FROM AM­RIT­SAR TO WA­GAH BORDER

Airports India - - SHYAMOLA KHANNA -

To the dif­fer­ent peo­ples of North In­dia, Am­rit­sar means dif­fer­ent things. The man on the streets of UP might turn vague and say— that is where the Golden Tem­ple is, Right? A Bong from Kolkata might re­act in his pseudo-philo­soph­i­cal tone ‘Shonar mondir?’ While a gu­j­jar/jat from Ra­jasthan/ Haryana might look at you and won­der … suna hai… sone ka mandir? Sach hai kya (heard there is a tem­ple of gold, is it true?)

So whether you have seen it or not, you have definitely heard of it and about it. All said and done, Am­rit­sar means the Golden Tem­ple to the rest of In­dia. Am­rit­sar is a short­ened form of Am­rit sarovar or the “lake of nec­tar”. The city is built around the tem­ple which can trace its ori­gins to the 16th cen­tury.

For a Sikh , it is the most ven­er­a­ble of Holies, it is their Mecca be­cause the orig­i­nal Guru Granth sahib—the holy Book of the Sikh Com­mu­nity—is lodged there and sikhs from all over the world come to get a glimpse of it and go away feel­ing blessed. The Adi Granth, com­piled by Guru Ar­jan Dev, rests on a throne be­neath a jewel-en­crusted canopy. Priests con­duct con­tin­u­ous recita­tion of verses from the holy book in 3-hour shifts. Do take a lit­tle time off to eat at the “guru ka

lan­gar”, a tra­di­tion of com­mu­nity eat­ing that is preva­lent in all gur­d­waras across the world. If you can’t, then make sure you get a gen­er­ous help­ing of the fab­u­lously rich and aro­matic karha par­shad—it is de­light­ful and will stay in your mind as long as your mem­ory of this place does.

The Golden tem­ple is quite the most beau­ti­ful of sights, but then Am­rit­sar, with its hun­dreds of years of history be­hind it, has a lot more to it than just that.

About 400 yards away from the tem­ple is the in­fa­mous Jal­lian­walla Bagh where on 13th April, 1919, Bri­tish troops led by Gen­eral Dyer fired upon a group of as­sem­bled peo­ple, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren. It is a mo­ment of solemn nostal­gia as we take a look at the bul­let marks on the walls and in­side the en­closed well where scores of peo­ple fled to es­cape the bul­lets!

The old City around the tem­ple is worth a peep for its am­bi­ence which has re­mained un­changed in the last 400 years. The bazaars along nar­row al­leys re­mind you of other old city mar­kets like Chandni Chowk of Old Delhi and Charmi­nar of

Hyderabad – the noises, the smells as­sail you and you may ei­ther want to sa­vor more of it or just run away from it all! I picked up a pair of the soft­est Pun­jabi joo­tis one can imag­ine for a pal­try Rs 500.

The Ram Bagh Gar­dens has a mu­seum housed in the palace built by Ma­haraja Ran­jit Singh. A red sand­stone en­trance makes a ma­jes­tic state­ment. In­side is an in­ter­est­ing bathing tank con­structed by a French Gen­eral.

While in Am­rit­sar, do buy some beau­ti­ful em­broi­dered phulkari pieces to take home. Phulkari was orig­i­nally done by the ru­ral Pun­jabi women who made beau­ti­ful li­nen as part of their wed­ding trousseau. And all of it used to be done by hand. Now ma­chines have come in and you can get ex­quis­ite pieces for making the tra­di­tional sal­war kameez sets.

Also, if the pa­pads and wadis and shukkar are your kind of food, do take some home so that you can re­call and rel­ish the fla­vors of the city. And please

don’t forget to sa­vor the tan­doori chicken, chicken tikka, Am­rit­sari mac­chi and the mah ki daal—af­ter all, this where it all started!

Do en­sure that a trip to a dhaba is on your itin­er­ary— it is a treat to sit on a char­poy and enjoy the hot ro­tis and the mouth wa­ter­ing dishes, un­der an open sky.

THE BORDER AND THE BEAT­ING OF THE RE­TREAT

If you have come this far then a trip to Wa­gah is im­per­a­tive. Wa­gah was the vil­lage in un­di­vided In­dia through which the in­fa­mous Rad­cliffe Line was drawn so that a new coun­try could be carved out. Part of it went to Pak­istan and part to In­dia. Now al­most the whole vil­lage is lost in the ubiq­ui­tous ‘border’. The name is all that is left.

“The Beat­ing of the Re­treat” is a spec­ta­cle that at­tracts a very large num­ber

of visi­tors on both sides of the border. The BSF sol­diers like the Pak­istani Rangers, are all very tall-- all above six feet. The guys who are se­lected to take part in this de­light­fully chore­ographed show of mus­cle power and ag­gres­sion, are but lit­tle boys at heart. Af­ter the grand spec­ta­cle was over, I asked one sol­dier his height, he shyly ad­mit­ted that he was 6’3” tall. And the height of the tur­ban ‘turra’( the fan) was ap­prox­i­mately 8 to 10 inches—so we were look­ing up at some­one who topped off at al­most 7 feet!

There was a lot of mus­cle flex­ing, punch­ing in the air, stomp­ing on the ground and the im­pos­si­ble task of touch­ing the tip of the boot to the tur­ban.

In a quiet cor­ner some of us tried lifting a leg as high as it could go—waist high is the best we could man­age, with a lot of ‘ouch’ and ‘oohs’ thrown in!

So how long does it take be­fore one can ac­tu­ally reach the tur­ban? One tall good look­ing BSF of­fi­cer tells me that it takes a min­i­mum of one year be­fore one can ac­tu­ally touch the tur­ban with one’s foot!

The dog squad is do­ing its duty, sniff­ing out bombs—well fed and well groomed Al­sa­tians fol­low­ing their han­dlers all around the seat­ing area. A re­cent ad­di­tion to the pa­rade are the women of­fi­cers who ap­pear like minia­tures in front of the men.

The gates are open while the pa­rade goes on. Fi­nally the flags come down in a slow cer­e­mo­nial drum roll, while pa­tri­otic songs play on the loud­speak­ers— Hindi films on our side and Pak­istani films on the other. With loud calls of Bharat Mata ki Jai and Pak­istan Zind­abad, the show comes to an end.

The gates close once again.

The Har­mandir Sahib

The gold­fish in the sarovar

The crowds at the en­trance

One of the many build­ings on the

pe­riph­ery of the sarovar

Close to the en­trance of the

tem­ple

The peo­ple on our side of the border

The gates at Wa­gah Peo­ple on the Pak­istan side of the gate

An­other BSF sol­dier

BSF sol­dier at Wa­gah — he is 6ft 3 inches tall, plus the tur­ban adds an­other 7 inches to his height

The peo­ple of In­dia

Our group of veter­ans and their fam­i­lies

Sol­dier dis­plays bravado

dur­ing Chang­ing of the Guard at Wa­gah by touch­ing

his foot to his tur­ban

Fe­male Sol­diers march in step dur­ing the flag hoist­ing cer­e­mony at Wa­gah border

The pa­rade starts

The pa­trolling dogs at the border

The au­thor in a can­did shot

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