Kota – south east Rajasthan

kota rajasthan header

I stayed in Udaipur longer than intended due to the fall down the stairs and the swollen eye. But on Friday I set off for Kota on the train. I had been going to go to Ajmer first but decided to cancel that as I still didn’t feel 100% and I wanted to get back to Mickey’s and relax a bit and let my eye heal. I may feel 30 years old but the truth is that I’m 60 and I was getting tired. The same tuk-tuk driver that helped me with the medical issue took me to the station. The train got me in to Kota late, around 23:30. A tuk-tuk ride got me to Hotel Navrang that I’d booked on the Oyo app.

Kota navrang hotel
Navrang Hotel in the distance
Kota isn’t known for its tourism like other cities such as Jaipur, so finding a hostel had proved impossible but Oyo had come to the rescue with a fairly well priced hotel that was clean, comfortable and great value for money. Not far from the station and only about 1km from the town centre and Chatra Vilas Gardens, which are super and very restful.

Kota – day one

Being in a hotel is different from being in a hostel. In a hostel there are fellow travellers to talk to about sights and where to go. Hotels you are on your own. The staff of Navrang had rudimentary english so quizzing them wasn’t much use. I googled a bit and the following day I set off looking for breakfast and in the direction of the Chatra Vilas Gardens. The garden charges 5/- entrance and it is a paltry sum to pay for the maintenance that they do there. The place is a great for getting away from the noise, not that Kota is that noisy compared to other cities. I wandered around the gardens and took some photos of the old buildings and the small train that tours the gardens and then headed for an attraction I’d seen on google, the Seven Wonders.

Kota gardens
Garden inhabitant
The Chatra Gardens has one border on the Kishore Sagar lake, the Seven Wonders is on the opposite side of the lake. In the middle of the water is a palace called Jag Mandir which is closed to the public but well worth a few shots with a long lens. The palace is a beautiful red stone monument built by one of the queens of Kota in the year 1740. Rounding the lake I arrived at the Seven Wonders. It was closed until 14:00 and as it was only just gone 11 I decided that I’d give it a miss. The Seven Wonders is a recreation of seven of the world’s most famous structures, in miniature. They comprise:

  • Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the redeemer
  • Pisa’s Leaning Tower
  • Paris’ Eiffel Tower
  • Agra’s Taj Majal
  • Rome’s Colosseum
  • Egypt’s Great Pyramid
  • New York’s Statue of Liberty

To be honest, I have seen 4 of the 7 in real life so, while they are really well done and well exhibited, it wasn’t a problem for me to give the gardens a miss. It was very hot and there was no shade, so a walk around the outside of the lake and a look in at the structures was good enough for me. They are supposed to be beautiful at night when lit.

Kotah Garh, the City Palace

Kota City Palace Kotah Garh
Kotah Garh from behind
I then walked on to the edge of the roughly rectangular lake and caught a tuk-tuk to Kotah Garh, the City Palace. Kotah Garh is situated on the eastern bank of the Chambal River at the centre of south-eastern Rajasthan. The oldest part of the palace seems to have been built in the 13th century with numerous later additions. The shame is that it is all being left with rudimentary maintenance. There are sections of the palace that I imagine are positively dangerous judging by the outside. The entry on this page explains more of the detail and would bore you if I repeated it here.

I walked around the Kota palace for a couple of hours being shown the Maharaja’s bedroom and other sights, taking pictures that you can see here, and feeling sad that this beautiful place was slowly falling apart. And then I headed for the river Chambal and the back side of the palace to look over the river and see the Kota Super Thermal Power Station and to take some more pics.

By now lunch was calling, so I headed back round to the entrance of the palace where I’d seen some shops and food stalls. I ate my lunch and had a drink and decided to head back to the hotel to rest, I was still feeling a bit wobbly and my fat eye certainly wasn’t helping, it was hot and I needed a sit down. It’s quite tiring trying to navigate with only one eye.

