Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Meeting the Sikh's

So heat exhaustion or not I was feeling a little stronger today and I was going to give it a go and see if I could make it over to Amritsar in Punjab. The Mecca for all Sikhs. This is where the famous golden temple lies. Sikhs make up just 2.5% of India’s population. Hindu being the main religion at 60% then Muslim at 30% and the final 7.5% is made up of the rest. Sikhs are easy to spot as they all wear turbans and it was clear as I entered Punjab that this is where most of that 2.5% lived. The closer I got to Amritsar it became an overwhelming majority of the population.

A Sikh who has taken Amrit is cosidered pure and must carry at all times, the 5 K's. Men and women must cover their uncut hair called Kesh(in a choice of four main colours - black, orange, white or blue), they must carry a Kirpan (a small sliver dagger. Although some, like Sukjeet, carry a massive sword as well). They must always have a comb in their hair (Kangha) and they must always wear a bracelet (Kara) and a certain type of underwear called Kacchera.

I met Sukjeet on the way at a toll booth. It was hot and I was wilting as I waited for him in my big boots and armour. I wondered if I should have stayed at the hotel for a day or two as advised. This heat once more felt dangerous. He arrived an hour later and was easy to spot. He was the guy all in white ropes with an extra long Kirpan, a long beard, shades and a very badly packed and heavily laden Royal Enfield. His two large rucksacks were strapped to the back with rope and were well on their way to escaping! It was good to see him again. Last time I had met Sukjeet it had been in the Welsh hills and I had tought him how to off road. Now I was on his turf and he was going to teach me what it was like living in a sikh community. We were then going to head for the Himalayas to Lay, over passes reaching 18,000 feet. Me and 5 Sikh Warriors, ready for anything! Or where we?

Riding back to our hosts place just outside Amritsar, we looked an unlikely pair! Sukjeet wouldn’t normally be seen with anyone other than his own kind and even on his own he looked a picture in the full Sikh get up (he doesn't go for half measures) but to be riding along with a strange looking white girl on a big red bike was just too much for people to take in at one glance!! This was seriously out of the norm! 

The weather had cooled just slightly and it was enough for me to find the energy to make it most of the way. The novelty carried me the rest. I had no idea what to expect on arrival. Sukjeet does not have a home and I am still struggling to understand the whole set up within their community but anyway we headed over to a couples house in the middle of the rice fields. I was told that the husband was a highly respected member of the community. Again I did not really get any answers that helped me to understand why he held this position and so I decided to take him as I found him. 

We rolled up to a big house with large gates and I thought “Oh OK so its not going to be that basic after all. This looks really nice.” Inside though, the house was almost bare with concrete floors, very basic furniture (just a day bed in the middle of the living area and a couple of plastic garden chairs around that), no ornaments and no keep sakes, although there was a flat screen telly on the wall!

In fact the whole house was clean but very very simple. I was shown the bathroom so I could get washed and found a large bucket from which to wash from and two large taps above it. One was from the tanks on the roof and one was pumped from the spring below. The spring water was very cold and I opted for that as by now I was slowly cooking in my riding gear again. There was no shower or bath but this was good enough for me.

I was welcomed in to the community and on my first evening I was taken to meet one of the horses. Sikhs do not allow people to ride their horses and yet after half an hour in the middle of the rice fields with these guys I was being offered a ride. I jumped at the chance. This was a young stallion and one that wanted to bolt for home and so I took it steady and tried to keep him calm, feeling very conscious of the fact that I had no hat and only flip flops for protection. He really wanted to go home though and he was strong. I was told to let him go and he would show me the way to his home across the fields. I said that as soon as I gave him an inch he would be galloping across the rice fields and I would have no idea which way he was going to turn. “Don't give him an inch then” came the reply! We walked back steadily but fighting for power all the way and then I let him go on the last leg and boy did he go! It really was good fun although a little nerve racking as I did not know which direction he was going to take me! We survived and made it back to his stable in one piece.

Here I met the family of the horse owner, the local kids, babies and anyone else who fancied coming to meet the strange lady and have their photo taken. I don’t think they get many visitors other than their own community, which is very tight and see each other as one big family. They were all more than happy to welcome me though and I found a sea of smiles amongst the colourful turbans! 

