Trip Meter

Gurgaon 0 - Delhi 40 - Karnal 175 - Ludhiana 366 - Jalandar 435 - AMRITSAR 515 - 535 - WAGAH BORDER 565 - Amritsar 595 - 610 - Ludhiana 760 - RANG DE BASANTI FORT 790 - Karnal 935 - Delhi 1070 - Gurgaon 1110

[Numbers beside the place are trip meter readings in km at that point. Places in bold indicate sight-seeing destinations.]


Highlights

  1. Golden Temple, diwali fireworks and meal in langar
  2. Day closing parade at Wagah Border and Jalianwala Bagh
  3. Om Shanti Om in a dilapidated Amritsar theater for 100 bucks
  4. Rang De Basanti fort near Ludhiana
  5. Flat drive in the Indo-Gangetic plains
Delhi to Amritsar in Eight Hours

For about an year and a half, I have been wanting to do a road trip from Delhi to Amritsar and back on a motorcycle. I imagined riding through the lush green crops in the Indo-Gangetic plains, running through sugar cane fields and sarson de khet and stopping at the dhabas for butter chicken and lassi would be a terrific experience.

When Rupak suggested we could do the Delhi - Amritsar drive in his Maruti Swift, I was only too happy to jump on it. After long stints in US and UK, and therefore little or no chance to travel within India, I was hungry for a trip in my country. And I didn't want to be too picky about doing this stretch only on a motorcycle.

At 5:00 am Friday morning, a three day weekend for Diwali, Rupak and I were cruising out of Gurgaon towards Delhi. Now that is discipline ;-). Ankit was hitch-hiking with us till Ludhiana. At 10:30 am, we hit Ankit's kothi and feasted on a gorgeous breakfast. At noon, we set off towards Amritsar. The drive between Delhi and Amritsar is not as scenic as I had imagined it to be. Not until Jalandar did we see the stretches of green crops and tractors and milkmen on cycles and kids running with sugar cane sticks in the field.

We did pretty good time on Delhi to Amritsar - 8 hours driving and 2 hours stoppage. When we entered Amritsar city at 3:00 pm, I was a little disappointed with the first impression of the city. A two inch thick layer of dust and soot covered the city. There was filth everywhere on the roads, and people continued with their daily business in the same environment. A dark sweaty hairy man would be frying pakoras and not very far away, another gentleman would be watering the wall. Amidst all the chaos, a sign on an inconspicuous door leading to an alley read Jalianwala Bagh Memorial - site of the 1919 massacre and the most popular chapter in school history lessons.

We walked in and exited the park a few minutes later; we walked towards Golden Temple. So far, this trip was not about the journey, I realized. But when I entered the Golden Temple complex, within 15 minutes I realized that this trip was definitely about the destination.



Golden Temple - A Captivating Experience

The city of Amritsar derives its name from amrit (nectar of life) and sar (short for sarovar, pool). In the middle of a rectangular pool of olive green water sits a modest sized temple covered in brilliant gold. The periphery of the pool is lined with marble flooring and a white building with intricate doorways and windows.

I can now appreciate why Golden Temple is among the top travel experiences in most guides on India. The complex is not just magnificinet in its beauty. But the experience is also smooth, relaxing and rejuvenating. No one harrasses you. No one tells you what to do. Except covering your head and leaving your footwear outside the complex, there is no dress code. No pretenders extorting money out of you in the name of religious authority. No imposters trying to convey to you the direct word of God.

Just calm, peace of mind and traquility.

The langar just outside the quadrangle of Golden Temple is an absolute must visit. Echoing the concept of equality before God, langar is a place where anyone can eat a free basic vegetarian meal 24 hours of the day - irrespective of caste, religion and social status. With thousands of visitors throbbing the place, running the langar smoothly can be a daunting task and a management challenge. But the efficiency with which it operates just amazed me. From queueing up to pick up the plate and spoon to sitting in a row to be served food to eating the meal to returning the plates - it barely took us 20 mins. There was no waiting, no pushing around, no embarassment. Everything was fast, clean and efficient. At one point in the cycle, I didn't know what to do next and I used my instincts. When in India, go with the flow. It automatically leads you through the right process and you can't go very wrong. The langar experience was simply overwhelming! I feel Golden Temple langar should be a case study in business schools and management gurus should take a lesson or three from here.

The meal was kadi, roti, kheer and jalebi. The guy sitting on my left was eating with his left hand. I couldn't but notice his right hand - he had 5 fingers missing. In mosques, I have several times prayed shoulder to shoulder with very rich and very poor people. But I have never before eaten a meal with the kind of person I described. And it was all good. Golden Temple is brilliantly lit on Diwali night. The fireworks that started around 7:00 pm went on till 8:30 pm. It had been a long day and we retired for the night. We checked into a newly constructed hotel near the complex which was modest, neat and inexpensive. It charged us Rs. 550 per night.

