After another less-than-pleasant overnight train, we arrive around seven in the morning at the city of Amritsar, in Punjab province. Walking through the city early in the morning, pre-traffic, we are accompanied mostly by a few random people, stray dogs, and burning piles of the previous days garbage on the side of the road. With few auto-rickshaws (therefore lack of competition) around so early in the morning, we decide to walk the whole way, just a few kilometers, rather than settle for their inflated and hardly budging prices. Starving, we come across a restaurant at a big intersection and stop in for a bite. Ordering the ‘Special Amritsari Kulcha’, and some coffee. One of the best meals of the trip comes to our table in only a few minutes. Essentially a pizza dough, stuffed with onions and spices and baked until crisp. Spicy chickpea and spinach curry, curd (yogurt), and a really fresh salsa-like third dip accompany it. Blasting through that in minutes, we leave happy and make our way to the many choices of overpriced and scabby accommodation.
The Kulcha – Get In My Belly
Within the first day, we already find the amazing difference in the attitudes of the Punjabi people. Whether it’s that the majority of population is Sikh, or just the area in general, but so far the most friendly people we’ve met. At one point while looking for the bus station, a rickshaw driver gave us directions, for free(!) even after we declined his offer to drive us. Unheard of thus far in the trip. The only real sight to see in town is the Golden temple, Sikhism’s answer to the Vatican. A very impressive temple in the middle of a large pond, plated in 750kg of solid gold! We stopped by, took some pictures, booked our train, and left. Stopping for lunch, we meet some local businessmen who were more than happy to share some vodka with us, and on the way back home, we picked up a 2-6 for ourselves at the budget breaking price of six dollars! Before hopping the bus to our next destination, we returned for the same amazing breakfast of Kulcha two more days in a row.
The Golden Temple of Amritsar
A dusty seven hour bus ride later, we arrive in Dharamsala after dusk, and share a taxi with a couple other backpackers we met en-route. After driving up some of the steepest, windiest roads I’ve ever seen, at one point the four of us need to get out to lighten the load as the car couldn’t make it up a stretch without stalling, we get to McLeod Ganj. Early the next morning we finally get to check out the town we’ve been looking forward to for weeks. With views very similar to northern Nepal, this is the home to thousands of Tibetan refugees, the Tibetan Government-in-exile, and the residence of Tenzin Gyatso – The Dalai Lama, who just happened to be doing on of his very rare public teachings during this time. After signing up and receiving our passes, we spend the next few days eating amazing food, doing a bit of shopping, and hiking up to an awesome waterfall a few kilometers north of town. Other than being caught in a freezing rain storm on the first day of the teaching, the three days at the main temple were great, such an amazing experience to see such a wise and peaceful man in person. As an added bonus, random celebrity sighting on the second day, as Richard Gere passes right by us, and strangely, not a single person, local or foreigner seemed to notice! Enjoying the next couple days relaxing and soaking up the smiles and genuine friendliness of the locals, this is definitely the favorite spot thus far in India. It’s strange, most countries, and their people, seem to always want more, whether its wealth, or on larger terms, taking over other countries. While the Tibetan people seem only to want one simple thing, to be able to go back to their own country, and live in peace without persecution. Without getting into a rant, I”ll pass on what one Tibetan woman said to me in Nepal while we were discussing the situation: “China, Bullshit.”
Though it was sad to leave, time limits exist, so after an incredible week, we hop on another set of busses towards our next destination. Though choosing to do so on the country’s biggest festival of the year makes things interesting.