Destination India – a return to my cultural roots

By Rupinder Digwa
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What do holidays mean to you? For me it was the chance to return to the place where my grandparents were born and grew up. It's where my religion Sikhism started out. It was a journey that showed me the importance of cultural identity, the sacrifices that people made that enabled me to see the real India.

Think India and images from Slum Dog Millionaire probably come to mind – a diverse mixture of extreme poverty, shanty towns and rich fabrics. But amongst all the poverty India is a country that brings light to the soul. The Beauty of its cities and its people is a real escapism from the hectic ways of life.

We landed in Indra Ghandi Airport in New Dehli around 3am. We

followed signs for customs to get our passports stamped.

A stern looking man sat behind the desk “next” he said as he slammed my

passport down. I was hoping for a “welcome to India how was your

journey” or at least a smile. The air smelt like a bonfire we were looking

through the rows of people to see our relatives whom I had seen from only

photographs . Bebe jee my grandma's sister and her husband were supposed

to collect us from the airport. People were shouting, holding signs they

would constantly stare every time a foreigner walked through. I was

surprised they could tell that we were the 'agrejhees' the English. Bebe

greeted us with garlands made out of pink coronations flowers.

The Maharaja hotel, were we stayed for most of our holiday was in the heart of the city centre it was opposite the Vashal cinema there were also dhabhis small food stalls selling 'paranthi, samosa, aloo tikkis. There were also a Mcdonalds, KFC , and pizza hut nearby, in case we missed our homely goods. Though the experience in the McDonalds was some what different to that of the UK. They never sold Beef or Pork animals that are sacred to the Hindu and Muslim religion. Only the wealthy, mostly families and the young educated were allowed to eat and work there. A security guard stood at the entrance making sure the restaurant maintained its standards.

The next day we hit the main shopping market. Tilaak Nagaar is a 15 minute scooter ride from the hotel. It was a sea of colours red, green, yellow, purple, orange you name it was there. The handmade stitching was even more striking, jerkin diamonds, sequences I wanted to buy everything. Though the constant hassling from shop keepers was getting annoying . “ English Madam look beautiful only 700 rupee” . However their customer service skills were fantastic, they would order you a drink, have knowledge of every single item they sold. They would even make you stand on a cushion which was positioned right under a light, switch the fan on, “smile, beautiful, absolutely beautiful” . OK they wanted me to spend my money but it made shopping even more worth it.

Having spent most of the morning shopping, we finally stopped for some lunch at Agarwaal restaurant. The mixture of spices smelt so good. Agarwaal serves a range of authentic indian savoury and sweet foods. I ordered the popular classic channa poturah, which is chick peas marinated in sauce that is made out of a blend of mouth watering spices, served with poturah which is a seasoned fried chapatti and I had the scrumptious Gulab jaam for desert.

The next few days were spent visiting other major cities in India. Our first stop was Jaipur a main tourist attraction. The architecture of the buildings was mesmerizing. My favourite had to be Hawa- Mahal built in the 18th century by Maharaja Pratap Singh. It is a pink sandstone structure which is five stories high. It is covered with little windows with lace screens to let the wind blow through the passage which is why it's been given the name 'Hawa' which means wind. It was served as a grandstand for the royal ladies. We also visited the captivating City Palace. The design of the architecture was a mixture of Rajasthan and Mughal style. The interior was coated with little mirrors. When the hall way is closed it creates a large diamond shape. City Palace was built by Raja Sawa Singh ji it was used to serve the royal guests. Jaipur city was definitely a city which had great beauty and a strong cultural history which still remained today. The traditional Rajasthani clothing was most prominent it was an extraordinary feature of the real India.

Our final trip was to Amritsar in the Punjab to visit Harmandir Sahib 'The Golden Temple'. This had to be my most special and memorable experience of India. It gave me a real understanding of my cultural and religious roots. Visiting Harmandir Sahib is an important pilgrimage, which all Sikhs should do. The Punjab is a sacred city to skihs not only because of the temple, but the fact that the Sikh identity began there. The construction of the building began in 1574 by the fourth Sikh disciple 'Guru Ram Das'. In the 1800s Maharaja Ranjit Singh contributed the Gold and the marble work.

However over the years Sikhs have fought and sacrificed their lives from Moghul and Afghan invaders who have tried to destroy the temple. In more recent times the 1984 Blue Star attack, orders were given to the Indian army to take tanks and fire. Many parts of the building were destroyed and innocent pilgrimages killed.

Harmandir is still a peaceful and safe place to visit. It welcomes people from all religions, creed and cultures. As soon as I entered I felt an instant warm feeling inside. It was breathe taking the Golden shrines glistened and reflected on the pool of nectar. Beautiful hymns rang through my ears and I could smell 'langar' holy food being prepared. It was a magical moment I was at peace.

Rupinder Digwa is a student Journalist at Southampton Solent University and can be reached on [email protected]