A day out with Virender
Virender and I had made a date to meet up. He wanted to introduce me to Delhi and take me somewhere special, a surprise he said. It was a surprise! He took me to Akshardham, the Temple dedicated to Swaminarayan. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning.
I was told that I should NOT bring my camera as it wouldn’t be allowed into the Akshardham complex. I moaned about that and was laughingly allowed to bring my small video camera that does shoot stills but not of terrific quality (sorry folks). Naturally I regretted that but I’ll have to go back and retake some of these shots with the DSLR. Nevertheless I have some pictures and footage of the day.
I met Virender at the Kailash Colony Metro station, entrance gate 2. It’s on the violet line. He told me that the easiest way round the city was to use the metro and went off and got me a rechargeable metro card with 200/- INR on it (I still have 144/- left). It’s one of the touch cards that I know from the buses in Spain. Nice and easy to use, no getting into difficulties with machines in english and hindi. No struggling with ticket office personnel that don’t speak english (and not every one does). Just place it on the reader and the gate opens and logs you on to the system. The card then gets scanned at your destination when you pass it over the reader and the appropriate amount is deducted.
The centre of Delhi.
We got off at Jarpanth metro station and walked down the road trying to find a tuk-tuk driver that didn’t want tourist fees. Virender explained to me that the first and last carriages of trains are reserved for women – good to know 🙂 and also that there are certain designated seats for older people like me and differently abled people. It is illegal for a younger person not to offer one of these seats to us should they be occupying one. Yay, being old in Delhi pays off! We found a tuk-tuk drier that took us to the Government Buildings.
Today happened to be the day that a the new President Ram Nath Kovind took office so the security that I mentioned in the post on the Lotus Temple was phenomenal.
This is a city of approximately 27 million people (apparently that figure increases by about a third during the day when people from the satellite cities flood into Delhi for work,) so the chances of getting photos with no one in the way is impossible.
Because of the presidential inauguration all vehicles were being redirected, so Virender and I got out and walked up toward the top of the Rajpath and the government buildings until a seriously agitated policeman told us to get off the road as there would be official cars passing. The army personnel were a lot more affable. We stood outside the building that houses one of the ministies while the vehicles passed by and I took the opportunity to take some photos and shoot a bit of video.
We then jumped into the tuk-tuk and headed for India Gate itself some few hundred of yards away where I hopped out and went and did my tourist thing. Virender waited with the tuk-tuk. India Gate is a war memorial to 82,000 Indian soldiers that died in WWI and the Third Anglo-Afghan War. It was designed by Edwin Lutyens, as were a lot of Delhi’s buildings of the time, and in some respects it is like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It straddles the Rajpath that is part of Delhi’s “ceremonial axis”. I’ve marked it on the map. The Government buildings are at one end and the India Gate is at the opposite end.
Ugrasen ki Baoli or Agrasen ki Baoli
The next port of call and a short tuk-tuk ride later was Agrasen ki Baoli. This structure is a stepwell. It is located on Hailey Road near Connaught Place.
There don’t seem to be any historical records to prove who built Agrasen ki Baoli, but it is believed that the legendary King Agrasen had it constructed and it fell into disrepair. In the 14 century the Agrawal community rebuilt it.
The well was fed by monsoon rain that was collected from the surrounding area and funnelled into the well through the arches on the sides. The openings have since been blocked off. People were able to come and fill their containers at the well irrespective of the height of the water by using the steps to reach water level. It is 60 metres long and 15 metres wide and contains 108 steps that are slightly higher than a normal step and is fairly exhausting to climb 🙂
If you’d like to see a short video I made of this part of the day, go here
We then walked to Mandi House to catch the blue line metro, direction Noida City Centre, for Akshardham. Before entering the complex Virender took me off to a spot where you can get a fairly decent shot of the temple complex, (I’ve put that on the map too) and then we headed into the temple grounds. Construction on the Akshardham Temple began on 8 November 2000 and Akshardham was officially opened on 6 November 2005. On entering my back-pack was checked and I was waved on. Then came the security. You check everything! No pen-drives, cigarettes, cameras etc. The whole list can be found on the Akshardham website. There is a form you fill in listing your “prohibited” items including mobile phones (turned off!) and you sign it. Then you queue up to deposit your goods at the “cloak room” and receive a token with the identity number of your left items. Once through there you proceed to security proper where you pass through a metal detector.
Belts, wallets, handbags etc and items that are allowed in are removed and checked. Once through the metal detectors you are frisked by army personnel, and assuming you are clean, allowed in to collect your possessions. I have to mention at this point that there is a dress code. You are not allowed in unless you are wearing a shirt that covers your arms to at least elbows. Trousers or skirts that reach below the knees. If you don’t meet the trouser requirement they will rent you a sarong for 100/- refundable when you return it on exiting. I wore trousers and a long sleeved shirt because that is what is expected and I am a guest here. First time since arriving and I was sweating uncontrollably.
