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!

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