Happy Independence Day.
Today, we are celebrating our 66th Independence Day. The Independence Day of any country is a moment of pride and glory and is an occasion for retrospection, assessing our achievements and failures & formulating corrective action where we are still lagging far behind e.g. education at all levels, child labour, upliftment of poors, casteism and the list can just go on and on. It is also time to remember and pay tributes to the freedom fighters, who sacrificed their lives and fought to free our motherland from the clutches of the oppressors – British who ruled the country for nearly 200 years.
15th of August, is a holiday commemorating India’s independence from the British rule and its birth as a sovereign nation on 15 August 1947. We achieved independence following the Indian independence movement.
Today India is a vibrant Nation. However, we tend to take many things for granted. In our normal day to day, routine life we hardly remember them who sacrificed their life to free our motherland. On our 66th years of Independence, let’s make a resolution to make India beautiful and fight against terrorism, anti-social elements, corruptions…each one of us can make a difference.
At the beginning of another year of our Independence, wishing you all a very Happy Independence Day.
I just thought to write about one of our trips to Amritsar which we did few years back in Year 2009, to pay our tributes at Jallianwala Bagh.
I always found myself driving on the road without planning my trip before (things have changed a little bit after the birth of my son gradually). It is not that I don’t love planning my vacation well in advance, but most of the time my planned vacation ends up with cancellation at the last moment and the heart-break thereafter. Nainital is one of those places which are still undiscovered by me, despite I had confirmed train tickets in my hand for the consecutive three years from 2005 to 2007. However, even my unplanned travel/adventure turned out to be an equally organized, except the train tickets in my hand.
In 2009, we were celebrating our 63rd Independence Day. We had three consecutive holidays in the second week of August, 2009 (Janmastami being on Friday, the 14th and Saturday/Sunday as weekly off). It was a normal working day for me on August 13th and I had no plan till lunch time. Last year (in 2008), we were in Jaipur on Janmastami and I just thought why not to use those three days and go somewhere. I called up home around 5 p.m. and informed Madhumita that we might go somewhere, (as destination & departure time not yet planned) and be ready with our suitcase packed, particularly keep everything related to our child. After filling-up the tank and checking the tyre pressure, I reached home around 8 p.m. We had finally decided to visit Amritsar (though it was a close call for Shimla). Now came the big question
“When would you start”?
“Now, just after dinner”.
“How can you drive at night, you haven’t taken any rest after office”,
“Is it safe to drive at night?”…etc. etc…
It may sound exaggerating, but I don’t feel tired even if I don’t have a chance to sleep for few days…I experienced it once for consecutive seven days (though that was 6/7 years ago)…and I just hate sleeping…4 to 5 hours’ sleep in a day is more than sufficient…we won’t be here for a long, why to waste time.
Next it was time to book a hotel. From the list of the nominated hotel list circulated by our HR Department, found a Hotel namely “Punnu International, 7, Court Road, Amritsar, Punjab”, which seems to be within our Budget and booked one room for three days tentatively. (They charged Rs.1,000/- per night, three years ago).
After taking bath and an hour’s nap to give rest to my eyes, I was feeling fresh again and was ready for a long drive. At 12 a.m., the three of us were ready to leave our home in Gurgaon and started our journey. My son, who was going to complete 2 years next month (i.e. Sep 2009), was still awake and believe me he wanted to keep his eyes open, as if he might misses something on the way. We came across a huge traffic before the Kundli border and it took nearly an hour to cross that stretch of 15 km. We stopped at a Dhaba at Murthal at 2:30 a.m. (exactly 80 km from our home) to grab some parathas and tea. It was a smooth drive from there till we reach Rajpura, the Haryana-Punjab border around 5:30 in the morning, thanks to the newly constructed & well lit flyover at Panipat and beautifully built NH-1 (though, construction was still going on in Y-2009 in some phases, which might have been over by now).
Everyone got up and returned to the front seat by now. For the first time in our life, we entered in the State of Punjab. It was still dark and took nearly 30 mins to cross the border, due to heavy traffic; we had to pass through so many trucks.
We were hungry and opened the packed food (Luchi & Alur Dam) which we made before leaving home. We always carry some home made food whenever we travel, so that whenever we feel hungry and nothing at sight we can eat while driving – I find it so convenient and it also save journey time. However, we had to stop at a restaurant around 8 a.m. for my son as he was fully dependent on Celerac/Milk, as well as to be freshen-up. Though, it was a different story that he hardly ate anything during the entire trip of three days, but we had to admire the level of his energy. We crossed Ludhiana soon and some other small towns in Punjab on the way. I am in Delhi for quite some time and aware of those names…felt excited while passing through them.
When we crossed Jalandhar, we knew that we are about to reach Amritsar, which is approx. 94 km from there. Both of us were also excited just to think how close we were from the border and from our neighbouring country. Honestly, we wanted to go back to pre-Independence era just to feel how life would be for those people in the undivided country. The Independence coincided with the partition of India wherein the British Indian Empire was divided along religious lines into two new nations—Dominion of India (later Republic of India) and Dominion of Pakistan (later Islamic Republic of Pakistan).
