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  • Writer's pictureSandy Snyder

Northern India

Our fourth loop took us from New Delhi to northern and western India, all the way to Dharamshala, the home of the Dalai Lama, and the Wagah Border crossing into Pakistan. We also visited Shimla, Chamba and Amritsar.

Shimla is a beautiful city in the foothills of the Himalayas. It was the summer capital of colonial India, where the British escaped the heat of Delhi. We reached it on a narrow-gauge railroad and were able to spend only a few hours and one night in town. Most educational was a tour of the “Vice-Regal Lodge”, which clearly showed how the British designed the town for their comfort and purposes. In 1945, the British hosted partition discussions with Nehru, Jinna and Gandhi at the Lodge.

We were fortunate to be in Dharamshala on the day marking the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s exodus from Tibet. This man is one of two or three people in this world who (to me) are worthy of following. Parades and protests filled the streets, though the Dalai Lama himself stayed at his home (at the request of the Indian government). In our group was a US citizen who'd never heard of the Dalai Lama. We told him a bit, and he came back the next evening, excited because he actually saw the Dalai Lama in his official car, heading to New Delhi for discussions with the Indian government. Darn -- missed it.

There’s a Tibetan community surrounding His Holiness' home that includes a temple and a school to teach young Tibetans the crafts of Tibet, so that the skills and art will not be lost.

Another of my favorite places in India is Amritsar in Punjab, very close to the border with Pakistan. At the center of the city is the Golden Temple, the holiest gurdwara (religious complex) of the Sikh religion. I haven’t enough space to even to begin to explain the Sikh religion, but I can give you two examples of way the Sikh community sticks out in the generally Hindu Indian landscape. First, in a country where feet and shoes are dirty and where the people who clean them are "untouchable", the men of the gurdwara in old Delhi clean the footwear of worshipers.

Second, at any gurdwara anyone can request free food. At the Golden Temple, about 50,000 (!) people are fed daily, with all the food donated and prepared by volunteers. We had helped to prepare food at a gurdwara in old Delhi, but this was amazing. Everyone sits on the floor to eat – no one is higher than anyone else, and volunteers bring the food to the visitors.

We (well, at least I) walked the circle around the temple with thousands of others, all of us wearing head coverings. I was at the front of our little group, and Tom quickly lost sight of me as I was swallowed up in the crowd. He panicked, found our trip leader and began a search, while I serenely walked around the temple. I wasn’t lost, but he certainly thought I was.

After we left Amritsar, we traveled to the Pakistani border at Wagah, where the evening flag-lowering ceremonies on each side of the border are a daily patriotic frenzy. Thousands of us sat in bleachers on the Indian side, while thousands sat on the Pakistani side. At precisely the same instant, the two sets of gates were opened, the guards marched up to each other, shook fists, did a little kick-marching, and took down their flags. The whole thing is so carefully choreographed that you know the border guards practice with their neighboring counterparts daily. My guess is that there are buddies across the border. We could not take good videos, as we were in the crowd, but You Tube has some great stuff, including the ceremony performed without audience on either side due to COVID-19.

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