Writing from: Pushkar Camel Fair, among the beasts and sand
Amritsar for Diwali, the festival of light, celebrated by Sikhs and Hindus (both for different reasons). Amritsar is home to the GoldenTemple, the best place to celebrate what is essentially India’s equivalent to Christmas, or so almost every smiling Sikh told us.
We rolled into Amritsar the night before Diwali, at an ungodly hour, along with herds of families clutching shiny wrapped things, hugging in long-time-no-see reunion manners, and smiling in that festive kind of way that makes you smile too. Diwali is allllllll about the fireworks, and we’d heard pollution was off the scale. No lie there. I mistook all the celebration smoke for fog as we left the station, a smoky haze swallows the city so not a star in the sky can make it through, no matter how clear a night it is, and the whole place sounds like a warzone with banger going off in the streets, on rooftops, in the hands of people who clearly have not learned to light the blue touch paper and run like buggery.
Bumping about in the fog to the tune of autorickshaw drivers giving us outrageous prices into town we happened upon a bit of a character, whose price was reasonable and whose smile was toothless yet full of the joys of the festive season. So we squeezed into his tiny rickshaw (read as large box on wheels with lawnmower engine that has to be fired up by pulling a stick), four hulking Westerners and our backpacks, and pootled off into the firecracker night.
The Lucky Guesthouse, where we had two rooms booked, was anything but. The guy on the desk was pretty sure we only booked one room, and was very sure he only had one for us. He caused me to break out one of my stern faces and do shame-on-you eyes as he lead us across two piles of rubble to show us two rooms. The first room newly painted with plumbing and wiring hanging out of the wall, and the second with no mattresses on the beds and a brand spanking new bathroom with no water.
Stuck with two crappy rooms the night before Christmas (sort of) just before midnight in a strange city. Pants.
Gap-toothed rickshaw driver to the rescue! He lead us out into the street next to his chugging steed “No worry.” He told us through his festive grin. He motioned to the boys “You my brother. You my brother. You my brother.” Then with a pat on my shoulder “You my sister. Come. I find you room.” And so we piled back in and puttered up the road to a rubble-less hot-water mattress-on-beds haven.
He lead us up the stairs to reception and proceeded to enter into a price negotiation which left the man on reception shaking his head at the sheer cheek of the man. He then posed for a photo or two before wandering off to sit at outside with the hotel owners (no doubt to negotiate his commission on bringing us to their hotel).
As we shook his hand to say goodbye my exhausted brain duly noted the waves of booze-smell coming from him, and stamped down the what-if horror that rose up at the back of my mind when I thought back to the crazy traffic we had whipped in and out of to get here. “Happiest Diwali!” he told us over the huge tip we gave him. Damn right, I thought.