I swear it just gets hotter and without air con it is almost unbearable. I am just constantly wet, day and
night. I dive in and out of that bucket to cool down but I do not dry off as water is instantly replaced with sweat. Day and night! It is so overpowering and I feel I have no energy for anything. It’s not just me. Everyone else in the house seems to move as little as possible and now I see why they have the extra large day bed as their main feature! That night I shared a room under the only fan with the family. All night just trying to keep cool and hoping I didn't snore.

Sukjeet leaves the house at 9pm and heads to the golden temple for mediation and prayer. He does not finish until around 4am and then sleeps a few hours before getting up and……well I’m not sure what he does to be honest! I am still struggling to understand a lot about the Sikhs way of life but what I do know is that they have all welcomed me in and for that I am grateful. I’m sure I will learn more as we head in the Himalayas together. Like with any religion, some people follow the basic rules and some follow it to the letter! Sukjeet has certainly taken his scriptures extremely seriously and follows several daily rituals. I'm intrigued to see how he will manage this in the mountains.

testing out the tent!
I have found the last two days here pretty hard despite the hospitality. There are no real familiar comforts for me here and the only English speaker is Sukjeet who is often not here. Sometimes being amongst people can be far more isolating than being on your own. Aside from that I have no beer, no meat, no air con (temperatures were soaring now and getting no cooler at night), no wifi and NO BEER!! . I have explained to Sukjeet that this may mean I leave the group and ride solo in to the Himalayas if I still find it difficult. However, we shall see how it goes once the cool weather hits us. The heat has a lot to answer for here, and if need be I can skip the Sikh temples and have the odd night in a hotel. This way I can recharge and hopefully keep you updated with a little wifi. If I’m very lucky, I may even get a beer!! No one will be offended! 

Living as a Sikh in India?  Big FAIL so far!! I was never any good at resisting temptation! Why start
now! : 0 ) I feel like the idiot abroad but I like who I am and I respect who they are. It is all bearable with a few tweaks! Let’s start by turning the temperature down and hitting the mountains!

Tomorrow we leave at 5am. This is the plan anyway but I am starting to see that the plan means very little here! Fingers crossed!

*Note - Along the way I have met and stayed with many different religions and belief systems. I have questioned them all in a respectful manner, only hoping to gain understanding and knowledge of other peoples way of life. However, Sikhism is the only religion that has seen me be attacked by a raven (of all birds!!) just minutes after pointing out in our debate that I found many things unbelievable and possibly contradictory! Coincidence? Probably, but great timing non the less!

Bring on the mountains!!!! 


  1. Keep going and good luck Steph. I'm not in the slightest bit jealous...not one bit! ;-)

    Best wishes


  2. Thank you so very much for detailing the good, the bad, the everything. Every detail adds to the imagination. I have been following since your initial departure and am enjoying every word, video and picture. Please keep posting as you are able. -Stephen Mergner Cincinnati,Ohio,USA

    1. Thank you for the words of encouragement Stephen. I'll do my best : 0 )

  3. Hi from a cypriot living in Bahrain lol
    Beautiful adventure! !! You incouraging young woman around the world to have balls and chase their dreams! And thank you for that push! Of courage and reminder that everything is possible love you and your stories all thought I don't know you! All the best God be with you in your journeys ! Keep posting pls!!!

  4. Steph
    The Sikhs that you have met so far are the religious and highly simple ones in India. The punjabis as the clan is called are very flamboyant and love the larger than life attitude. Anyhow as you move on you will come across these as well. They love their meat, alcohol and also have WiFi :) . Anyhow have fun in the mountains, you shall find great weather, and in the other parts of the country you will also Have plenty of beer, meat, WiFi, air conditioners and showers.
    Have fun and enjoy India.

    1. Hey Rahul. Thanks for sharing that. Good to know that there are all sorts and that some even have Wifi!! ha ha! Wonderful xxx

  5. Hi Steph, well done on keeping going! It's winter here in South Africa, but I'm feeling hot just from reading about the heat there!! I hope it'll be a bit cooler in the mountains. I'm loving every post, thanks for all the interesting detail you include. Keep them coming as and when you can!

  6. Great to seeing that you're not just visiting, but actually getting stuck into in all Steph. Always a great read.
    I'll have a beer for you later ;)

  7. Well done from Chaz Singh