Today I left the beautiful views on Strawberry Hill, near Dharamkot and headed to Amritsar. I had met a nice young man from a local village on my last visit to McLeodGanj and he had said that I could visit his family in their home when I was next here. I contacted him and he met me at the bus stop in his village of Chetdu, near Gagal. On the way I photographed local people and scenes, and stopped at a local sweet shop to sample some India’s famous sweets. There were many, many small towns and villages along the route. As this area is mostly a farming community, I saw many tractors loaded with all sorts of goods and wares, and soaked in the miles and miles of flat, green landscape. There is a lot of water in the state/district, so farming is very lucrative.
We arrived in Chetdu, and my friend Vicky was waiting for me. He gave me a warm greeting and said “Welcome to my home.” We walked just a very short distance to where he lived. It was a shared space of 10 families. Each had a small room around an open air patio. His father had abandoned the family years ago, so Vicky was in charge of his mother, two sisters and one brother. For privacy’s sake I won’t go into a lot of details, but suffice to say the scene I encountered was heart wrenching. The family was very warm and welcoming and offered me a small cup of chai tea. I had bought them a large box of sweets, and I gave this to them. They let me take a few photos, and I excused myself and Vicky walked me back to the car. It certainly puts one life in crystal clear perspective. The quote that came to mind as I was driving away was one of Viktor Frankl’s “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
We continued driving along the narrow road and stopped for a break just short of the Himachal Pradesh/Punjab border. In Punjab there are many toll stations. At the border one needs to pay at a little stand alone building, but the rest are just like in the US, and can be paid out the window to a little stand. As we continued into Punjab (the breadbasket of India,) we began to see many Sikhs. With the Golden Temple located in Amritsar, most of the population in this area are Sikhs. I was delighted at the vast array of colorful “dastars” (turbans). I learned that orange, blue and white turbans are usually worn at religious ceremonies. Red is worn at weddings. Turbans are worn to cover the long, uncut hair “kesh.” They are mandatory and must be worn at all times. In the homes there are smaller versions that are worn, and to sleep in. Among the Sikhs, the dastaar is an article of faith that represents honour, self-respect, courage, spirituality, and piety. Dastars are only removed in the most intimate situations, and when washing the hair. Sikhs also keep what are known as the “Five K’s. These are:
- Kesh (uncut hair)
- Kara (a steel bracelet)
- Kanga (a wooden comb)
- Kaccha – also spelt, Kachh, Kachera (cotton underwear)
- Kirpan (steel sword)
I checked into my hotel after the 5 hour drive. Tomorrow we visit the Golden Temple, among other sites.