[Continued from 31N 75E] (Day 2 of our three-day round-trip Punjabi confluence hat-trick.)
Early in the morning of the 27th, we left Amritsar and headed north, towards the Pakistan border. This was the confluence we were most worried about. Would we get interrogated by the Border Security Force? Would we even be able to get near the point? We left after breakfast and arrived at the point before noon. And although it was very close to the border, you’d never know it. The point was nearly exactly the same as the others, freshly cut wheat field, being worked by Punjabi wheat farmers. The walk from the car to the point was a bit longer than the others, giving us a chance to hike a bit through some fields, with a surprising lack of interference from concerned farmers or security patrols. There was a little creek (or irrigation ditch?) running right through the CP, with a few small trees along its banks, providing wind breaks and shade for farmers. The field was dotted with rolled-up bales of hay (or straw? Whatever you call rolled-up wheat stems.)
It was a bit of a let-down to get so close to the Pakistan border and not have any sort of run-in with the security, so we decided to keep driving closer to the border and see when we’d start to notice it. The village of Dera Nanak is right on the border – in fact, before Partition, I’d assume that Dera Nanak straddled what eventually became the international dividing line. Now it’s a cul-de-sac, the end of the line for the highway that goes to town – a road that probably used to keep going across British India. Even in Dera Nanak, we hardly saw any security force. We drove around the town, getting stuck in some dead-end roads, but we never came across any evidence of a border – no concrete walls or barbed wire. Just a normal Punjabi village. We did some more sightseeing around Amritsar then visited the Pakistan border at Wagah for the closing ceremonies. The rival countries perform an elaborate nightly ritual of closing the border and out-goose-stepping each other.
We spent one more night at the Ranjit Svaasa. The morning of the 28th, we visited the Golden Temple one more time, then headed back to Delhi. On the way back, we took a different route – National Highway 1, the Grand Trunk Road through Ludhiana and Karnal. It was refreshing to see some different views, and traffic on the GTR moves faster; but the scenery wasn’t as charming or rural as the route we had taken on the way out. It was tough driving, but Doug did an admirable job getting us there and back in one piece! We stopped for lunch at a roadside McDonalds, and got our travel portrait drawn by a fun videogame-like photo booth machine.
This is the last installment of the 30 North, 75 East; 31 North, 75 East; and 32 North, 75 East Confluence Point safari.
The morning of 28 April 2007 found me gripping the toilet like a MIG fighter pilot does before ejecting at 500+ mph in our guesthouse in Amritsar. Sam Linker and Warren Apel did not hear the Greek tragedy unfolding in the adjoining bathroom, as they were sleeping off a raucous night of harassing sick people. I paid homage to all of the gods, hoping the one I’d offended would lift the curse. I then starting popping antibiotics like Matt Dillon in Drugstore Cowboy. We got going a bit late that morning.
The last confluence point—32, 75—in our trifecta sat about 26 miles to the northeast of Amritsar. This drive would prove to be easy after the previous day’s huge journey. We enjoyed a breakfast of chai, paranthas and omelets, and set out on the road. As 32, 75 sits only a kilometer or so from the Pakistani border, we thought we’d try to drive to the border—just to see it. We’d be going to watch the famous closing of the India-Pakistan border at the Wagah Gate (between Lahore and Amritsar) later that evening. That, however, is a highly staged affair—a tourist attraction, no doubt.
The nightly ritual of closing the Wagah Gate between the two countries drips with symbolism and nationalism. Ever since Partition rent India asunder, this place represents division and, it seems to me, a deeper yearning for unity. Bleachers line both the Pakistani and Indian sides of the border fence. Spectators come to watch the soldiers on each side parade, lower the countries’ flags and lock the gate each night. Taunts, hoots, hollers and applause crescendo as soldiers’ goose-steps stretch higher, officers’ bellows blow harder and units’ marches tumble forth more vigorously. It seems that war is symbolically waged daily. Heartening is that peace is also waged daily as the ceremony closes with a precisely-timed handshake between two guards which punctuates wild gesticulations just before the gate slams shut. Weird and wonderful.
Near 32, 75, we were looking for a different kind of border—a grittier border. We drove to the village nearest Pakistan that we could find—Dera Nanak. Unremarkable and little more than a dirty village, here one can find soldiers and military vehicles, but that’s about it. We never found the fence. For obvious reasons, vehicular thoroughfares to and through the India-Pakistan border are undoubtedly limited.
As we approached 32, 75, it was clear that this would be more of the same as the day before—not surprising considering the plains-like feel of the Punjab. Again, the approach on the paved and dirt lanes was easy. We walked a bit, running into the odd farmer here and there. The point sits alongside an irrigation ditch, at the edge of a wheat field, near some scattered trees. On the ground, baked hard by the pounding sun, sat bailed bundles of harvested wheat. We zeroed out without a problem and then returned to the truck as quickly as possible due to the tremendous heat.
On the main road back to Amritsar, we passed a large lake in which a herd of water buffalos wallowed neck deep, cooling their simmering hides. The large group of cowherds provided some of the prettiest local color we encountered on the whole trip. Adorned in distinctive and beautiful Punjabi garb, they humored us as we snapped shots of them and their herd on the side of the road.
The next morning, after taking in the closing of the border the night before, we visited the famous Golden Temple. Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) have a reputation for being some of the most peaceful, quietest, and cleanest holy places in India. Sikhs seem to collectivize their wealth and efforts well. Many Gurdwaras provide daily soup kitchens for those who are in need. In the heart of the temple complex, there often sits a wide, square pool in which people bathe. An outdoor carpet over the white marble encourages visitors and devotees to circumambulate the pool. Alcoves allow escape from the sun along the way. On an island in the middle of the complex sits the Golden Temple—a brilliant, gleaming building in the middle of this tranquil pool. Near the entrance bridge to the temple were purple-robed singers and a room that houses the Holy Book that Sikh’s worship. In the exhaust-choked air and grime of Amritsar, the Golden Temple is very much a refuge. One could easily wile away an entire morning in the cool calm of this sanctuary. We spent a good portion of the morning there, but had to load up quickly. As the journey to Amritsar from Delhi (only 250 miles as the crow flies) took 14 hours, we knew that we had to leave soon if we wished to avoid night travel. As it happened, our route back proved far more direct and quick. We returned to Delhi by nightfall, three confluence points richer.