Jallianwala Bagh: A Peaceful Park Dedicated to Lost Lives

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Right in the midst of chaotic Amritsar is a peaceful enclave called Jallianwala Bagh. It wasn’t always peaceful. In April of 1919 Brigidier-General General Reginald Dyer of the British Army ordered his troops to open fire on thousands of unarmed and non-violent people, resulting in a massacre of up to 1000 people, most of them Sikhs.
Among the beautiful plants and paths of this park you will find areas that still have the bullet marks of the guns used to assassinate people as they were pinned against the brick walls and unable to escape. You’ll also see the well where 120 people jumped to their deaths in an attempt to avoid the bullets.
The park has a museum with photos of the people responsible for the massacre and pictures of the dead corpses strewn over the lawns, sometimes two or three deep. It makes me very sad to see such carnage. Each one of those people had a family. I am sure this massacre spread massive sorrow in Punjab.
It is said by many, that the massacre turned the general public against the British and was a catalyst for the end of British rule of India.
To see a reenactment, check this link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XE9_zB8k_lk

My Visit To Fatehgarh Sahib: A Sad Story In Sikh History

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I visited the Gurudwara in Fatehgarh which is constructed around the partially constructed walls of the tomb which was being built in 1705 to bury alive the two young sons of Guru Gobind Singh.
In the early 1700s the Sikh warriors of Guru Gobind Singh were in battle with the Moghul forces of Nawab Wazir Khan. The Sikh forces were determined to push the Moghuls out of India and fierce battles lasting months were fought. The Gurus mother, along with her youngest grandsons, escaped the battle area on foot and were given refuge by a man that turned against them and reported them to police. The two sons were taken before the Muslim court and were asked to convert to Islam, but refused. Repeatedly they refused to give up their faith and the court, convinced that they would grow up and rebel against the state, charged them with “seditious activities against the Muslim state”. The sentence, straight from the Quran, was to be bricked up alive. The sentence was ordered to be carried out and the bricking began. Many times during the process the 6 and 8 yr old were given chances to convert and save their lives, but steadfastly stood by their father and their Sikh faith. When the bricking was almost done both boys fell unconscious and were removed from the tomb and beheaded. At that very moment their grandmother, being held in a separate location, also took her last breath. Someone eventually came forward and offering the court considerable gold coins, claimed the bodies, and honorably cremated them.
There is no parallel to the martyrdom of such young boys in the annals of human history. Sahibzada Fateh Singh was less than six years old (born 1699) and Sahibzada Zorawar Singh was just over eight (born in 1696). They laid down their lives in December 1705.

Amritsar on Diwali

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I’ve been in India many times but I’ve never been able to experience the lights and excitement of Diwali. Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is India’s largest celebration. It’s also called the Festival of Light. It signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. India is lit up by oil candles and strings of bright colored lights. Gifts are exchanged and many sweets are prepared for gifts and guests.
This year I was able to spend Diwali in Punjab state. I saw the preparations, lights, sweets, and children’s toys in Chandigarh, then I went on to Amritsar to enjoy the big celebrations, culminating in fireworks.
My hotel was located right across the road from the Golden Temple entrance which made it very simple to visit the temple whenever I wanted. No rickshaw required. The Police blocked off the roads in front of the temple, so getting there by rickshaw wasn’t easy.
I walked across the road, lifted my dupata to cover my head, dropped off my shoes at the shoe depository, washed my hands and walked thru the trough of water to cleanse my feet. Then I walked into the mass of people which had come to view the lights and Diwali fireworks.

Diwali Crowd at Golden Temple

Diwali Crowd at Golden Temple

Golden Temple Diwali Lights

Golden Temple Diwali Lights

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Being in a place this crowded is something I don’t do often. I’ve visited this temple on every trip to India. It’s always busy here but I’ve never seen this many people at the temple. The peace and serenity I enjoyed the day before was no more.
My friend and I took prayer candles to light. We stuck them alongside all the other candles that were glowing throughout the temple compound. We then made our way to the exit stairs and were able to get out of the crowd before it dispersed.
Being there on Diwali was something on my bucket list. I’m glad I did it. I enjoy the temple on its quieter days, so in the future you won’t find me there on Diwali.

One Day When God Spoke To Me

The Women That Approached Me

The Women That Approached Me

I was at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. I had just arrived and was walking among the throngs of people, looking for a place to sit down and peacefully meditate.

A group of women and children approached me. They were wrapped in the simple shawls of villagers. The eldest woman said “you look like a holy figure to us.” I was embarrassed by their attention and didn’t know what to say. I smiled and said thank you and walked away.

