Days 165-167: 31/08/19-02-09/19
Location: Amritsar, India
Miles Driven: 4
We had a few days at the hotel, ticking bits off of our never-ending to do list. This included servicing the car – a task that we are undertaking every 5000 miles during the trip. The hotel parking was right next to the street, so, much to the joy of the locals (and not so much to our own joy), they could easily gather around to watch Chris work. It was fairly hot, and unimaginably humid. Chris powered through, hiding from the sun and locals under the car. I stood outside for moral support, to keep an eye on our tools, and to fulfil my glamorous assistant duties of passing things to Chris when he told me to.
We drove to the Mall of Amritsar to stock up on food. Parking the car took a long time because the attendant at the underground car park was completely unaware as to whether the car park he was attending had a height restriction. After a few minutes of getting nowhere, I jumped out of the car, walked around the corner, and saw a big sign stating a height restriction of 2.3 metres – too low for us. By the time I walked back to the car, there were 3 attendants trying to “help” Chris, all convinced that there was no height restriction and our car would fit “no problem”. We turned around and parked up to the side of the mall instead.
On the 2nd we celebrated Chris’ birthday with a movie day, lots of snacks brought the previous day from the mall and Domino’s pizza. It was glorious.
Day 168: 03/09/19
Location: Amritsar, India
Miles Driven: 0
Another first for our trip – a visit to a border without actually crossing it. We had come for the infamous closing ceremony. Every evening the crowds gather to watch the closing of the border between India and Pakistan. The ceremony starts around 6pm, however we had been advised by numerous people to get there a couple of hours early. We were sceptical that the huge stands we had seen when we crossed the border could possibly be filled with spectators every single night, but we took the advice nonetheless and got there around 4:30pm.
Walking from the car park to the border felt like walking into the stadium of a premier league football match. People were selling Indian flag hats, Indian flag fans, Indian flag watches and Indian flags themselves. If you didn’t want to buy memorabilia with the Indian flag on it, you could have the flag painted on your face instead. Our recommendations had been true, at 4:30 it was already extremely busy and there was a huge line of people waiting to go through the security checks to get into what can only really be described as the stadium. Luckily for us, there was a separate (and virtually empty) “foreigners queue”, which meant we escaped standing in the crammed queuing area, sweating in the heat against all of the other bodies. Once seated (again in a separate foreigner section), we soaked up the scenes. The Indian side was packed, a sea of rainbow colours. It was vastly different to the Pakistan side where only a handful of people, all dressed in very neutral colours, sat themselves in the much smaller seating area.
Whilst we waited for the ceremony to start, there was music, dancing, people selling popcorn, crisps, cold drinks, chanting from the crowds, huge screens playing a film about how great India is; a patriot’s dream. Slowly even the tourist section of the seating area began to fill up. It was truly unbelievable that this took place every single evening.
Before the ceremony started, one of the guards became our MC for the night, introducing what looked like a school processioning down the road that we had driven a few days previous. Next, the crowd were invited down to walk down the road with Indian flags – like unorganised models walking down a catwalk. After this, the music was turned up even louder, and even more people went down to have a dance. The MC had successfully riled up the crowd and we were all ready for the ceremony to begin.
The ceremony itself was a 45 minute extravaganza of Indian and Pakistani guards with ridiculous moustaches, and even more ridiculous hats, speed marching up and down the road, high kicking whenever possible. I think the Indian guards must have bets on who could do the highest high kick, with bonus money for anyone that kicked so high they knocked their hat off. A similar performance was also taking place on the Pakistan side, in a not-quite mirror image. With their red hats, the Indian guards looked a bit like roosters flapping around. On the other side, the Pakistani guards were wearing similar hats, but as they were black rather than red, they looked much more serious and much less ridiculous. When the respective guards reached a few metres of the gates, they would grimace and strike ‘muscle-man’ poses at each other before walking back again. Over microphones guards on either side put their heart and soul into wailing war cries, each trying to do the longest sound before losing breath. The crowds cheered their own side and booed the other. Due to the sheer volume of people on the Indian side, it was clear who was the loudest, but the Pakistanis did not go down without a fight.
The ceremony ended with the lowering of the flags at the top of the gate. Again this was done in near synchronisation, although each person was trying to pull their flag down slightly faster than the other. At this point the gates were open, but they were all careful not to put a toe over the thick line on the ground marking the border between the two countries. Flags down, the gates closed, the guards marched back to their posts, and the ceremony was over.
After the ceremony we got into our taxi that our hotel had organised for us, and went back to the Golden Temple. Another recommendation had been to make sure we visited the temple at night as well as in the day. Lit up with yellow lights, the temple appeared even more golden in front of the pitch black sky. We had hoped to see the evening ‘putting the book to bed’ ceremony, however we had no idea what time it took place. We don’t know if we were too early or too late, but either way we did not get the chance to see it. Instead we wandered the grounds, popping in and out of the different shrines, and soaking up the atmosphere.
Day 170: 05/09/19
Location: Amritsar, India
Miles Driven: 0
Our final day in Amritsar was once again spent in the city. We visited Jallianwala Bagh, a historic garden and memorial to those that died in the horrific Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919. After this we had an enjoyable walk through the backstreets of Amritsar to the Silver Temple. Despite being a Hindu temple (rather than Sikh), it appeared to be a replica of the Golden Temple. It was a lot smaller, but also far less crowded, and whilst it did not have the same feeling of spirituality and grandeur as the Golden Temple, we were glad we made the time to visit. Our time in Amritsar was coming to a close, and we spent the evening packing our belongings back into Natalie, ready to brave the terrible driving the following day.