The Golden FinaleMarch 10 in India ⋅ 🌙 7 °C
We began our final day with a demonstration. No, not of the floral variety, but a ‘how to tie a turban’ dem from Jessie. Tony was volunteered and ended up with a very chic scarlet turban for our daytime temple visit. There is usually between 5 and 7 metres of cotton fabric used in every turban and to tie one is something of an art form. I had no idea there were so many versions, but I now know how individual a turban can be and some aficionados use considerably more fabric. It is mainly a male head dress, but some women also choose to wear it. Jessie was sporting a natty orange version today, as this is a celebratory colour for Sikhs and today is the Indian ‘Holi’ Colour Festival. As you may have noticed from last nights photographs of the little boys, it is customary to throw powdered paint at people in celebration. I had been warned to take something ‘disposable’ to wear in case of disaster! As a result this morning’s visit to the Golden Temple was particularly special and ultra busy. Everyone was out in their best clothes and there were some fabulous outfits on show. Indians are not frightened of colour and wear it with aplomb. We followed our route of last night and by day the contrast between the surrounding streets and the immediate Temple vicinity was even more marked. At least the rats had gone to bed! It seems incredible that the Temple is kept in such an immaculate state and yet people live in filth, throw rubbish everywhere and seem oblivious to the fact that they are existing in a health and hygiene nightmare. There seems to be little desire to clean anything up and it wouldn’t take much. They must have a very strong immune system. If you ask anyone about it the response is always ‘This is India’ with a shrug of the shoulders. The words convenient excuse come to mind? Sudhir, our guide feels that education is the key and it will gradually improve, but it could be generations.
By daylight the Golden Temple sparkled in the sun and there were people massed everywhere. The scene was a glorious riot of colour. Jessie took us on a tour of the kitchen, where up to
100,000 meals were to be served today, all prepared and served by volunteers. This is double the normal because of the Holi Festival. It is a very slick and organised system and no one is refused sustenance. There are four enormous halls where the people sit in rows on the floor and are served rice, chapati, dhal, a vegetable dish and water. A small amount only on a stainless steel divided platter. It dawned on me that this is less of a meal and more of a communion, which Jessie confirmed. We moved on to the kitchens, where the making of chapatis was in full swing. The dough is produced by a massive machine and volunteers shape and roll them out. This was our chance to get involved and so we did! I sat with one of my group on my right and two Indian ladies to my left. We all knew how to handle a rolling pin regardless of creed or nationality and I was pleased to have made a contribution. The chapatis were cooked over a huge griddle before heading out to feed the ‘five thousand’. Then there was the washing up! Oh my God, the racket, as the platters crashed against one another in the two 200ft long water troughs and thence into racks. Men washed up in one trough and women in the other. I was slightly concerned at how often the water was changed, but as we were not eating, let it pass!
We slowly made our way out of the kitchens, past people industriously chopping garlic, onions and multiple vegetables, into the sunlight to walk around the sacred pool one last time. To our amazement all age groups wanted to have their photographs taken with us and it was a slow but friendly path to the exit gate. On our way back to collect our shoes we came across three young guys covered head to toe in Holi powder paint. We laughed with them and took a photo, at which point Lesley and I were ‘attacked’; Lesley coming off a little worse than me, but it wasn’t disastrous, just fun. It has been a real honour to have visited the Golden Temple another of India’s world class monuments and a fitting finale.
Our day concluded with a visit to the Summer Palace of the last Maharajah of the Punjab, Ranjit Singh (all Sikhs have Singh in their surname). This is the man who paid for the 24 carat gold coating of the Golden Temple and the original owner of the Koihnoor diamond. There is some controversy here as to how it came into the hands of Queen Victoria, but it is at least displayed for all to see cut into two in the Imperial Crown and the sceptre. The summer palace and garden need a considerable amount of restoration, which is now being undertaken. Local lads were playing cricket on a dirt pitch - no wonder they can handle spin. You will see this everywhere and cricket is undoubtedly the national game. On our way back to the coach we came across an Indian version of a pop up lolly shop, if you can call it that and stopped to watch. A large block of ice is shaved on very sharp embedded blade, moulded into the lolly shape and then natural flavourings of lime, lemon and orange poured over it in syrup form. Ingenious and the equivalent of 20pence.
And so, inevitably we were back to the hotel to commence the big pack up for the long journey home. It is hard to sum up the last two and a half weeks in mere words. Our group have been friendly and great fun and we have enjoyed sharing this experience together. The organisation has been faultless. India is a culture shock to the westerner and you need to observe, accept and not judge its centuries old traditions. It is a land of immense contrasts in every respect, with an ethos all of its own. Ninety five percent of marriages are still arranged, the caste system is still all encompassing and as a western woman it is hard to handle the inequality between the sexes. A woman still cannot attend her husband’s funeral. The senses are assaulted on every level. It is colourful, challenging, full of beauty, artistry, squalor and at times overwhelming. I can honestly say, this trip has been a risk worth taking: we have stayed well and loved every minute of it. I am so grateful to have had the chance to have just touched the surface of this fascinating country. There is seriously nowhere like India! Thank you Lesley for coming with me. Something so beautiful is always better shared.Read more