Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Amritsar (and the Golden Temple)

If you are a stickler about itineraries that stay "on time" - then traveling by road in India is not for you.  Our carefully planned schedule declared that the drive from Agra back to New Delhi was to take "4 hours" after an "early breakfast".  In retrospect, I am extremely happy that we took the "early" part of breakfast seriously.  Our flight from Indira Gandhi International Airport to Amritsar was due to take off at 4:00 P.M.  We finished our delicious Indian breakfast at straight-up 8:00 A.M. - knowing that we would arrive at the airport at least two-hours early.

Then...on the road to New Delhi..."a little bit of India" happened.  There were wandering herds of goats crossing the road...a truck loaded with about 300% more rice than it could have possibly held had broken its' axles and spilled it's load all over the only road out of town, several other overturned trucks and assorted "goods carriers...and, of course, the the occasional broken-down auto-rickshaw that was completely blocking traffic.  All of this...coupled with the traffic-jam-from-hell that started at the very outskirts of Delhi and lasted all the way to the airport....we came very close to missing our flight.  The drive took almost exactly eight hours instead of four!!

We made it through security and out to the gate where our ride was to take us out to the tarmac and our plane... just as the first bus was loading.  As we are driving along, looking at each other and wondering aloud just how we managed to make our drive in eight hours instead of the recommended four (kudos to our driver, Raj - - he really cut through the traffic jam like a champion!)...it dawned on me that there was no large plane parked anywhere near where we were headed.  The only airplanes on the tarmac were small, propeller driven ones.  Let me say up-front that I am not a fan of small planes.

I know Amy was as frightened as I was.  Not of the plane...but of the fact that I might not able to get ON the plane.  I dug deep and found some bravery that I didn't know that I possessed - - and we got on to the tight and claustrophobic interior of Kingfisher Airlines Flight No. IT 4309 and found our seats for the just-over one-hour and fifteen-minutes flight to Amritsar.

We landed a little later than expected...but our travel staff from Zutshi Travel World Services were right there outside the terminal at Amritsar airport awaiting our arrival.  The airport was brand new looking...and looked very much like the same architects that did the airports in Hyderabad, Bangalore, the new terminal in Delhi had designed this one.  Our guide was with the crew...and he asked us if we were interested in keeping to the schedule to see the Golden Temple at sunset.  To be truthful...the idea of spending one extra minute in a car after the drive from Agra to New Delhi was pretty unappetizing.  we opted to go straight to the hotel for a good dinner and good nights' sleep.  The hotel that was booked for us was the Ista Hotel - - and - a huge brand-new mall had been built right next-door to it...very similar to the InOrbit Mall in Hyderabad.  We checked in and got started on our wonderful stay in Amritsar....by far our favorite place on this leg of the journey into the Golden Triangle.

On the morning of Sunday 28 November - we got up and met our guide in the lobby.  He was a devout Sikh, which turned out to be very interesting and a tremendous boon to the discussions we would have throughout the day.  The drive out to the Golden Temple was a bit longer than we had figured on...but - it was so worth it!!  One can not help but notice that the place is truly "holy ground".  After parking the car...you only enter the temple grounds after carefully washing your hands and feet in the fountains and pools provided... there is this... - I guess I'll call it an "aura" about the place that is unlike anything I have ever felt before.  I have never been to the Vatican...I can imagine that the feeling there is similar...

When the actual temple comes into view...it is so stunning...so... well.... GOLDEN!!  The day itself was a little hazy...but the golden glow of the temple cut through the light fog like a beacon.  The male pilgrims visiting the temple were surrounding the lake that surrounds the structure...taking religious baths with their children - there was a special area for the women to bathe.  The line that crossed the bridge over the shrine lake that led to the temple for the daily reading from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib was daunting...and - we never braved it to go inside.  This was O.K. for us...because it took us the better part of the morning to take-in the beauty of the place!!

More on our day at the Golden Temple to come....stay tuned!!

Here are the photos that Amy Suzanne took during our first full day in Amritsar:  Our First Indian Vacation Part Three (of Four)

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