In the fourth week we ended up staying in Ludhiana a few days more than planned. We spent a lot of time with the hotel owner Aajit who was very generous with his time and showed us around the city. The best place he showed us was Lahore Book Shop, off the main road and down some small side streets. On the outside it is unassuming,yet the shop fulfills every romantic notion that comes to mind when you hear the word “bookstore”. The smell of old paper filled the tiny narrow room full floor to ceiling with books as the owner, Aajit’s friend, led us around showing off his collection of books in Punjabi, Hindi, and English. More of his friends later showed up to meet and talk with us. One day we traveled to a large Punjabi village named Maler Kotla. Maler Kotla is unique in that was not affected by religious violence and exodus like many other villages during partition. We started in home of my professor’s friend where we were introduced to the family’s three daughters and shown around their farm. From there we road in a tractor along with about of a dozen children from the village to see a wrestling match. Afterwards we went to the local mosque but first stopped to eat samosas with honey in a shop owned by friends of the family we were visiting. We ended up stopping at many houses of locals who urged us to come in and drink chai. At the end of the night a few dozen children from the village came to catch a look at the foreigners and to wave us goodbye. On our last day in Ludhiana, we visited Raja Ranjit Singh’s fort. Two friends of Aajit joined us and we walked around and for an hour. As we toured the fort I walked with and spoke in Hindi with a woman named Sarab. At the end of our stay in Ludhiana, we took a bus to Amritsar, a city famous for Sikh pilgrimage. In Amritsar we visited Sri Harmandir Sahib, the holiest Gurdwara in Sikhism commonly referred to as “the Golden Temple” by foreigners. There, among thousands of pilgrims in prayer and worship we experienced the centuries old architecture of the Sri Harmandir Sahib, ate at Langar or the community kitchen, and walked through a museum dedicated to Sikh history.
(Sikh symbol on the balcony of museum with Sri Harmandir Sahib in the back, stairs down to Sri Harmandir Sahib)
The next day we visited the Wagah border. Here the boarders between Pakistan and India are separated by gates which are raised in synchrony in an elaborate ceremony. With over an hour to go before the performance began, the stands were packed with families, groups of rowdy young men, and foreign tourists. Even the sweltering heat of the sun beating down didn’t reduce the energy of the scene. Music about the love and pride of Hindustan blasted over the murmer of the wide eyed crowds chanting with proud smiles and fists pumping in the air. The soldiers towered over the average citizen as they powered towards the other side with wild eyes and violently high kicks to puff their chests and flex their arms at the other side. All the while, citizens cheered and lifted their cameras to film, “chanting long live India!” to the encouragement of one another and the MC.
(Zero point – no man’s land between India and Pakistan, Indian soldier in front of gate, Indian soldiers marching with crowd in background)
The next day, we returned to Ludhiana to spend a few more days focused on our studies to compensate for future travel. During this time we watched a movie Bol about women’s rights in Pakistan. Most of the days we spent in Ludhiana the other intermediate Hiindi students and I went out with our professor and spent the afternoons running errands. At first he did most of the talking but he quickly turned it over to us, having us lead discussions with locals on money exchange, transportation, and food. This more often than not led to us being invited into people’s shops, where we sat down for long conversations over chai. We ended the week with a return to Delhi on the famous nation-wide train system.