Saturday, 22 September 2012

Amritsar


Short train story again. While we're waiting for the train that is already 2 hours late, we watch the platform life around us. People walking with huge parcels on their heads, hundreds are sleeping on the platform's dirty concrete, children are crawling on parents heads, people go to toilet right on tracks in front of everyone without shame, people jump across tracks instead of taking the bridge, they burp, they blow their noses with their hands ... but now it looks so normal. I'm so used to India now that it almost feels like home.
Our waiting seat tickets didn't get confirmed, and so it's another night on the floor. I slept on the bed for an hour when the lawful owners arrived, and I went to sleep on the compartment floor. The ticket inspector came at 3am! (Our tickets were already checked before). He kicked my leg (wake up!). I open my eyes, look at him turn around and go back to sleep. He kicks me again. I open my eyes, sit up. He said "ticket". I look at him, lie down and go to sleep. He kicks me again.
- What?? I ask him
- Ticket!
- No Hindi ... E N G L I S H!
- TICKET!!
- Oh, ticket ... there! I point in Andy's direction who sleeps on the floor of another compartment. So pretty much pointing AT the wall.
He finally gave up, gestured something with his hand and stormed off. I lied back down laughing out loud when it all was making sense to me. The guy who has the authority to kick us off the train, fine us, or come up with any excuse, just waved his hand at me and left. Well, they shouldn't check tickets at 3am!
Slept till 2:30pm and took a 3 hour cycle rickshaw tour. Saw a panorama museum showing local life and battles with appropriate sound effects. Maharaja paintings and battle scenes. People loved him because he helped them and saved them. When they took over a village, he ordered not to ruin the mosques, or hurt women/children/crops.
Went to a temple that has a Disneyland feel to it. The strangest temple I've ever seen. It had colored stones and mirror mosaic, different gods and dolls and people, there is a lying Buddha. It's like a supermarket temple, you can come to worship anybody you like. There are caves which you have to crawl through, water passages and mazes. Who created such a thing??
Andy is still feeling bad and I got tired of looking at him being sick all the time. What's up with men not wanting to look for help? I saw a clinic next to the temple, sponsored by the temple. I talked to our cycle driver that Andy needs to see a doctor now, he in turn talked to some shack owner, and they took Andy into the clinic. For some reason he was given priority to go to the doctor in front of other 20 people who were waiting to see him. Andy paid 10 cents for the doctor visit. When he went inside the office he said that there were 3 other guys talking and laughing while the doctor was holding Andy's help. He prescribed Andy 3 days of antibiotics, rehydration powder and some good bacteria powder. All the meds cost $1.60. He told him for 3 days to only eat rice, dhal, apples and bananas. After 3 days, Andy couldn't look anymore at any of these items :)
On the walls of the clinic there was a sign "Sex determination test is not done here", and inside the clinic a poster "Whether it’s a boy or a girl I won't tell. My honor for money I won't sell".
(LP) Dowry, although illegal, is still a key issue in many arranged marriages with some families plunging into debt to raise the required cash and merchandise (from cars and computers to washing machines and televisions). Health workers claim that India's high rate or abortion of female fetuses (despite sex identification medical tests being banned in India, they still secretly occur in some clinics) is predominantly due to the financial burden of providing a daughter's dowry.
We then saw a silver temple and a memorial field:
On April 13, the traditional festival of vaisakhi, thousands of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh gardens in Amritsar.
The people assembled there to conduct a meeting, peacefully protesting against the arrest of two leaders of the Indian National Congress. It was a peaceful protest and the people who gathered there were all unarmed.
An hour after the meeting began as scheduled at 4:30 pm, British Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer came along with a group of sixty-five Gurkha and twenty-five Baluchi soldiers into the Bagh. Fifty of them were armed with rifles. The Jallianwala Bagh was surrounded on all sides by houses and buildings and had few narrow entrances. Most of them were kept permanently locked. The main entrance was relatively wider, but was guarded by the troops backed by the armored vehicles.
General Dyer without warning the crowd to disperse blocked the main exits. He explained later about this act; "was not to disperse the meeting but to punish the Indians for disobedience." Dyer ordered his troops to begin shooting towards the densest sections of the crowd (including women and children). Firing continued for approximately ten minutes. Cease-fire was ordered only when ammunition supplies were almost exhausted, after approximately 1,650 rounds were spent.
Many people died in stampedes at the narrow gates or by jumping into the solitary well on the compound to escape the shooting. A plaque in the monument at the site, set up after independence, says that 120 bodies were pulled out of the well. The wounded could not be moved from where they had fallen, as a curfew was declared and many more died during the night.
The number of deaths caused by the shooting is disputed. While the official figure given by the British inquiry into the massacre is 379 deaths, the method used by the inquiry has been subject to criticism. In July 1919, three months after the massacre, officials were tasked with finding who had been killed by inviting inhabitants of the city to volunteer information about those who had died. This information was incomplete due to fear that those who participated would be identified as having been present at the meeting, and some of the dead may not have had close relations in the area.
Since the official figures were probably flawed regarding the size of the crowd (15,000–20,000), the number of rounds shot and the period of shooting, the politically interested Indian National Congress instituted a separate inquiry of its own, with conclusions that differed considerably from the Government's inquiry. The casualty number quoted by the Congress was more than 1,500, with approximately 1,000 getting killed. The Government tried to suppress information of the massacre but news spread in India and widespread outrage ensued. Yet, the details of the massacre did not become known in Britain until December 1919.