On 14th morning, we reached Amritsar (480 km from our Gurgaon home) at 10 a.m. However, it took another hour to reach Hotel from there, due to heavy city traffic, as well as our inability to follow the language. We thought to take few hours rest and explore the city thereafter. After taking shower, we had our lunch in the hotel and went to sleep for couple of hours.
The decision to leave at night paid-off finally. If we would have decided to leave in the morning, we won’t be able to reach before evening.
Jallianwala Bagh & the Golden Temple
After a sound sleep of three hours, we were fresh again and left the hotel by 4 p.m. We parked our car in the parking lot of the Golden Temple Shrine and went straight to Jalianwala Bagh. When we were entering through the gate, all the history pages suddenly come alive in front of us. From our childhood, we heard / read so many things about this place and today, we are standing there which witnessed one of the bloodiest massacres during our Independence movement.
A brief history
On Sunday 13 April 1919, Brigadier-General Reginald E.H. Dyer was convinced that a major insurrection was going on, thus he banned all meetings. On hearing that a meeting of 15,000 to 20,000 people had assembled (which included women, senior citizens and children) at Jallianwala Bagh, he went with fifty riflemen to a raised bank and ordered them to shoot at the crowd. Dyer kept the firing up till the ammunition supply was almost exhausted for about ten minutes with 1,650 rounds fired approximately. Official Government of India sources estimated that the fatalities were 379, with 1,100 wounded. The casualty number estimated by Indian National Congress was more than 1,500, with approximately 1,000 getting killed. At Jallianwala Bagh out of the 1,302 men, women and children slaughtered, 799 (61%) were Sikhs.
Just to imagine on what happened on that fateful day of April 13, 1919, where so many people were trapped and killed, brought tears from our eyes.
The place is still closely related with our family and place i.e. Dasghara (some of the readers in this forum may still remember ‘Dasghara’ through my last post, published on August 4 :
Late Shri S. C. Mukhopadhyay, the person behind the Jallianwala Bagh Memorial & Trust, was my father’s grandfather (Maternal side) and Dasghara is also their home.
The memorial is managed by the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust and one member of Mukhopadhyay family is the secretary of the Trust. The family stays in Jallianwala Bagh Complex. Though they know my parents and everyone at our home, I didn’t remember them. I met them only once in my childhood. Whenever they visited the place, we were not there, as we were staying far away from our ancestor’s place. The last time my parents met them sometime in ’80s – distance, time & work took its toll on the relation. However, we heard a lot from our grandmother about them. From my childhood, I had a long wish to meet them at Amritsar to rekindle the family tie. My uncle, cousin brothers are in touch with them and used to visit them frequently, as they are staying in Delhi since birth.
We were a bit excited to meet them, at the same time we were thinking on how to introduce ourselves. We couldn’t meet anyone, as the caretaker informed us that no one was at home and asked us to come next day during Flag hosting ceremony.
We spent few hours in the Memorial. We have no words to express as to what we had witnessed on that day. The bullet holes were seen on the walls and adjoining buildings. There is a well into which many people jumped and drowned attempting to save themselves from the bullets, which is now a protected monument inside the park.
After spending two hours over there, we went to the Golden Temple.
We reached the Shrine around 6:30 p.m., two hours before the sunset. The Gurbaani welcomed us. The majestic shrine, ‘Golden Temple’ just took our breathe away. We went there not as a devotee, but just as a tourist. We were just sitting on the side of the pond for two hours and the magnificent structure was just in front of us. It was really a beautiful sight to forget, the white structure, clock towers, pond, coloured fishes, the sky and the temple. We didn’t talk, just staring at the shrine.
It was a wonderful feeling and we didn’t know by when we became devotees from just a normal tourist. My son likes the place most because of the coloured fishes. After sunset, we offered prayer and left the place around 9:30. On our way to hotel, we stopped at a restaurants for dinner and ordered ‘Thalis’. The food is excellent; actually whenever & wherever we ate something in Amritsar, we found the food is very good. We reached hotel around 11 p.m. and went to sleep in no time.
August 15, 2009:
Happy Independence Day.
We had a plan to visit Jallianwala Bagh, the Golden Temple & Wagha Border today.
The hotel manager suggested us to leave by 2 p.m. for Wagha border. So, we had the entire morning to roam around Amritsar and also we had to go to see the Flag Hosting ceremony at Jalliwanla Bagh to meet our relatives.
We are proud to be a part of the Flag Hosting Ceremony at Jallianwala Bagh. It was such a historic moment for us.
This time, we were able to meet Mr. Mukherjee, the chairman of the Trust, in his office. When we gave him our details, he welcomes us and surprised at the same time. He is in the same age group of my Dad and remembers my parents very well. It was a nice one hour with him exchanging family details; unfortunately, no one was at home except him. He also returned a day before just for the Flag Hosting Ceremony on 15th August. We couldn’t meet other family members. He invited us for lunch at home but we left the place, after promising him to come back again along with our parents whenever we will visit next. We were at loss of words, since he was such a senior person and this was our first meeting.
