Today is another day of travel. We say goodbye to Mumbai/Bombay and look forward to visiting the Punjab State and finally catching up with our Aussie and Riddells Creek friend Garry and meeting his family in Jalandhar. We wake early to catch our flight from Terminal 1 – Spice Jet flight at 10:10am. So we’re up at 6am, and clamber down all those flights of stairs at the YMCA is precarious with all our backpacks carried in front and behind. We pay and sign ourselves out (yes in the big official book), and the day porter hails two taxis for us. The #onepinksuitcase and a new bag – a red backpack – is thrown on top of the taxi roof rack and we clamber into the small taxis and leave with puffy white eyes and a tribe of tired kids.
It becomes obvious that something is wrong when Indian taxi drivers stop to talk to each other through a passenger window. You can sense that something is up. The taxi Steve, Charlie and Ash were in was running out of gas. I heard the word ‘gas’ mentioned in a tirade of Hindi and linked that as the issue. We stopped somewhere on the side of a road, found another driver and taxi, the three of them jumping out and jumping in and were again on our way to Mumbai domestic airport – Terminal 2.
We travelled on the new motorway that departs the land and curves itself over the ocean. Quite an impressive road and bridge out over the ocean and amazing architecture at its centre – thick copper wires strained from top to base in a row of 10 or more. Visually stunning. It cost us each 60 rupee for the privilege to go on the new motorway, that we paid as extra to the taxi fare.
Due to it being so early and using the new free flowing and un-potholed motorway, we had a clear run and arrived earlier than expected to check in. We checked in two bags (not one!), so our carry-on luggage was a little less cumbersome than previous flights. I found an expensive coffee, the gang found food with their 400 rupees each. We also found a two-way audio to replace the two shit ones we had purchased in Australia that didn’t work from day 1, and the main one Billie lost in transit somewhere (which she still denies and blames me for losing).
Then a text message came through on my iPhone – flight is delayed 1.5 hours. Instead of departing at 10:10am it was departing at 11:45am. So I started catching up on my writing and spread my still broken Apple lap top and AOC extra screen. It’s annoying but I’m going to try and live with it without complaining too much (promise Steve!). We purchased more airport food – the girls found a delicious chocolate brownie slice so all was good with the kids.
We finally boarded and the flight was comfortable. The Indian men on the plane wearing their turbans just don’t listen and had to be personally told to put their seat belt on! Twice. WTH…and then upon landing the man sitting in front of us was on his phone talking with someone before we’d officially stopped.
It was a lot cooler here and we felt it as soon as disembarking onto the tarmac. Glad we had our jumpers on us and long pants. We walked from the tarmac and into Amritsar airport to collect our bags. The one thing I notice, that is effective in India, is that our checked in bags come off the plane extremely quickly. We had waited not more than two minutes and they were there! The toilets were amazingly clean and pleasant too.
We grabbed a luggage trolley (the girls are getting good at all this) and walked out to a sea of colourful turbans and staring Indian faces. It was quite funny. At one point I turned around and saw that Steve was walking behind me pushing the trolley in this sea of people so I took a quick pic of him and posted it on Instagram and called it “Let’s play spot Steve!”
We were very grateful for the arranged taxi by Garry to collect us with a greeting card that had our name on it. I’m always reminded of my tragic incident in Delhi when I arrived solo in Dec 2014 and no one was there to collect me. So the welcome sign with “Welcome Steve and Lisa” was just beautiful.
We found out fairly quickly that our arranged taxi driver couldn’t communicate with us in basic English. We used lots of more basic words, hand gestures, and when that didn’t work we just stopped communicating and enjoyed the ride. I phoned Garry and he suggested we go and eat something first and we take a visit to the Golden Temple while we were in the northern city of Amritsar. The city of Jalandhar, where Garry and his family lived in the Punjab, was a 1.5-hour drive away south! Steve was confused and thought Garry was meeting us at the restaurant to join us, but he was nowhere near Amritsar. It was later in the day for our arrival than we anticipated with the delay, being about 3pm. I really wasn’t hungry, but we thought let’s eat something decent after all the shit airport food we had purchased and consumed sitting around at the airport!
We ordered a few dishes to share – fish, lamb shanks, tandoori chicken with rice and fried rice and naan bread. It was delightful and yummy. Cost about 4500 rupees ($98) – a little on the expensive side for our travelling family, but a nice meal.
