Paraglider about to land (Bir, India)

A Paraglider about to land
(Bir, India)

It was another beautiful sunny start to the morning drive, west towards Dharamsala. Along the way I stopped at Bir. This is a famous location for the paragliding fraternity. As I got closer to the drop zone I could see hundreds of paragliders up in the sky. I stopped to watch as they were returning from their morning flights. Many had been up in the air for over 5 hours. The first people I chatted to were Kat and Brian, a couple of Kiwis from Wanaka. I ended up joining them for lunch as we continued to watch the paragliders come into land along with Craig, yet another Kiwi.

Relaxing with Craig, Brian and Kat after their long day in the air  (Bir, India)

Relaxing with Craig, Brian and Kat after their long day in the air
(Bir, India)

After lunch I was back on the road as I was motivated to get to Dharamsala before it got dark and thus avoid a repeat of the Patna night driving games. I made it just before dusk. However I was staying in McLeod Ganj which was another 10 kms straight up what was a massive hill. It had all the narrow alleys and intersections India is famous for, on the side of one rather big hill. I found the hotel eventually, parked up and relaxed before heading out for a look around.

Mcleod Ganj is famous for being the home of the Dalai Lama in exile. There is a massive Tibetan community living on the side of this hill. It’s very popular for Buddhists, spiritual tourists and yoga retreats. I happened to strolled past the Dalai Lama’s place on my way to dinner. Turns out we were neighbours. Then again everybody was virtual neighbours given the density of houses in such a small area. At dinner I met Nicky from the US, a student studying in the area. We hit on a plan to walk up to Magic View point the next day where it was foretold that there was a magic view.

Look up at the top of Magic View Point (Dharamsala, India)

Looking up at the top of Magic View Point in the distance
(Dharamsala, India)

Shattered at the top of Magic View Point (Dharamsala, India)

Shattered at the top of Magic View Point
(Dharamsala, India)

The next morning Nicky and I caught an auto to Gallu Temple and then walked up to Magic View point. It was bloodly hard work for an unfit guy like me. Sitting in a truck for 6 months does nothing for your ability to do mildly strenuous exercise. I was also carrying up my film equipment only for the cloud to close in as we reached the top. Fortunately after recovering from biggest physical activity my body had to endure in months I managed to shoot some good footage during a break in the cloud. The views were pretty spectacular. The stroll back down was far more enjoyable.

Nicky and I at Magic View Point (Dharamsala, India)

Nicky and I at Magic View Point
(Dharamsala, India)

Dharamsala from Magic View Point (Dharamsala, India)

Dharamsala from Magic View Point
(Dharamsala, India)

Tibetan Film Festival (Dharamsala, India)

Tibetan Film Festival
(Dharamsala, India)

On the way back to town I walked back past the Tibetan Film Festival so popped in to see the next film. Journey of a Dream was about Tibetan refugee from Darjeeling who becomes a metal rock musician before immigrating to Canada via the asylum process. The film merges three stories in one. The Darjeeling metal scene (which I’d unfortunately missed while in Darjeeling, as I’m sure every other tourist did also), the struggle for a free Tibet and the film makers own escape to Canada and his continued metal rock career.

Quick as a flash I was off again. Amritsar was the next destination. Famed for its Golden Temple and the Wagha border closing ceremony. For me it was also the final point of my Indian odyssey. The location that I would be crossing over the border and where I needed to make my final preparations for Pakistan.

I arrived in good time and treated myself to a nice hotel. At $22 usd per night it was the highest price I’d paid for a room when given the choice. (China was for closer to $30 per night but that was the cheapest option available). I just wanted a bit of comfort, with a car park and internet connection so I could prepare for big three hot spots of Pakistan, Iran and Iraq.

The Golden Temple from the entrance (Amritsar,India)

The Golden Temple from the entrance
(Amritsar,India)

The food kitchen at the Golden Temple (Amritsar, India)

The food kitchen at the Golden Temple
(Amritsar, India)

The Golden Temple in the afternoon (Amritsar,India)

The Golden Temple in the afternoon
(Amritsar,India)

I headed for the Golden Temple the next day. It was an amazing place. Beautifully chilled tunes played from loud speakers as you strolled around the inside. It enclosed a quadrangle of white buildings that surrounded a giant pool of water with the Golden Temple in the middle. I sat down with the locals and watched the world go by for the best part of an hour as the sun set. The beauty of the place became apparent as the sun went down the lights came on around the temple. With voices kept respectfully low all you could hear was the traditional prayer music from the speakers. It was easy to see why it’s so popular. I’d have to say it was one of the best examples of a religious temple I’d ever seen. Just a brilliant combination of buildings, water, music, lights and prayer. They even had a free food kitchen for anybody that wanted a meal.