We went to the Shrine again, sat there for quite some time and proceed to Langar by 12 noon. It is an experience, I will never forget in my life.
The Langar (free kitchen) was started by the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji. It is designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people of the world regardless of religion, caste, colour, creed, age, gender or social status. In addition to the ideals of equality, the tradition of Langar expresses the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humankind. All people would sit on the floor together, as equals, to eat the same simple food. It is here that all people high or low, rich or poor, male or female, all sit in the same row to share and enjoy the food together.
This is very generous, as there may be several hundred people to feed. All the preparation, the cooking and the washing-up is done by volunteers.
In the Golden Temple Community Kitchen at an average 50,000 devotees or tourists take langar in the Community Kitchen daily; but the number becomes almost double on special occasions.
We left for Wagha Border around 2:30 p.m., which is ~ 35 km from the city.
Wagha is the only road border crossing between Pakistan and India and lies on the Grand Trunk Road between the cities of Amritsar, Punjab, India and Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. Wagha itself is a village through which the controversial Radcliffe Line, the boundary demarcation line dividing India and Pakistan upon the Partition of India, was drawn. The village was divided by Independence in 1947. Today, the eastern half of the village remains in the Republic of India while the western half is in Pakistan.
It is particularly known for the elaborate Wagha border ceremony that happens at the border gate before sunset each day. I had no idea about the celebration in details, except it is a must watch show for every Indian from my friends, whoever went there.
We saw a large number of crowd and a very long queue, after parking our car and thought it was quite natural, being the importance of the Day. What we never thought that this place would not have the facility to manage such a large number of crowd.
The crowd started getting very large in number and there was pushing and shoving all around. Seeing us along with our child, the Border Security Force (BSF) Personnel came to our rescue and allowed us to go inside without waiting in the queue. But within few minutes, they had to open the gate and people started running, pushing, jumping the security barrier and the scene was of uncontrollable chaos. By the time, we reached the main entrance; the stadium was full and closed for the public. It was drizzling and we were disappointed. There were many people like us outside the Gate.
We came to see the show but won’t be able to go inside. When we thought to leave the place, an army officer again came and helped us to go inside and arranged a place for us. The show has already started. However, from that point we could hardly see anything. We captured some moments in the Handy cam and became an instant hit in the crowd, since no one was able to see anything – whatever they enjoyed, they enjoyed through the view finder. After 20 minutes, it was raining heavily and we decided to leave the place; the show was still going on with the same unhealthy spirit.
We were completely wet but rain has stopped by then. This time, we were in no hurry to reach the stadium for the show and have enough time to reach our Hotel. We went near to the fence and saw the border. Except the fencing, everything is so similar. The other part of the fence was also a part of India before partition few decades ago and there was no border.
Today I wonder the need of that show. Yes, we are the craziest people on Earth, including myself. We can go to any length to witness such celebrations. But, we must stop this kind of hatred towards each other, which is totally unwanted, if we really want to develop good relations between these two nations. It is high time we let go of the past.
On our way back to Amritsar, we saw a signboard displaying Attari 2 km. We instantly took a right turn.
Attari is a village of Amritsar District in Punjab. It lies on the rail route connecting Lahore, Pakistan with Delhi.
We reached the Attari station. This is the last station on Indian soil and Pakistan is within a distance of 3 km. We were really thrilled when the guard allowed us to enter the station, without any ticket. The station is similar to any other ordinary railway station in India but the importance of this station can’t be measured by its’ look. We roam around the station for nearly one hour and left around 7:30 p.m. By the time the road was free from traffic and we reached Hotel by 9 at night. It was a long but a very good day for us at the same time.
We would be leaving Amritsar next morning.
August 16, 2009
It was a Sunday and we would have loved to spend one more day, but had no other option but to leave. After breakfast, we went to the Shrine for a quick prayer and by 10, we left the Hotel for Delhi.
The manager of the Hotel suggested us to have a taste of Patisa and gave us the direction of a famous sweet shop, which is at the other end of the road ‘Judges Colony’. We bought Patisa for everyone from there and packed some snacks for the journey. Patisa is made with a lot of labour as the sugar is crystallized first and then it is made. It has layers over layers over it and it’s really yum to have.
We asked the direction of NH-1 or Chandigarh to one person. However, later on we found ourselves at no man’s land after driving almost an hour through the interior of villages – most probably, again it was our inability to follow the language. However, with the help of some locals, we were back again just before Amritsar around 12 noon. We had our lunch at Amritsar again and reached NH-1 with the help of the restaurant owner.
I really enjoyed driving through Punjab; it was very refreshing. The landscape reminds us about our place as we were about to leave for Home next month for Durga Puja. We just looked at each other when we reached Panipat around 6:00 p.m. and stopped for a break. It was a different story, may be sometime later we will share it through some other post. it took another six hours to reach Delhi from them due to heavy traffic and finally reached home at 1 a.m.
It was a memorable trip, which I will always remember.