Garry called me again and said we could also go and see the border closing parade between the Indian and Pakistan border. I had read up on this in the Lonely Planet and wanted to go so badly, but it was probably too late to get there in time – the closing ceremony occurs daily at about 4:30pm. I was slightly pissed off that we had eaten food rather than going there, but sometimes you have to just roll with it. We were already heading into Amritsar to visit the Golden Temple – a sikh temple of worship. On the flight the Air Attendant asked Steve if he was travelling to the Punjab just to visit this Temple? Of course we weren’t, but it sounds as if many do. And when we managed to get through the diabolical, outrageously congested traffic, it was so worth it.
First though we were taken to a carpark, then we walked into a shopping square with shops lining either side and little alleyways cutting off from the main square and disappearing into the narrow darkness. It was a large square area showcasing the very best of Amritsar – even a McDonalds was there! (no we didn’t go in). Here is where a horrific incident occurred between the British army and the local people – with many locals gunned down by orders of a British general in 1919. There was a mural depicting the bloodshed scene, and the historical sight of bullet holes lodged into brick walls (white tape squared around the bullet holes – so Indian in its style). Because the taxi driver couldn’t speak English, it made it difficult to know where we were and what was coming up. But we kept walking and followed him until we arrived to The Golden Temple.
People along the way had been trying to sell us these bright orange head scarves on the streets that we walked, and we really didn’t understand why or what they were for. Our non-English speaking taxi driver guide shook his head at us when we were approached to purchase one. But it became clear that it was to wear on our heads and cover our hair while before we entered the holy site of the Golden Temple. Wearing them and covering your hair or the top of your head is a sign of respect to the Sikh gods. The feeling of the place was a mix between Indian Sikhism and Hinduism, that meets Islamic Muslim. We placed all our shoes in a sack which was stored for safe keeping behind a main counter at no charge. Then we tied the orange head scarves to our heads, while I used my own scarf that I had worn. We washed our hands, and then walked our bare feet through shallow water. And as we entered the inner area of the temple walls, we were dazzled by what we saw in front of us: a pure golden temple that shimmered its golden reflection in the water.
It was late afternoon, the sun was setting in a haze-infused sky, and as we wandered around walking slowly on the long laid out carpeted sections of the marble paths, we were all dazed by its beauty, magic, and wonder that arose from it. It was as if we could feel the spirituality in the air, and between us as we walked around the Golden Temple. I was free to snap away as much as I liked: heaven. Mood lights switched on and started appearing in the temple’s arches, and the mood of the place was absolutely divine. It was such a special place to go and see and experience. And now I knew what that Air Attendant meant when she asked if we were coming all the way to Amritsar in the Punjab to just see this one temple. It’s all free – the Sikh Golden Temple works on donations and volunteers. Apparently each day the temple feeds hundreds and thousands of people, and does not discriminate on race or nationality or religion. It is a place for everyone to visit and feel welcome. I loved The Golden Temple and is one of my favourite temples I have ever visited in my life (apart from Myanmar (Burma) Shwedagon Temple).
We walked back with our taxi driver to the carpark, and drove the long 90 minutes to the city of Jalandhar where our taxi driver would drop us off at a hotel Garry had arranged for us to stay at. I had no idea of its name or what type of hotel it was. But at this very moment, none of really cared. We had been up since 6am and we were looking forward to just arriving.
Garry had called me again as we drove closer to Jalandhar and suggested we grab something to eat with his wife Arty and his brother Marny (his nickname). I was in two minds – we were all tired, but the teens were ready to party! I said okay.
We arrived and the hotel was way too luxurious for us! Steve seemed happy enough to go there for the next couple of nights. We had two rooms with three in each. No one spoke English at the hotel. We just took the lift up to the third floor and was so looking forward to a shower. But as I stood naked in front of the running water, inside the most luxurious room and bathroom I would have probably for an entire year – cold water flowed out…friggin COLD water for 5 minutes! We called reception, talking very basic English “shower not hot” “water not hot” “fix shower water. They came up to our room, looked at the shower and said “we will look into it”. Garry came over and we met his Indian wife Aarti and his brother Money. His brother didn’t speak English as well as Garry, but they were all very friendly and helpful to our hot water dilemma. Steve asked Garry if he could grab him some beers on the way, and they arrived. Steve was happy. They also arrived with homemade Indian food cooked by Garry’s mum. It was lovely and we dug into it like travelling savages – fingers and all! No plates, no cutlery. Just a chapatti (flat bread) and a beer. We appreciated this wholesome food so much.