My friend Gauri and I took a road trip during the month of April. Gauri has traveled India for many years. I was grateful to tag along to learn the ropes.
First, we went by train to Delhi. Then we went to Rishikesh and Haridwar. From there we visited Chandigarh and then Amritsar. Finally, we went towards the Himalayas, visiting Dharamsala and McCleodganj, where the Tibetan Government in Exile is located.
This blog is about my experiences at the Wagah border with Pakistan, and two great Hindu temples on the way.
When we were in Amritsar, everyone told us to be sure not to miss the border crossing ceremony at Wagah. (Read my post about our experiences in Amritsar here.)
About 30 miles away, Wagah is the only official border road opening between India and Pakistan. Every afternoon there is a ceremony to “officially” close the border and bring in the flags of the respective countries.
The Wagah border, often called the “Berlin wall of Asia”, is a ceremonial border on the India–Pakistan Border where each evening there is a retreat ceremony called ‘lowering of the flags’, which has been held since 1959. At that time there is an energetic parade by the Border Security Force (B.S.F) of India and the Pakistan Rangers soldiers. It may appear slightly aggressive and even hostile to foreigners but in fact the paraders are imitating the pride and anger of a Cockeral. Troops of each country put on a show in their uniforms with their colorful turbans. Border officials from the two countries sometimes walk over to the offices on the other side for day to day affairs. The happenings at this border post have been a barometer of the India-Pakistan relations over the years.
It wasn’t difficult to set the trip up: Right outside the Golden Temple, a tour operator offered transportation in a shared jeep for, as I remember, Rs. 300.
The shared jeeps leave at 3 pm every afternoon to arrive in time for the 4:30 event. On this day, for some reason, the ceremony was delayed until 5:30. Rather than delay our departure, the tour operator decided to take us to a couple of interesting temples first. I was so glad, since these temples sounded interesting as listed in the guidebook, and I didn’t have the time to see them otherwise.
The “Hindu Golden Temple”
The first temple was the Durgiana Mandir, also known as Lakshmi Narayan Temple, the Hindu Golden Temple.
Here is some information from www.durga-puja.org:
In its present form the temple echoes of not the traditional Hindu temple architecture, but that of the (Sikh) Golden Temple. It rises in a similar manner from the midst of a tank and has canopies and a central dome. Its foundation stone was laid by one of the greatest reformers and political leaders of resurgent India, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya. It is a well-known repository of Hindu scriptures. Also called the Lakshmi Narayan Temple, it is dedicated to goddess Durga and a large part of the temple is also dedicated to Hindu deities Laxmi, The Goddess of wealth and Narayan, The Preserver of Universe. All dignitaries visiting Golden Temple make it a point to visit Durgiana Temple also.
Below, the approach to the temple, a walkway across the surrounding lake, was a lot like the Golden Temple
A statue in the lake
On the other side of the walkway
One of the things that impressed me were the pietra dura inlays on the building. This kind of decoration is seen at the Sikh Golden Temple complex, and the Taj Mahal is also famous for this work. Above the entrances are depictions of legends related to the temple.
Murthis inside the temple (I am not sure who these are. Can anyone help identify them?):
The lake seen from the back of the temple.
The Mata Mandir
The other extra stop on this excursion was the Mata Mandir, a fascinating place that reminded me of a Hindu funhouse. The temple was built by “a grand old pious lady” on the model of the famous Vaishno Devi Temple of Katra, Jammu.
Here’s a bit of information from www.suite101.com:
The Mata Temple (The Mother Temple)
This Hindu temple has its own unique flavor. Named for the Mata Lal Devi, a female saint, people come here to offer all sorts of prayers for children. Some pray to have children, others pray for positive well-being of their children, some even pray to cure an illness. There have been stories of the positive results of prayer, such as one woman whose blind child regained his vision after here prayers at the Mata Temple.
Again, I had only a few minutes to explore this amazing place.
The devotees are asked to follow a set path through the Temple.
The path goes up a couple of stories then winds its way back down, through a series of halls where there were numerous displays of murthis and lingams and other less identifiable (to me) decorations.
There is a section that is described on the Internet as “a hall of mirrors.”
(Some of the photography is difficult because I had to keep walking with the group.)
Finally, near the end of the “carnival ride,” we were asked to walk through a channel of water.
The photos above were from my own walk through the Mata Mandir. I found many great photos of this amazing temple here.
On to the border
Then we drove another 45 minutes and arrived at the Wagah border for the “changing of the guard” ceremony.
Everyone had to go through a guard checkpoint.
The scene was already lively when we arrived. Here is some of the crowd on the India side:
Here’s the Pakistan side:
The guy in the white shirt below was the “emcee,” or rather the “cheerleader.” Here he is getting the crowd stirred up.
At one point, all the girls and women were invited to take turns running up to the border gate and back with the Indian flag.
Many of the ladies are in line waiting their turn to honor India at the border.
At another point in the proceedings, they played some popular songs and invited the women to dance. The men sat on another set of viewing stands, and they weren’t allowed to participate. I was guessing that there was some fear that the men would become too rowdy and cause a dangerous scene so close to the border.
The soldiers in the cool headgear were part of the show. At several points during the ceremony, the soldier with the microphone at his mouth was called upon to provide vocal accompaniment, in the form of a loud, strong, and very, very long note that he sang. It must have lasted for 40 seconds. And he did this four or five times during the action, as perhaps a “call to arms” or something.
The horn player went next.
Here’s some more of the crowd on the India side:
Here’s the Pakistan side:
At one point, the vocalizing guy must have directed the other guys to action. They took off, high-stepping at first, down to the actual border where the fence is.
They did some stuff with the flag at the border. It was almost impossible to see from where I was seated, given the crowd, the placement of our viewing stand, and the fact that we were looking directly into the setting sun.
Then the Indian guard came back with the flag, presumably to put it to bed for the night.
Closing the gate for the night.
After the ceremony ended, I hiked back alone to our shared jeep, having been separated from my companions who sat in the men’s viewing section. It had become dark, and there was a little moment of panic when I got to where they left us off and all the vehicles looked alike. But luckily our driver spotted me wandering around. We drove home, happy and exhausted.