Hospital in Kota

In Udaipur they had told me that my stitches needed to come out in a week’s time. That would make it a Monday or Tuesday. I’d noticed on Google Maps that the hotel in which I was staying was only a few hundred yards from a government hospital. So I decided to stroll in on Sunday morning to see if I could get some information or, indeed, have the stitches removed. I could see in the mirror that the wound was pretty well healed. I walked up to the reception and asked if anyone spoke english. A tall bearded young man said he did. I explained the situation to him and he said “come with me”. Off we went. He took me to a consulting room and barged me to the front of the queue and had a doctor examine me. The doctor wrote something on a paper and I was marched off to another room and made to lie on a none too clean bed. Well this was a government hospital. The stitches were taken out there and then and I was marched off to the dispensary where I was given some medication. That simple!

The young man asked me if I had some time to sit and talk. Well I was a day ahead of the game now so I said yes. His name is Sarvendra and his english is pretty good and, I was told, learned from… Facebook! Maybe I’ll have to revise my opinion of that data mining company. We chatted a while and it was still early, probably not even 09:30. Sarvendra asked if I’d like to meet him after his shift finished at 14:00 so I agreed.

I went back a little before two but Sarvendra didn’t finish until a bit after three. I was then taken on the back of his bike back to his house to meet his parents, uncles, cousins and all. Selfies with the white man all round. I was fed some lovely food too. I then was taken to another relative’s house and a guitar was given me to play. The strings were old, corroded and knackered. The action appalling. The machine heads rusty and really the guitar was all but unplayable. But I managed to coax some sound out of it and by the reaction received, it was probably the first time anyone had made any sort of music on it. I don’t know what India thinks of blues but that’s what they got. So after an afternoon of being the point of interest, I was taken back to my hotel in the late afternoon where a date was made for a road trip the following day after work.

Road trip to the countryside

Kota people
Sarvendra, Tutu and me
The Kota road trip was great. We were accompanied Manoj and Tutu too, friends of Sarvendra’s. We headed out of town to the southwest to see the new Hanging Bridge. As you can see in the photos it is still something of a novelty and the place was crammed with people wandering around in what amounts to motorway. I have to say it was an impressive structure and all the better for being able to see it walking instead of in a car. My positively favourite bit was the guy leading the camel. There aren’t many countries in the world where you get camels as part of the motorway traffic. There are a couple of pictures. The hanging bridge seen, we mounted the bikes and headed south again.

Nahara Singh Mata Temple and lunch

Kota temple
Washing hands
Out in the countryside now we came to a temple in the middle of the jungle. Sarvendra tells me it is called Nahara Singh Mata temple. It’s not as built up as the usual Hindu temples and really comprised of a couple of buildings by the side of a stream. The stream oozed out of rocks in a mini waterfall where we washed our hands and feet before entering the temple building. Many temples here require you to remove your shoes as a mark of respect and in the heat and humidity here it’s often a relief to do so. There were loads of monkeys around and you have to keep your eye on bags, cameras and the like, the monkeys apparently have a tendency to pinch things.

Kota temple and food
Rajasthan food at the temple
Over at the second of the two buildings there was a crowd of men preparing food. Sarvendra told me that these guys look after the temple and the area. He went over to talk to them and a second later I’d been invited to dine on traditional Rajasthan food. The men and boys were delighted to serve me food. They gave me an old fertiliser bag to sit on and dusted of a plate and served me with dal, which was gorgeous and some small balls of flour to be dipped in the dal and also included a large ball which was sweet. The whole lot was delicious. I’ve never been anywhere where the people are so friendly and accommodating to strangers. Naturally I had to pose for the selfies again but in my photos you can see me and the food and the gang that fed me.

The Baroli Temple Complex near Kota

Kota - Baroli temple
Baroli Temple Complex
Next stop on the road trip was the Baroli Temple Complex. These temples are some times known as Badoli Temples. There are eight temples here within a walled area. Built during the Gurjara-Pratihara Empire in the 10th–11th centuries. They are one of the earliest temple complexes in Rajasthan. They are also supposed to be the most perfect examples of their age in this part of India. I’ve linked a wikipedia entry here but one of the facts that is mentioned is that a carved stone image of the god Nataraja (dancing Shiva) was stolen from the Baroli temple complex in 1998. It has been traced to a private collector in London. However, the statue has not been recovered so far. So we can see the greed culture of the west is alive and kicking and a source of embarrassment to all. There is a good PDF here if anyone is interested.

