Howdy folk! Another week is upon us and today I wanted to look at a city I presenting vis-à-vis last week’s ‘City Rumble’ – (see City Rumble – Amritsar Versus Lahore). Amritsar may not have come out the winner in this tussle, however it’s a city I haven’t written much about and I wanted to share a little and learn a little.
So the city dates back to the 16th century by a certain Guru Ram Das. The construction of the Golden Temple, known officially as Harmandir Sahib. The city was walled and fortified in 1822 during the ‘Sikh Empire’. The city has seen tragedy though and been at the centre of wars and endured a massacre in 1919. More recently there were Sikh militants occupying the temple in 1984. The Prime Minister of the time was Indira Ghandi who moved troops in there and seized the militants. This was known as Operation Blue Star, and nearly 500 militants and civilians were killed along with 93 of the army.
This appears to have been a very tense times in recent Indian history. Indira Ghandi was assisnated by two of her Sikh guards later in the year in response to this action. As a result of that, over 3000 Sikhs were killed in anti-Sikh progroms. Yes, this happened less than 40 years ago. Thankfully today it seems there is much more stability in what is the second biggest city in Indian Punjab.
My adventures in Amritsar are not quite as hectic as what I have described above. But I did have a cool time when I was there in 2004. Originally though I was heading there back in 1999. But I didn’t end up going. Why? Because I decided that I would have an overnight in a city called Jalandhar on my way there.
I was heading from Chandigarh, another Punjabi city – in fact the capital of Indian Punjab. And so I took a bus there hoping to make a connection in Jalandhar. But it took a lot longer than I expected, and I met a local on the bus who invited me to stay with him which I did. I spent a couple of days in Jalandhar meeting pretty much everyone my new friend new.
When it came to moving on, and keep in mind this was my first overseas solo trip and my first time to India, the guy and his family and friends told me that Amritsar was too dangerous to travel too. They also said the trains were too dangerous to travel on. In the end I went from Jalandhar to Jaipur.
I realised later that they were, in all fairness, being over-protective but they didn’t want to see anything bad happen to me in India. Perhaps – I don’t know – perhaps they didn’t trust people of a different religion to them (they were Hindu) I don’t know. But in 2004 I managed to get a train from Delhi to Amritsar and made it to the City of the Golden Temple.
I had been way-laid in Delhi because I had some bad food poisoning requiring me to be in hospital for a few days, and I wanted to move on because I had visas for Pakistan and Iran that specified I must enter by a certain date. So I gave myself a simple night in Amritsar, a day-ish to see the temple and then get over the border to Lahore.
I met a British guy on the train, and we ended up sharing a room, a very cheap room, in Amritsar. The next morning we packed and started walking to the temple. We walked through a little square of some sort and there was a friendly guy there in a fire truck. We chatted with him asking directions, and he said he was about to go there. The pools around the temple are usually filled with water but had been emptied I think for cleaning. The trucks were going the to fill them. It was some sort of special day because when we got there the crowds were pretty big.
The line into the temple itself, rather than just the complex, was long and squashy and in the end we didn’t try to get in. Inside you’re not allowed photography anyway. But the atmosphere and the people was incredible.
Not only that, the sense of community above all was obvious. Because they cook for everyone, a small curry, rice and bread, but for so many people!
And after lunch I bid adieu to my new friends and I went to Pakistan. I wish I’d had more time. There are a few other buildings and the Partition Museum in Amritsar I think are worth checking out. But I am hoping to return within the next couple of years, fingers crossed if everything opens back up okay. But just this one site was amazing.
Before I finish, a quick comment about Sikhism, which represents just under 2% of the Indian population in terms of religion and that’s a little over 20 million people. Don’t let the history fool you, I only had help and friendship from people in Amritsar and in general in India. Many confuse Sikhs with other religions – but turbans are connected primarily with Sikhism and not Islam. It’s traditional to grow your hair very long as a man and wrap it up. In fact it’s best if you don’t cut it at all! Swords are also often carried by some Sikhs. There’s a proud history. And it’s part of the many layers and many colours of one of the world’s most incredible countries. Which is why if you’re ever in the region, do your best to get to Amritsar!
Thanks for reading today. Take care – and May the Journey Never End!