Friday, September 20, 2013

Tales from India: Swaminarayan Akshardam

Saturday was spent sleeping in a bit and recovering from the previous evenings festivities. Pssssshhhhh. I wish that had happened. Despite getting home late the evening before I was up at the crack of dawn. Sunita and I arranged for a driver to take me around the city on Saturday. With horrific traffic in India, me still tired from constantly being on the go since I arrived and the limited budget I put myself on I decided that I would only try to see the things that most interested me. I don't know if you've gotten a sense of what that would be so I'll tell you. My favorite things to see are markets (shopping, food, indoor, outdoor, you name it) and temples. Seriously, I can never see enough temples. Oh and waterfalls, of course, but that was a bit unlikely in the middle of New Delhi. If I'm wrong, someone should definitely tell me. My only regret about India is that I travelled alone. I think that's one place I would have enjoyed talking to someone about everything I saw. My super awesome driver bought all my entrance tickets for me so I wouldn't have to pay foreigner prices, but that also meant he couldn't/didn't want to accompany me. He was probably like, "bahhh, foreign red-headed woman. What are we going to talk about?" Helloooo, my dad is from Trinidad! The West Indies plays India in cricket all the time. Even though I think cricket is sooooper boring I have enough national pride to fake a conversation about cricket. 
The first place we visited was the Lotus Temple. All I remember is that it's a Baha'i temple and that it's shaped like a Lotus flower, hence the name. Dee dee dee.
Suffice to say that it is my fault for trying to write a blog post about visiting it 14 months after the fact and all I can remember is really liking it. I can't say much more than that. Ah well. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it.
The Lotus Temple, located in New Delhi, India, is a Bahá'í House of Worship completed in 1986. Notable for its flowerlike shape, it serves as the Mother Temple of the Indian subcontinent and has become a prominent attraction in the city. The Lotus Temple has won numerous architectural awards and been featured in hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles.
Also, here's their website.
Here are some pictures!

Pools of water on either side of the walkway to the entrance. It's beautiful and a great place for watching people make fools of themselves while taking photos.

As already stated.

Borrowed from Wikipedia. It's just a gorgeous piece of architecture and everything is more beautiful when it's lit up at night, isn't it?

The next stop was India Gate. That might have actually been the first stop seeing as how Sunita lived about 5 minutes away from India Gate, but I'm not about to rewrite the blog to incorporate that one tiny detail. India Gate is great during the day and amazing at night when it's all lit up. The surrounding area is full of government buildings and the streets are wide and tree-lined. Not at all what I was expecting in New Delhi.  
As usual, pictures say it best. 
India night.

The beautiful gates surrounding the presidential palace.

Some of those wide streets I mentioned earlier. 

India Gate...during the day! 

Me in front of India Gate. I'm beginning to hate these captions.
After that we went to my new second favorite place in all of India. The first being the Taj Mahal, of course, despite the heat and crowds. Swaminarayan Akshardam. Words do not do this place justice, but unfortunately cameras aren't allowed inside so I don't have any of my own photos in order to tell the tale. So I borrowed some photos. First a little bit about my experience. If it weren't for a fact that this place was so beautiful and I loved it so much I would have hated my time in India due to my experience there. I was stared at constantly. Constantly. It wasn't "ooooh, who's that girl?" It was more of "ewwww, who's that girl?" Well, maybe not ewww, but they weren't friendly or polite stares. First of all, I was alone and maybe that's worthy of negative attention. It might have been due to the fact that I had to wrap my favorite purple Cambodian scarf around my waist because my yellow shorts (see above picture) was considered too short to enter the temple. Maybe it was unfashionable to wear my scarf like that?  However there were other foreigners there who had to wear scarves wrapped around their waists as well, so that couldn't be it. Maybe purple and green are offensive colours? Was it my red hair and sunglasses? Maybe. Maybe not, because Indian girls are all about colouring their hair these days. I made sure to make a count and I was not alone. At two corners of the temple you can pay to have your picture taken. When I stood in line waiting to have my picture taken there were no crowds to be seen anywhere, except for the group taking their picture and the 3 or 4 people in line. However, when I got up in front of the camera, people magically appeared and they stood there and stared, even though they weren't waiting in line. I'm sure you're thinking I'm complaining about nothing, but to this day it makes me mad, that feeling of being judged and measured and found guilty of something. I don't think I'll go back to India unless I'm with a group. Sorry, that was a lot of negative energy. Here's some positive feelings to try and balance it.
Now, what could possibly make me love this place so much despite feeling so angry while I was there? Honestly, all I had to do was look around me at the architecture and design of the temple and it was all washed away. One part of the temple is dedicated to elephants and there are over 148 statues of elephants. As an elephant lover I found it all quite amazing. After awhile I found a quiet area and rested there and it was the most peace I'd felt since arriving in India. I sometimes think back on that time whenever I feel the calm slipping away and I desperately want to hold on to it. Here are some pictures that will hopefully help explain why. The first two are my own that I took from a moving car, hence the not so good quality. Pictures 4, 5 and 6 are from a site I liked the best called Air Piano. They provide 360 degree aerial panorama shots of different sites around there. It's like you're really there! ::gasp:: Make sure to take the aerial tour because it's ridiculously cool and they have wonderful music to accompany it. It's like being in India.
Pictures 7 and 8 must have been taken by someone who smuggled a camera inside because I don't know how they got shots like those. I found it on a random website called, but they're attributed to a Flickr user. Thanks so much to whoever that is that broke the rules. Normally, I'm not a fan of rule breakers, but in this case I am.