Quote from p20 of the PDF

The carved stone idol of Natraj was smuggled out of India, and a police case registered as far back as 1998. The Rajasthan Police carried out an ‘Operation Black Hole’, and the statue was located in London with a private collector but remains unrecovered to date. Whether efforts after such a long a lapse of time will succeed is a moot question.

My view is that the collector/thief should be named if the police know where this idol is. It can hardly be libel or slander if true. My money goes on someone with incredible wealth and no concern for anyone but his/her self.

The Rana Pratap Sagar Dam

Kota dam
Me at the dam
Final stop on the road trip was the Rana Pratap Sagar Dam, 53.8 metres (177ft) in height built on the Chambal River at Rawatbhata in Rajasthan. Its main function is hydro-electric power generation but it is also associated with irrigation projects too. The power station was officially opened on 9 February 1970 by Indira Gandhi. The dam and power plant are named after the warrior Maharaja Rana Pratap of Rajasthan. The Chambal river (once known as the Charmavati River) runs north-northeast through Madhya Pradesh, then for a time through Rajasthan and forms the boundary between Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh before turning southeast to join the Yamuna River in Uttar Pradesh state.

And that was the end of the trip Kota road trip. The next day I was due to leave for Agra but there was a cockup with the tickets with the agent booking it a day earlier than asked, for Monday night instead of Tuesday. At this point I’d had enough, I’d been on the go for the best part of a month. Tuesday morning I went to the railway station in Kota and booked myself a ticket on the sleeper train back to Mickey’s. I was tired and I wanted a rest. The constant moving and running around had exhausted me and I was ready for a few days peace and quiet and the chance to let my eye heal and write up the Rajasthan trip.

Kota dam


Jodhpur – the Blue City

Jodhpur-header

The train to Jodhpur

The train from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur took 5 hours arriving at about 22:45. With the poor sleep that I’ve been getting the motion of the train almost immediately made me sleepy. Luckily i had the company of an American girl and a Dutch boy. When they weren’t there i resorted to loud blues on the iPod to keep me awake.

Indian trains are pretty much on time. Which is good because there is little to announce at which station you’ve arrived. At Jodhpur I had to ask an Indian guy who asked a local. The reply was “next station”. Well the train seemed to be waiting an undue length of time so I put on Google’s location device and found that this station, which ever it was, was only about 1. 5km from Stops Hostel, where I’d booked a couple of nights. I hopped off and got a tuk-tuk.

One thing about tuk-tuk drivers that you can count on is that they will quadruple the fare. They appear determined to put their client in the hands of Uber and Ola. Nevertheless I got a tuk-tuk who did overcharge me a bit and then tried for 50/- more at the hostel. I explained that we’d agreed a price and that’s what he was getting. His comment was “I give you Indian price, ok”. “Indian price would have been half” I said as I left.

Stops Hostel in Jodhpur

Stops Hostel Jodhpur
Stops Hostel Jodhpur
Stops Hostel in Jodhpur is well worth a visit. If you are a good sleeper, which I’m not. In none the hostelworld, booking.com type sites do they mention the Imam. Granted, the description does say “Address: Stops Hostel Jodhpur, Plot No. 1, Fort Road, Paota, Opposite Irani Masjid, Next to Balaji Temple, Near Ship Building, Jodhpur, Rajasthan 342001”. It doesn’t say that Irani Masjid is a mosque. 05:00 the faithful are called to prayers. Not my favourite part. But the hostel is super clean. Hot water is nice to have. On multi levels with a roof terrace and an attached restaurant , Stops was a nice place to meet other travellers. If you can get a back dorm, away from the speakers attached to the mosque, it would be pretty much a perfect hostel. The restaurant was a tad overpriced but the food that I ate, was good.

Jaswant Thada cenotaph – Jodhpur

Jaswant Singh II, founder of Jaipur
Jaswant Singh II, founder of Jodhpur
On the net I couldn’t find that much to do in Jodhpur. There is the Mehrangarh fort of course, and the text online pushed the Clock Tower over which I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm. Location Google showed me the way. The fort was only a couple of kilometers away, I’d walk. It was a very simple walk with lots of views over the city and some photos to be taken. I passed a huge bronze statue of a Maharajah which needed inspection. This turned out to be man credited with founding Jodhpur, Maharaja Jaswant Singhji II. Tripadvisor comments say it’s difficult to get there but I get the impression that’s in a car. Walk, if you can, you’ll see more.

