Adventures in Amritsar

25th Feb

It was an early start, departing Delhi and catching the train, heading North to Amritsar.

The station was crowed Indian mayhem and even with all the hundreds of bodies, we certainly don’t blend in. Our white skin seems to glow even brighter than the colourful pashminas that surround us. Everybody is staring.

I liked the train. It had a rustic ‘old school’ charm about it. A little man in a green polo shirt made his way through the carriages with complimentary refreshments such as lime water in a yogurt pot and India’s version of a rich tea biscuit.

Both me and Mum were speechless as the train tracks made their way through miles and miles of total poverty. Words struggle to explain. Old men, twice as thin as me. How is that even possible? Thousands of people were squatting, pooing by the train tracks on the heaps of waste. Do you look away? I didn’t want to stare but at the same time, you can’t ignore it. You can’t pretend that it’s not happening in the world – people behaving like animals because they have no choice. People in agony from starvation. Neither of us wanted to speak for a while. We stared out of the train window onto the rainbow of litter and pain. A hard hitting reminder how blissful our lives are and how any problems we have back at home, really are quite trivial.

After about 5 hours, we arrived in Amritsar. Today the driving experience was less Mario Kart, more Dodgems. Cars pressed up against tuk tuks, against bicycles, against scooters against, oh – yep, it’s a cow. There are no rules in the carparks, no rules on the roads. The beeps lack any form of meaning because everyone just does it constantly. Beep! Beep! Beep!

26th Feb

My oh my. Today was quite something. I’m actually feeling quite a lot of pressure to write about it because it was nothing less than extraordinary and I fear that my diary entry won’t do it justice.

As a memory of the day, I bought a Sikh bracelet. It is a silver bangle that now hangs on my right wrist and the idea is that it is a reminder to ‘always do the good thing, the right thing.’

70% of the population in Amritsar are Sikhs – the highest Sikh population in the world. We learned a lot about what it means to be Sikh from our amazing guide for the day – Gobind.

Gobind himself, identifies as a New Sikh. New Sikhs are generally quite relaxed and just live by the rule of being a good, kind, compassionate, respectful person.

Sikhism in general is an incredibly loving and understanding religion and this is shown in the principles of The Golden Temple. The fact that it has four entrances means that they welcome everybody – whatever skin colour, gender, religion or sexuality.

To visit The Golden Temple, out of respect, you must remove your shoes and cover up bare skin, including wearing a headscarf of some sort.

The sky was bright blue and the colours around us from the people and their attire – my goodness, it was electric. And when I say people… Tens of thousands of people. Crowds. Crazy crowds. And yet, somehow, I felt peaceful and safe.

The temple was grand and proud and at the same time, humble and inviting. It felt like the world was going in slow motion – it was just so, so different to anything I have ever seen before now.

Next to the temple is the communal kitchen. Run entirely by volunteers, they serve free food to over 30,000 people every single day. It was manically busy but ran like a well oiled machine. Groups for washing up, groups for chapati making, groups for stirring the mammoth bowl of dhal: jam-packed with lentils, kidney beans and warming spices.

Thousands of people sit on the floor, all together and consume the free food. Sikhs believe in togetherness. We are all equal. Show love for everybody, care for everybody. We sat amongst some of the fast working volunteers and helped to roll out some dough for the chapatis.

Gobind then took us into some sacred private rooms where readings of The Holy Book were taking place. I don’t think we were allowed in here, but Gobind believes in ‘good intentions’ so even though it was technically ‘not allowed,’ because we were doing no harm, all was OK. The same goes for taking us onto a rooftop to see the most incredible view – the blazing sun shining over The Golden Temple and the sea of multicolour surrounding it.

We then visited the historic Jallianwala Bagh, which commemorates the hundreds of Indians killed or wounded by British bullets in the most notorious massacre under their rule. It caused a lump in my throat to see the sign “shots started to fire here X” and to see the bullet holes through the wall.

After taking some time to rest, and filling up on fresh naan, brown grain rice, paneer masala and fragrant dhal – we were ready for The Golden Temple adventure 2.0. This time, under the moonlight.

