I hope you enjoy this song while reading this blog post, the second part of a previous blog post. If you did not read the first part, you could do it by pressing on the name, “The total feeling of freedom.”
In 2010, I arrived in India for the third time. This time, with a nine years old boy, my son. We were picked up at the airport by a friend I had got to know on my first trip to India, back in 1995.
The first night of our arrival, we went out for dinner. After dinner, walking in the chaotic streets of New Delhi, searching for a rickshaw to take us back to our hotel, we passed by a father and his son. The boy had such a tiny and small physical appearance. Was he two or three years old? I can still recall the look on my son’s face, seeing the little boy, dressed in a ragged white t-shirt that reached down to his legs, standing next to his father, smoking.
And his father? He was either drunk or high on something else. Not easy to say, but he was not on the same planet as the rest of us. He had a total absent presence.
“Did you see that mama?” my son asked me in complete shock. That was his first real meeting with India.
And with the daylight, we got another incredible sight. India’s holy cows were all over the place. Lying everywhere, even in the middle of the streets or roundabouts, and the traffic lane, driving around them.
“Hahaha, Mamma, can you imagine seeing these holy cows in the streets of Norway? That would have been quite a sight.”
Even though Armand had traveled to various destinations with me, India’s streets were something utterly new and contrasting to him. Being used to Norway’s well-organized, clean, and quiet streets made India’s holy cows a fascinating appearance. Having a child full of wonder as my travel partner made visiting India a whole new experience.
After a few days in Dehli, off we were journeying to my old tracks. Places I had spent some extended time on during my two previous trips.
Javid had organized renting a car, and we were on the road to McLeod Ganj. McLeod Ganj is the residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and home to a large Tibetan population, including many maroon-robed monks and nuns. It is also known as little Lhasa.
After a couple of weeks in McLeod Ganj, Kashmir was calling. I am sure, if it were not for the never-ending war there, Kashmir would have been regarded as the paradise on earth by many more people than just me.
Kashmir, a region of the northwestern Indian subcontinent, is claimed by India and Pakistan, which has made the area a source of tension for years. If you have not read my blog post, “Children of Kashmir,” you can do it here.
And how had I ended up in Kashmir in the first place? The paradise that was at war during my first visits as well as our last visit.
It happend 15 years back on my first trip.
My flight from Kuala Lumpur landed late at night in Madras, known as Chennai today. Since I could not find a public bus so late at night, I took a taxi from the airport to town. Luckily!
Arriving in the city, I discovered there were no rooms available.
“There is a big conference in Madras,” they told me. Driving around with the taxi driver, looking for a room, could have ended up as a costly affair if it was not for one of the hotels that said yes to my request, sitting in the reception area waiting for the morning and light.
Early morning hours, when they saw me almost collapsing on the couch, I was suddenly offered a room. “We have an expensive room if you will pay for it.” I do not know why they had not provided it in the first place, but of course, I was willing to pay the price.
After a few hours of sleep, when I opened the windowś shutters, I heard myself shouting, “Good morning India.” Not long after, I was on my way to the tourist information, and that is how my trip to India started. At the tourist information, I met an English guy.
“Where are you heading to?” I asked him.
“Mahabalipuram, a small fishing village,” he replied.
“Do you mind if I join you? It is the first time I am out, traveling all by myself, and I feel a little small in this big world, if you see what I mean?”
“You are more than welcome to join me,” he answered with a polite English manner.
And that afternoon, I had met several new people, and one of them was an older Kashmiri jewelry shop owner. He was a friend of that English man. Through Yosef, I learned how Kashmiri men were all over India. Since the war had scared away the tourists, one of Kashmirś primary incomes, Kashmiri men had moved out with their business selling their handicrafts. They were all over India, earning money and sending it back to their families.
The gentle and caring Yosef and his shop became my anchor during my stay in Mahabalipuram. Mahabalipuram is also famous for its stone carvings. After some time in Mahabalipuram, my fear had disappeared, and I was ready to explore a few parts of that vast country and Nepal.
So now maybe you understand why I had to pay Kashmir a visit with my son, but we also sat out for some new spots I had not seen before after Kashmir.
Crossing the Golden Temple of Amritsar, Wagha border was a must. At a distance of 30 km from Amritsar Junction, Wagah Border is the only road border between India and Pakistan. It is the only legal crossing between India and Pakistan. Despite this tense relationship between India and Pakistan, both countries come together every sundown to produce a zealous, passionate ceremony that marks the border’s nightly closing.
And in Amritsar, the beauty of the Golden Temple, shining under the glowing sun, made it almost easy to forget the massacre of 1984. Maybe only for tourists like us and not for the Sikhs. The storming of the Golden Temple (In 1984), codenamed Operation Blue Star, was aimed at flushing out Sikh separatists who wanted an independent Sikh state in Punjab.
Operation Blue Star enraged many Sikhs and led to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was killed by her Sikh bodyguards in revenge.
Thanks again to the road for being the best school on earth for me. Would I have learned about the Wagah border, the Golden Temple, and Operation Blue Star if it was not because of the road? I am not sure.