We were sitting on the bench when 2 guys came over to ask us where we're from. 5 seconds later we were surrounded by 20 or even more people around us. What is this, a circus show? Andy was taking his pills at that time which called for an even larger audience. Everybody is shaking our hands, saying hello, that didn't happen in a while (Amristar is not very touristic), and I became a wife again :) but they're very nice in here, ask for permission to take pictures, are educated and clean. They're the Punjab people, the ones who wear a turban on their heads. I think they're the richest people in India.
Went to the famous golden temple, the most sacred place for the Sikhs. The most holy text of Sikhism, is always present inside the temple. Its construction was mainly intended to build a place of worship for men and women from all walks of life and all religions to come and worship God equally. 1300 kg gold was used to make golden temple.
No shoes are allowed, and inside it's very clean, quiet, volunteers are everywhere, free kitchen, 100s are volunteering with making it, serving it, cleaning the dishes. The temple sits in the middle of an artificial pool. This water is considered to be holy, and many people are drinking that water, the same water where 100s of people are taking their holy dips and hell knows what else. A small boat circles the pool collecting the tiniest garbage, usually just fallen leaves. I waited for about half an hour to get into the temple in a huge line where there was no pushing and shoving. Complete order. We had to leave the shoes and the bags outside in the lockers, but the Punjab people were walking with huge swards hanging from their waists. Inside the temple the prayers have begun. A dozen or so men were sitting on the floor with sacred prayer books and chanting for an hour with their prayers being transmitted through the speakers around the whole temple complex. The words like karaoke were changing on the screens in the corners of the complex. In the evening it was nice when the whole place got dark and only the temple glowing in the middle.
A bit of history: In June 1984, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered an attack on an influential Sikh leader who wanted equal rights for them in India. He was holed up inside the Golden Temple. Because the government chose to attack the temple on a religious day, more than 1,000 innocent people died as it was full of devotees. This attack caused an outrage in the Sikh community. Four months after the attack, Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards, leading to a massacre in which thousands of Sikhs lost their lives.
On October 31, 1984 Beant Singh drew a .38 revolver and fired three shots into her abdomen. As she fell to the ground, Satwant Singh pumped all 30 rounds from his Sten automatic weapon into her crumpled body. At least seven bullets penetrated her abdomen, three her chest and one her heart. The Prime Minister was dead. The two Sikhs then calmly dropped their guns. As other security guards seized them, Beant Singh said 'I've done what I had to do. You do what you want to do.' Beant Singh then was killed by gunfire while Satwant Singh was arrested and later sentenced to death.

