Sunday, October 20, 2013


While Rob and I fought off a return flight BAD BUG the rest of the family did what they could to cheer us up. Ros and Pete were visiting for a few days - excellent timing to help Granny K celebrate her discharge from Canberra Hospital (after her marathon 9 week stay there while her fractured leg was mending). Maxie and Rod hosted a very happy and delicious dinner last night at their house.

The kids were delighted to see each other. They played very co-operatively all evening with minimal watching from any adults and Angus and Ella were sweet enough to co-operate for this shot to mark the occasion (thanks for this Ros!).

 ......but you have to be quick!.....

Check out the stack of meringues on the glass stand on the dining table (Ros is keeping guard)!

Abi was her usual happy self especially when she had so many adults around to lift her to food selecting height when the urge struck her.

Angus introduced us all to Albert Einstein - his beloved new pet guinea pig. I think Abi was the most excited to see it (much to A's consternation). In the shot below she was "telling" us all about his tiny little ears.  It is amazing what Abi is able to communicate with all her gestures and head shakes and nods. The five words I hear her use most at the moment: Mumma, Dadda, Gampa, dodow (dog) and babow (her word for everything else) are really all that a girls needs when everyone can understand what you want to tell them anyway!

Even Eddie put in an appearance last night, all the way from Hackney London via Skype. Abi was very entranced with him, finding his singing abilities very advanced and his Big Ben toy very interesting! Just imagine how impressed she'd be if she met him face to face!

Monday, October 14, 2013


On 13th April 1919 at the Jallian Wala Bagh (park) in old Amritsar city a large gathering of Sikh people were fired on without warning and at close range by a battalion of armed soldiers under the orders of the British General Dyer. 1,650 rounds of bullets were fired into the crowd of people that day, that included men, women and children. The resulting massacre is one of the ugliest events in India’s more recent history, and one for which the British government has not made an apology to this very day. The massacre was, however, an important turning point in India’s march towards independence.

Jallian Wala Bagh was a very sobering place to visit on Sunday morning (13th October) in Amritsar. Even the topiary in the extensive park gardens reflected its most tragic past.

Hundreds of people tried to seek shelter by diving into the well that was a feature of the park. Of course those who weren’t shot, died by drowning. A memorial has been built over the original well.

Jallian Wala Bagh is quite close to the Golden Temple in old Amritsar city so we only had a short walk this morning through its colourful, chaotic roads and laneways to find our way to the temple.

Anyone who comes to a Sikh temple must be offered food and drink as the Sikhs believe people are not in the right state of mind to pray if they are hungry of thirsty. At Amritsar’s Golden Temple, there are up to 60,000 meals a day provided for pilgrims, all prepared by a small army of energetic volunteers.
On this sunny Sunday morning the Golden Temple was shimmering and the temple complex was buzzing with crowds of happy pilgrims and some foreign (not many) visitors like us.

We were interested in seeing the huge kitchen and food preparation areas. It’s a mind boggling concept – how to prepare 60,000 nutritious vegetarian meals a day and clean up afterwards – all with volunteers: a dahl dish, two vegie curries, rice, chappati and a rice pudding and milky sweet chai (tea) fed to all comers who need it.

Everything is done by hand, using the principle of many hands make light work and volunteers come from every walk of life, rich and poor and everything in between. This is such a sensible and practical religion!

These volunteers were peeling the day's garlic requirements.

And the washing up is endless.

 It was like Hell's Kitchen around the open fires cooking the day's dahl requirements in huge steel pots.

This volunteer asked to have his photo taken with me??

Afterwards we did a complete circumference of the temple's enormous reflective pool area and observed the men washing themselves on the steps (women have their own enclosed washing area) as an act of purification before prayer. 

John Gill explained to us the horrific consequences of “Operation Blue Star” in the early 1980s, resulting in the destruction of the significant “parliament building” – the golden domed building in the temple complex containing the holy book’s "bedroom"; the deaths of many Sikhs and then the consequential assassination of Indira Gandhi, the first female Prime Minister of India. So much of Sikh history has been at the core of India’s history in the last hundred years or so.

With all the wet slippery marble around I went for a big slide at the Golden Temple, falling on my backside (luckily). No harm was done and I received lots of concern from friendly onlookers.

Afterwards, our guide dropped us at Bharawan Ka Dhaba in the crowded old city for lunch, a vegetarian restaurant serving delicious local Amritsari dishes. The restaurant was crowded with locals – and no frills – but we loved the thalis we shared: including dal, urad, paneer, channa, raita, rice, naan, parantha, yellow dal, curd, sambar, papadam, aloo kulcha. We are all over our Indian mid trip tummy sensitivities (no sickness, just spice and heat overloads causing a little inconvenience) so we all attacked our food, in amongst the locals, with gusto. I loved the parantha – flaky bread stuffed with thin layers of potato and onion - yum!

We had a few hours to relax before setting off again, this time to the India/Pakistan border (at the so called Wagah border – the “safest” of the 52 border crossings between these two countries) only a 45 minute drive to the north of Amritsar, to witness the unique spectacle of the simultaneous lowering of the flags at each of the border posts. We arrived around 5.00pm – along with around 20,000 excited Indian people.

We had no idea what was happening on the Pakistan side but over in India what we witnessed during the following hour’s ceremony was a wonderful theatrical performance and a unique opportunity to share with lovely local people their joy, their patriotism and a great sense of community fun and spirit.

