Howdy all! Yes folks, this time we are rumblin’ in the Punjab! Two cities that haven’t been fersatured in a rumble pre-today step up to the plate, or perhaps I should say ‘step up to the wicket’, as two fierce rivals in India and Pakistan lock horns in a cross border stoush step to ignite like a powderkeg!
There are many reasons that India and Pakistan are often at loggerheads between each other. Basically it goes back to 1948 when Britain partitioned ‘Hindustan’ off into two countries – India and Pakistan. Pakistan also included initially what we now know as Bangladesh. But directly after the partition for around 30 years it was East Pakistan, part of the greater Pakistan and administered from Pakistan.
If you are unaware, the British in their infinite wisdom, felt that the religious differences were too much to overcome and decided to partition on the basis of where the majority of Muslims live (this became Pakistan) and where the majority of Hindus lived (India). The result was a mass of people trying to get back to the other country, people converting, and other drastic steps to avoid religious persecution and worse. The result was fighting and a lot of death. It was horrific. And Lahore was a place that Muslims rushed to make, just over the border from Amritsar in India. If you want to learn more about this period in history, I can thoroughly recommend the excellent but confronting film ‘Earth’.
It must be said though that despite the odd flurry of unrest, India is regarded as an incredible success story in racial harmony. Well over a billion people, and Hindus may well be by far the majority, with around 79% of people following that religion, there are still 14% following Islam. When extrapolated into number of people, well, that that works out to be 196 million Muslims in India. Which in fact is more than the total number of people in Pakistan.
But Amritsar is not a Hindu or Muslim city, it’s actually the centre of Sikhism. A population of over 1.1 million in the city proper, and a little more in the greater metro area, it’s not the biggest city on the sub-continent by far, but still it hustles and bustles in the centre. And for the visitor, well, there is one main reason to visit Amritsar, and that’s to see the Golden Temple, the bastion of Sikhism and, incidentally, the place where Indira Ghandi was assassinated by her Sikh body guards (I mean, it’s alarming but don’t let that put you off going).
You can also visit the Partition Museum, which I did not know about when I scooted through Amritsar. That’s something I would really like to visit actually next time I am there. There appear to be some grand buildings there including the Sikh Museum. For me I just passed through and went to the Golden Temple, on my way to Pakistan. But clearly there is a lot more to Amritsar.
Nevertheless, the pools that surround the temple itself were empty when I went, and I was there on the day they were to fill them up. How? By fire engine of course! And so I was lucky enough to hitch a ride on one such fire truck to get to the temple. Now that’s a good travel memory!
In relation to Lahore, well, Amritsar is not so far and I took an auto-rickshaw to the border of India, it took around 30 minutes I think. This is the Wagah Border, where the India/Pakistan rivalry plays out every day at dusk with the changing of the guard. Sadly, I didn’t get to see this but it’s a full-on ceremony and they have stands for people to watch and cheer. I don’t know of any such ceremony being so elaborate. Apparently the Indian side is take to levels the Pakistan side doesn’t quite reach.
And equally then we cross and head to Lahore, perhaps a bit closer to the border. I went in by bus which moves more slowly I guess than am auto-rickshaw, but still, it’s an interesting start to travel in a country. All in all it’s around 51km between to two cities.
Lahore, Pakistan. Well, this is a city much bigger than Amritsar. 11 million in the city and 12.6 million in the greater metro area. It’s more congested and polluted than it’s neighbour across the border. And you clearly feel you are in a big city.
It blends the old with the new quite well. The Minar-E-Pakistan is a modern spire, and it’s in a bit of a park. There are a number of parks in and around Lahore. The Badshahi Mosque is a truly beautiful testament to Moghul Architecture. Full of arches and domes, and with a lovely red-earthy colour to it.
It’s right next to the Lahore Fort. Another impressive area, with gardens and buildings inside, and some decent views as well. Another great historical site is the Shalimar Bagh, gardens and mausoleums.
When I was in Lahore I saw a bit of evening action too in the form of motorbikes racing in a sort of wooden cylinder. We stood at the top of this rickety structure and watched bikes going around and around at breakneck speeds. It was quite something else. Another Lahore experience I remember was getting photos burnt onto a disc, back when digital cameras were still reasonably new. I got ferried around the city trying to find the outlet of this photographic store that could do that. Lahore, like Amritsar, I found to be a friendly, if more challenging, city.
Price-wise I can’t really split them. I stayed in budget digs in both cities and didn’t spend more than $15USD a night, in fact around $5USD in Amritsar (the place was a dive mind you) and not much more in Lahore. Connections? Well Lahore certainly would be better connected to the outside world, you’d probably need to fly from another Indian city to fly to Amritsar. The weather is pretty much identical, being so close.
So who wins? I thought this would be close, and in my mind I am wavering. But I have to make a call. And that call is… Lahore. Just. But the tiniest of margins. Because I think it’s just a fascinating place with amazing streets to explore. Both cities are full of life, and offer so much to the visitor. I think Lahore offers more in a range of places to stay, and is the biggest city, I think, in the Punjab. Both are awesome and I hope very much to visit them both in the next few years if I possibly can.
Thanks for stopping by again today and reading my little post. Do you agree with my decision? Please let me know! Take care and May the Journey Never End!