Friday, September 23, 2011

Amritsar: actually quite a lot of "huh?!"

I mean that in the most wonderful, appreciative way, though. It's a curious and friendly place! Besides the Golden Temple, here are some reasons why it is so droll:

- the Wagah border ceremony. Every day India and Pakistan close the gate between their two countries with much fanfare. It is part pep rally (cheers and shouts, mostly something like "Hindustan Zindabad!" and "Joo-la joo-lay Pakistan!"), part dance party (but only for the Indian ladies it seems?), and part, well, ceremony. Soldiers with big hats walk very briskly and then kick their legs high and stomp their feet.

India side: big deal!

Pakistan side: not such a big deal

- the friendliness of the people. This is not "huh?!" so much as "thanks!" A high-school-aged guy named Tarun saw me on the street and just stopped to see if I was all right, then asked for my email and later emailed me to make sure. And then there was Shahjahan M.V. (nickname: Shaju) and his English language school: he saw me in an internet cafe, then invited me to stop by his shop and talk with his students, so I did.

Shahju, Mr. Khan, and me

Dramatic pose

If you're in Amritsar, look them up, and go talk with them as well! It was fun to talk with the students, and they sure appreciated it. It's called "Brainstormers", they're near the bus stand, and you can reach Shaju at shaju_mv2007 at the rate of, or 9814947937. ("at the rate of" = Hinglish for "@")

(they invited me to join them for lunch. they asked what I like for lunch, "rice?" I said that I generally preferred breads, thinking y'know, like chapati. hilariously, they arranged sandwiches of white bread and jelly, thinking that I'd prefer such western food. d'oh.)

- The place I stayed, with couchsurfer Narinderjit. Here's where it was:

and here's what it looked like:

So Mr. Singh was very friendly. I guess this was his family's home, he rented it out as a guesthouse, and then he also used it to host couchsurfers, while he stayed at his son's place in the city. Meanwhile, a staff of non-English-speakers kept up the place and ran it as a restaurant/"canteen". People would come there for parties.
Also, through a curious government arrangement, a group of 5 dancers plus a DJ would come there to perform a Bhangra show every night.

This was a little odd when the audience consisted almost entirely of me and Mr. Singh. But it was fun to watch.

If you're a couchsurfer, do look up Mr. Narinderjit Singh in Amritsar. He's not hard to find; he's one of about three real hosts there. On the down side, his place is about 10km outside the city (10 rupee shared auto-rickshaws are common, but it's still 30 min rickshaw + 30 min walk to get to the city), water can be sporadic, and sometimes parties last too late at night. But on the up side, he's friendly and it's a nice place otherwise. Did I mention the swimming pools?

- Punjabi food: great! I guess their specialty is dairy products, and you can indeed get paneer a million ways, and their own special lassis. (they tasted like normal lassis to me, with occasional chunks; like thin, sweet cottage cheese.) Also there is "Kulcha", which is like the idealized form of paratha: hotter, crispier, more flavorful, and served with chickpeas.

- the only downside: the heat. I guess this is not Amritsar or Punjab's fault, just that lowlands India is pretty intolerable for much of the year. Every day, somehow, I'd end up sweaty, grimy, and with black gunk in my hair. I couldn't wash clothes fast enough. Eww!

Fortunately, now I'm in McLeod Ganj (by Dharamsala) and everything is wonderful. It's hilly and beautiful, maybe 70-some degrees, and easy in most of the ways that India often isn't. Every guesthouse looks pretty good, every restaurant looks pretty good, few touts. Some may call it "touristy", and it is that indeed, but that's okay (and maybe I'll go on about this in the future). But! I should not spend all day on the internet, so that's all for now.

1 comment:

  1. We watched some youtube videos of the Wagah border ceremony. Hilarious. ("World's most ridiculous border") We were howling at the Texas two step. The soldiers look like jurassic creatures with mohawk/fans strutting their stuff. Great, great pictures and text. Rick Steves would be jealous.