[This was the day I arrived in India for the first time – the country where my Gorrie grandfather had made his living and my mother had spent the first 8 years of her life. Of course in the 1920s there was no division between Pakistan and India and they felt equally at home in both, as I did, returning 50 years later. The border area we drove through was all the Punjab.
The first main stop was at Amritsar and its golden temple – the heartbeat of the Sikh religion – and a hugely impressive place. In a letter home, I was obviously as taken with the people as the amazing temple: ‘There was a great holiday atmosphere. Some of the Sikhs in their bright turbans and dark beards look really gorgeous!’]
SUNDAY 28TH NOVEMBER, 1976
“Left Lahore, soon at the border. Hours there while got through health checks, immigration and customs. They hassled Mary [from New Zealand] over stamp on her health card and Pam and Sue [Australian] because theirs not stamped. Two doctors very stubborn about cards. Sue and Pam injected. They suggested a bribe which Geoff had been expecting. One took a foamy! Layed on grass by a milk bar – lovely milk shake. Nice shady trees, flowers, cooing of birds – very pleasant. Eventually got away.
Headed for Amritsar along nice countryside – greener fields and trees all the time, fairly rich area. Got to Amritsar late afternoon and left bus by the station – not allowed over the bridge. Got tricycles into town – me and Neva perched dangerously on this tricycle with a very young lad peddling! He was sweating away! We had hilarious hair-raising journey, dodging through the mass of tongas, tricycles, scooters, bicycles – they came from all directions! Then we all had to get off tricycles and walk up the bridge. Coming down the other side the boy sped away overtaking everyone on a sharp corner. We were nearly thrown – Neva said I was as white as a sheet! Through bazaar streets, passed cows wandering oblivious among the traffic!
Dropped us outside Sikh Golden Temple. Gave in our shoes and socks, given scarves for heads (tied like a pirate – blokes given them too). Not allowed to take in cigarettes either. Padded through trough of water before going through big archways. Huge square with tank taking up most of the room with golden temple in the middle. Marble promenade all around with white and pink arcades and various mausoleums and stalls of holy drinking water at various stages. One mausoleum dedicated to somebody Singh who’d led attack to regain temple in about the 17th century and had fought on almost headless, only letting his head drop when reached the temple. Temple was often desecrated and Sikhs persecuted up till 18th century – great fighters, kept fighting back for it.
Sikhism begun by Guru Nanak (15th century), bridging the gap between Islam and Hinduism – emphasis on non sectarianism. Went across bridge to Temple – people touched stone on floor by doorway to the bridge and again at doorways to shrine. Beautifully gold plated covering outside of temple shining in the evening light – one main dome and lots of little ones round parapet. Followed queue into inside. Lots of elderly women and men sitting round inside while musicians sat cross-legged beating drum and playing 2 electric pianos and singing continuously from Holy Book – all this was relayed to outside.
Dishing out free meals inside – sweet stuff served in leaf type dishes. People giving money and bright orange flowers. Some went upstairs where men reading out of huge big books and looking down on the scene below. Out of second door, circled round temple – others stopping to bathe with tank water before moving on and touching 2 other doorsteps.
Amazing place – felt quite privileged to have this opportunity to get to the heart of the temple. All so open in their prayer. Saw fellas stripping and going into tank and immersing selves. Sikhs put up anyone who comes to the temple and give free food – some people have misused this sadly.
Got lift back with same boy – fled downhill again – Neva tugging at him to slow down – he found this very funny and went faster. Went with Neva and Janice to station cafe – taken by a little man in white who then serve us – had lovely coffee (though sweetened) – much cheaper than British Rail! Vast, dark, old fashioned station restaurant.
Camped along wayside after dark – had eaten by road earlier. Dead dog in ditch by tents – Hans buried it.”