The Ten Gates of Akshradham
I have to say the place is stunning. The carving is beyond my ability to describe it but it is a fabulous example of Hindu art. The photos I have included are from their DOWNLOADS page on their website. The entrance area is the Ten Gates which represent all 8 major points of the compass, N, NE, E, SE… and UP and DOWN, ten in total. The main buildings are either white stone or red stone and every inch is carved and decorated with the various gods or their avatars. With the symbol of the peacock, India’s national bird. With stylised vegetation and religious symbols. It really defies description and has to be seen. It is such a shame cameras aren’t allowed. Then again I’d have filled dozens of memory cards and I wouldn’t have taken in the ambience, so maybe it’s a good thing?
Virender left me to have a look at the gardens while he went and got tickets for the “attractions”. Entrance is free but the displays cost, but the cost is really very little and more than reasonable. He has been to this temple so many times with various couchsurfers, it is his introduction to India to which he takes all visitors. I have to say it was wonderful to be with him. I had my own personal guide and translator and I suspect I was told things about the complex and creed that the normal visitor would never learn.
The first thing that we did was take in the 3D animatronic and film display of Swaminarayan. Now I do have to be honest here, while it was very very good I did get the feeling that conversion was the point. Those that know me know that I’m not good with religions and especially when I feel that I am being lured into conversion. That said, all the values put forward were humanitarian and absolutely sound in behaviour and moral code and I enjoyed it very much indeed.
Nilkanth Varni on IMAX
The next attraction was an IMAX film produced by BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha on the Life of Nilkanth Varni, the name Swaminarayan adopted when he left home at 11 years of age to start a 7 year pilgrimage around India. I found the film fascinating. Unfortunately the print jumped quite a bit but the scenery and imagery were stunning. The film is in hindi but english translation is achieved through headphones. This isn’t really as successful as it sounds as the volume of the original hindi soundtrack tends to bleed through the headphones making it a bit difficult to follow. Nevertheless once you get past that, the film was educational and informative and good to watch. The Akshardham website has more info and I’ve linked it here. I’d watch it again and I have found it online if you choose to google it.
The Water Show.
By now it was dusk and the lights had come on. This is apparently a particularly spiritually important part of the day. I have to say this show blew me away! It is a combination of water effects, lasers, and projected animation an I’ve never seen anything like it. I dare say that there are theme parks with similar but I’ve not been to them. The first part of the show is water and laser. I have seen similar, in fact I went to the Royal Academy’s “Light Fantastic” show in the late 1970s which was stunning in it’s time and left a mark on me.
The second part of the show is a story. It was here that Virender really helped with his translations. The story starts with the Gods of Water, Air, Fire and the Sun who have become complacent and proud of their defeat of the demon hordes.
One day four little boys are playing by a river. They make a flower of the water in the river. The fountains in the pool are used to create the flower. The noise of their play and happiness disturbs the Gods. The Water God arrives on the scene. This is where the animation starts. He berates the boys for disturbing him. The boys talk back to him in the same condescending manner that the God uses and they task him to destroy their flower. Water combined with laser and animation makes the amphitheatre come alive and at the end of the God’s displeasure the water flower is more beautiful than ever.
The second God on the scene is the Fire God. He talks angrily to the boys and they reply in kind and challenge him to destroy their flower. The flower remains and again even more beautiful than before. The God of Air comes next and jokingly tries to wheedle the boys who joke back and again the challenge is raised with the expected result. The Sun God then arrives and… well you have the drift by now. The Gods, unable to understand what is going on appeal to Lord Indra who intercedes on the demi-gods behalf with the Creator. The Creator tells them that this is a punishment for being prideful and the display ends.
It was absolutely fantastic. I can’t begin to say how much I enjoyed it, and to me, it was the best part of the already brilliant day.
A boat ride to the past at Akshardham
But we weren’t over yet. The last spectacle was a “boat ride” through the Akshradaham’s view of ancient India’s past. Make sure to tell the guide you are english speaking. You may have to wait a short while for the twenty or so seater boat to be filled, you are then whisked away on an “underground” tour of India’s ancient past. It is super interesting but the boat goes too fast to process all the facts being thrown at you. I will have to do some research on this and maybe put up a post at a later date when I have all the facts.
The Aksardham Temple
I took off my shoes and went into the temple proper. The decoration is exquisite. Again every inch is covered and defies description. Now I have seen some beautiful decoration in my time, after all it was my job, but I have never seen anything quite like this! I’ve seen the Alhambra in Granada which is so beautiful and I’ve seen the little known Watt’s Chapel and I’ve seen the Mezquita de Córdoba. But nothing I’ve seen in my 60 years (so far) compared to this. It is quite literally a labour of love sculpted from what looks to be carrera marble. Yes I found some faults. Slight cuts where there shouldn’t be and faults in the marble itself that had been filled. But the scale and depth of this masterpiece defies imagination.
It is a must see if you are in Delhi.
Other beautiful places I have seen.
1st) The Alhambra, 2nd) Watts Chapel, 3rd) Mezquita de Córdoba.Watts Chapel photo by Nick Garrod on Flickr