SPIRITUAL, SCARY, AND SACRED PLACES IN INDIA
We fly from Delhi to the town of Amritsar, in northwestern India. Time to jump into a hot van with seven others and hit the tour, baby. Remove shoes, and walk a half-block down the street, dodging cars, people, dogs, cows and tuk-tuks, and finally into the Mata Temple.
This labyrinth Hindu place of worship celebrates Lal Devi, a female Hindu saint. Women come here to pray for pregnancy, but not my woman. This ornate, mosaic and shiny temple is full of saints, many that look like monsters, in a deity way too complex for my simple mind. Mare and I keep waiting for something to jump out and scare us, like in a funhouse. (Meaning no disrespect)
Let’s go to Attari-Wagah, at the India/Pakistani border…and watch the border closing ceremony that has been a flamboyant military exercise since 1959. This is the only road border crossing between India and Pakistan. We go through numerous security checks along the way, including several metal detectors and pat downs.
After way too many groups of schoolchildren sing and dance in the humid heat, some dressed in fatigues and holding automatic weapons, the guards, obviously chosen because of their height, wail “Michael Buffer” style screams.
They display exaggerated salutes and marches of bravado that include kicks as high as their head, while wearing red cockatoo hats, Pakistani in blue.
The enthusiasm of the crowd simulates the world cup. Chants of “Hindustan! I Love India!” are countered by the Pakistani version on the other side of the gate. We feel like we are at a football pep rally, only with political implications.
The Pakistani crowd has separate male/female sections, while the Indians mingle together. The Indian women dance on the street, while some of the men get their groove on in the grandstands.
The final act ends with India and Pakistan security forces engaging in a brisk handshake, and simultaneously lowering the flags. This happens every night, to a full audience of thousands.
Back to the town of Amristar, for the jewel of our entire trip to India. Remove shoes, and walk barefoot in the dark, through busy streets, for blocks and blocks. A fellow van tourist, from Italy, turns to me and says, “New mushrooms will be growing on our feet tomorrow.” Finally, we wade through foot cleansing water at the entrance to the Golden Temple.
Across a shiny, sacred lake, a large temple glows in gold. Through the speakers, a chant, accompanied by flute, drum and string music immediately fills us with peace. All religions are welcome in this holiest place of worship for Sikhs.
Buddha has a legacy here from 2,000 years ago, and then Geru Nanak (1469–1539) initiated this as the primary shrine of Sikhs. Peaceful chants have endured invasions and rebuilds since that time. The lotus flower alone is plated with 750 kilograms of gold.
Some followers bathe in the holy water of the sacred lake. This pool, Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar) inspired the town’s name. Others simply lay on the marble and enjoy the peaceful trance brought on by the continuous chant. (60,000 to 80,000 people visit daily)
Mare and I sit and stare. We do not want to leave, but our time is short here. The chant, though, stays with us for several days. What a perfect energy to take with us to Nepal!
“If we ever get out of here (India) that’s what we’re gonna do. KKKKKatmandu…”
Namaste. Ron Mitchell