October 11, 2011 — 4:53 p.m.
Our driver keeps spitting. The car horns sound like they are dying, but are oddly forceful. I wonder how people survive in this country. How are they aware of what’s going on? We drive by so many cows with huge humps on their backs. I have never seen this kind of cow before. They are all allowed to roam wherever they want.
India is so big. Sadly, I am moving too much across the country; I am not staying put long enough. Five days in India with too large of an itinerary is like trying to squeeze a rectangular peg into a circular hole. There just isn’t enough time to visit all the places I would like to go without giving up a great part of the day to driving. There’s not much to see on the highway — but then again, there never is. Yet my eye is caught by beautiful colors draped around men and women amidst all the dust and dirt.
“Horn please” is painted on the back of almost every truck, bus, and car. Sunny, a tour guide in Delhi, said, in order to be a good driver here, “You have to have a good horn, good brakes, and a lot of good luck.”
October 14, 2011 – 9:15 a.m.
Early yesterday morning we drove to the Taj Mahal at sunrise. As foreigners we paid 750 rupees while locals pay only 10. The lines were sectioned in three for men, Indian ladies, and foreign ladies. We moved slowly forward until I realized that security at the entrance is fairly aggressive. It took them a while to pat everyone down and check their bags. The level of security was very similar at the airport, and even to get inside a crafts fair in Chandigarh.
When I finally walked past the entrance, I started snapping pictures of the Taj. After I took three or four, I felt like I had taken enough. My photos resembled the postcards I had seen or pictures that can be found online. I wondered what significance my photos would have, besides for my own personal memories. It seemed as though everyone was getting the same shot, which for some reason left me feeling vaguely depressed.
But I could not deny the striking moonlike glow of the Taj Mahal at sunrise.
Later that day we barely made our flight to Chandigarh from Delhi. On the plane I sat by the window and slept for most of the flight. So far I haven’t seen any of India by air because I keep falling asleep. Once we landed we searched for Jesse’s driver who picked us up in a silver Mercedes with a cracked windshield. Jesse is Nikki’s family friend who offered to take care of us if we came to Chandigarh. We thought we were going to stay in his home, but instead we were taken to a government complex called Circuit House. The guards at the gate carried military weapons.
The next day Jesse’s driver picked us up from the Circuit House. Our mission for the day was to visit the Golden Temple, the Rock Garden, and the craft market. Jessie’s driver took us to his home where we met his family. His home was beautiful. It was painted an earthy color, like the shade of red soil. We walked up a spiraling metal staircase that led to a pavilion on the second floor. The interior of Jesse’s home was also beautiful. Above each doorway was a half-circle glass-paned window, each pane a different color. I believe the order was blue, green, red. Motivational posters that I usually associate with an elementary school classroom were hung on a stone brick wall behind the dining room table. One even had Disney characters on it. But the one that really spoke to me was simply typed on computer paper. It read:
NEVER EXPLAIN YOURSELF
YOUR FRIENDS DON’T NEED IT
YOUR ENEMIES WON’T BELIEVE IT”
After we were served a delicious breakfast, we caught a bus to Amritsar to visit the Golden Temple, which is a Sikh monument. It took us five hours to get there, so by the time we arrived we figured we wouldn’t be able to do any of the other things we wanted to accomplish that day. Once we finally arrived, Sukh, our driver and Jesse’s friend, greeted us. He was easily the most hospitable guide we had all week. He led us through the chaos of cars and people-traffic as we headed to the temple. We arrived just in time for sunset. Once there he gave us a detailed tour.
The Golden Temple is huge. On the way in you drop off your shoes at a counter and walk barefoot to the entrance. Then you step through a pool of water to cleanse your feet. The whole entrance—the steps, the floor, the walls—is made of marble. Stones are etched and glued into the marble, like how we saw at the marble factory in Agra. I noticed as we entered that before people reached the first step they would kneel down and touch the marble step with their right hand, then touch their forehead, then raise their hand towards the sky in honor of God. Some would close their eyes and mumble a prayer.
The temple is beautiful. A marble walkway runs around a large pool of water in which the temple is situated. That night it’s golden hues shimmered in the water below from the vague light of sunset. Sukh led us clockwise around the temple, explaining things and showing the way. He said that Sikhism is like a combination of Islam and Hinduism, but is still very distinct.
Sukh then showed us where people come to get free meals. The kitchen employees allowed us to explore the kitchen and observe how they make the bread. Sukh explained that all of this is possible because of donations given by locals. For that sole reason the temple has been running since the 15th century.
While walking around the temple there were so many things to take in. There were a few stands that gave away chilled, clean water in metal bowls. We passed a small tent where people shed their clothes and entered the water to cleanse themselves. It was as if they were baptizing themselves, but they do it more than once. I also noticed a lot of men and women lying on the ground. Some were sleeping, some were just relaxing. It seemed like a good place to spend time. All throughout the area I could hear a man singing a prayer over the loudspeaker. It reminded me of the call to prayer in Morocco. I’m not sure if it was recorded or live. Despite the singing, the place was relatively quiet…peaceful.
Once we reached the temple we waited in line to get in. Some people were holding dry, cracked leaves in a small metal bowl as an offering. After about 15 minutes we entered. Everything was so golden and beautiful. People sat in the center of the temple, men on one side and women on the other, facing the holy men who were collecting donations. There was a large pile of bills in front of them. People would crowd around the golden railing, all trying to make their donation. They would throw in the money then kneel down in respect. Then someone behind the rails would hand them a bright orange scarf to wrap around their head. We explored the temple further, visiting all three floors. Some men sat in corners behind the railings, adorned with gold and brightly colored fabric. They read from a very large book that was entirely hand written. Witnessing such tradition that is still practiced today is almost shocking.
What I saw at the Golden Temple was a rich display of culture. There was just so much to take in that I couldn’t process it fast enough. I felt numb to it all. Sitting on the marble steps near the edge of the water, I stared at the moon’s reflection pondering this religious ritual.