.
The Sikh religion is truly one of peace and harmony. The people are very welcoming and to some extend a little too over-excited to see foreigners paying respect to their culture (I think I have been captured on no less then 400 home videos and cameras - sometimes posing with entire families....very amusing).
Also in Amristar, there are several markets selling everything from Saris and Punjabi dresses to handmade crafts and silver bangles (at 5 rupees each - quite a bargain!!).
I also visited a famous garden, Jallianwala Bagh, which commemorates 2000 Indians who were killed or wounded in 1919 when the British authorities opened fire on a peaceful demonstration. It is very sad but very important part of the Sikhs recent history.
One other interesting note: The Golden Temple was actually occupied by militant sikh radicals (who were demanding a separate Sikh state) during 1980's who were violently removed from the temple by order from Indira Gandhi. This event (among others) led to the assassination of Indirha Gandhi in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards.
My last night in Amritsar, I caught a taxi to the Indian/Pakistan border to watch the closing of the border ceremony which happens each evening. It was a lively, surprisingly fun event that is intended to symbolize the peace between the two countries.
Yesterday I caught a bus north to Dharmsala and Mcleod Ganj - home of the Dalhi Lama. It is set in the foothills of the Himalayas and is so far removed from anything else I have seen in India. The streets are clean, less crowded and the air is cool and fresh.
I will be here for the next 2 weeks - starting tomorrow I will be practicing Vipassana meditation for 10 days. This involves not speaking for the entire 10 days and meditating almost entirely throughout the day. I expect it to be difficult but very rewarding.
After I finish my course I will have 4 days left to tour around the town and hopefully do a little day-trekking.
I will not have access to email or anything from the outside world until after October 12ths, so please understand if I don't reply to emails.
I have also updated my photos - but it is taking a long time, so not all of my photos are here - but I think there will be plenty for you to get the idea.
Anyways, it has been amazing first week in India and I am trying to savor every moment I have here - and I am already planning my return.
I will blog again in a few weeks.
Love Colleen


At 11:22 AM , Blogger Helen Clayton said...

Wow it's looks so nice! I am envious - although everytime I read your blog my life plan changes to incorporate some of these places!! What's the food like? I've had Indian food a million times in Britain but wha'ts it REALLY life??

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At 6:01 AM , Blogger SikhsRus said...

Just happen to find your blog! Thank you for sharing your experience. I love reading about people's visit and perspective of visit to Harmandir Sahib (Temple of God) or Golden Temple as most people in the west know it. If I may, I would like to make a one little correction on your post where you mentioned:

" All day there are 4 Sikh Guru's who chant the words of the Sikh holy text and it is accompanied by music - this is piped throughout the complex on speakers and adds to the incredible spiritual vibe of the temple."

Sikhs only follow the original ten human Gurus and their Divine word written in the form of scriptures called "Guru Granth Sahib". Guru Granth Sahib is our only living Guru of Sikhs. All the guidance for Sikh living, hymn singing and daily prayers come from these scriptures. People that read the word of the Guru are not priests or have any hierarchical status. Any Sikh (man or woman) who has learned it can read the scriptures and sing hymns in those four people's place. There are some great Sikh websites if you ever need more information:

I hope it is not taken as a criticism. Wish you a fun trip of the rest of India! If I remember the site, may be I will visit again.

Oh! about Korea, the guy is nuts!

At 7:22 PM , Blogger michi said...

it is wonderful to read about your adventures, colleen.

i'd love to be there too.



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