Dharamsala, Himchal Pradesh, India (Triund Hill)

‘Dharamshala is a city in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Surrounded by cedar forests on the edge of the Himalayas, this hillside city is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile.’


Mcleodganj, home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile. Here, I met the craziest fun-loving guitar-playing-on-a-hill hosts whom I learnt from about the caste system, the hijras, the sacredness of the cow in Hinduism, and other cultural curiosities.

my hosts

I had so much fun with them, we were laughing nonstop from almost the night we met to the next day. Short, but sweet. I took many videos of them singing. We did one birthday song with them strumming the guitar. I was so happy.

full of nonsense (as usual)

People my age, exactly my age. Making fun of my Chinese eyes. Man, I don’t get that too much around here, it took me awhile to get used to and reminded me to check my privilege here.
I think back to the first night my bus reached the terminal at Dharamshala at 9pm or something. The sun had set. Divyang said he’ll pick me up. I didn’t feel that worried, but my panic meter started rising when we drove into the darkness (poor street lighting) and he said he wanted to bring me to a place. We stopped at the entrance of a gate. It was a cemetery.

The rest, as it unfolds, is a hilarious memory. I will always remember this epic experience. Lollllll

Dharamsala definitely feels safe. Tranquil. Many restaurants here sell Tibetan food – the mantou and noodles, etc. Shop signs in Tibetan. I briefly asked if the locals here feel threatened by the influx of culture. Seems like in the initial beginnings yes, but now it’s better and generally peaceful. Borders.

 

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Wagah Border, Amritsar, India

​At the Wagah border that separates India and Pakistan, the nationalist sentiments can be felt in the thunderous roars of citizens as they danced fiercely to the grand waves of the green-white-red flags.

I’ve always found borders somewhat intriguing. Being in a single space that showcases the imaginary line delineating the differences the minds conjure – ‘in’ and ‘out’, ‘Self’ and ‘Other’. I could feel the competing energies of my left (India) and right (Pakistan), and yet they come together every sundown to produce a passionate ceremony that marks the nightly closing of the border.

 

Some boys rushed towards me as I came out of the tuk-tuk wielding paintbrushes, fiercely swiping them on my hands as i tried to move away.

Seated at the corner, I sneak a peek at the Pakistan side

They seemed to have a smaller crowd (perhaps crafted by the deliberately arranged seating of the audience on the Indian side)

there was a man with 1 leg spinning on his single stature

As the ceremony ended, some Indians waved to the leaving Pakistan citizens. They wave back. An image of the Indian and Pakistan flag lowered together flashed in my mind. Competing energies, yet collusive in their ways. Who decided on such border ceremonies first?

After we stepped out into the roads when the ceremony ended it was vehicle after vehicle kicking up dust. So many people, so many motorbike rickshaws, so much honking with its persistent shrill ringing in the air.

I couldn’t find my motorbike rickshaw (of course, what was I thinking?) I walked on, hoping to spot the Kashmiri Father and his daughter. Too many people. With my sunken heart that drooped with the sinking sun I asked two men next to me if they knew how I could find my rickshaw, and if they were going back to Amritsar. In the brief English that we could exchange, I got a general idea that they were waiting for a ‘family’ and going back to Amritsar to catch a ‘train to Delhi’.

I stood with them, mostly in silence, waiting. We all waited, our eyes scanning the distance, hoping the next vehicle would be our ride. Cars after cars passed. One went by and my white shirt was slapped with orange. A drink. My left sleeve felt the cool liquid seeping in. I felt annoyance flooding into my bloodstream. Sigh. What a mistake. I could have been in the car right now perhaps.

One of the men offered me a towel. I smiled and refused.

The sun had set. It was extremely dark save for the light beams that captured the floating dust that layered the streets.
Finally, a vehicle arrived. I got on with them, a little apprehensive. I was relieved to see another 2 ladies on the vehicle.
I started chatting with the Indian couple and we shared on the ride back home.


Today I learnt: No Muslims in Punjab area – interesting considering they’re nearest to the border

Or perhaps that’s exactly why

‘I don’t have a single Muslim friend’

India/Pakistan border

Witnessing the high in each area

Seeing some Indians waving goodbye to the Pakistan people on our right

Muslims in Punjab? Muslims in India? Vs Hindus in Pakistan?

North vs South Indians – differences partially attributed to colonisation and location near the equator

Castes – marrying within the caste

Jobs associated with castes

Schools – some rural schools go to the extent of asking some children to wash their hands before touching others

Other than that they mostly don’t distinguish by castes

Castes can be distinguished by name

Dowries by women – sons have a value attached to them. If he’s a government official for example = worth more = can even ask for a car

Difficult to get a simcard here – because it’s the border area?

 

The Golden Temple – The Holy City of Amritsar

​ A family sits and waits for the sun to set. Fathers bring their daughters to wash their faces by the holy water. At the Golden Temple of Amritsar, free food and accommodation is provided for the pilgrims that come from all other parts of India and the rest of the world.

