Thursday, May 17, 2012

INDIA - Delhi, Amritsar

After Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim tales of India we decided to discover a younger religion born in India - Sikhism. Sikhism is distributed mostly in Punjab and we headed straight to Amritsar and the Golden Temple - the most sacred place for Sikhs. Amritsar city is very grim, dirty and noisy like any big city in India, but as soon as you enter the Golden Temple complex, time seems to stop, the noise turns into beautiful prayer songs and the dirty streets - into a shiny clean white marble. Here shoes are prohibited (and socks too), and covering the hair is obligatory for both women and men. The complex is huge. Besides the Golden Temple, covered with 100 kg of pure gold, emerging from a lake full with large gold fish, there were several large temples, dormitories, dining hall and museum. The water in the lake of course is sacred and everyone bathes in it and even drinks from it.

in the Golden Temple at night

at night the long carpets are rolled and people sleep on the marble

massive meal
flying dishes, the noise outside the kitchen is indescribable
What attracted us to Sikhs is their idea of ​​equality and sharing. They opposed the caste system in India and believe that all people are equal regardless of social status, gender or religion - beggars and kings eat at the same table and live together in a mutually helping society. Sikhs believe in one God, tolerance and love for all and service to humanity. Everything in the temople is free and money is useless here. (except for donations when you leave) There is a giant free kitchen which works around the clock and feeds thousands of pilgrims who come every day. Volunteers constantly help with cooking and washing. Everywhere there is filtered water and there is a separate dorm for foreigners where you can stay up to 3 days for free. But the best thing about this place is the absence of any shops, souvenir shops, guides, beggars and crooks, typical for most famous temples. For three days you can completely free your mind, without thinking about money, food and shelter and be fully immersed in the sacred atmosphere. Of course everybody gives some donation and volunteer work - as much as you want. We joined this community with full force and it seemed to work perfectly. There is food and water all the time, the toilets (I don’t know how) were always clean and free, despite the thousands of pilgrims who use them every day. Perhaps the cleanest public toilets until now - you can safely walk barefoot inside. Cleanliness is obviously important for Sikhs. All day people are polishing the marble floors and walls and any gap between the tiles. The Golden Temple itself is constantly being cleaned inside and out. There are special wooden ladders for cleaning walls, ceilings and chandeliers. Even within the religious ceremonies which we saw they brought out the sacred books and other objects from large boxes, cleaned them and put them back. Cleanliness was almost unreal. For most foreigners, however it was not clean enough. They put their shoes on in the dorm (even in the bed!) and refused to eat the food from the kitchen. It seemed to them too risky to eat in the same dishes from which thousands of Indians ate before them. Most did not even trust the filtered water, and went to buy bottles! Sometimes prejudices of the Western world surprise me. How can the purest place in India become "dirty" in people's heads. And those "clean" people go to bed with shoes and throw away plastic bottles every day. We, however, with the greatest pleasure took part in the most massive meal we have ever seen. The organization was perfect and the food - just wonderful. Besides the standard rice, lentils, subdji (vegetables) and chapatti, they served khil - something like rice pudding with dried fruits and nuts. So hateful in kindergarten, here I thought it was the most delicious thing. There is free kitchen in all Sikh temples, but here is just gigantic. We took part in the most huge and fun washing dishes ever - millions, endless piles of metal plates and bowls are poured continuously and never ever end. But volunteers are so much that it is sometimes difficult to get to the sinks. Of course, we were the only foreigners washing dishes and all people looked at us with joy. All are smiling and kind and looked like coming straight out of a fairy tale. Sikhs are distinguished by their peculiar uniform, consisting of five symbols (the 5 K) - Kesha - long hair, Kanga - comb, Kacha - shorts, Kara - metal bracket and Kirpan - sword. As a rule they should never cut their hair and beards. The hair is coiled in a bun on top of the head, and sometimes beards are brushed behind the ears. Women are believed to have the same soul as men and therefore equal rights in everything. All gurdwaras (Sikh temples) are open for all people of all religions.

ceremonial cleaning in the Golden Temple
even water in the lake is cleaned daily with long bamboo sticks

опъване на "знамето"

holy bath and the typical Sikh knife
works on the temple run continuously

long-term volunteers in the temple
Golden Temple in Amritsar at night

Indian border guard
Indian Border Guard
Amritsar is located near the Pakistani border and I don’t know why we decided to go there to witness the daily ceremony of closing of the India-Pakistan border. It was quite unusual ceremony - something between a military theater and a football match with nationalist notes. In two words - total circus. Thousands of Indians flocked every to the border but not to go into Pakistan - just to shout and dance and return home with patriotic feeling. The crowd was huge and had benches like a stadium with separate sections for men, women and foreigners. It started with people running with Indian flags, dancing at super strong Indian (Bollywood)  music, shouting "India is great" before the uniformed armed guards. This lasts for hours before the actual ceremony began - marching and removing the flags from both sides. On the Pakistani side there were fewer people and all women were covered. Indian women on the other hand, were singing and dancing to demonstrate their freedom. To me this whole performance seemed quite ridiculous and we went back with the dream to cross this border to Pakistan next time.

Indian patriots

male audience
female audience

 golden sunrise in the Golden Temple
After 3 days of purification in the Golden Temple we headed to Delhi. Again we got a free general class train, the station was very close to the temple. In Delhi, we had several important missions - to repair the lens of my camera, to buy shoes for Evgeni and to send a parcel to Bulgaria with pictures. We didn’t want to stay long in this city – big cities are not our favorite places, but we had work to do. We also walked through the sights and markets of Delhi. We went to the largest mosque in India - Jama Mashid that surprised us with fees for camera, fees to climb the minaret ... nothing was free as in Amritsar and everything was much more dirty and inhospitable. Generally such "tourist" temples in which you have to pay tickets and fees for me are far from the idea of ​​God. I promised myself to avoid such places next time.
For compensation went to a gurdwara (Sikh Temple) in Delhi, where we were welcomed with a smile and immediately offered food and water. We listened to beautiful live music and chanting, ate in a relatively small kitchen, they blessed us and gave us a lucky flower.

Otherwise, as we expected, Delhi is full  power crazy, everywhere there are so many people that it is hard to walk on the streets. But it had its own charm. Different neighborhoods can be like completely different cities. The stories about dirt and begging in Delhi seemed to us a bit exaggerated, but our criteria might also have already changed after Africa. Here, however, for the first time we got the famous India diarrhea and for a few days I could not even drink water. 
Red Fort, Delhi
Red Fort, Delhi
In the Gurdwara in Delhi
In the Gurdwara in Delhi
In Delhi there are a lot of city squirrels
Lemon nana

how many kids can get on a rickshaw
Jama Mashid - the largest mosque in India
discussions at the mosque
Traffic in Delhi
lentils in the kitchen of the gurdwara
Volunteers assist in cooking in the gurdwara in Delhi
The gurdwara inside
Luckily the lens got repaired for 4 days (and 80 euros) and we could get out of Delhi soon. The shoes for Evgeni proved to be the most difficult mission. Even in the capital it was hard to find more than 44-45 size and Gena wore 47,5. Finally we decided on some sandals size 45th and with fingers slightly protruding in front they fit. We sent 13 kilos to Sofia with things accumulated so far and the hard drive with all the pictures and we were ready to go. Still with sick stomachs, we headed to Rajasthan.

Happy atmosphere on the Indian border.

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