 Cenotaph to Jaswant Singh II, Jaswant Thada
Cenotaph to Jaswant Singh II, Jaswant Thada
By the side of the Maharaja is a cenotaph. A cenotaph to Jaswant Singh II, Jaswant Thada. It costs 30/- to enter and they charge 20/- for a camera. Pretty reasonable. It’s also worth seeing. A beautiful hand carved marble cenotaph and gardens. I spent a long time there in its relative quiet and away from horns. There are good views over the city, a huge wall that straddles the mountain ridge.

Mehrangarh Fort – Jodhpur

Mehrangarh Fort - Jodhpur
Mehrangarh Fort – Jodhpur
On leaving the cenotaph I carried on up the hill to a Y shaped junction and took the left towards the Mehrangarh fort. It’s a colossal fort perched on top of a hill. Almost red in colour, it’s hard to photograph without lens distortion making the lines curved. Again I decided not to go in and spend too long looking around. Maybe I’ll leave that for the next time. This time I just wanted to get photos of Mehrangarh fort and also get down into the blue city to take more.

The Blue City – Jodhpur

The Blue City of Jodhpur
The Blue City of Jodhpur
Along side the south side of the fort is a footpath. If you follow that it takes you down into the blue city. Suddenly there are blue houses, then shops. The blue is intense. Keeping to the more main roads, if you can really call them roads, they deserve a word of their own, you come down off the hill and into a bustling part of town. I found another another stepwell. Children were throwing themselves into the water from silly heights. Then there was a Ganesh festival with paint throwing. Loads of tractor drawn floats with decorated trailers and Ganesh in prominent view. Many equipped with huge sound systems. Then the schools came out and a Muslim funeral parade started and there was chaos. People everywhere. And then I was silly.

Street food Jodhpur
Shouldn’t have drunk the water
I stopped for food. A samoosa and something whose name I’ve yet to find out made with a chilli in batter with spuds. The stall holder was a nice fellow who spoke good english. He explained some of what was going on while I ate. On finishing and without thinking I asked for pani, water, and drank the contents of the metal mug. Wrong move, as I was to find out some time later.

I woke the next day knowing something was wrong! Not a pleasant trip to the bathroom. Followed a while later by the same. Time for anti-diahorrea pills before the Udaipur bus at 13:35. The morning followed in the bathroom – pill game until I left for the bus station some 50/- distant. Warned not to engage a tuk-tuk driver in front of the hostel because they charge more, I mooched off down the road a way. The first tuk-tuk out of the area wanted 1000/-! I just looked at him with my mouth open and said “you’re out of your mind” and walked off. The second guy charged me 50/-.

The bus station in Jodhpur was one of the more organised that I’ve been to. I’d been told that the Volvo buses park off to one side, and there indeed was one. I was quite early so I bought bananas and a fairly dry potato breakfast dish called Poha. Something fairly inert and maybe binding. Still worried, I ate the Poha and a couple of bananas and one more pill. I approached a man possibly my age and asked if he spoke english? He did indeed and extremely well. He wasn’t sure but he’d ask the driver when he passed by. Well it was about 12:15 and I had more than an hour, so we did “world’s problems ” “asian and western differences” a bit of “religion” and along came the bus driver who told us there was no bus to Udaipur at 13:35.

Volvo office immediately. Nice man made a phone call whilst finding me on the computer. Had a chat and said “come”. I went.

In a different part of the bus station administration, my man was in deep discussion with a new man who had also found me on the computer. I showed him my ticket and compared its contents with his monitor’s contents, fired off some hindi and I was instructed to “come” again. Out into the main bus gladiatorial area again. I was marched to stands 3 and 4. “Here or here at 16:30 – computer error. Thanks 🙁 I returned to the company of the elderly man where we philosophised, and fantasised until he had to go. And I waited for the bus to Udaipur and thanked my lucky pills I was still in normal mode.