We returned to Golden Temple the next morning on Saturday to spend some more time and pay our homage. Surely, my RQ (religious quotient) has gone up after this trip. The Central Sikh Museum in the north wing of the complex is a reminder of the constant armed struggle of the sikhs against the Mughals in Delhi and also a stark admonisher to the 1984 Operation Blue Star - sad lessons in history.



The Closest We Could Get to Pakistan

Another top experience listed by several guides for travelers in India is the flag lowering ceremony at sunset at Wagah Border. Wagah is 27 km from Amrtisar and Lahore is another 27 km from Wagah. I don't think anyone who comes to Amritsar from a far-off place misses the Wagah experience. But is the flag ceremony indeed a worthy contender for a spot in the top-10 travel experiences in India? This was something we wanted to figure out.

We started driving out of Amritsar at 3:00 pm. Khalsa College on the outskirts of Amritsar is a lovely sight. The palatial building will probably compete with Hyderabad's Osmania University in aesthetic educational buildings category. After a stop at highway-side dhaba for (a huge portion) of half butter chicken and one by two lassi, we continued driving towards Wagah. The fields on either side, green and topped with a layer of mist and golden dust were an enjoyable sight in evening light.

Wagah was crowded yet geared for tourists. A daily routine here has been converted into a ceremony and a ceremony into a national attraction. Policemen arranged the pouring crowds into a neat array of seats around the parade area. Two gates in the fence separated India and Pakistan. On the other side of the gates, an equally enthusiastic and passionate crowd was pouring in and filling up the gaps. Bharat maata ki jai, Vande mataram, and Hindustan zindabad were the only slogans allowed on this side of the border but an occasional Jo bole sonehal sasriyakaal would always creep in. After all, this is Punjab my friend.

While we waited for the 25 min parade to begin, young girls took to group bhangra dancing and young boys ran with flags in their hands to the gate and back. A long trumpet-like sound signalled the start of parade. Kids returned to their seats. Cheering peaked. After lots of high amplitude stomping, the soldiers on either side of the fence respectfully lowered the two flags. Utmost care was taken to make sure that both flags came down at the same pace and time. A perfect act of coordination between two countries where nothing else seems to be coordinated.

Amid all this show of puffed chests and handle-bar moustaches, the feeling between the people of two countries always remained cordial, jovial and hearty. I must also note that emergency rule has been imposed in Pakistan at this point of time by Gen. Pervez Musharraf - the effect of which wasn't noticable in any way here.

Wagah. This was the closest I could get to Pakistan. A country that shares about 5000 years of history and 60 years of separation with India. So close, yet so far.

We headed back to Amritsar and were soon stuck in a traffic jam. Reason? The hall on the left was running Om Shanti Om. We found a slot to park our car and bought tickets in black for Rs. 100 each. I am assuming we bought them at 5 times the actual price. The theatre was a dilapidated shack. Rows of broken seats, plastic chairs in aisles and doorway, shrill whistles and vociferous yells. A perfect 70s audience to match the 70s style movie. By the way, Farha Khan has proved this time that she is not only an intelligent film-maker but is capable of delivering intelligent movies. There is a fine line between the two. Om Shanti Om is a great satire on (or rather a tribute to) the bubbly 70s of Bollywood. And Shah Rukh Khan showed it is possible to get a six-pack at 42, an age when most of our bodies need Eno to digest the gastronomic pleasure we just indulged in.

Om Shanti Om was three hours well spent in Amritsar city.



Driving Back and RDB Fort

On Sunday next morning, we started driving towards Delhi at 10:00 am. We were a little ambitious with our plans in the morning - we intended to drive to Patiala and spend some time there. But constant stoppages and bad traffic slowed us down considerably. We also did a little detour from the highway into the fields and villages. By afternoon, Patiala was out of question.

30 kms beyond Ludhiana towards Delhi is an abondoned fort (of Rang De Basanti fame). It's a very fine stone and brick complex - though almost in ruins now - with good photo-ops. Funnily, a farmer was tilling the land and raising some vegetables (spinach?) in the fort quadrangle. After a brief halt at the fort, our wheels once again rolled towards Delhi. They did stop several times for lunch, tea, petrol and etc breaks though.

So after almost 12 hours of stop-and-go driving, we reached home in Gurgaon. Rupak drove all the 1110 kms in this trip. And I am absolutely not complaining. Trip costs? Around Rs. 3,500 per head. But I am not complaining about that too :-)




Tags: Drive, India

Post a comment