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Himalaya

Day 30: Amritsar

Michael Palin - HimalayaA sign greets the traveller who makes the long walk across no-man's land and through the easternmost archway. 'India, the Largest Democracy in the World, Welcomes You'. As if to emphasize what a difference a half-mile makes, cold beer salesmen assail you and you are liable to be overtaken on the road by women on motorbikes. But the difference between the severity and discipline of Islamic Pakistan and the liberalism of secular India seems nowhere better demonstrated than in the border city of Amritsar.

Muslim and Hindu live reasonably happily together here (indeed, it's a fact that, despite Partition, there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan), but the predominant religion in the first big city on the Indian side of the border is neither Muslim nor Hindu. Amritsar is a Sikh town.

Sikhism, professed by 65 per cent of the population here, is one of the world's newer faiths. It was founded by one Guru Nanak, in the early years of the 16th century. After a lifetime of travel, he concluded from what he saw that 'God is to be found neither in the Koran or the Puranas' (the sacred Hindu texts). Unable to accept the Hindu caste system, or what he saw as the intolerance of Islam, Guru Nanak came up with an admirably pragmatic solution. One God for all, rich or poor, with no human hierarchies or priesthoods, idols or icons coming in between.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 30: Amritsar
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Amritsar
  • Book page no: 65

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