In the morning met a girl who we saw in Rishikesh, Allie, Rich, and his friend Martin. This Rich guy is a strange dude, he looks crazy and aggressive and constantly talked about cage fighting, prison, drugs, and talked so much, that Martin couldn't even put a word in. In fact for about half a day, I didn't know that his name is Martin.
We all went to town to an internet cafe and to have lunch.
I have 10 more days before my visa expires in India, and I need to plan my next steps. I want to go to Nepal, and I was researching border crossings towns, exchange rates and visas. All seems good, and then I check the weather "July and August are the worst times to go to Nepal. It's a monsoon season, most treks are closed or dangerous". Ok, I guess I can't go to Nepal then. What about Tibet? I find out that there is no border crossing between India and Tibet, I have to go through Nepal, then I hear from Martin that Tibet is closed this year to tourism due to unstable political situation. Great! I have 10 more days and no plan. I leave internet cafe a bit hazy.
Amritsar is only 30 or so kms from Pakistan border, and every day there is a border closing ceremony. We all take a tuk-tuk to the border. The ceremony starts at 6pm. We arrived there at 4:45 and there were at least 1000 people in the lineup already. Most of them are men, and all of them are staring at us. There are separate lineups for men and women. For men it's 1000 people, for women it's about 100. After a long time they open a small gate and the craziness begins. Everybody starts pushing in, and it becomes a mob rather than a lineup. Andy and Martin are somewhere in the front and I can't even see them anymore, I get separated from other girls who we met, but Rich stayed with me. There is no other way than forward. Rich tells me if I feel like I'm gonna fall or if someone will be pushing me so hard that I'll feel like falling, elbow people and punch people. You cannot fall in here, you'll be run over. I'm taking the tiniest steps forward surrounded on all sides with no exit. The guards yell at Rich to go to another line, but he holds my hand and yells at them that I'm his wife and I'm scared, keep on moving, do not stop he tells me. Children are being passed over the top of the fence. Some people don't make it into the hole and are smashed against the wall crying. I passed the hole and could easily walk. I have no idea why they couldn't open the gate all the way and just let everybody walk freely. I thought that was it, but then we get stopped for security check. All men and women got separated at that point. They were holding us, keeping us in place. But the mob was on the edge of exploding like an overfilled balloon. Like a hurricane getting closer, you can feel it's presence it's calm, calm, but you know that hell will break lose any minute now. There is a barrier on the left between men and women and a rope fence on the right. Guys are pushing so hard that the barrier starts to crack and I have a feeling it will break any second now. I'm standing on the right side near the rope fence getting ready to jump over if anything will happen. The army/police is with sticks hitting people on the heads. I saw Andy getting hit a few times. They told the men to sit down. What a bad idea. If you sit in the front and people from the back will start running, all the people in the front would just get run over. Rich sat down, but was facing the crowd. Smart! The people from the back keep pushing. The police would whistle, hit a few heads, and it would quiet down for a few seconds, then the balloon gets filled some more. Men are held in a place when the metal detector gets opened at the women's side. The detectors are useless, there are so many people pushing through it with such speed that the police wouldn’t be able to react if anything had happened. Everybody is pushing from all the sides, and it's getting very dangerous. I remember Rich's words, if you'll fall down, you won't get up. I turn around and push the woman behind me. I yell at her. "I'm from Canada, in Canada we don't push people!". I can just imagine the same situation in Canada. It would go something like that: "No, you go first - No, no, kind sir, after you, please go ahead". I approach the metal detector and my knees starting to shake, there is no way to be at the side of the line, you have to be right in the middle of it. I look at the female officer at the detector grabbing some woman by the hair, shaking her violently back and forth and then throwing her through the crowd to the ground. On the men's side Rich feels the danger, breaks the sitting down code, gets up and starts running. Everybody starts running and the army becomes useless. On our side, the officer looks like a mad dog with a woman's face on it. She growls at people showing her teeth (kliki), grabs them by cloths and shoves them with all her force through the detector. It could fit maybe 2 people side by side, but 4 of us were squeezed through it with a hard push on the back. There's no amount of words can describe this experience. It felt like out of the movie when some catastrophe was happening and all of millions of people have 5 minutes to escape. I was really scared for my life. When I met up with Andy he was saying: What a great Indian spirituality. Fuck you mother fuckers and fuck your babies while taking imaginary people and kicking them with his knees in their stomachs. Mind you that Andy doesn't usually swear. At the end, there is more than enough space for everybody. Especially for us foreigners there was a special section reserved. That's just an Indian mentality that there won't be enough space, that you have to fight to get anything or to get anywhere.
It seems that everybody forgot how they were pushing each other out of the way, and was dancing happily in the circle before the ceremony began. The ceremony itself was ok. Army people were dressed in uniforms, shouting something, walking with huge steps waving their arms forwards and backwards, then stopping and high kicking. It seemed that there was a competition, who could kick higher, the Indian side or the Pakistan side? Half of the people on Indian side were not singing. Where is their national pride, and what was all the shoving for? The least you could do is sing! On the Pakistan side, the men and women were sitting separately. The women were so quite, only the men were yelling.
After coming back we all agreed that without the mob experience the ceremony would be not worth coming to :)

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Amritsar

5 comments:

  1. А ты меня перепутали своим блогом: ты начала описывать заварушку в Amritsar, написала "в апреле", но не написала, в каком году, и вот я читаю и думаю, что это все сейчас при тебе происходило, в общем мне немного поплохело, пока я не поняла, что ты историю описываешь:)
    mama

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  2. Thanks for another great adventure..
    Love them..
    I wish I had done something like that.

    Ken

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  3. Loooove your blog !!!

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  4. One of the most potent experiences of my trip. Glad we all survived!
    Andy

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  5. Yana

    You have a very intriguing blog. I have been reading for past 4 hours. Almost non-stop. You are one hell of a brave girl. Kudos to you!

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