I found my spot and sat down to meditate. I was there about 45 minutes, eyes closed in deep meditation. Suddenly I hear this deep voice. “Go find those women and tell them we are ALL holy figures.”
I was shocked and surprised and even tried arguing with the voice. I said they must be long gone by now. How would I ever find them among all these thousands of people? Remember, they feed 10,000 or more a day at the Golden Temple!
Again I heard the voice. “I said, go find those women and give them my message.” Goosebumps ran all over me. I was not about to try arguing again.
I stood up and turned around.

Those same women were walking toward me, only 15 feet away! I couldn’t believe it. Why were they back?

They approached me and said, “we came back to take a photo with you before we go.” “Wonderful” I said, but I also have a message for you! “I was just told to tell you that we are ALL holy figures.” They were so full of joy when I delivered the message.

“Let’s take your picture. Where’s your camera?” I said. “We don’t have a camera.” Strange. What did they want?

“Well then, I will take a picture with my camera.” I smiled and said. We had a stranger take the picture, then I said “Let me email you a copy. What’s your email?” Again they gave me a strange answer. They said “We don’t have any email.” I was so sorry I couldn’t get the photo to them, we hugged and they walked away happy.

I think these women were holy women themselves and they wanted ME to have a photo with THEM, in order for me to remember this day…the day God spoke to me at the Golden Temple.

Meeting Davinder

I walked through the water trough with my bare feet and made my way through the crowds to the top of the marble staircase leading into the Golden Temple.  I took a long moment to take in the site from that vantage point.  A beautiful golden temple sitting in the middle of a lake, called a sarovar.  The access to the temple was a wide causeway which extends into the lake, which is always crowded with worshippers.

Only in India have I seen thousands of people filing into temples every day to worship God. When I see these multitudes the words “blessed are the devoted” always come to my mind.  It makes me so happy to see such a wonderful sight.

The first time I viewed the Golden Temple from the top of those stairs, I got goose bumps which ran from my head all the way to my feet. I feel this energy every time I visit this place, that’s why I am sure that this is one of the holiest places on Earth.

On my first visit I made my way down the stairs and selected a quiet spot by the water where I could sit in meditation.  After a while my right leg started cramping and I stretched it out to get some relief.

Almost immediately I got a peck on my shoulder and someone whispered “Please re-tuck your leg.  Your foot should not face the temple.” I was extremely apologetic and worried that I had offended others, but with a big smile he reassured me that all was fine.

We began to talk and he offered to show me parts of the temple grounds that most tourists don’t get to see.  We went into the kitchen, where they prepare a free meal (langar) for 100,000 visitors every day. We saw the areas were people are allowed to sleep on blankets through the evening.  We went into the meditation room that was devoted to an Islamic woman that had converted to Sikhism.  Many people were quietly sitting there in meditation, away from the massive crowds that were outdoors.

Davinder Singh Chawla was the best friend and guide I could’ve ever found to show me these things.  On subsequent trips he has continued to show me his Amritsar.  We have taken a stroll through the narrow streets, sampling Punjabi treats at the food stalls.  He’s taken me to the tailors place to get some new Punjabi suits made.  I wanted to buy a gold Khanda (the symbol of the Sikhs) and Davinder helped me find a jeweler for that.  He’s even invited me to join his family in their Lohri celebrations, a harvest festival in mid-January.  One year I changed my plans and wanted to be in Amritsar for New Years.  All the hotels were full, the Golden Temple housing was also full, but Davinder reached out to his large network of friends and was able to find a comfortable room for me, right beside the temple grounds!  He’s been an invaluable friend  to me and one I will cherish forever.

He’s also taken me to other area gurudwaras, including the Gurudwara Shaheed Baba Deep Singh ji, where Baba Deep Singh is remembered for his bravery fighting the Moguls that had infiltrated the area.  Baba Deep Singh’s head was severed in the process, and even though his head was still barely attached, he supported it with his left hand and continued to swing his sword with his right hand.  The Sikhs are known for their bravery, but this story stands out as miraculous!!  The visit to this gurudwara is something I will never forget.

Davinder now works for the Indian government as a guide on the Amritsar Heritage Walk.  It’s the perfect job for him!  I highly recommend that you take the time to meet my friend Davinder and enjoy a leisurely, entertaining and informative walk through the narrow streets and alleyways of Amritsar. You can find more info at   http://travel.ukpha.org/sites/heritage-walk-through-amritsars-old-city.

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The Mango Farm

On my very first visit to India I had been introduced by a Punjabi doctor in Texas to a Sikh family in Chandigarh.  We have since become great friends.  I love them dearly.

When I arrived at their home I got a very warm welcome.  They accepted me into the household and before long I was part of the extended family! The family included a father and mother, their three grown daughters, one son-in-law, an uncle, and a young grandson.

