Saturday, March 15, 2014

Today was Golden Temple day. We saw it last night lit up and today in the sunshine. While the temple perhaps isn't as spectacular during the day, the colours are. Sikh men wear the most vividly coloured turbans and are very handsome. Especially the young men. Clear skin, beards and the most beautiful liquid brown eyes and the women wear gorgeous colours. Loose fitting tops and comfortable long pants. Eminently sensible in hot weather. It made me wonder why on earth Australian women are inflicted with clinging short tops and fitted garments in the summer.

We also saw behind the scenes. The philosophy at the Golden Temple is one of service. They will feed anyone and everyone for free without discrimination. This is done by volunteers. Our guide, Shiv told us on an average day they serve 50,000 meals; more on weekends and holidays. You can imagine the industrial scale needed to achieve this. We saw a chapatti making machine. The dough fed into a vat which somehow breaks them into chunks ( think scones) Then along a conveyer belt through a series of rollers which result in the end product, a flat round cooked chapatti. They also make them by hand on fire heated griddles. We were given a turn in cooking some. Well sort of. Didn't actually get to see one through from go to whoa. We saw huge cauldrons of vegetable curry, dhal and one cauldron of chai. They are served on metal plates and the clatter of these plates when being handled in such quantities is staggering. I've been to quieter rock concerts.

Before that though there was a visit to the monument at Jallianwala Bagh. You see the word Bagh a lot in place names. It means garden which in many cases is historical and/or is merely a patch of open unused land. This commemorates the scene of an infamous massacre in 1919 when many unarmed men. Women and children died after Brig. Gen. Reginald Dyer ordered his troops to open fire and shoot to kill. Depending on which account you read between 300 and 1500 lost their lives that day. In some places you can still see the bullet holes in the buildings. There is more to the story which is a fascinating one but I don't have time to recount it here. It is worth looking up though.

One other thing. We are often stopped by total strangers and asked if they can take photos with us. Our guide informed us that while westerners do visit it's not in numbers so great that we aren't a source of interest for some. There seems to be no particular group who does this. Young, old, male female, it makes no difference. The strangest one was an older lady with few teeth accompanied by some younger women and a couple of kids. We duly lined up with them. "No'" Said the guide they don't have a camera they just want you to take a photo." He shrugged as puzzled as we were by this. He duly took the photo and we showed it to them and they trooped off happy!

I think I love these puzzling little occurrences as much as the colour and sights of India.

It was back to the hotel for a couple of hours before heading off to Wagah which is the border with Pakistan. Every night they have the oddest border closing ceremony. The crowd is exuberant and noisy, hundreds and hundreds of them. Singing, chanting and dancing. Then formalities begin. Much posturing. Think the minister for silly walks run rampant on a military parade. Funniest thing I've seen in a long time, these impeccably turned out men and women, all chosen for their height it appears goose stepping and stamping all over the place.  

There is also a man in a dazzling white track suit and black cowboy hat who seemed to be emcee/cheerleader and microphone holder for the soldier whose job it was to stand stiffly to attention and emit a long loud noise at intervals. The best description of this comes from Mick who reckons he sounded like someone had his nuts in a squirrel grip. He seems to have been chosen for this role by the length of time he can sustain this noise without taking a breath, which alas wasn't as impressive as his counterpart on the other side of the border. This mutual serenade was synchronised. Almost like I can hold my breath longer than you contest.

Upon our return we decided it was time to eat. Now we'd been to the main restaurant the night before and we didn't fancy a big meal so headed to the rooftop bar and swimming pool. This pool appears to never be used but it doesn't prevent it bring the source of full time employment for several souls.  

We took our seats and a rather scared looking young man diffidently approached us with a menu. This made a change because we had the distinct impression that when guests do turn up to avail themselves of these facilities the 3 or 4 guys employed to take care of them seem to be at a loss what to do. The diffident young man took our drinks orders and sloped off only to return shortly after with older man with little English who informed us that we couldn't have drinks or anything else. Something about dancing was mentioned but as the only other patrons in the place were two 40 something turbaned Sikhs we couldn't for the life of us work out who was going to take part in this bacchanalian orgy of dancing.

So down to the dimly out "sports bar". When I say dimly I'm not exaggerating this windowless hidey hole is so dimly lit that one has to peer very closely at the menu. Another slightly disconcerting aspect of this venue is that the scatter cousins all have faces of what we presume to be sports people which was the cause of some amused speculation as to whose face each of us was sitting on.

The joint was really jumpin last night all of 6 of us at one time. The lone bloke on the bar stool. The two bespectacled middle aged men sporting large 70/s pimp spectacles ( or if you prefer spects and goggles as one shop sign calls it.). This put the staff to customer ratio at about 1:1)

Drinks came with the ubiquitous peanuts and yummy chilli pappadams. We have discovered that if we take our time with drinks and chow down on the nibbles they will be replaced. In our case last night we devoured 3 plates of yummy pappadams before taking Pity on the ever hovering staff member and ordering food. Sometimes it's fun to order something when you have no idea what it really is ("quotient of spiced chicken" in Paris springs to mind). In our case crispy dragon chicken sounded too exotic to pass up. Alas as is often the case the reality didn't live up to the fantasy. it was basically crumbed and deep fried chicken strips and the delightfully red looking sauce was tomato. Never mind it was tasty enough. As were the marinated veggies cooked in tandoor oven.

Today we return to New Delhi We have the morning free before returning on the Shatbadi Experess. The thing is our hotel is in what is basically a business area on a busy road which we were advised by our guide not to attempt to cross. Perhaps we will avail ourselves of the travel desk. Mind you if the English of that person is the same as the guy manning the icecream counter in the hotel foyer then we're in trouble. I was intrigued by the "swiss exotics" flavour and pointed to it. "What flavour is that?" I enquired.
"Icecream." He replied helpfully.
" yes, but what flavour?

"Icecream." Clearly proud of his achievement at bring able answer a question in English.

I smiled faintly and thanked him. I know when I'm beaten.

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