Amritsar, India

Goodbye India

| India

With less than a week left on my India visa, I was going to wrap up my visit in this country with a couple of stops in the famous architectural towns Chindagraph and Amritsar. With these thoughts in my mind, I left Jaipur relaxed and really looking forward to a change in country that will be coming up shortly.

I had already past a group of these gypsy’s but I was not able to pull over to take photos. So when I saw a second group i had to stop. But they got angry at me because I was making their donkeys walk all over the road.

Then this man stopped and had a good look at me!

On the way to Chindagraph I stopped for petrol around lunchtime. I pushed my bike into the shade of a bill board and stood checking my bike as I was not really good a forcing breaks for myself when I have nothing to do. As I was inspecting a small oil leak that had sprouted since being in India, I was approached by a man completely dressed in a white shirt and sarong, folded around him in a working style. He didn’t speak English, so after being in India for a while, I presume he was asking my country and said ‘New Zealand’, but he shook his head and eventually worked out the English word for chai (Tea). I accepted and joined the other older man sitting on dirty white plastic chairs in the shade of the small concrete office.

After the usual questions about me and the world cricket match, I was able to find out his story. He owned this petrol station and two on the main state highway between Jaipur and Delhi that his two younger sons run. His elder son worked in a government department in Delhi.
When I had finally finished my chai, I stood to shake their hands, he refused my hand and touched my head and shoulders. ‘We treat you like our daughter and do not shake hands with you. Best of luck for you journey and I hope you will be safe’. I felt so touched my their actions and blessing, Once again, I was reminded why I like travelling.
Arriving into the western designed city of Chindagraph was amazing. For the first time in India I saw street signs, signs showing the city layout and even directions to the different sectors within. I quickly found a hotel and set about organising the required paper work to see the Le Corbusier designed buildings.

Once I received my three forms, I headed for the ‘Court House’. I parked my motorcycle next to a man sitting on the ground cleaning and polishing shoes. He acted so grateful and honoured to have me park my motorcycle there, I guess it caused quite a stir and people coming to see it. I figured I left it in good hands.

I found an entry into the building, watching the locals hurriedly walk in and out the well guarded doors. When I walked up to them, I was stopped and asked for my paper work. Handing him my three sheets of paper, he looks at them and tells me I need a photocopy of something from gate 1. At this point after a morning of hunting down the office and then filling out the paperwork, I was a bit over it.

A judge stopped and asked the guard what the problem was.Many Hindu words were passed between them before I was told not to take any photos inside the building. I entered the building, and was largely disappointed with the barren corridors and the stained with red pann spit sprayed on the concrete floors. Giving up on the inside, I walked around to the Le Corbusier hand statue. At least from here you get a great vantage point to see the main face of the Court House.

After I picked my bike up from the shoe man, I followed the traffic out onto the main road, but found myself in the rock garden car park. What luck! Everyone walked as directed bya huge sign towards the entrance, only to be turned down and told to walk back towards a very small hole in the wall ticket booth. Another Indian idiocracy! I followed the concrete path down the narrow path, which opened out to the following views.

This is the tiny ticket booth!

This is the tiny exit!

While I was here, I was waiting on my new passport to arrive and a second visa debit card, so hopefully I wont have any more issues like I did in Indonesia. As soon as that arrived, I packed my bags and headed for Amritsar. On my way, I passed over bridges with amazing icy blue colours, the temperature dropped and then I could see mountains emerging in the haze a head of me. This can’t be right. I stopped in front of a sign and for the first time, I realised I was heading in the completely wrong direction for the last 40 kilometres and there were no roads heading that way except the one that I had missed.

Turning around, I travelled the 40 kilometres to the confusing road work construction and asked for the town of Amritsar, When they didn’t understand me I asked for Pakistan! Eventually someone worked out what I was trying to ask them and pointed me in a direction, only to discover I was now heading back to Chindagraph. Pulling over I tried again. I know I am saying it right. I found people are trying too hard with what I am saying.They think it must be so complicated hence why they give up or point me in the wrong direction. Eventually, after several miss-directions, I make it to Amritsar.

Sliding my shoes riddled with holes across the well polished wooden bench to a man with an orange turban wrapped around his head. In the few minutes I had to wait for my number, I choked in the strong stench of rotten shoes. As soon as I had received the metal tag, I ran up the steps into the bright sunlight. Breathing easier in the cleaner air, I pulled out my scarf and carefully wrapped my head.

Upon entering the Golden Temple, you are forced to share all foot diseases by stepping into a common foot bath, visited by thousands every day. As I stepped out, I nearly pushed over a man who suddenly bent down in front of me to  touch the first step into the palace area. Side stepping around him, I passed through the white marble arch and there stood the Golden Temple, in the middle of a large body of water, with only one covered gang way leading to its front doors. Walking around the outer marble colonnade, I watch the locals practice their religious beliefs.

