Amritsar: Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Getting Around on Rickshaws

Good evening everyone,

Early in my stay in Amritsar (it’s hard to believe I’ve been here almost three weeks already), my host units and I went to Company Bagh – you’ve seen those pics.  That same day, we also visited Maharaja Ranjit Singh Panorama (a museum) which is sort of a park within Company Bagh.  It’s the only site we’ve had to pay to see so far.

The park surrounding the museum is impressive and contains four more statues of Maharaja Rangit Singh on horseback.  He’s also known as Sher-E Punjab or the Lion of Punjab.

The museum itself a round building at the end of a long pathway through the park.  It contains a number of paintings along the hallways on the first floor along with two rooms full of dioramas!  Dioramas!  So awesome.  The second floor is one huge panoramic diorama with some multimedia presentations you can watch on a column in the middle of the room.  Those were not working very well while we were there and this room was deafeningly loud with a strange audio track that sounded more like something from a Halloween haunted house than famous battle scenes but we enjoyed ourselves anyway.

Ranjit Singh united the Sikh Misls into the Sikh Empire in 1799.  The Empire would last 50 years, not bad for that time in Northern India.  The Empire mainly existed across the Punjab region in what is now northern India and Pakistan.

The dioramas show parts of his life from the time of his infancy until his death, including playing in his father’s court as a baby, being married, a number of battles and his contribution to the Darbar Sahib – much of the gold gilding and the intricate marble work, done under his patronage during the Sikh Empire.  

He also built two important gurdwaras to Guru Gobind Singh Ji, our tenth Guru.  These are Takht Sri Patna Sahib, at the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh Ji and Tahkt Sri Hazur Sahib at the place of his death.

Given his contributions, he is remembered fondly by Sikhs generally.

The museum was said to contain manuscripts, armour, arms and jewellery but we saw none of those things during our visit.  But for the 10 rupee cover charge to get in, I wasn’t going to complain.  I think Gurmit thought I was crazy to pay for entry anywhere.

Gurmit and I have been going to the Golden Temple everyday for seva (selfless service).  We wash dishes and since the langar (Guru’s free kitchen) feeds up to 10,000 people a day, that is a LOT of dishes.  We then peel garlic.  We take a cab to the Darbar Sahib and then we take a rickshaw back.  I call them tuk-tuks which makes Gurmit laugh her head off.  I usually offer to take a second tuk tuk and race her back to the house which makes her laugh even harder.  I like making her laugh – life really doesn’t need to be that serious all of the time.  We take the tuk-tuks because cars and trucks are not allowed to drive on the roads near the Darbar Sahib.  Well, not during daylight hours anyway, which is a good thing because it is really, really crowded there.

Tuk-tuks are called auto rickshaws around these parts.  They are called tuk-tuks in Delhi and autos in the rest of Punjab, apparently.  Still I will call them tuk-tuks for as long as that makes Gurmit laugh.

The tuk-tuks leave me with a sore posterior.  Going over the roads, which seem to be endlessly under construction and otherwise full of potholes, in a vehicle with a very thin cushioned seat, no seatbelts and nothing really to brace yourself against… it’s not good for your bum.  My back side is getting quite a workout though so who knows, maybe I’ll have to die for glutes at the end of this… doubt it, but one can always hope.

The tuk-tuk drivers have all been very friendly so far.  They practice their English on me and tell me that they don’t often get the chance to speak English.  Amritsar’s tourists tend to come in for a day, see the Darbar Sahib and go on their merry way in a tour bus, without stopping for more.  I can tell you that outside of the temple complex, I haven’t seen another non-Indian face anywhere.  It’s nice that they are friendly and want to make me feel comfortable by using their English, some more limited than others.  But apparently all of them have told Gurmit that she must teach me Punjabi.  That makes me laugh my head off because, though I am learning the language slowly, it is still kicking my butt every single day.  If I keep riding in the tuk-tuks, I’m not going to have much butt left to kick either.

I haven’t quite figured out the tuk-tuk system yet.  Gurmit seems to negotiate (she’s a lethal negotiator) a flat rate and then the driver will stop and wait while she does any number of errands on the way home.  He doesn’t seem to know about that in advance and he doesn’t seem to get upset about it either.  It seems to be just go with the flow.  Or my theory is that they’re a little afraid of Gurmit, after experiencing her negotiation skills they just don’t want to get into it further with her.

The tuk-tuks can also get you much closer to anywhere you want to be than a car or taxi, given how very small they are.  We’ve taken one right through the narrowest market I’ve ever seen (stopping along the way whenever something caught Gurmit’s eye – I like her style really; she’s really ballsy).

I’m getting used to the no-shocks, no-thrills rides in the tuk-tuks and talking to the drivers has been no end of fun.  I don’t think Gurmit has a lot of company and when she’s alone she walks everywhere, so I think it’s also fun for her to have these conversations (mostly about her guest from Canada and her visit to our wonderful country).

Frankly after three or four hours of washing dishes and peeling and chopping garlic and vegetables, I don’t know how she would have the energy to walk the 5 1/2 kilometres back to the house but, if she were alone that is what she would do.  She walks like an Olympic speed walker so my bet is that if we had a race between her walking and me in a tuk-tuk, the tuk-tuk is going down.

I wouldn’t take the tuk-tuk alone at night, it wouldn’t be safe.  This is still India and I’m still a female travelling solo.  The tuk-tuks are slow and open – no doors to lock yourself behind (or the world out) for that matter.  Plus they are so small, a criminally minded driver could have you down a dark alley very, very quickly at night and then…well, I’ll leave it there and you can imagine what you will.

To hear Gurmit and the other aunties tell it, everything is incredibly dangerous here at night including the tuk-tuks.  They all have a story about someone who has met with evil somehow, somewhere during the night.  Whether they carelessly forgot to triple lock their doors, or they left a window on the ground floor or they travelled more than 50 m from their home… if you listened to too many of their stories, you wouldn’t leave home ever again, much less at night.

And on that happy note, I’ll leave the post here.  Next time, we’ll talk about some of the other gurdwaras (so, so many gurdwaras here) and shopping for my 5 K’s.  Buying underwear in Amritsar is… an adventure.

Peace and love all
Preet

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