Also, here's their website and what Air Piano has to say about it.
It was opened in 2005. The construction took over 5 years and involved 7000 artisans and 3000 construction workers from all over India. Their combined efforts gave birth to a building 42 meters high, 94 meters wide, and 106 meters  long. The structure of Akshardham consists of 234 pillars, 9 shiny domes, 20 four-sided towers, and over 20 thousand figurines depicting themes from Indian mythology. There are over 148 statues of an elephant alone!
Swaminarayan Akshardam Temple from afar. This is a super zoomed in shot.

Curious because the Petronas Towers in Malaysia are also closed on Mondays.

At night. Le duh.
The reason I loved this place so much. The entire outside of the temple/inside wall around the courtyard has various depictions of elephants in various aspects of their lives. It's so enchanting!

Aerial shot of the grounds. They form the shape of a lotus flower.

Another outside view of the intricate carvings.
Akshardam elephants.

Akshardam from a distance, but still within the limits of the gates.
Last, but not least was my visit to Dili Haat, an open air market that features a variety of sellers from all regions of India. It was definitely beautiful and I went a bit crazy with the jewelry buying while I was there, but I remember it being so hot that I thought I was going to faint. My friend G recommended it to me and I would recommend visiting it as well. Even though I didn't find anything that appealed to me within my price range for souvenirs it's still a gorgeous place to visit. I only have a few pictures from the inside. For once I wasn't too concerned with taking pictures of everything because I was afraid if I fainted my camera would fall from my hands and break. I do wish I had taken a video of the group of people in picture 3 because they were making lovely music. (Note to self: use other adjectives besides awesome and lovely.)
Add caption

The main entrance.

Dudes making music.
I was reading an article called "10 Things Not To Do In Delhi" and I had to post the link because I definitely did #4, but that's due to me being confident in general I think. I also did #6, but I wouldn't put it on the list. In fact, I'd say DO IT! It's so much fun.

I just I should also mention that I sort of visited Qutb Minar, but I didn't want to pay the exorbitant entrance fee, or at least a fee I thought was exorbitant, so we sort of drove past it on our way home and I popped out in the parking lot and took a picture and then hopped back into the car.

Hmmm, I guess I should also mention that the super awesome Tanushi and Tanay took me out to dinner that evening.

Calamari, my favorite.

Don't tell Tanay you're about to take his picture or else...

The super cute and spicy Tanushi

Super shady alley way we had to walk down to get to our restaurant. I guess you could call it a hole-in-the-wall.

Coming up: Sunday and the wedding!

Tales from India: A most beautiful sangeet.

