Amritsar, India

Wednesday, June 12, 1929

Amritsar is a city of 160,218. It is the wealthiest next to Delhi and, after that place and Lahore, the most populous city of the Punjab and the religious capital of the Sikhs. It was founded in 1577 by Ram Das, 4th Guru of the Sikhs, upon a site granted by the Emperor Akbar around a sacred tank, from which the city takes its name, Pool of Nectar.  The place was destroyed in 1762 and the temples blown up. It was rebuilt in 1764. Amritsar is famous for its manufactures of Pashmina, silks, and carpets. (Pashmina is the name of any fabric made from the fine wool of a breed of goats found in and beyond the Himalayas.) Pashminas are either plain or self-colored cloths made up into lengths which can be cut as required, or are woven into plain or embroidered shawls, some of which are known as Rampur chadars. This industry at one time employed 4,000 looms, but it has declined and has been succeeded in importance by the carpet industry, also more flourishing some years ago than it is now. There are four large carpet factories in the city and excellent carpets are turned out. The manufacture of silk-piece goods is also carried on to some extent.

Gold and silver thread, ribbons, spangles, etc. for embroidery are also manufactured. Ivory carving is practiced with considerable success, but is chiefly confined to combs, paper-knives, card-cases, and toys.

The materials for these manufactures are, in a great measure, brought from all parts of Central Asia, and the merchants who bring them—Kashmiris, Afghans, Nepalese, Bokhariots, Baluchis, Persians, Turcomans, Tibetans, Yarkandis, and others—may be seen in their national and highly picturesque costumes about the town, but more especially in the caravansaries. Besides the raw materials, they bring fine specimens of their own national manufactures and embroideries. Amritsar is also the depot for piece-goods, copper, brass, etc. for the Central Asian markets.

The city has twelve gates, of which the only old one is that on the north side facing the Rambagh. Nearby is Rambagh Park (God’s Garden). The Darbar Sahib, town’s heavy drag, rolls from the station through a section of town to a deep archway on the other side of which is a place called the Kaiserbagh, and farther on, past the police station and municipal buildings, a silly statue of the Queen—Empress Victoria.

At the entrance to the temple precincts rises a clock tower which overlooks the temple and sacred tank. This Sacred Tank is encircled by a tessellated pavement of white marble, 24 feet broad, with ribs of black and brown, brought from Jaipur. It is 470 feet square. The buildings around it are called Bungahs and are the hostels and chapels of great chiefs who come to worship. To the northwest of the tank is the Takht Akal Bungah Sahib with a gilt dome. This palace faces a small square and in front long poles support dipping canopies under which sits a priest, fanned by an attendant, reading from a sacred book at a furious speed—never seeming to tire. Before him, scattered promiscuously about on carpets laid on the marble pavement, lay a number of men, some asleep, some nearly so, and some really listening to the dissertation. The scene reminded me of an old-fashioned school—if there were any like this—with the instructor having a large capacity for putting his pupils to sleep.

In the Akal Bungah are some old relics, a sword and mace used by old Gurus, and the vessels for the initiation of new members into the brotherhood of the Sikhis. Old half-faded mural paintings were of interest.

On the opposite side of the tank stand the lofty, plain Ramgarhia Minars.

The Golden Temple, called by the Sikhs and Hindus the Darbar Sahib, or the Harmandir, stands in the center of the tank on a platform 65 feet square. It is approached from beneath an archway on the west side by a white marble causeway 204 feet long, flanked on either side by gilded standard lamps. Beneath the arch is a memorial of the work of the 35th Sikh Regiment in the Chitral Expedition. Another table gives an account of a miraculous bolt of lightning that passed through the south door of the temple, lighted up the holy book, then made an exit through the north door, leaving unharmed some two or four hundred worshipers. Among the things ascribed as the cause for this most holy phenomenon is that of the splendid rule of the British in India. Page Miss Mayo—how could she have missed such good publicity. Perhaps in her rush to get to other cities whose “drains” were dirtier, she passed the Sikhi capital by.

Except for the lower part of the walls, which are of white marble, the whole of the building is encased in gilded copper, inscribed with verses from the Granth Sahib, written very clearly in the Panjabi character. It is entered by four doorways, one on each side, with doors of plated silver finely wrought. That on the north side is the only one through which Europeans may pass. The scene within is most picturesque. The walls are richly gilded and painted with representations of flowers, etc. On the east side is seated the high priest (a nice-looking, middle-aged, bearded man sporting glasses and a white silk robe) either reading from a copy of the Granth Sahib on an ottoman before him, or waving a chauri over it, whilst pilgrims throw offerings of cowries, money, or flowers into a sheet spread before him on the floor to receive them. Another attendant gives them, when they kneel facing the high priest and kiss the floor, a small piece of sweets from a tray nearby. The pilgrims then pass around the room to the left, pause behind the high priest for a moment while he lifts up a silk cover from the large sacred, holy book, then pass to the left and sit down and join in chanting verses of the sacred volume to the music of stringed instruments. This four-piece orchestra squats on the floor opposite and is composed of tom-toms and two accordions. A blind man occasionally lends his voice—such as it is—to the otherwise pleasant music.