I was seated next to a young army sergeant, or “holder” as they seem to be called here. Now I’m not sure if that is how you spell it, I suspect not, but that was how it sounded to my ears. His english was pretty good and we chatted for a while until both of us started to nod off. This bus wasn’t going to arrive in Udaipur until 21:30 – 22:00. About two thirds of the way we stopped. Probably near Rajsamand, where I was told by the army that I could get of, go for a pee and have a chai. I got out and stretched my legs. My stomach was going to remain bathroomless on this voyage. The bus honked, we boarded and we set off on the last leg. Macey Gray helped.


Qtub Minar

qtub minar

I had to return to Delhi for a dental check-up and I needed more eJuice for my vapouriser. I found a business selling vapourising supplies called Evolve down in a place in SW Delhi called Seket. Whilst looking at the map for how to get there I noticed that it is near to Qtub Minar, so I took the opportunity to visit.

Qutb Minar complex

Minaret of Qtub Minar
Minaret of Qtub Minar
Qutb Minar is a minaret that forms part of the Qutb complex and is a 73-metre (240 feet) tall tapering tower of five storeys. It is made of red sandstone and marble, The design is thought to have been based on the Minaret of Jam, in western Afghanistan. See the wikipedia entry here.

Qutb Ud-Din-Aibak was the founder of the Delhi Sultanate and it was he that started construction of the Qtub Minar’s first level in around 1192. In 1220, Aibak’s successor and son-in-law Iltutmish completed a further three storeys. A lightning strike in 1369 destroyed the top storey. Firoz Shah Tughlaq replaced the damaged storey, and added one more. The British also added a storey to the building but it was so out of keeping with the original that it was never used and stands alone in a part of the complex.

Qtub Minar is a little hard to get to. You either have to do two sides of a triangle on the metro from where I was in Faridabad, figure out the buses or get an Ola Car. I opted for the latter. Ola are a cheap ride company and anyone visiting India would be well advised to download their app and a similar one called Uber (Android and iPhone). My journey to Seket cost about £1 in air conditioned comfort. I bought my eJuices and headed on to Qtub Minar.

Qtub Minar entrance cost and guide

First thing to know is that it will cost you, the tourist, 500/-INR (just over £6 and nearly 17 times more than the locals pay). Indians enter a lot more cheaply at 30/- INR. It is now a UNESCO site of Historic Interest which has undoubtedly put the prices up as it has in the Alhambra in Spain. I was accosted by a gentleman who claimed to be a guide. I wasn’t really interested as I had read up on Qtub Minar, however he told me that the guide was included in the price of admission and showed me an official looking ID. Whether it was or not was any Photoshopper’s nightmare. The guide certainly knew his stuff, showed me the points of interest for about half an hour and then told me that his “clients” usually tip him $20. Three times the cost of the entrance fee? I didn’t have twenty dollars on me and I wasn’t about to give him $20 for half an hour’s work. I gave him what I had in my wallet at the time, which was 200/-INR. He moaned and made such a scene that I asked him if he wanted me to rob someone to pay him his extortionate demand. He left. Twenty dollars is 1280+ rupees. Bearing in mind that you can eat out substantially for about 70/-INR I thought it excessive for half an hour.

The building of Qtub Minar

Qtub Minar decoration in Arabic
Qtub Minar decoration in Arabic
Hindu decoration in Qtub Minar
Hindu decoration in Qtub Minar
Qtub Minar was built after the defeat of the last Hindu kingdom by the Muslim invaders and provocatively there is an inscription over the east gate informing the public that the minaret was built using the materials from 27 destroyed Hindu temples. The Qtub site still has remains of the Hindu temples as you can see in the photos. The tower is decorated with Arabic writing that I was told were passages of the Q’ran. Because of the plundered Hindu remains there are a number of Hindu decorative features inter mixed in this Islamic design, including a frieze of positions from the Kama Sutra which would be in direct opposition to the Q’ran’s rules on the depiction of life.

Diverse opinions surround the creation of the minaret. A few sources claim it was built as a pinnacle of triumph denoting the start of Muslim domainatin of India, others say it served the muezzins who called the steadfast to prayer from the minaret. There are a number of opinions around the naming of the tower with some saying it was named after a Sufi saint, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki while others believe it was named after Aibak himself.

