Amritsar

Travel Route: Amritsar – Chandigarh – Kalka – Shimla

Amritsar

Amritsar is one of those Indian cities that can challenge all your senses.  It is messy, polluted, dirty, and in constant unfinished construction.  It is hot and humid, like in a steam bath.  The traffic is crazy and unruly.  The ocean of people in and around the Golden Temple challenges the notion of ‘personal space.’  Regardless, the border crossing ceremony and the Golden Temple were magnificent.

The Border Crossing Ceremony

Every day around 5 pm, the border between India and Pakistan is closing.  The border crossing ceremony is elaborate and festive – marching soldiers who look like proud peacocks waving their body parts most theatrically.  The thousands of people who gather to see it, on both sides, are a scene onto themselves.  The Indian side was the best party in town.  Some call it the “most ridiculous ceremony,” to which I say: if all conflicts end in this kind of ceremony, I’ll take “ridiculous” every day.

The Golden Temple

The Golden Temple is made of gold, which makes it a visual treat, especially at night.  It is magnetizing to be with the thousands of people who made the pilgrimage – energy of devotion.  Sikhism’s main principle is equality to all people, thus contrasting Hinduism’s daunting Caste System.

Chandigarh

Designed from the ground up in the 1950s by the Swiss architect Le Corbusier, Chandigarh has spacious  streets, public parks, and a lake.  The concrete color is dominant.  Overall, I found the visual look of the city dull.

Le Corbusier design of Chandigarh looks as if it was imported and plunked down into India; the concrete buildings, wide-lane streets, and parks bore no relationship to the country around them.  The city plan discouraged mixed-income neighborhoods and street bazaars, both vital to the character of Indian towns.  Chandigarh has streets and open spaces, but it has no life.

The Rock Garden

The Rock Garden is a surreal sculpture complex, made to look and feel like a lost fantastical kingdom.  The garden was constructed with materials taken from fifty villages that had to be destroyed in order to build the modern city.  It is one of those crazy art installations that made me think differently about trash.

Shimla

Shimla is a picturesque, touristy, and former summer capital of British India, filled with pedestrian-only streets.

We arrived at Shimla by train, starting the beautiful ride at Kalka.  It’s sometimes referred to as a toy train because of the narrow gauge railway.  It opened in 1906, the technical achievement of constructing this railway is impressive.

The Vice Regal Lodge, which was the residence of the British Viceroy, is open to visitors.  Seeing the room where some of the partition negotiations took place between Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah filled my imagination and historical curiosity.

No trip to India can pass without getting sick at some point.  At Shimla, I had my moment.  I took it easy and charged my battery for the Kinnaur – Spiti Valley Loop.

Three animals, cows, dogs, and monkeys are roaming uninterrupted anywhere in India.  They always seem to be so content.  No one bothers them; they do what they want, the dogs barely bark.  On one of our car rides, we faced a cow strolling unhurriedly on our lane; our driver proclaimed with a good laugh: “I love my India.”