As we made our way there, me and Mum joked what would happen if we photo-bombed someone’s photo. They’d probably love it! We’d make their day! I mean, everyone wants a photo with us anyway (we’d been pestered as though we were celebrities all day), so imagine how thrilled they would be if we just jumped in to surprise them.

Behold, two young men with turbans were taking a photo. All of a sudden, we were both overcome with confidence. Without any real consultation we just ran in and did it – cheesy grin, thumbs up, we sprung in between the camera and the two men.

Oh dear. They’re not laughing. They don’t get it. Sense of humour failure. They’re angry. Abort! Abort!

Like two naughty school girls, the sudden seriousness of it all made it even more hysterical. Run away!!! Howling with laughter, we ran through the crowds. I ran, cradling my backpack, still laughing, but also scared, hoping they wouldn’t be chasing us. I don’t think I’ve ever known my Mum to do something so juvenile and silly. She’s pretty cool, I thought to myself.

Jokes aside, we were seconds away from seeing the temple now. Sandals off, through the water, under the arch and…

Speechless.

My eyes flooded with I don’t know what. Emotion? Awe? I was transfixed. I’m not sure if I breathed for a while.

If you imagine the colour gold in your head, but a gold that is golder than gold – a gold that is dazzling. A gold that even in the pitch black, would still be gold. A gold that brings every man, every woman, every sound in nature to silence. A gold that is so gold, it doesn’t truly exist.

But, it does exist. In the state of Punjab, the city of Amritsar, it exists and it’s called The Golden Temple.

The Mother-Daughter adventure to India

24th Feb, 2017

I’m sat in a King-sized bed next to my Mum, sipping on chamomile flower tea. (Apparently we are Mr and Mrs on the reservations and there are no twin rooms left). The tea tastes delicate and sweet – far from the adjectives that I would use to describe New Delhi. But before I tell you about our Indian adventures, let me tell you about our journey here – how it’s been a bit mad from the start really…

23rd Feb

“Our flight is cancelled!” My Mum screeched down the phone to me before 8am.

Well, it’s not is it.

London Heathrow are cancelling ‘some’ flights due to the bolshy nature of Hurricane Doris – but we cannot assume that ours will be a no go.

Convinced that we won’t be flying tonight, Mum still gathered up her bags and made her way to London from North Yorkshire. The plan was to have lots of reunion hugs, laughter and excitement over a leisurely dinner, before making our way to Heathrow Terminal 3 together. Wouldn’t that be boring and predictable though? So instead, the world decided to invent hurricane Doris which blew a factory roof onto the train tracks, which meant Mum almost got to London, but then had to turn back to Peterborough, catch 3 separate trains, be given false hope about a replacement bus service, follow a strange man because he told her he knew the quickest way across London, then not even be able to get off the train at one point due to the amount of human beings bunched up shoulder to shoulder, boob to boob, armpit to face.

She wouldn’t have made it in time to come to my flat first, so instead we met each other at Heathrow. Seeing as her blood pressure was already at a sprinting pace, it makes sense to just keep that running on a role, right? She had got one of those silly combination locks for her suitcase (I told her not to) and already she had locked herself out. Classic. Then, during security, she set off every beep possible. So many beeps – she’s practically released her own electro / techno album. She then had a heated discussion with a security guard as to whether the toothpaste in her clear cosmetic bag was the 100ml limit?

1) Hurricane Doris
2) Locked out of Suitcase
3) Security nightmare feat. Carolyn’s Rave mix

They say bad things come in threes. Maybe they (whoever they are) are right. The flight was ever so smooth and the 9 hours went by very quickly (literally quicker than Mum’s journey North Yorkshire — London).

New day, new rule. The queue through visa control was pretty painful – about two hours, moving slower than a snail. I saw a sign saying, “New Delhi, World’s Best Airport for the last two years.” Yeah, Ok…

Through security, we had to get readings of our fingerprints from the germ scattered / hand-sanitiser-sticky screen. Mine didn’t read too well and the security guard was not happy about it. “WOT IZ DIS!?” he yelled in a thick Indian accent as I tried to push my left thumb into the screen for the sixth time. He also aggressively quizzed me on my whereabouts. “Why you come to India? How long you stay? Who you come with?”