I’ve had a lot of fun with this family throughout the years. One night I remember Uncle Dassa suggesting we go see the mango farm.  It was way after dark but we went anyway.  Dassa hooked a trailer to his tractor and we all piled into the trailer.  This was the first time I had been to the mango farm and due to the mode of transportation I assumed it was right around the corner.  Was I ever wrong!  We traveled about 15 miles, or at least it seemed that far in the cold night breeze.

As the tractor pulled into the mango farm at midnight I could see someone lighting a fire.  The family that lived there and took care of the place was woken up the sound of our tractor.

The woman at the farm lit the fire and began cooking roti on an open fire pit.  We enjoyed our visit there and arrived back home after 2 am.

The next morning Dassa asked if I liked their mango farm and I said “I didn’t see one mango tree.  Why did you take me there in the dark?”  He laughed and said so you would have to go back in the daylight…lol.

I may not have seen a mango tree that night, but I sure had a lot of fun!  These Punjabi people are the most happy-go-lucky people I have ever met.  They’re always laughing, singing, and dancing the bhangra!

I remember once, when I was leaving, and the cab was waiting for me.  My friend Harpreet turned on the music and said “Let him wait.  Let’s have one more bhangra!”  I laughed and started dancing my way out the door!

Suresh and the Friends Colony School

One day I was paddling my paddle boat around Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh and I saw another boat coming toward me at breakneck speed!  It pulled up alongside me and the occupants introduced themselves as Suresh and his young teenage daughter Pinky.

They were from a farming area in Haryana and Suresh said he had brought his daughter to visit this lake specifically to meet a foreigner!  I seemed to be the chosen one, since I suppose I stood out with my blonde hair.  Pinky had never met anyone from outside India.

We ended our boat ride and spent time talking on the water’s edge.  They wanted me to come to their village and visit the village school that Suresh had created to educate the farm children from the surrounding villages.  He had built this school himself and it now had over 600 students!  He seemed quite proud of the school and said that most of the students were like Pinky.  They had never seen a foreigner up close.

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Unfortunately I was on my last day in Chandigarh and had train tickets back to Delhi the next morning.  I took their phone number and promised to call if I got back here in the future.  The next day I boarded the train to journey back to Delhi.

As I was traveling away from Chandigarh a great sense of regret came over me.  I was letting Suresh down and possibly disappointing 600 children!  Suresh had told me he was going to announce to the kids at the school that I’d be visiting them, even though I told him it might not be possible.

By the time I reached Delhi I had changed my mind and went straight to the ticket office and booked a trip back to Chandigarh the next morning.  There are just some things that I can’t do, and one of them is to disappoint a child.  In this case there were over 600 of them!

I called Suresh from Delhi and got directions.  When I arrived in Chandigarh I went to the market to get candies for all the kids.  I ran into an old friend there and he asked if he could join me.  Surender Singh was a Sikh gentleman in his 70s who I had met and talked to on previous visits.  He was an award winning guide in Chandigarh and he wanted to experience the Haryana school as well.  I thought I might need a translator anyway so I welcomed him to join me. I arranged for a cab to take us, after getting the key towns we should pass through from Suresh.

We started out on our almost 3 hour journey into Haryana state.  It was a lovely drive past farm fields and small towns. Luckily we got to Ambala about lunchtime and Surender suggested that we  visit a very old gurudwara (sikh temple) for the lunchtime langar (a meal served to the community).  I covered my head and entered the temple to have some lunch.  The local people were happy to have visitors and I made a lot of friends during that hour.

Langar

Back on the road we began looking for the 25 foot high Hanuman statue on the side of the road.  This is where we were told to stop and call Suresh.  He met us and led us on dirt farm roads into the sugarcane fields.  We came upon a small village and just beyond that we found the Friend’s Colony School.

I never felt like a celebrity until that day. The children mobbed me!  I was surrounded by 600 children.  All of them were trying to get close enough to touch me.

Haryana Schoolyard

Suresh ordered them all back to their classrooms.  The school was built around a courtyard.  All of the classrooms were open to the courtyard.  I began making my rounds, starting with the small children in the 1st grade and as I advanced around the courtyard the children became increasingly taller.  Every class had questions for me, which were translated by Suresh.  Few of these children could speak English.  Several of them asked Suresh to tell me that the next time I visit they will speak to me in English!  Just my presence was somehow a great encouragement for them to learn the language.

We had some tea with Suresh and he told us he had arranged a show for us.  The children were going to dress in their cultural dress and do some folk dancing for us.  We all went to the roof of one of the buildings and the children put on a lovely impromptu show for us.

It was getting late in the day so we had to start back.  Suresh asked us to please visit his village temple first, to meet his guru.  That will be another story…..