I love writing my blog, but after reading oodles and oodles of some really well written and well designed travel blogs (The Lazy Travellers!!!) I've decided that I can't really consider what I do to be a travel blog. I wish I could say that it is my heart and soul on paper because it sounds more romantic. However, it's not even paper, so what can I call it? I think it's my heart and soul available for all to see! In this age of over connectivity that is kind of true, isn't it? I'm not going to complain though because it is precisely why I've felt this sudden surge of productivity (procrastination be damned!)
My Instagram account boasts that 'I love food. And travelling. And eating food while travelling', but I realise I've been devoting a bit too much time and space to posting pictures of food, although when is that ever a bad thing? Recently I started posting more of my travel pictures. The response has been overwhelming. Especially when two friends (shout out to TK and Nisha for giving my self-confidence a major boost!) came out of the woodwork to tell me that they've been reading my blog and that I need to continue it. (Just as an aside, I only procrastinate when it comes to fun activities for myself. Work and school never suffer. Only the things that give me personal satisfaction suffer for some odd reason. (::hint hint:: to any potential employers who might be reading this.))
So where was I? Ahh, yes. I left off after my trip to Agra to see the most magnificent Taj Mahal. Seriously, go see it! Heck, go to India only to see it.
That brings us to Friday. Friday night was the sangeet. If you don't know what a sangeet is feel free to check out my first blog post on India. Friday morning into early afternoon was S's mehndi session. I hired a taxi, gave him her address and was off. S, if you're reading these posts, I have to say that your family is just the loveliest. You know I already adore your mom and dad and your extended family is just as wonderful.
We spent the afternoon getting our mehndi done, oohing and ahhing at each other's mehndi designs, me wondering how S was going to go to the bathroom, singing songs (the others, not me) and trying to understand what people were saying (me, since I don't speak Hindi, le duh.) I had both the palms and back of my left hand designed, but I left the right one unadorned because once you've got mehndi on you can't touch anything (wet, dry or otherwise) until it dries and is hard enough to flake off. This way the henna has soaked into your skin deep enough to stain it. Ta daaaa....mehndi! When S left to go to the salon I went back home to Sunita's and then we went back to Lajput Nagar to pick up my sari's and get any other odds and ends I deemed necessary. Let's just say it's a good thing I put myself on a budget because I could have easily gone crazy. The shopaholic in me is always begging to be free.
The rest of day went off without a hitch until it came time to go to the sangeet. It was held at a place called The Panchshila Rendezvous. Sunita lent me the services of her driver (yep, I'm fancy!) for the evening, which was awesome. I gave him the address and he said, "hmmmm, I think I know where this is." So off we went. Place number 1 was not correct. It was a gym. Place number 2 was not correct. It was a parking lot. With no buildings in sight. However, as they say, the third time is the charm. I arrived about an hour late (or on time if you take into account IST, Indian Standard Time.) S and V hadn't arrived so I sought out A, S's only other friend from the States at the wedding. A was doing a semester abroad in India at the time for his MBA program so we quickly found each other and were like "gaaaah, another American! Whew." I'm all for travelling, discovering new cultures and of course new foods and meeting new people, but sometimes, just sometimes, a small taste of home can make you feel at ease, even if it's in the form of a stranger you've just met. Amit and I quickly bonded and hit up all the food servers passing out hors d'oeuvres. Those poor servers never saw us coming. I had such an amazing time. S's mom danced in honor of her only daughter and S sang a very moving and beautiful love song for V. I danced until my feet hurt, ate until I thought I was going to give birth to my food baby, Sebastian, and laughed until I thought my cheeks would crack. I know that I had a very idealised vision in my head of what a wedding in India was going to be like, but honestly it was like being with family back home. There weren't many difference. This further serves my theory that all people are alike. As long as the basic beliefs about taking care of family and having food and shelter to keep them warm and safe are there, who cares about how you do it. Also, no one there realised that I wasn't of direct Indian descent unless I mentioned it so if anyone calls me a fake Indian again I'll punch them in the babymaker.

As usual, I'd rather express myself through pictures, but sometimes words are necessary. Thanks for suffering through the words!

S's mehndi


Me and S. It is terribly hot in India. How anyone manages to look polished is beyond me.

This is where we 'oooohed and ahhhhed.'

My mehndi in its unhardened state.

General merrymaking

Now are you saying you wouldn't hit that?

Left to right: A, V, S and moi

S's awesome and most welcoming family.
S's song

Aunty S getting her groove on.

This picture epitomizes the happy slightly wacky couple.

Action shot!

Shhhhh, because I almost stole her away.

My mehndi the day after.