The minaret has suffered two earthquakes, one in 1505 and another in 1803. It also suffered a lightening strike that cost it the upper storey. You used to be able to enter the tower and climb the 379 steps to the top taking in the views from each floor’s balconies. Unfortunately, according to the guide, a child fell to it’s death and the inside of the tower is no longer open to the public.

The rust-free Iron Pilar of Qtub Minar

Rust free iron pilar with Qtub Minar minaret
One of the other features of the complex is the 7m tall rust free iron pilar that has scientists wondering how it was made. This pillar dates from Gupta Empire which reached its peak from approximately 320 to 550 CE and covered much of the Indian subcontinent. This was a time of peace and prosperity and it lead to the Golden Age of India with many innovations in science, art, philosophy, engineering etc. and eventually crystallised into what is now the Hindu culture. (See this wikipedia entry.) There is a belief that that if you can embrace the pillar with both hands while standing with your back to the pillar then your wish gets fulfilled. This possibility is now made difficult due to crash railings around the pilar.


Humayun’s Tomb

Humayun-tomb header

I had a good weekend this week. Today I went to the Tomb of Humayun and the Red Fort and Chandi Chowk yesterday. It really helps to have someone around to show me where to go.

Emperor Humayun.JPGHumayun, or to give him is correct name Nasir-ud-Din Muḥammad, was the second ruler of the Mughal Empire, who controlled a region of what is currently Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of northern India in the mid 16 century of the christian era. He was an inexperienced ruler when he came to power and lost his territories to a Pashtun noble, Sher Shah Suri, but regained them 15 years later with Safavid aid. (All of this on Humayun is from wikipedia. For the full entry go here.)

Humayun was accompanied on his return to Delhi by large retinue of Persian noblemen and this influx influenced a lot of the northern Indian art.

The building of Humayun’s Tomb

The tomb was designed by Mirak Mirza Ghiyas, a Persian architect and was commissioned by his wife and consort Empress Bega Begum (also known as Haji Begum). It was the first structure to use red sandstone in such profusion in its building. The site was chosen to be near the tomb of the celebrated Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya, who was much revered by the rulers of Delhi. It’s gardens are typical Persian style quadrilateral lay out of the time and the likes had never been seen in India before. They occupy an area of 13 hectares or 30 acres. In many ways it reminded me of the gardens of Generalife at the Alhambra in Granada with its rectangular walkways and use of water. There are certainly similarities.

Humayun’s tomb is sometimes called the Little Taj Mahal.

Photos of the tomb Humayun complex

According to a report made by a British merchant, William Finch in 1611, the tomb was originally richly decorated with carpets and a tent like object of pure white over the tomb itself. Hymayun’s sword, turban and shoes were laid out in front along with copies of the Koran.

When the capital moved to Agra the gardens fell in to disrepair but the worst was to come under British rule when the gardens were replanted in a British style. However, Viceroy, Lord Curzon ordered that the gardens be restored to their former beauty and between 1903–1909 extensive works were carried out to implement this.

Tomb complex of Humayun
Tomb complex of Humayun
Aside from the main enclosure of Humayun, when approaching from the main entrance in the West, there are several smaller monuments on route, including one that even pre-dates the main tomb itself.

The tomb isn’t that far from Akshardham, just the other side of the river Yamuna. You can see a short video of the gardens here

Akshardham Temple Complex

Akshardham Temple

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.

Delhi Metro

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.

delhi-metro-map
Delhi Metro
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.

Government Buildings Delhi
Government Buildings
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.

India Gate

India Gate
India Gate
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

Agrasen ki Baol
Agrasen ki Baoli, a stepwell
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

Akshardham

Akshardham Temple
Akshardham Temple
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.

Akshardham Security

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?

Akshardham Pillarsakshardham temple carving

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.

akshardham_animatronic
Animatronic display
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

akshardham_Nilkanth
The IMAX film
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.

Akshardham-Watershow
Water and laser
Akshardham Watershow
Lord of Water

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

akshardham garbhagruh
The Temple with the statue of Swaminaryan
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