Gurdaspur & Batala: Gurdwara Shri Cholla Sahib, Achal Sahib and Mendhi

Good morning everyone,

I can’t believe the Kashmir trip is almost over!  Wow, too soon.  Way too soon.  We spent our last day in Gurdaspur and Batala and with Jagdeep’s auntie and her family near Batala.

After trying to find a few of the spots on our list, with no luck at all, we headed west toward Batala and the Pakistan border.  There was a major festival happening that day near Batala at a Hindu mandir.  Busy, busy, crazy roads.  Jagdeep mentioned that his father’s family lives nearby and that he hadn’t seen them for some time.  It was a beautiful day and the countryside that he was pointing out was also beautiful – rich greens from wheat production, white flowers and yellow mustard.  It all put me in a very good, very flexible mood, so taking the hint I suggested that, if they wouldn’t mind, we should stop in to see them.

What lovely people!  So, so genuinely nice!  They are a joint family (two brothers with their wives and children) who are running a wheat and mustard farm.  The elder of the two brothers is also part of the village’s conflict resolution system – the village Panchayat.  (This is a system that gets a lot of negative coverage in the news, often for good reason.  Panchayat’s in other villages have ordered beatings, rapes and even killings over things like two young people marrying within the same subcaste.)  To be clear, Jagdeep says that there has not been any honour killings in this village and that primarily this Panchayat functions more like a small claims court to settle neighbourhood and business disputes.   I can’t sit across from the uncle though and talk with him and believe that he could ever do anything to cause physical harm to anyone else.  He seems like a hard-working, kind man who is quite accepting of others and their situations and whose own nephew and son both have love marriages.  Quite the tangent right there.  The complicated and important topic of Panchayats, honour killings and forms of marriage in India are too much for this small space.

In any event, we spent a few hours with his father’s family, eating awesome food, chatting with the matriarch of the house and looking through the album for the youngest son’s ring ceremony.  They were so excited to show me pictures of their family.  What a lovely afternoon to spend with lovely people.

Afterward we visited two gurdwaras – Gurdwara Shri Cholla Sahib and Achal Sahib before heading back to Amritsar.  Beautiful but again, maybe because there was a day off for the Hindu festival, they were both very crowded.

We met another aggressive beggar outside Gurdwara Shri Cholla Sahib.  A man had approached me while Jagdeep was parking the car.  The man had no fingers on his hands, only stumps and he asked for some money.  I gave him a few rupees and then (again) was beset by a woman who also wanted money.  I gave her a few rupees as well.  She left us alone when she was told to go away but she reappeared when we came out of the gurdwara, wanting more.  I’ve said it before.  I can’t give to everyone and I can’t give everything otherwise I happily would.  She was fairly persistent, though less persistent that the woman in Mehandipur Belanji, but she still followed the car as we pulled away and tried to get back on the road.

As we pulled away, I was left with conflicting feelings of frustration because what I gave wasn’t seen to be enough, more frustration because we had to tell her to just go away, guilt because I couldn’t give more, and relief because she was probably not going to follow the car much further.  I hate feeling that way.  Hate it.

There’s no appropriate segue into the secondary topic today, so let’s get to it.  The little sister unit, the host unit and I were invited to a wedding before I went to Kashmir.  The little sister unit decided that she wanted to put mendhi (a henna paste which stains the skin an orange-brown colour) on my hands for the wedding.  She did a pretty decent job, I think.  She copied some designs from the internet and had some good skill at it.  Then she free-styled her mother’s hands.

I copied a floral design onto her palm and fingertips as well.  I tried to stick with the pattern we found online as best I could.  I think it turned out decent actually.

The staining lasted about two weeks and was still on my hands while I was in Kashmir.  It faded to almost nothing by the end of the trip though.

I learned quite a bit about mendhi while we were having this fun.

 First, mendhi has a smell that I think is unpleasant.  It’s not offensive, just not pleasant.  Who would have thought?

Second, if you wash your hands with soap right away much of the mendhi will come out but not all of it.  You’ll be left with bright orange stains.

Third, if you first let the mendhi dry and then dot it carefully with oil and then let that dry before scraping off the henna paste, the staining will darken to a deep brown colour.

Fourth, the mendhi will continue to darken for days before it begins to fade.

Once it’s all dry, you scrape it off with the back (blunt) side of a knife or other firm, thin piece of metal.  The scraping is messy and if you get anything wet, you’ll have henna stains in places you don’t expect.  It’s really very messy.  But it’s a lot of fun.

There are now press on mendhi (like press on tattoos) that come in a variety of patterns and colours if you want to forego the messy, traditional mendhi.

There are special mendhi patterns for weddings that can include having a bride and groom painted in the palms of the bride’s hands.  There are also patterns that are more reflective of regions.  For example, Kashmiri mendhi has its own patterns, Punjabi another, Himachali still another.  After a while, you can begin to tell the traditional designs apart.

Mendhi is traditionally applied in different places for different purposes.  Whenever it is applied though it is in celebration.  It can be applied on the palms or tops of the hands and the soles or tops of the feet.  Sometimes the fingertips and nails are even stained (and usually nail polish applied to the nail) to darken the entire tip.  Really good mendhi artists can create amazing pieces of temporary art with this staining technique.  The little sister unit has learned a few skills with the mendhi, applying it quickly and lightly when she wants some shading and thicker and slower when she wants more definition.

I had a good time letting the little sister unit stain my hands before Kashmir.  I’ve since let her stain my feet, where she created more very cool designs.  We always have a lot of fun when we’re doing it, even though it involves several hours of not moving too much afterward while we wait for the henna to dry.

I found though that the staining leaves my skin feeling rough.  Somehow, it seems to dry out my already very, dry skin, leaving it feeling a lot like fine sandpaper.  Sigh.  If you have dry skin you might want to think about heavily moisturizing if you’re going to try mendhi.  Do it after the staining though.  As I’ve learned, applying moisturizer before the mendhi can leave the staining light in weird places and streaky.

So there you go, mendhi tips. Do it, if you get a chance.  It’s fun and very, very temporary.  If/when I marry again, I’m going to let them mendhi every available inch of skin below my knees and elbows.  Ha!

My time in Amritsar is drawing close, dear readers.  Holi and Hola Maholla are just around the corner.  I have a little more than a week left in India before I get on a plane and return to my very, very cold home in the north.  I’m going to miss this place – at least until the next trip.

Until the next post,

Peace and love all,
Himmatpreet

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