Some sat in the shade of the colonnade with a string of beads in their hands, deep in thought, some collected water in clear plastic containers to take home to use at a later date, others paid their respects to shrines placed around the site and a few removed all their clothing bar their underwear and gingerly stepped down the slippery marble steps into the water to bath themselves in the holly water amongst the large fish. The women bathed in one of three concrete shelters hidden away from the devious prying eyes.

I finally made my way completely around the whole tank to the gang way leading to the Golden Temple. I stared down the long hot squishy queue to it and decided it was not worth the agonising wait. I walked back out through the main doors back into the dirty chaos of the streets that surround the quiet peaceful temple.

A few hours before dusk, I talked a British girl from the guest house to come with me to see the Wahga border closing ceremony. On the way out there we realised we were in theslowest three wheeler imaginable as we were being over taken by slightly larger three wheelers. It took over an hour to travel the 30 kilometres to the border, thinking we were extremely late we rushed and deposited our bags and were quickly ushered into the VIP area, which literally meant you got to sit squashed up on the hard concrete kerb with a front row view of the action.
We waited for ages, watching children and women run up and down the street holding the Indian flag proudly in their hands. Everyone rushed into the street and started dancing when they heard the ‘Slum Dog Millionaire’ sound track been blasted across the speakers.

By the time the actual ceremony started my bottom was completely numb and all I wanted to do was leave. Watching the 6 foot tall guards strut their stuff, in these amazing costumes,was incredibly funny but at the same time interesting. They opened the gate and shook hands, then slammed the gates shut and continued to stomp around with large and high steps. As the sun dropped below the horizon, the flags came down and we found ourselves back in our slow three wheeler heading back into town.

Today is the day I leave India, for the first time I wasn’t worried or nervous about crossing into another country, I actually felt excited. I woke, but I didn’t have to rush as the banks and borderdo not open until 10 am. I managed to pay my bill at the hostel and pack my bags before heading to the nearest bank with foreign exchange. When I arrived they told me, even though we have a sign out the front saying foreign exchange we do not do it. Walk up to the corner and there is another bank that does it. This is typical India. I walk up to that bank and was ushered to a teller, but she told me that they couldn’t do it because they only exchange US dollars into Indian rupees. She told me to talk to the guard.

I was then ushered to a man who spoke perfect English. I sat down at his desk, was offered a Chai and he arranged for me to get my Indian rupees exchanged into Pakistan rupees. He was my miracle worker. As I waited we talked about every thing from marriage cost to the difference in our two cultures. This was the first time I had met a person who had been living in England and had returned to India to help support his family. I left that bank really happy to have meet someone where I could have a normal conversation beyond the normal two questions – what is my ‘good’ country? and what is my ‘good’ name.

Later that morning, I arrived at the border faster than the three wheeler had taken the night before. After filling out the usual departure card, I hand that and my passport across to the customs officer. I stand there and start to get nervous as he stares at my entrance stamp for a long time. ‘When did you arrive?’ he asks ’13th of January, this year’ I reply ‘which city?’ ‘Chennai’ knowing that, that part of the entrance stamp is smudged from the Chennai customs officers. He stands up and walks over to someone with a magnifier machine, while he talks with that man, another man enters the conversation ‘when did you enter India?’ ’13th of January’ ‘ How long have you stayed in India?’ ‘Three months’ ‘so you came to India on the 13th of January 2010?’ ‘No, I entered Chennai airport on the 13th of January 2011 – THIS YEAR, check my Sri Lankan visa’ They then asked me about my motorcycle and my trip. When the first man returned to his seat, obviously finally satisfied, he said ‘Do you like dolls?’ I looked at him, completely confused wondering what sort of question is that? He saw my confusion and ‘the doll on your motorcycle’ ‘ah, my sock monkey, yes, he comes with me where ever I go’ Laughing at the sudden change in heat.

I moved onto the custom’s area, where I had to wait for someone to return from lunch. When he returned they made me fill out a form asking for permission to exit the country with my motorcycle and tore out the middle section of my Carnet de Passage. I was then told to sit down, this will take 30 minutes to check the system. I was given a cup of chai while I waited, because it took a lot longer than they said. Eventually, I was beckoned out to inspect the bike. They then asked what I was carrying in my bags, I was then asked to open my personal gear and show him the contents.
Next my passport had to be checked once again. I sat in the plastic seats waiting for that to  be returned to me. Once I had it,I was released and I rode my bike towards the gates to Pakistan.