Northern India: The journey of a Lifetime

Landscapes, culture and spirituality in India’s most northern part

Leh is one of the capitals of Buddhism and Amristar, the Sikhs, in the latter case with the golden temple as the main symbol

Srinagar, the city on a lake in Kachemir, may be one of the most amazing places on the planet.

Northern India will be remembered as being the journey of a lifetime. Not only for the spectacular landscapes we saw, but for traveling through enclaves where three religions have simultaneously have left their mark: Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. It seems that the generosity of nature is linked to that of the spirit.

However, northern India is also the most disagreeable, poor and depressing side of this huge country disguised as a continent, or perhaps it’s the other way around. But I digress. We saw it all: cities on the water; Mountains; Nomadic tribes; Enormous distances; Independence attempts; Vegetarian food; Places chosen by the Mongol emperors to spend their vacations etc…

 

To get to know northern India, one usually starts with Delhi for both economic and geographical reasons. The cheapest flights arrive to the airport in this city, which is also perfectly located to access the northern part of the country. It’s best to recover from jet lag for a couple of days by visiting some of the monuments, or just passing the time through the streets of Main Bazar, the backpacker area where anything is possible. Especially if you’re in search of souvenirs for very cheap prices.

Once recovered, we chose the city of Chandigarh to start our journey. This huge city was built only half a century ago, designed by the French architect Le Corbusier. In theory, it would be the perfect metropolis. Or at least as Indians understand perfection. Clean, tidy and not too crowded. Just the opposite of the rest of cities in this country. Chaotic, dirty and crowded. Over the years, the result is strange. Chandigarh gives the impression of being an abandoned place in its attempt of perfection.

Most of it is occupied by huge avenues, parks, cared for, yet soulless. The inhabitants of this city are very proud of the supposed order and cleanliness of the streets, but for foreigners the sensation is that of being in a kind of no man’s land.

Chandigarh is not quite Indian enough, nor does it remotely resemble a European city, from which it seems to draw its architectural inspiration. The Hindu character ends up appearing here and there. Given the adherence to order, it only makes sense that one of the main attractions of the city is a park dedicated to surrealism. This is the Rock Garden. A space designed by the mind of an engineer full of strange shapes and fantastic animals. A cross between Jurassic Park and the designs of Gaudí.

The Indians enjoy this enclosure as only they know how to do it. They get under the totally clad cataracts to take photos or rashly throw themselves on their swings. Chandigarh is an urban and social experiment that leaves the traveler cold to aspire to know the spirit of India, but at least has served to satisfy the inhabitants of the city who are very proud of this attempt of modernity.

The symbol of the municipality is an open hand. For everyone except for the rest of the country with which he maintains an un-obvious battle for independence. From the watchtower of her infinite quest for perfection, this city seems to have been left alone.

The spiritual center of the Sikhs

The Golden Temple is located in the Indian city of Amristar. It is the Vatican of the Sikhs, a peculiar branch of Buddhism. Men practicing this religion are characterized by never cutting their hair throughout their lives. They pick it up at the top of the head and then wrap it in their turbans.

The golden temple is situated on a lake. For the foreigner, the sensation that you get from visiting this place is to find yourself in a kind of theme park of religion. Sikhs, like the rest of the Indians, have a very particular view of religious places. Instead of the grave silence and the sometimes exaggerated respect typified by Catholic churches, they use these temples to rest, to wash, to speak, to read, to sing, and to get to know oneself. Getting a tourist to hire you as a guide and thus earn some money is certainly a possibility.

Spending a day at the Golden Temple is a curious experience. Hindus have no qualms about letting people of other religions into their sacred buildings. The only thing they demand is that you cover your head, that when you sit on the floor, you don’t outstretch your legs and, logically, that you maintain a respectful attitude.

Throughout this part of India, the inhabitants are vegetarians, and even more so, an absolute refusal to smoke is almost religious, and never better. On the contrary, there is some tolerance for drinking alcohol.