Amtritsar was a fitting end for my Indian experience: beautiful, busy, but still small and peaceful. This city has an extremely high Sikh population, with beards and turbans to be seen around every corner. Being as Amritsar boasts the Golden Temple, the most holy place in the Sikh religion, this is no surprise. I found them to be the most chill and polite people in the whole country, notwithstanding their fierce warrior reputation that’s even canonized in their religion (I saw a man in a satellite temple preaching to a crowd and brandishing swords and punch daggers like Baptist would a Bible).
I went to the Golden Temple twice that day, once in the morning and once after dark. It has an entirely different character at those two different times. In the day the gold of the temple shimmers in the light and contrasts with the reflective pool of water surrounding it and the pure white of the buildings that enclose it in a square. It’s bursting with life, as people queue for hours to enter the holy of holies where prophets sit and read scripture inside the golden temple itself (which I skipped as a matter of respect- for them and my sanity, considering how closely packed the crowds were). The pool is packed with bathers dipping themselves in the holy waters, purported to have healing powers.
At night, the crowds and bathers are still there, but the temple is lit up like a star fallen upon the black waters of the pool, and the white buildings glow dully in its luminescence. Either way, you can’t go wrong, but to do it right, go twice.
I originally intended to bridge the gap between morning and night by heading to the Pakistan border, 30 minutes away, to see the aggressive flag ceremony that takes place there between the Pakistani and Indian soldiers, but dumbly left my MP3 player on the train in the morning and had to spend a chunk of the day retrieving it. I did get to Jallianwallah Bagh, a memorial garden where British soldiers opened fire into a crowd of unarmed civilian protesters in 1919, killing hundreds, and as many as a thousand of them. Seeing the bullet hole-marred walls or the well where hundreds met their demise trying to escape the hailstorm of lead was a deeply sobering experience.
Mata Temple was a much less depressing place to visit. This Hindu Temple, a crazy temple/carnival fun house hybrid full of pastel-colored deities, fake cave tunnels you must crawl through or step through shallow water to navigate (no shoes allowed inside). It’s a trippy place to visit, but that’s its charm.
My last stop was the famous Brothers’ Dhaba restaurant near the Golden Temple. I think I mentioned this before, but India is the first place where I felt that I could actually survive as a vegetarian. Most vegetarian fare I’ve had in the past came off as significantly less tasty attempts at recreating meat dishes, but in India, where a buddy I met in Agra told me the kitchen is a chemist’s lab, in which the cook combines spices like delicately handled chemicals, I could see living without meat. The mushroom masala that made up my dinner was spectacular, and the butterscotch shake I washed it down with was no slouch.
After Amritsar, it was time for a late, late flight to a new country, for the first time in weeks. Nepal, here I come (came, I guess)!