The idea of the ceremony is to give each county a chance to "face off" against each other (theatrically speaking), every night at sunset, and show how much bigger and better they are than the other. Despite the military presence and the tight security the mood seems happy and good humoured. Our guide described it as like an India Vs Pakistan cricket match at the border crossing each night.

When we squeezed into the already over crowded viewing areas – lots of women, young and old were filling the street below, dancing to Bollywood disco at maximum decibels. Naturally Jennie and I joined in (no men allowed!) and were warmly embraced by the locals who seemed delighted that we’d joined them. Unforgettable, and great fun for us - especially our "Jai-oh" finale, just the way every Bollywood musical ends!

Then everyone returned to their (non existent) seats and the show began: a great hip hop warm up from the gorgeous Neera (from Indian Army Fans), then the most wondrous performance of theatricality and military precision from the guards in their gaudy fan topped helmet/turbans. The male border security guards are chosen for their stature (they’re all extremely tall) and the female guards are chosen for their diminutive elegance (that’s how it looks anyway!) It’s all theatre after all!

The ceremony seemed to consist of the guards taking turns to goose step up to the border opening and doing threatening gestures to their opposing numbers on the Pakistan side and a series of explosive forehead high, high kicks just to really send the message home. The crowds scream encouraging chants and wave flags (just like at a cricket match). It was wonderful and very thrilling to be a part of.

The two countries lower their flags at precisely the same second as the sun slowly sets beneath the border gate on the Pakistan side. 

After this extraordinary display ended Jennie and I were inundated with women and children wanting their photo taken with us – lots of warmth and excitement. One girl asked to take a picture of my hair which I realised later looked like a sweaty frizzled mop after all that dancing in the humidity. I guess she thought it looked sufficiently odd to warrant a picture.

It was a bit of a challenge to make our way out of the Wagah border enclosure with that number of people involved, but not as bad as at lots of events I’ve been to in Australia. We were back at the Hyatt by after 7.30pm in time to enjoy a lovely meal, the friendly staff and each other's company as we reflected on our amazing day and our wonderful trip to “Incredible India”. Thank you once again to Mr VP Singh from “Legends and Palaces”.

We’ll be traveling from Amritsar to Delhi on Monday 14th October and then out of Delhi in the early hours of Tuesday morning – so we are coming to the end of this wonderful adventure. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Delhi to Amritsar

We had another very positive experience of flying internally in India on Saturday (12 October). We flew out of Delhi on time at 11.40am and arrived at Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs, near the northwest border with Pakistan, a good 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. As always VP Singh ensured our guide and driver were waiting for us, ready to whisk us off to our 5 star accommodation at the Amritsar Hyatt. We enjoyed a few hours of relaxation at the hotel and at the big glossy shopping mall alongside the Hyatt – even finding a tuna and salad roll from Subway strangely appealing for a late lunch snack.

We were reunited with Jennie and Wayne later in the afternoon, when they arrived, fresh and exhilarated from their amazing Ludhiana adventure.
Over dinner that night (at the hotel’s Thai restaurant) they shared some of their most amazing experiences…traveling by rail to Ludhiana,

meeting the father-in-law of VP Singh, who is the well connected head man of one of the villages around Ludhiana, sharing stories about the history of the community and enjoying the warm hospitality of all the family members. 

Jennie and Wayne received gifts from their hosts and an assurance from the village elder that he will be able to find out more about Wayne’s great-grandfather who lived in the area in the latter half of the 19th century before his migration to Australia.

We were met by our guide “John Gill” at 9.00pm for our visit to Amritsar’s Golden temple, to witness the ceremony of “Palki Sahib” where the Holy Granth (book) of the Sikhs is taken in a Golden Palanquin to it’s nightly abode, amidst the chanting of hymns, cattle drums & nagaras (trumpets).

To get to the temple complex we had to negotiate the crowded, colourful laneways of old Amritsar town.

John explained some of the beliefs and the dramatic history of Sikhism, the world’s newest religion (only founded in the last 500 years or so) so that we could have a context for what we saw happening at this most amazing temple complex. With John as our guide we always seemed to be in just the right place at the right time for when things were happening. And he made sure our heads and bodies were covered and our feet bare, according to the protocols of Sikhism.

It was another heart stopping moment seeing the Golden Temple that houses the original holy book of the Sikhs (which the Sikhs revere and treat like a holy person).

The Sikh people are renowned for their imposing physiques and their fighting abilities when required. These young warriors in traditional Sikh battle dress certainly look the part! No wonder the British found them so problematic during the time of the Raj.

Amongst all the crowds John found us a wonderful position to watch the process by which the palanquin is prepared each night by the priests for the holy book's short journey from the temple back to its "bedroom".

A lot of layers of linen and silk are involved...

and much decorating with garlands of marigolds....

There are thousands of devotees excitedly surging around the palanquin, but it is all very controlled and devout.

This is the holy book's "bedroom".

Thousands of people are queuing to enter the Golden Temple to pray and pay their respects.

After the holy book has left its temple for the night, thousands of volunteers descend to start the weekly cleaning process (this happens every Saturday night). The place is alive with thousands of people polishing brass, cleaning silver, sweeping and mopping marble, packing away precious gold and embroidered banners. There is so much reverent energy!!

It's most evident inside the Golden Temple itself, but we were not allowed to take photos in that very holy place.