Here are the beige bleachers (way larger) and Indian soldiers in khaki.
First checking of our documents by a Sikh officer, then we are directed to the checkpoint for passports and vehicles, 2 kms further. After passing a few gantries, and a small form to fill, we will wait under the fans of a large hall, while Loïc disappears with customs officers for the inspection of the truck. This gives us time to observe the thirty or so Pakistani visitors (mostly families) who crossed at the same time as us, and are waving around the counter to complete the formalities.
We had been warned that the Indian customs were more fussy, but the wait is still a little long. Loïc finally reappears in great discussion with the officers. No doubt, something is not right, and I obviously think about the bike that has no notebook. Well no, big surprise, it’s the drone that is a problem! We had focused on the satellite phone, but no alert for this type of flying object, which was naively declared on one of the forms. « Restricted good, » they say. Translation: it requires prior authorization from the Civil Aviation Authority (whose address they do not have) to be able to import it into India. Right…
We keep explaining that it is a recreational drone, not sophisticated, and in addition that it no longer works (yes, no more fun videos since that fall of 2 meters in Derawar Fort in Pakistan), nothing helps. We are witnesses, helplessly, to the sealing of the box that will be stored on one of the shelves of their office.
All is not lost, anyway, and we have 2 options to get it back: either to go back through the same border post to leave India, which is obviously not in our plans; or give a proxy to a traveler going to Pakistan, which should be more playable. To be continued…
Well, this introduction in India cooled us a bit, but there is no point in waiting here, especially as we risk missing the famous closing ceremony of the Wagah border which starts at 18h!
So we get Arty, before going back to park on a huge parking lot full of cars and buses, and run to the entrance. The music and the voice of the « presenter » are already heard in the speakers, while we pick up the pace to go through the crowd that comes in the opposite direction. If the setting sun (but still burning hot) did not stop at the border, however the cultural change is there: finished the hijabs and veils, after the female police officers at the entrance, it is a festival of colors, turbans, saris revealing all kinds of bellies, beautiful hair, but also more Western outfits, jeans, t-shirt… With all this fashion and music in the background, it’s like in the alleys of an amusement park!
Quickly, we climb a few steps before landing where we can. A real stadium atmosphere, the stands are still almost full, the shouts of the crowd respond to the calls of the « driver stands ». The Pakistani side is not left out, the soldiers parade and respond to each other with leg lifting and stiff greetings. Less than 15 minutes later, the flags are down: the show is over and the stands gets empty at high speed. It was short, but it was worth it, not so much for the soldiers and their feathered helmets that for the folklore of this huge crowd gathered on both sides to scream their patriotism in front of a military parade.
We drag a little to finish immortalizing those moments, but, pushed to the indian exit (that is to say shouted at) by the staff, we end up joining the crowd that leaves the enclosure. No need to hurry to find yourself in the traffic jam, we let the bulk of the wave advance: buses, tourists coaches and cars pass by us, without fail to give us curious glances in passing.
A good hour later, it’s our turn. We follow the signs to Amritsar, 40 km away, before encountering on our first toll…without a single Indian rupee to pay. Obviously, no way for them to accept the few Pakistani rupees we have left. Discussion ensues, and finally, they let us go.
Well, it is high time to find our first Indian bivouac: it will be the Company Bagh, a large park located north of the city. After a tricky maneuver to go under the entrance porch (with a solar protection bar damaged in the process), we park a little at random. No guard, but a street vendor and some walkers who will validate our location for the night!
We will spend three days there, sheltered by the big trees of the park, which will help us to better support the furnace of Amritsar (we will reach a record of 41°C at the beginning of the night in the truck). Where we expected gatherings, it will finally be a few curious who will come to ask us questions and ask to visit the truck. We will take the opportunity to take our marks and manage the usual logistics with the help of « Lucky »: SIM card, currency exchange, passage to the hairdresser (but not at the barber) for Loïc, extra water…
Between two bike rides in the park and a school session on the lawn, we will sympathize with the sandwich man and the man selling spicy lemonade made with water from the well: special but refreshing (yes, now that our digestive system acclimated, we can test things)!
The highlight of this small stopover in Punjab is the visit of the splendid Golden Temple, a great place of pilgrimage and spirituality for the Sikhs. Wearing our scarves taken at the entrance and barefoot, we will be able to admire it, placed in the middle of the sacred basin where a few faithful bathe.
First under the glow of the setting sun, then beautifully lit up after dark, it shines. Despite the crowd, the atmosphere is very quiet and pleasant, no crowds, even in places where free meals are given to visitors. It’s always a festival of colors, Sikh men with their multicolored turbans, their often fine features and their perfect beards are very classy!
We enjoy the moment, before heading for the exit and the pedestrian streets lined with beautiful facades and of course, full of people. Small stop in a restaurant to test for the first time the typical dishes: dahl (lentils), chiapatti (flat bread), and of course lassi (the real one!), closer to curdled milk than the smoothie that was expected.
In the meantime, our program for the next few days has become clearer: direction Manali, the starting city towards the far North and Ladakh, where we have an appointment with Nilesh, an artist we are in contact with since Iran, with Perched Cats coming back from Nepal, and with…much milder temperatures!
The first part of the journey that takes us to the state of Himachal Pradesh is very pleasant, light, shady, and we will have the chance to see macaques for the first time! It changes from the eternal sacred cows, buffaloes, goats and sheep that we usually see along the roads. The green mountains with their sloping rice paddies make their appearance, and we will even find an unexpected bivouac off-road, 25 km from Mandi where we must find the Cats Perched arriving by another road. First night with less than 30°C for a long time, the fresh air feels good!