We pick up, on Day 1, as the dawn breaks and I arrive into Amritsar train station…
Top bunk (I think), hands and feet wrapped around my belongings, clutching for dear life should anyone decide to thieve them in my sleep. I suspect I slept badly, in fits and bursts. To be honest, I can remember very little. Except, stepping out on to that platform, all hustle and bustle, trying to find my hosts.
That’s right, HOSTS.
You see, although I was alone, I was as smart as I could be about it. And being of the rather sociable type, I like to make friendly contacts wherever I go. My host’s name was Kamal K. I don’t think I’ll ever forget him, his wife, his parents and his warm hospitality. They were friends of friends of friends, yet they treated me like one of their own.
As I stepped off the train I was hit by the distinct Punjabi-ness of it. I’m a southerner you see. I’ve been to Delhi, I’d been to Agra, I’d even been to the rural foothills of the Himalayas, but something about this place really hit me. I AM IN PUNJAB. How amazing! Sadarjis here, Sadarjis there. So distinct in appearance, so distinct in nature. Until of course one won’t leave you alone.
‘No! I already have someone coming to pick me up!’ Here, my broken rubbish Hindi was a bit useless actually. If it wasn’t Punjabi, it wasn’t worth listening to. So this white bearded beast of a taxi man hovered beside me as I distinctly tried to ignore him until I found the smiling faces of Kamal K and his wife. Thank goodness for good timing. And henna died hair. Orange hair, I kid you not. Short and ‘modern’, combed to one side though not exactly for any balding purposes. And his misses, for some reason in my mind all I can see is the colour pink. Sweet and light, smiles and sparkles. Gems in her nose and her ears. A bindi, lipstick and slightly crooked teeth. Warm in her heart and warm in her eyes. We communicated through human nature, there’s really no other way to put it.
And with that we went by cycle rickshaw to my ‘first day’ hotel. A place they had booked for me because of its ‘raving reviews’. Actually, it wasn’t quite what I had in mind but I didn’t want to be rude. After all, they had gone to all the effort of finding me somewhere ‘decent’ to stay though I had the good sense of saying please just book for one day and we’ll look around for somewhere closer to the Temple. Did I also mention how I changed rooms twice because they were slightly cockroach infested (I know, I hear you, it’s India, there are going to be cockroaches. But trust me I paid well for this place and I would expect for it to have been rid of cockroaches, dead or alive). Anyway…
I had this dream you see, to stay right by the Temple so I could go day and night, night and day, whenever I pleased to soak in the atmosphere and changing rhythms of worship without fear of travelling alone, at night especially. The compromise? C. J. International.
It might not be much, I admit I didn’t even try their ‘breakfast included’ breakfast, but it was a bed, it was cheap and it was clean. That’s all that mattered to me. Yes it was loud and noisy, but then who doesn’t want to hear the Temple singing them to sleep? I had the great pleasure of being able to leave my shoes in my room, wander past reception, hand in my key to the concierge (who on the first day took my bag and tipped his hat at the fact I’d been carrying it all by myself!), and then hop, skip and jumped my way onto the red carpet which took you straight to the mouth of the Temple itself.
What more could a Temple junkie ask for?
Why a home stay of course. Because on Day 1 of Amritsar, I didn’t end up stay at Cockroach Hotel after all. I stayed at Chez Kamal K and wife, and his amazing extended family. To this day, a secret not told.
Psst, don’t tell anyone. Promise?