Besides getting a glimpse at the modernized capital of Punjab & Haryana architecturally designed decades ago by a Swiss architect, I wanted to visit the Ned Chawk Rock Garden which was described by Lonely Planet as a tripped out inspiration that felt like you had been dropped through the rabbit hole. First comes first and that was breakfast composed of channa bhatura (Indian fried puff bread with balloon-size air pockets, chickpeas, and spiced sauces) and sweet lassi. Possibly since I was the only current customer in the restaurant at the time, the owner/manager told me how to eat the food including showing me the right sauce combination to make the world go round. He grew further curious with me especially after I told him that I was American. He was a staunch supporter of Hillary in the coming presidential election which I heard out. Socially connected, he got my picture and posted it with my satisfied description of this Punjabi breakfast. With a glass of chai, I sampled some of the desserts at this place Sai’s Sweets which are always a delicious herb and spice pleasure but damn Indians go overkill on their sugar. After getting the owner’s card and basically all his contact information, he surprised me by saying that my meal was on the house. The price was small but the gesture went great lengths for me. From there, I began the long walk to the Rock Garden, a walk that surpassed me delirious imaginations. I found it odd seeing turban dressed men with their impressive manly full length beards riding their scooters and motorcycles on these wide well paved roads after all that I had seen in the craziness of Asian road travel. Eventually believe it or not through undying sweat, I made it to the Rock Garden entrance. The Rock Garden was built hidden from the eye of authorities while the planned city came into fruition after clearing out all the villages that originally dotted the land. After some time, the mad genius artist was found out and his artwork threatened to be demolish until clearer minds saved the art for its heritage and now it is still gaining additions in the man’s original vision. I felt like I was walking through some madman conceptual design of my favorite architect Anton Gaudi. The rock garden was composed of plenty of you guessed it right, rocks, but also of so much more such weird combinations of recyclables from bicycle parts to old China to electric outlets to apparently even hair. Places like this expand your own concept of what the mind can come up with. I can only imagine what it would feel like walking through such a place if I were on any hallucinogens because my head was spinning as it were with the mind-bending constructions that hit me at every angle. It was this man’s vision of a village taken from a man who was a Pakistani refugee during a time of partition when his home originally sat within the lines of Punjab. Besides the Coraline made up dolls and other creatures that covered the area, I enjoyed the broken China of bowls and plates that were jaggedly pieced together into their place on the walls because they most fondly brought me back to my time in Barcelona. This is another thing that I love about traveling: for as much differences that we make about each other and all of our foreign lands, there are similarities to be found big and small that can disrupt our concept of a divided foreign world. The latest installment on the far side was a wide open courtyard walled up by funky rock formations and gave me the Parc Guell experience from Barcelona that I missed out on because it was too expensive. While I roamed the grounds I took cameos as a celebrity getting my picture taken with anyone in need of a white friend (one guy wanted a picture taken with me with my phone; I guess he wanted to make sure he had a place in my memories of India). Even though I could have wandered around for hours longer because it was a peaceful imaginative place, I left and decided to skip the government capital area since I needed to make sure I got to Amritsar with enough time in the night. Out of the desire for exercise, I chose to walk even though a negotiable auto rickshaw could have been had but my stubbornness got the best of me. Somehow against all odds and practicalities I got lost in a planned city. No other city in India could be better laid out for the misguided traveler but I found a way to buck that theory. I zigged and zagged at right angles to where I needed to go and finally reached my destination hot and bewitched. Taking this alternative route I did see further depth into the stark contrast between the begging poverty and the richly gated estates intermingling. I ate at Sai’s Sweets once more sampling some fluffy yogurt lentil dish and a fried samosa with chickpeas before checking out and looking for transport to the bus station. Some told me about the rickshaw option but I figured a more economical comfortable option was available, namely the bus. Again I asked around and found unbiased locals to get me on the right way. From the bus station it took five hours to reach Amritsar in the mid to late evening. I asked a local how much an auto rickshaw should cost to get to the Golden Temple, the main attraction and sight for all travelers and pilgrims, (better gather as much information as possible to know how much the drivers and touts are trying to overprice me) and he said 50 rupees. When I got to dealing with the driver he began with an incredulous offer of 150 rupees. Luckily the guy returned and offered me a free motorbike ride to the Temple. From there I took my first glances at the temple with it fully lit up and worshippers (both aware and the napping unconscious) scattered about the wide open courtyard before going on a scavenger hunt for the accommodation I set out to reach. Many touts tried to pull me in various directions but I emphasized that I had a room which in fact I did not have. One kind older Sikh man gave me some honest directions and so I spent a few spare moments with him to chat. Why come to foreign lands to simply see their temples, eat their foods, etc. and not actually interact with the peoples who made all of this possible and offer insights into what we traveled so far to visit and explore? I find the conversations rewarding. Some are misguided and just an attempt to make their conjectures on politics but enough times I learn more about the people of these countries whether it be how they view my own country or how kind they may be despite looking alien to what most people at home may presume. Eventually I found my destination and although I originally planned on getting my own room I found myself in a dormitory for only foreigners amidst this giant complex dedicated to pilgrims of all financial walks of life. For those that did not have the money, they could sleep on mats in the square courtyard of the building with some of the cleanest bathrooms I have encountered on my travels. After getting a Punjabi thali, I caught up with some wifi before heading back to the room with plans on immediately falling asleep but I ended up chatting with a French couple (who found my English to be one of the most understandable since I have grown to talk slower, with little to no slang, and clearer) for some time. Tomorrow I will properly visit the Golden Temple. Even though I only just arrived I may need to stick around longer than the full day I originally planned to truly grasp Sikhism and the magic of Punjabi food.
Expecting the Unexpected in India Day 256: Creative Junk Artist