Monday, 29 July 2013

Namaste India - Part 1

The year 1981 took us to Saudi Arabia on a holy trip to Makkah & Madina. My parents and I spent approximately 5 days there. We visited Baitul Allah (house of Allah) and Masjid Nabvi (Masjid of the holy Prophet peace be upon him). We were there to pray so we prayed. 

Then, an unexpected chance came in 1983. My mom’s friend Aunty Sudha was going to visit her relatives in India and she asked us to join them in this trip. Things moved quickly and swiftly. We got the visa, booked train tickets and we were on our way. This was a completely ladies led expedition. My mom and aunty Sudha.  The ladies were in-charge. Apart from these two marvelous ladies, the rest were Minnie and Rajiv (aunty Sudha’s daughter and son) and I.

This time around we planned the trip via train service. Mainly, because it was less expensive then air travel.  But the catch was that we all wanted to have fun along the way so it was decided, in the interest of all concerned parties.

The trip from Karachi to Lahore is an overnight trip and takes almost 18 hours. We had lots of fun along the way, singing, playing card games, sleeping and sightseeing. Golden colored wheat fields, green sugar cane fields, orchards, cities and many train stations.

Train infrastructure in Pakistan has not developed much since the departure of the British and Pakistan’s own independence in 1947. Same routes, same station buildings, same rail lines and old and battered railway engines. 

Karachi Railway Station

Lahore Railway Station

There is a saying in Pakistani Punjab, "if you haven't seen Lahore, then you are not born yet!", so the next day I was born. Ha ha.

We reached Lahore in the morning. Lahore is a beautiful city, historic and very cultural. If you get a chance to visit Pakistan then do make a plan to visit Lahore. It has a lot of history to offer. Shahi  Killa (Royal Castle), Badshahi Masjid, Shalimar Gardens, are just a few teasers to get you interested. Lahore has a lot of Mughal heritage and it is truly reflected here in abundance. The festival of Basant (kite festival at the starting of spring season) is very famous and something of an annual event.  During Basant, Sky above Lahore gets filled with thousands and thousands of colorful kites. In addition to flying kites, there is music, food and festive mood all around. Everyone enjoys. Lahore has museums, old heritage buildings, mausoleums and it is also very famous for it’s food. Lovely food, you can’t resist the food Lahore has to offer and you can’t beat a Lahori in a culinary warfare! You’ll loose.

Moving on, we took a cab from Lahore Railway Station to Wagah Border, this is the only land route open along the overall border between the two countries.  Pakistan has a very long border with India but due to long hostilities between the two countries, only 1 point of entry into each other’s area is kept open. Strict checking of papers and luggage takes place at both ends and this is a tedious process.

But……. Wagah Border has a very unique and memorable spectacle to offer. And I believe, it is one of the very rare performance that take place at any border in the world. The Flag Lowering Ceremony. Man! This is really something. Everyday, in the evening, flag lower ceremony takes place at Wagah where thousands of spectators on both sides of the border watch this performance.

Action, drama and patriotic songs and slogans.

It seems as if both sides are at war. Eye to Eye hostility, but all for public demonstration. Spectators on both sides cheer patriotic slogans to encourage their soldiers, the guardians of the national border.

 If you are visiting Lahore, I highly recommend it that you take time out and see this performance for yourself. I can safely bet, you haven’t seen this anywhere in the world.  

Once cleared from immigration, we again hired a cab to take us to the city of Amritsar. I forgot to mention, there are two Punjabs, one in Pakistan and one in India, so like Lahore (in Pakistan) is the main city close to the border, similarly, Amritsar in Indian Punjab is close to the border.

The visa issued from Indian Consulate in Karachi was a reporting visa, that means, we can go to selected cities in India only and in each of the cities we have go the Police Station for visitor/foreigner’s reporting. So, in all the cities that we visited we had to go to the Police Station for reporting. A hassle? Yes, big one. It is time consuming and a very irritating process.

In Amritsar, we met with Aunty Sudha’s relatives who opened their doors for us. We were given two rooms and were made very comfortable. This was a brief stay, nothing much see here. However, we did visit Jallian Wala Bagh. This place will always be remembered in history with sadness. An incident made it memorable. A massacre of innocent people. During the British Raj, a protest against the British was taking place here when the British Officer General Dyer ordered the troops to open fire on the crowed. This sad event took place on Sunday, 13 April, 1919. Bullet holes everywhere. Several hundred were killed that day……

Our actual destination was Delhi, where bulk of our time will be spent during this trip. So, next stop is Delhi.

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