The Golden Temple in the evening (Amritsar,India)

The Golden Temple in the evening
(Amritsar,India)

The Golden Template at Night (Amritsar,India)

The Golden Template at Night
(Amritsar,India)

I been told that the border closing ceremony between India and Pakistan was not to be missed. I arrived at the border at 2.45pm. The gates didn’t open until closer to 4pm. While the ceremony wasn’t due to get underway until sometime between 5pm and 6pm. There is a special spot for foreigners so there was no need to rush. The locals however are there in force from 2pm. There would have been over one thousand people there by 3.15pm. It’s common to have up to 20,000 people attend this border closing ceremony.

The locals queue up for the border closing ceremony (Wagha, India)

The locals queue up for the border closing ceremony
(Wagha, India)

Indian Border Guard (Wagha, India)

Indian Border Guard
(Wagha, India)

Once inside we got VIP treatment as foreigners. Michelle, Julie, Jenny (who I met at the gates) and I were the first to arrive in the VIP area. Michelle and I got into the Indian patriotic swing of things and went for a run up and down the border with the Indian flag. The Indian side was like a massive dance party, while the Pakistan side plays its own music as well. They didn’t quite the same numbers but then who does when compared to India. It was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. Both sides did over the top marching and strutting while puffing out their chests with great bravado. The crowd goes wild on both sides for all the action as announcers build them into a frenzy. Everybody went away completely pumped up.

Wagha Border Crossing (Wagha, India)

Wagha Border Crossing
(Wagha, India)

Wagha Border Crossing (Wagha, India)

Wagha Border Crossing
(Wagha, India)

The day before I crossed the border I went through my now well-practiced final preparations. I topped up my fuel, exchanged cash for Pakistan rupees and checked all my paperwork for the border. I was ready to go.

That night though I couldn’t sleep. I was both nervous, and excited. Every time I come to a new border I wonder if there is something that I’ve missed in my preparations. What if they don’t let me in. Of course this has never happened yet, but it didn’t stop my mind from thinking such thoughts. The fact that it was Pakistan I was entering only heightened the tension.

I arrived at India customs just in time to compete with the morning bus loads in immigration. I signed in and drive to the main passenger immigration building. I passed through immigration easily enough. Then I had to wait for customs to clear Boris. It was a lot smoother than entering India as these guys had actually seen a Carnet de Passage (vehicle passport) before. I was soon cleared to exit India and I headed for the border. My final act was to drive along the road that I had run along with an India flag just two days previously. This time I handed over my exit form, said my farewells and took a depth breath. Fifty metres away was the Pakistan border and a huge border guard, just waiting for me…

7 Responses to “Dharamsala & Amritsar – Crazy Borders, Spiritual Hills & Golden Temples”

  1. Biren Thapar says:

    Ah Jon your blogs are always something which your readers look forward to reading .Magic Point in Dharamsala ???? And I think I knew Mcleodgang well enough !!!!! Was it on the way to Triund? Would be interesting to know though.:-)))
    Amritsar seems from your blog has occupied a special place in your heart . Yes there is indeed peace and tranquility in the golden temple premises – but it has a lot to do with the general cleanliness with the complex . And hey there was no mention about the super delicious food of Amritsar!!!!
    Keep writing and keep traveling Jon while we continue to live with your dreams that u r following – and seeing and living the less travelled world through your eyes :-)))))))

  2. Brilliant mate, and now that my India trip is over I’ve still been there vicariously with you. Amazing pics too brother. Keep it up mate, and stay safe.

    • Cheers Steve. My India trip ended 2 weeks ago but it’s taken me a while to write up. Internet up the KKH isn’t the best. My Indian summary post is out soon.

  3. Timothy Meier says:

    For internet there’s a cafe in Karimabad which has tops wifi even good enough for a Skype call, even surprised me!

  4. Timothy Meier says:

    …..and say g’day to Nazim and the Gulmit Continental Hotel for me!

    • Didn’t stay there but pretty sure they were just as friendly as the guys at Hunza View Hotel and Passu Ambassador Hotel where I stayed. The lads at Besham Continental were good too.

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