Thirty miles from Pakistan, Amritsar, home of The Golden Temple, is full of Sikh pilgrims. In fact, I am on a pilgrimage to see The Golden Temple. I arrive late in the evening. The driver keeps asking which hotel, but I want to stay at the Temple, so drops me off at the gates. People are sleeping all over the stone courtyard, families, old men, dogs. There’s a place for foreigners to sleep with lockers and a big room full of cots. It’s maybe midnight. I put my things away, cover my head, and skip along with a couple of people going to watch the sacred text be transported from the temple to its resting place. The Temple at night is shining and reflecting gold light on the water below. I’m suddenly really happy. I made it here. I eat a free communal meal of dahl and chapatti there and then get about three hours of sleep before everyone in the courtyard wakes up and begins yapping for who knows what.
Turns out I’ve missed my train–it was at 8 am, not 8 pm. I’ve had three hours sleep, I’m carrying both my backpacks, I’m sick of waiting in line at the train station, watching people cut in front of me. I walk to the tracks and wait for the next train, to wherever. Maybe I’ll go to Chantigar. Maybe I’ll just go a little ways and find a hotel to rest. I’m tired and hungry. I walk outside again, and go to three ratty, run-down hotels that are all full. I walk back to the station. People give me the wrong train information over the next three hours. I try to get on a train to Chantigar, but the kids helping me show my ticket to the agent, and he says it’s not valid. I walk up the steps, and for the first time, realize there’s another side of the station. Rickshaw drivers are pestering me, and I just have a meltdown, sniffling and crying, and telling them to leave me alone. Finally I let one of them take me to a nice hotel nearby, and it turns out the new city has been there all along, quietly laughing and waiting for me.
The hotel manager books me a train to Agra for the next day, and I’m grateful until I realize it’s a 16 hour overnight ride instead of the 7 hours it should be. My rickshaw driver friend brings me back to the station, now in the absolutely pouring rain, that seems like the real monsoon kind. I’m dripping wet completely. The stupid train spends more time in the stations than it does moving. I could have gotten to Agra faster if I’d walked there backwards. And, no, dude, you do not get a kiss for helping me get my bags onto the top bunk. I fell asleep listening to the rain and Krishna Das on my iPod.