I DO HOPE AIR ASIA survives the coronapocalypse. Their departure times are pretty awful, and their connections somehow worse. They have taken me- and millions of others- to places they might otherwise only have dreamed about, often for prices they could never have dreamed of.
Amritsar was one of those places. The Golden Temple, and the madness of the Wagah Border Closing Ceremony. Hospitality and hostility. Serenity and insanity. When life gives you limes, make margaritas. And when Air Asia launch a new route, order two.
"Hey, you want to go to India?" "Yeah, sure. Why?" "Flights are $140." 5 minutes of typing later, we had tickets to Amritsar. Such simple times....
The city was founded in 1547 by Guru Ram Das, fourth guru of the religion with which the city is intertwined, Sikhism.
The Punjab region straddles both India and Pakistan, producing some terrific displays of facial hair, and one of those subcontinental oddities, the Wagah Border closing ceremony.
About 30 minutes by tuk-tuk, past passport checks and metal detectors and pat-downs, nuclear armed patriotism meets Bollywood.
No mere shutting of the gate would do for these super-rivals. The Indians have a miked-up MC and a drummer to whip up the crowd. Like they need encouraging....
Both sides induge in full dress uniforms, elaborate hats and moustaches, and OTT choreographed marching.
It's not just the audience that dance. Preening and strutting in circles, before aggressively approaching the black painted line which divides the two.
Moustaches at 5 paces as 1.6 billion nuclear-armed people come literally face to face, and toe to toe.
Much John Cleese marching and stomping of polished boots, serious faces required.
Muscles are flexed, chests are puffed and hearts are filled with pride, as the flags come down.
The big, black, steel gate is rolled closed, and with no less vigour, the two armies march away to the cheers of the crowd. Totally wacky stuff!!
While that alone was worth the air-fare, there was still plenty to see, like these chili and vegetables hanging outside shops. No idea.
All roads in this typically chaotic city lead metaphorically to one magificent building.
Sikh temples are known as gurdwara, and the most sacred of them all is found here.
Known locally as Sri Harmandir Sahib, it is the spiritual home of 25 million Sikhs, who make up the 5th largest religion in the world.
Like the Vatican or Mecca, the temple is inseperable from the city, and with an army of volunteers, is in many ways a city itself.
The Golden Temple, built from 1588 to 1601 is one of the world's most remarkable buildings.
The temple is open from four directions to symbolize that all are welcome, regardless of race or religion.
A pilgrimage to Sri Harmandir Sahib is an essential tenent of Sikh life, and for a novice visitor, the devotion and ceremony of the followers matches the temple for its spell.
Selfless service, or sēvā is part of Sikhism. Volunteers come from all over India and the world to give their time and labour here.
Hundreds of devotess man scores of cloaking rooms for the tens of thousands of visitors' shoes and other belongings.
Musicians perform the hymns of the gurus, or gurbani. Shabad Kirtan is the singing of Gurbani.
Guests are welcome to stay free for two nights in modest temple lodgings, and as part of their service, volunteers also feed up to 100,000 people every day, for free.
The "Langer" runs day and night, with battalions of volunteers cutting vegetables, cooking massive cauldrons of food, rolling and cooking chapatis, and collecting and washing a staggering amount of cutlery.
The pinnacle of the production, the serving of meals, is carried out with miltary precision, as long rows of seated guests fill two halls many times an hour.
A huge, rectangular "sarovar" (holy pool) surrounds the central sanctuary.
Sikhs belive that bathing in the pool is both puryfing and restorative of karma. The correct direction of movement is clockwise.
The inner sanctuary of the temple is located below the ground level. One must be humble and go down to reach the temple of God.
Regrettably, this was the queue to humble oneself before God, and I did not enter. Maybe I'll try at 3am next time.
Sikhs are known for their military prowess, and several political and militia groups have formed around the temple. Military action saw military and civilian deaths here in 1984, led to a mutiny of Sikh soldiers and the assasination of Indira Gandhi.
That seems impossible to imagine, as you obseve the evening rituals and the shimmering of over 600kgs of gold on the waters.
Sikhs of course do not cut their hair, which is why they rock the turban.
And some rock it bigger and better than others.
Being a city of pilgrimage, Amritsar is also a city of restaurants, and Punjabi food gets big thumbs up from me.
The bazaars around the temple are full of gastro goodies like pickles and chutney, as well as tailors, tourists tat and trinkets.
This very humble looking dhaba was famous for something, but I don't remember what.
Quick and tasty snacks can be picked up on many street corners.
Amritsar was the beginning of some serious weight gain.
The ubiquitous chai wallah probably added a couple of kgs to my excess baggage. Little cups of cardomon, spices, tea, and milk are brewed with several tonnes of sugar and sold for a few cents. Be warned!