Then I thought he asked who my Professor was, to which I replied, “I don’t have a professor, but I work in a university.” Then I realised that he was asking me, “what’s your PROFESSION?” So even though he did not care whether I have a professor or not, I still technically answered his question.

The man waiting with the sign “Carolyn Mulligan” was a little annoyed that he had been waiting, getting a dead arm holding up that sign for over two hours.

On our way, on our way! When people tell you about the traffic and the noise in India being manic and insane, they do not lie. It was like Mario Kart, scoring extra points if you don’t hit the goat.

The hotel we are staying at is quite luxurious but in a very busy area that feels quite unsafe. A lovely girl, Leena, with a beautiful smile and kind eyes showed us to our room and treated us like we were precious jewels from a far away land.

No matter how much others warn you, we were still overwhelmed by the busyness of it all. Just at the right time, as our blood sugars reached a low point, we came across a kiosk serving chai tea, surrounded by locals. I ordered a ginger chai, jam-packed with warmth and flavour. I savoured every sip. We found a clear spot – sat, drank and listened to the music.

My dinner also received a gold star for flavour. It was a cauliflower curry from the ‘Medieval Delhi’ section of the menu. The popadoms were served with a chutney that – I can only describe as hot. I actually felt my stomach burn a bit. But that might be due to the fact that we haven’t eaten much today. Where did today even begin?

Which brings be back to the here and now. Somewhere in the last few paragraphs it became 24th February. So here I am: the evening of 24th Feb, in a king sized bed, drinking chamomile tea, wondering what the exciting, scary, enchanting India has in store for us….

The countdown to India

For the last few years I have fantasised about India. The fragrance, the textures, the tastes and the noise. The decadence and the dirt. I knew that one day I would do whatever I needed to do in order to visit the country that was a mysterious, enticing dream to me.

Cue January sales.

It’s happening. Last minute deal. Absolute steal.

I’d happily go and travel alone again, I thought (much to my parents’ horror). Or – do any of my good friends want to go with me? ANY TAKERS? That would be cool. I knew as soon as I saw that deal online that I was definitely going to go (subject to work giving me the OK, which luckily they did!)…But I knew the chances of any of my friends also wanting / able to jet off to New Delhi in a few weeks time was pretty slim.

Alone it is.

I thought I should be a good daughter and keep my Mum in the loop. I sent her a text message.

 “Hey Mum. I’m going to book a trip to India tonight. Wanna come?”

I smiled to myself at my hilarity. Of course Mummy Mulligan won’t want to go to India. Carolyn Routine Mulligan. Carolyn Everything Must Be Clean Mulligan. Carolyn The Biggest Worrier In The World Mulligan.

Beep Beep. My phone buzzed.

Hey Mum. I’m going to book a trip to India tonight. Wanna come?

“Yes.”

I’m sorry, what?

Of course, I gave her a call to clarify that she meant to agree to something else. Such as Dad wanting confirmation that dinner would be at 6pm like it has been every evening for the past 30 years of their marriage.

To my disbelief, my Mum wanted to travel to India with me. And not just lie on a beach and be served cocktails (she wouldn’t like that anyway because she gets sun stroke really easily). But she actually wanted to travel through the North of India with me, exploring, travelling by train, making our way to the foothills of the Himalayan mountains.

I am beyond excited! I know I make fun of Mummy Mulligan, but she knows I love her dearly and she knows she is one of my best friends.

MUM AND DAUGHTER ADVENTURE.

But now the departure date is very fast approaching, I think it has dawned on her what she has signed up for. When I was trying to explain to her what the humidity would feel like – she gulped and her face turned grey.

She has turned to buying Yakult drinks and over-priced probiotic tablets in an attempt to prepare her stomach for what’s to come.

Her Google search is an obsessive repetitive list of ‘Weather in Delhi’ / ‘Tourist scams in India’

She is losing sleep at night at the thought of not being able to drink Yorkshire tea.

“I’m taking my own teabags.” She told me.

I’m going to just let her be and do her thing. But I can’t wait to see her face light up as we sample chai tea together. The real deal.

The countdown to India begins!

 

!!! I feel I must mention that whilst writing this blog post my Mum text me. I’m not even making this up. Do you know what she sent?

“Shame weather is terrible. How is your foot? Have you been taking Yakult?”