Amritsar

It took 12 hours by bus, but I eventually reached the final destination of my Indian adventure.  I took it as a positive omen that the tuk-tuk driver at the bus depot knew almost right away where my obscure hostel was located.  That isn’t usually the case but he took me there right away and at a reasonable rate.

For 3 days and nights I stayed at Jugaadus Eco Hostel in Amritsar.  Located near Sultanwind Gate, the hostel was a mere 10 minute walk from Sri Harmandir Sahib or The Golden Temple, making it a convenient place to reside.  It was also a cheap place to reside, with each nights stay priced at $5.

While I don’t usually write too much about each individual place I stay when traveling, a paragraph or two is necessary to show my appreciation for this fine hostel.  Jugaadus wasn’t as flashy or as stylish as other hostels I’ve stayed at, but it had one of the best ‘vibes’.  Extremely relaxed and encouraging mindfulness, Jugaadus offered me the most stress-free accommodations of the trip.  When I first arrived, I instinctively tried to check-in but they refused and insisted that I put my bag down and enjoy some chai and biscuits.  I took their advice and tried to hook my phone up to their wifi only to discover that there appeared to be none.  The receptionist, Camille, informed me that they turned off the wifi from 5-7 p.m. to encourage the hostel’s guests to socialize with one another.  Though at that precise moment it was a bit inconvenient, I would later appreciate this little quirk.

Perhaps owing to the relaxed and social atmosphere of the hostel, I met quite a few people in Amritsar.  Jugaadus offered a variety of tours to guests so long as at least 3 people signed up, and through these tours, I came to know Bruce (Singapore), Anthony (France), Chris (England), Axel (Sweden), Natalia (Argentina), Siddharth, Shilpi, and Shelly (India).  There were also a few Americans and Aussies that were also there at the same time as me, but they were there for typically only a day and I didn’t get a chance to know them too well.

The first attraction I did in Amritsar was to attend the India-Pakistan Border Ceremony.  Beginning at 4:30 p.m. everyday, the Indian Border Force and Pakistani Rangers host a flag-lowering event that is a marked display of nationalism intended to reflect the two countries’ fierce – and often deadly – rivalry.  This demonstration attracts thousands of tourists each day, and non-Indian citizens were assigned to our own specific section in the stands.

The two forces spent an hour strutting, goose-stepping, making antagonistic gestures, and staring at each other menacingly.  Dressed in identical uniforms albeit in different color schemes, both sides mirror the other in what’s a carefully choreographed procession of intense patriotism.  The only significant difference between each side was the presence of women soldiers on the Indian side.  The whole event was impressive, but I couldn’t help wonder how such a peculiar institution was developed.

The second day in Amritsar was dedicated to The Golden Temple.  Amritsar and Punjab state are the only parts of India that are majority Sikh, and The Golden Temple is the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion.  As I was told many times, it’s the Sikh equivalent of Mecca, the Ganges River, the Western Wall, and the Vatican.  Having conferred with the other residents of the hostel, I decided that I would visit the temple twice.  Once around lunch time, and the other time at night.  The experience is quite different between night and day.  The temple is open 24 hours a day and many pilgrims sleep at the temple.

When I went at night, I went as part of the hostel’s tour.  I accompanied Siddharth, Shilpi, and Shelly who were visiting family in Amritsar and had only the day to see the temple.  We had a very knowledgeable guide who explained the significance of the temple’s shrines that I had not understood during my daytime visit.  Furthermore, we took part in the Langar, which is a free vegetarian meal that is served by volunteers to visitors 12 hours a day.  The meal was simple, consisting of a wheat flatbread, watery rice, and a curry sauce.  The only real catch to this meal is that you must eat what’s on your plate.  Wasting food was not going to be tolerated.  Creating an additional problem to this dynamic was that volunteers strolled the aisle replenishing your plate unless you told them otherwise.  So as I was finishing my meal, a volunteer dumped a huge serving of curry sauce on my plate that I was forced to finish.  It wasn’t easy forcing down this extra portion.

In summary, Amritsar was probably the most interesting and relaxing of my journey.  By this time I had fully acclimated to India and some of the things that had bothered me when I originally arrived cease to be of concern.  Hell, by the time I got to Amritsar, I was even able to hold down Indian food!  Undoubtedly, I’m skimming over quite a bit and haven’t covered everything I experienced, but you can trust that my time in Amritsar was positive and that I consider a must-see city in India.

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