October 15th - Delhi to Amritsar

The longest drive of the tour, nearly 500 kms along the expressway from Delhi heading north-west into the Punjab. The Punjab was split by the British at independence and caused much upheaval and loss of life. Once again our drive was not an easy one. This time major construction works of a new Metro line slowed us down as we left Delhi.

Further on widening of the expressway from two to three lanes made travel very slow for the first 100 kms. After that even though the road was better the driving habits of the Indian truck and car drivers wasn't! On several occasions we faced trucks driving at us on the wrong side of the carriageway. Once this happened with a police car in front of us who drove on as though there was nothing wrong! Many of the vehicles are chronically overloaded as shown in the photo below.

Sadly, we have had our first accident involving one of the participants. No one was hurt but the car now has only one headlight and a badly buckled bonnet and wing. Apparently a farm tractor and trailer pulled out onto the expressway with no warning at all. Another example of how unpredictable it can be driving in India. Do you think English bus passengers would like to travel on a motorway carried like this??? On the left in front of us is one of the white Ford Endeavour rental vehicles that many of the group are using.

Our drive to Amritsar took nearly 8 hours and wasn't helped by further roadworks as we approached the city. Our hotel, the Ritz Plaza, didn't live up to its name or rating. The Indians said it was a 4 star, everyone on the tour said 2 star at best. Our bathroom had a leaking toilet which flooded the floor!

Amritsar is just 25 kms from the Pakistan border and at Wagah there is the only land crossing point between the two countries. Each evening they have a ceremonial closing of the border. It has become a great tourist and nationalistic event. The border is opened at 6am for pedestrians and then at 10am for trucks. The border closes at 4pm but not officially until 5.30pm when several thousand people sit in open stands on each side of the border and watch a military ceremony that involves soldiers strutting and posturing. The ceremony has become a very nationalistic event with great cheers and chants from each side to announcers proclaiming how great their country is. The Indian soldiers who take part in the ceremony have the most impressive uniforms I have ever seen.

Their head dress has a large fan on top.

The Pakistani soldiers have similar uniforms.

I was reminded of John Cleese's Ministry of Silly Walks, when I watched the soldiers marching with the highest steps imaginable, to and from the border gates. The gates with Pakistan in the background.

When they are at the gates they stamp and posture at the soldiers across the border. It is all very strange, although an unforgettable experience to watch. The gates were officially closed as the national flags of India and Pakistan were lowered to great cheers and shouts from both crowds.

We returned to the hotel and had a 2 star mediocre meal. Tomorrow we visit the Golden Temple and then head for the Himalayan foothills.

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