After tasty Indian food for lunch at the beautiful, marble-ful house we stayed at, it’s into the car for a drive and a half. We head from Chandigarh to Amritsar, location of the golden temple. This shiny monstrosity is the holiest place of the Sikh religion. A significant minority of the population in India, men of this religion wear a turban because they’re not supposed to cut their hair and this holds it up and out of the way. I learn that another of their main principles is wearing special anti-adultery underwear, but don’t pursue any more info on that. Old guys with spears are serving as guards, maybe intimidating 300 years ago but just quaintly anachronistic now. Add in turbaned dudes swimming in the moat around the temple and the Sikh policy of giving away free food and there are definitely shabbier religions. The temple is, well, golden: a shiny 2-storied spectacle with chants pouring out of it and Sikhs streaming in. We cut our visit short before stopping in: rain clouds loom that look about to make us more than a little wet. On my way out, I learn from Professor Gangulee that some Sikh guy that wanted his own state holed himself up in the temple, along with a bunch of followers and weapons. In a move probably as ill-advised as Bush’s mosque bombings, the Indian prime minister at the time stormed the temple, motivating the Sikh government-in-exile to make death threats against many Indians living in America. A year and a half later, the prime minister’s Sikh bodyguards, who she’d repeatedly been advised to change, turned their guns on her, assassinating their boss and avenging the temple invasion. Moral of the story: not a good idea to screw with people’s holy places.
Rest of the day’s much more driving. One notable break: dinner at a real Indian restaurant. It’s everything I hoped it would be: a spicy gastrointestinal delight. From the chicken nan (flat bread) to the lamb, my stomach’s having a field day.
To end the day, we arrive at Malvika’s house outside of Nurpur. Affiliated with the recently losing BJP political party, Malvika is our coordinator for the installs we’re doing in India. And, believe it or not, she’s a princess: Dr. Gangulee says she’s the daughter of the former king of Chamba, the longest continuous royal line in Asia. Whatever that is, it means they don’t exactly have to worry about making ends meet: Dr. Gangulee also recalls reading a news story about how when one of their palaces caught fire there was a stream of gold pouring from one of the bedrooms!
But our government guest house bears no hint of that luxury: first night without air conditioning. Fortunately, the state of Himachal Pradesh has weather that’s more like springtime in Pennsylvania than the desert heat of Agra or Delhi. Hoping that I won’t have to figure out how to use the glorified hole in the floor that passes as a bathroom, I sleep, ignoring the fact that I’ve spent half the day snoozing in the car.