On the roof above there is a small but richly decorated Shish Mahal, or pavilion, where it is said the Guru used to sit. The brooms used to sweep it are made out of peacock feathers.

Returning to the gateway, which has doors covered with massive silver plates, a stairway will be found to lead up to the Treasury in which is a large chest. Here are kept heavy solid gold ornaments and jewels, diadems set with precious stones, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, etc. This place has 31 pillars or poles of silver 9 feet long and 4½ inches in diameter, and four large ones. We did not visit this treasury.

While at the temple we picked up a very nice Scotchman who is working here for the Westinghouse Electric Co. He was a good sport, especially when it came to kidding Frank about his Frances or me about Jean. As Mort’s sweethearts are all married, he escaped. Walter Scott is to be married next year. Three cheers.

We spent some time at the temple watching the pilgrims and huge sacred fish in the tank. Then we wandered through the bazaars—the best we have yet seen in India and similar to those in Fez, in Morocco. The alley-like, winding passages were hardly seven feet in width. The open-faced shops displayed their many wares to throngs of passers-by. In one blind alley were dozens of tailors sewing on machines; nearby a street devoted to brass-ware, barely four feet wide and roofed by cloth canopies hung from buildings opposite; another section devoted to silks, another to rugs, etc. The place was more than fascinating. Here the women wear gayer colors than farther south. Many wore cape coats of a coarse silk, red, blue, yellow—all full of designs worked in with gold and silver thread. Others had colorful scarves or baggy pants to the ankles that would make even a collegiate gaze twice or thrice. The women were usually attractive, many pretty, till the age of say 20, when they fade rapidly. Small girls are coy and shy, and cute as the dickens. Unlike the achromatic dress of their southern neighbors, they are—when dressed at all—often in colorful dress.

The Sikh man can easily be recognized by his hair which is permitted to grow long. He wears it in a knot on the top of his head. They usually have gentle, kindly eyes, a nice appearance, and many Christ-like faces. It is often hard to distinguish between a Moslem and a Hindu. As a general rule, the Hindu wears a cheesecloth-like affair wrapped around his waist and tucked in, hanging to his ankles in front and dragging up to his knees in back in a V-shape. On the other hand, the Moslem usually garbs himself in a pair of pantaloons not unlike a Dutch affair except they are less baggy and get narrow down toward the ankles. Both wear their shirt-tails out.

The lot of the Eurasian or half-caste is a hard one in India. They are not accepted by either whites nor Indians, but are forced into a caste all their own. Many say they have the bad characteristics of both races. As to this I cannot say. One finds them in great numbers in Srinagar, Bombay, as assistant station masters, train engineers, etc.

The Untouchables suffer [a] somewhat [similar] fate, though Lalpat Rai in his “Unhappy India” claims the American Negro has a harder lot than his co-sufferer, the Untouchable.

We had a heck of a time getting any pictures in the bazaars for everybody was too willing. They would insist on posing right in front of the  lens, especially the small kids.

Armed with a bag of leech [lychee] nuts (plenty good), we sauntered back to the station where Mr. Scott treated us all to a dinner in the first class restaurant. (coming up) After a gab session, a couple of hours, we left him to get our baggage from the hotel less than a half mile away. Although the air was very heavy with dust, it was hot, a sultry hot that makes the sweat roll out. The sun stood above the trees, a large steel-blue disc. After a shower, we returned to the station for a six-hour wait till midnight.

Frank and I got a tea and lemonade as an excuse to park in the 2nd class restaurant under a fan and write. Mort started out for a walk. Suddenly a gale of wind sprang up, so filling the air with dust it was impossible to see even an outline at 40 ft distance. This increased in violence, filling the room till it was hard to breathe. Then it started to rain—not drizzle, not pour—but just come down in cloudbursts, the wind driving it before it in heavy sheets. Before long it had reached the dimensions of a gale and tubs of water were pouring into the kitchen and through diverse leaks in the ceiling.

When it finally slacked, Mort came in a little wet. Luckily he had found shelter in time. Soon after, Scott came along, and when a fire could be got up in the kitchen, we had tea and toast. At ten we bade him goodbye. He suggested we write the different maharajahs of our coming and thus be treated as state visitors with a Rolls-Royce at our disposal and a free home in the guest house. This is all right if you have the money, clothes, and time. We have none, and so will continue on our own hook. However, Scott has his headquarters in Patiala, the capital of the largest state in the Punjab and the wealthiest city there except Delhi and Lahore. There is panther shooting and such sports there, and if you are the maharaja’s guest, everything is free, even to the guns. One also has a car to ride around in as His Highness has only 200. This would be great sport to shoot a panther or tiger, even if from a tree. Scott is going to see what can be done for us. Patiala is some 200 miles north of Delhi on the route form Amritsar. But we have to leave Saturday from Delhi, probably, for Agra, so unless he works fast, if may be too late—if—!!!

Our train pulled in at midnight—crowded as usual—but with the help of a British soldier I had befriended and that of the Assistant Station Master we got a whole compartment for nine to ourselves and rode in great style, having more than enough room to stretch out and sleep in. Scott had left on an earlier train. The lightning showed the fields to be already fairly well flooded.

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