 



I point to the belly of Punya, my pregnant host, and ask if it’s a boy or a girl. She says she doesn’t know. One of the interesting things I learnt is that identifying the gender of a fetus (prenatal sex discernment) is banned in India, due to cases of female infanticide. The doctors are not allowed to reveal it, or legal actions may be taken.
Outside the Golden Temple:

 

Here, we queue at the various lines to deposit our bags and our shoes. We are not allowed to bring in our bags into the Golden Temple, nor put on any forms of footwear. Everyone must have their heads covered in this sacred site. Shawls are provided at the entrance of the Golden Temple. Anyone without it will be stopped by the security guard of sorts.

 

I join the lively crowd

 

 

This family requested that I take a photo of them with my camera. They then peered at my screen and smiled.

the Holy water

gold

Gold by night

it was crowded and lively even after sunset

as we walked outside the Golden Temple with our lassi (YUMMY!!!), we saw many people outdoors. Why were they outdoors, lying in the night, instead of within the Golden Temple? Don suggested perhaps it’s more cooling out here.
volunteers help to give out the plates and utensils to visitors and pilgrims

 

 

I met Don and Chen, on my last day

^ on hindsight, it was my meeting with the Israeli guy at the Golden Temple that led me to decide on my trip to Israel. what a chain

I learnt that in Israel the name of the baby boy is revealed only on the 8th day after circumcision has taken place
‘Which toilet do you want to go? Police or railway station?
Only girls? Go to the railway station. Don’t go to the police station.’
 

 

Amritsar, India

 

​Namaste India! Did you know that India is the world’s 2nd largest country by population (1st being China), and 7th largest by land mass?
Last September, I finally visited India.
I say ‘finally’ because I’ve heard so much about India and the cultural explosion and the beauty amidst the chaos and the dust and the smoke
read about the history of South Asia in my module – before Pakistan and Bangladesh and the Gandhi Salt March
about the sacred cows, elephants, about the caste system
about global population and the rising megacities
about the call centres and the rising middle class in New Delhi
and speaking of Delhi, the glaring attention surrounding the violence against women

In light of the September holidays, I leapt on the chance of a flight promo to Amritsar and decided about a month before, my India holiday plans. It was a pretty intense and stressful period and I looked forward to venturing out by myself. I very much needed that time and space, that gap for myself. Stripped of all obligations to do anything. I could sit on a moving vehicle all day and read, while moving purposefully to another place



While I questioned myself slightly as usual before my trip, I was honestly not particularly nervous, because I knew that Amritsar was some distance from Delhi, had a different demographic, was in a Holy City (I was likely to sleep in the Golden Temple, the holiest place in Amritsar!), and I had hosts waiting for me. And Dharamsala was where the Dalai Lama resided, and known to be a really safe place from various hardcopy Lonely Planets and online sources. So I was pretty confident, and all went well indeed 🙂





i was slightly fascinated at the cultural integration into what i felt was western packaging (or maybe not, it’s a globalised world now)

Amritsar. A city in the Indian state of Punjab, it was less than 2 hours away from Pakistan, and I toyed with the idea of crossing over to Lahore, its nearest city. A brief Google search and the difficulty in visa (LOI, etc), articles on discomforting news and time constraints quickly erased the thought. 



I learnt that the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine in Sikhism, was one that many visitors from all other parts of India came to visit.

I was pleasantly surprised that many women and men were coming up to me requesting for selfies, handing me their babies to carry to take a picture with against the Golden Temple. Hahaha

But it was through these encounters that I learnt that for them it was such an honour to be here, and to make this visit from miles away, from all the other parts of India and even the Sikhs living in the rest of the world. And here I was, almost too easily. How lucky!

My dear hosts. Rakesh just texted me this morning, actually. Intelligent, wealthy family with a family business in the textile industry. And 2 servants who did not speak English, who helped to pick up my cups and served me my food. I use the word ‘serve’ because it does feel that way. Or at least that’s what Rakesh phrases it to me – ‘feel free to tell the servants what you need’. I remember the initial discomfort with the word ‘servant’, it is somewhat unfamiliar because we use the term ‘maid’, ‘domestic helper’ in Singapore. Perhaps it is because of the non-native tongue, the use of the word ‘servant’ does come with some (unintended) uncomfortable connotations (to me, a native speaker of English). ‘Servant’ sounds harsh, and belittling, but I suppose that’s just me (or realities).
It was interesting observing the dynamics between the servants and my host, because… in Singapore our domestic helpers are often of another nationality. I am just wondering – with no clear view in mind – would it be different if our domestic helpers / maids were Singaporeans?
How does it feel, to have a local be your servant? Does this distinction in nationality erect a comfortably alien barrier between us and our ‘domestic helpers’?

shopkeeper whom i bought punjabi pants from, who has visited Singapore twice

interesting modes of transportation

A (judgemental, privileged) thought:


I don’t know why it surprises me, but when I see how similar these shops look like compared to the ones I’ve seen in parts of rural Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and South America, I’m surprised. The structures are the same, the poor lighting, the style. Save for the language on the signs, they’re the same. I don’t know why it surprises me. I suppose I’m just wondering how these ideas translate miles and miles and continents away. The look of the Developing Countries. The Rural parts.

Thank you!  धन्यवाद

🙂

 

!ncredible !ndia

Exams are coming up, and I suppose that’s some sort of a relief for me (hah! roles reversed!)
I still have to revisit my lovely Central Asia trip, but here’s some of my favourites from Amritsar while I’m sieving through my pictures.