Well, I am safely in Amritsar. What a great city this is! More on that later though, first some catching up to do.
There doesn’t ever seem to be an end to the haze in Delhi. I am told it is because the winter (winter ?!?) is beginning that the skies do not clear. However, it is more than just a little fog. By midday, when the sun is high and the temperatures are hot (by Canadian standards, I guess), the fog has burned away and we are still left with a hazy sky from pollution.
Still and all though, for a country with such a massive population density, the air pollution seems thinner than many other places I’ve been. Anyway… on with today’s topics – the Birla Mandir (Hindu Temple) in New Delhi and riding around Amritsar on an Activa.
To the left is the Birla Mandir, a massive complex of temples in New Delhi. By Day 3, I had lost my guide and just had a driver – Shiv (who was awesome). It made for a much more fun and relaxing day, that is for sure.
There aren’t going to be a ton of pics. Even though I had my camera as opposed to my camera phone, one is not permitted to take pictures inside the complex, nor any pictures of any of the statues or pictures of the deities. I saw some people sneaking pics anyway but sorry, I just was not going to do that.
When you arrive at the front entrance to the mandir, there is a booth off to one side where signs tell you to leave your shows. Don’t do it. This is a trick. Even though the signs don’t say “Residents of India, please leave your shoes here.” that is actually what it meant. If you are white, you actually enter the complex with your shoes on and take a left to a special room near the temple shop (we’ll get to the placement later), where your shoes will be guarded by a man in a uniform. I took his word for it that he was some sort of security person. As soon as I removed my shoes in this little room… he left, so you know… my little green sandals were all sorts of safe.
What you find inside is a beautiful Hindu temple, a series of them actually and a confusing maze of stairs. There are beautiful carvings in the main temple hall that show all manner of things including a picture that looks very much like Guru Gobind Singh Ji, complete with falcon. I don’t read Hindi and there was no translation available so I can’t be sure who that was …
Also in the main temple hall is a beautiful Japanese drum, gifted to the mandir by visiting Buddhist monks.
Following the maze of stairs around several areas you will come to a long prayer hall. Here I found a man who was praying to each of the marble carvings along the wall. After saying a short prayer, he left a little chrysanthemum bud on a small stone shelf below the carving.
The mandir was covered in swastikas, which was a little awkward for me. And yes, I know that the swastika has an innocent origin and has been used as a Hindu symbol for thousands of years. Did not make seeing them everywhere any more comfortable for someone with German heritage, sorry. My post war guilt is ingrained in my DNA. I’m well trained to choke and immediately apologize on sight of that particular symbol. That’s just the way it is, I guess, and it’s clearly my issue.
The mandir was also covered in green parrots. You’ll see a sort of crappy, far off pic of them to the left. These little green parrots, common pigeons, and ‘squirrels’ cover the grounds here. People leave seed, bread and nuts for them on every surface they can find, so it’s not surprising that the grounds are covered in small wildlife.
I was really hoping to see a peacock or two while I was in Delhi and this place would seem to have been one of my better bets but … no such luck.
All of the pictures were taken after I walked around inside the complex and are taken from the grounds outside. Because, you know, rules…
So as I was leaving the main temple complex and heading into the grounds (where shoes are allowed again), I returned to the little secure room at the front of the mandir where my shoes were. No guard in sight. I walked into the open door anyway (open because it is after all the way to the temple shop)… and put my shoes on. The security guard then appeared and handed me a little pamphlet that was said to “summarize the principles of Hinduism”. Then he talked at me in Hindi.
What he was saying remains, technically, a mystery but I think he was trying to get me to pay for the little pamphlet, that clearly said free. He directed me into the little temple store as well, though he wasn’t pushy about that (and neither were those inside the store). But he either wanted a tip for taking care of my sandals or he wanted money for that pamphlet. I played dumb (which frankly…) and left without paying for anything.
We’re going to interrupt our tour of Delhi now to take you to current day Amritsar for an event I will call “I rode the back of a scooter and it did not kill me”. I’m not a trained professional but don’t try this at home anyway. Driving in traffic in India is not for the sane. Driving in India with a ‘new’ driver who as it turns out has no license… well now, that’s just flat out insane.
Yesterday, my lovely younger sister decided that I should see the Rose Garden in Amritsar with her, on her scooter (which she calls an Activa). The Rose Garden is actually a small part of a lovely little park along Ranjit Avenue. There are beds of roses planted there, obviously, but also enormous lillies, beautiful little palms and other types of garden bed.
We went on her little scooter into some seriously heavy traffic, including a bypass and the highway that takes one to the airport. Yeap… we did that.
I’m not new to new drivers. I’ve taught a lot of young people (and not so young people) how to drive. I’ve never done it in India, of course. And I’ve never done it from the back of a scooter either. And I have definitely never done it on a bypass highway in India from the back of a scooter. Holy hell of an adventure that was.
My little sister is actually a very careful, very skilled young driver. I would put her behind the wheel of anything in Canada, any day of the week. She’s got a good head on her shoulders as well, so I would put my life in her hands… in Canada, where I can be wearing a seatbelt. But we were not in Canada. We were in India, were big trucks collide with buses and pedestrians and little Activas on a regular basis and where seatbelts are just suggested safety equipment.
Getting to the garden was no problem at all, it was a series of left turns (which are the easy turns in a British influenced, drive on the left system) in moderate traffic. They honked at her slower speed but that didn’t phase her. They honked at her refusal to take up more than one lane too, and that didn’t phase her either. I was proud, let me just say.
We had a nice walk around the gardens when it was time to leave again so that we could make it home again in time to make it to gurdwara. And just then… a fight, right there on the highway that runs along the gardens.
Yeah, it kind of took us by surprise as well. But we were walking back toward the entrance when we heard the screech of tires on the highway. We looked up to see a little white car careening toward the edge of the road. There was clearly a man in a pink shirt in the passenger seat just wailing on the driver of the vehicle. This went on for several minutes before the passenger side door opened and the assailant was pushed from the vehicle. It appeared, briefly, that he might get back into the vehicle to continue his assault but the driver was smart enough to pull up on the side of the highway far enough to make it harder on the assailant.
My younger sister and I spent some time talking about how lucky the driver was to get away, to not have had a bad traffic accident, and to not have killed anyone when he veered off the highway. So traffic and the strange, random things that can happen it in was fresh in our minds when we got back to the scooter, to reverse our route and make a lot of right turns … the hard ones, including merging onto the very bypass … eek
I seriously do not recommend driving in India and I definitely do not recommend being the passenger on a motorbike or a scooter in India. Just please, be saner than I and don’t do it. Especially if any of your sphincters are weak…
First we had to make a right turn onto the bypass from the main road, which my young friend accomplished like any good driver in India – by pulling all the way into the left hand edge of the left most lane before moving across to the right in sort of the edge of the intersection. (I so wish I had a GoPro strapped to my head). From here she must cross 2 lanes of oncoming, uncontrolled traffic. There’s only one way to do this – go with the flow. If you try to follow some sort of “the gap is wide enough now” rule, you will probably be squashed.
So she waits for the gap and when a nice wide one comes, she ignores it and waits for a bigger, better one. She lets all the traffic that would otherwise be going in her direction leave without her. I near fell off the scooter in shock before I realize she was a little spooked by the traffic – this young lady who grew up with this traffic was spooked by it. What does that say?
We did finally make it across the road, with the help of two larger motorcycles for her to follow. When we did, I could see the triumph on her face in the side view mirror. The kind of triumph that only gets bigger and brighter as the traffic behind you starts honking because you’re going 20 on a highway. So proud.