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


Jaipur in the desert state of Rajistan

Jaipur-the palace of winds

Jaipur, the capital of Rajistan

Well the last few days have been hectic and I haven’t had a chance to write anything for a while. On the 28th of August I set off from Meerut to visit Jaipur in Rajistan, the desert state. There had been riots on the streets of Delhi on the 25th with people killed and buses set on fire at Anand Vihar. All of this was because of the conviction of a Baba, a holy man, the guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, religious leader of Dera Sacha Sauda, who was convicted of rape committed some years ago. I had left Anand Vihar for Meerut the day before, on the 24th, and there was some speculation that the 28th, day of sentencing, could produce the same rioting. Luckily I made it through to Sarai Rohilla Station for the train to Jaipur with no mishap.

Sarai Rohilla train station in Delhi

Delhi Sarai Rohilla stationThe Sarai Rohilla train station isn’t the easiest place to navigate. There is little help, no platform staff (that I could find) and not much by the way of indication where to go. A friendly young police woman put me straight. I had a few hours to wait so, in Indian style, I had a snooze sitting on one bag and using the backpack as a chair back.

Once the train arrived a member of the station staff arrived and began to glue paper to the doors of the train. On inspection I found my name and seat number printed on the paper and confirmed that my seat number was the same as that which my ticket said.

The journey to Jaipur is 4 ½ hours. The train was a double decker and I was on the top deck. The aircon nearly froze me but the ride was comfortable enough. We pulled out at 17:35 on the dot. Travelling through the outskirts of Delhi heading west was yet another eye-opener. People sitting on the tracks chatting. Kids playing on the tracks. One teenager throwing stones at the train trying to break windows. People peeing and crapping by the side of the tracks with no embarrassment. I was happy to leave it behind and watch the scenery change.

The Himalaya Towers Hotel – Jaipur

We were a bit late in arriving in Jaipur. I was due in at 22:05 but we got in about 10 minutes late. I had taken the time to book a room at the Himalaya Towers Hotel using the Oyo app. On Google maps it looked like it would be a nice quiet place just outside the centre of Jaipur. It wasn’t. It was about 17km away and south of the airport. The Ola Cab didn’t know where it was and I was hassled and hustled by a taxi driver with excellent english. Eventually I did opt to go with him as he seemed to be the only person with any degree of knowledge. The cost was 500/-INR which here is exorbitant.

The hotel was, in all fairness, clean and tidy and not too expensive. About £7 a night. But what I hadn’t counted on was the expressway. I told you about the Indians love of the horn in this post. At about four thirty the trucks started going by. They have multiple horns. They play tunes like Woody Woodpecker and various other horrible “melodies”. So that was me awake with just over 4 hours sleep. I walked out at 8am and caught an Ola car to a hostel called Mai Thik Hoo that I found on the Hostelworld App.

Mai Thik Hoo Hostel in Jaipur

mai thik hoo hostel jaipurMai Thik Hoo was a brilliant place and it was quiet! The staff are super friendly, helpful, speak great english and young. I was the oldest person there and they insisted on calling me “sir” which I hated. We got over it. If you are backpacking in Jaipur go to Mai Thik Hoo, you won’t regret it. I arrived at about 08:30, checked in and met a lovely girl called Liliana from Mexico. Yay, a chance to speak spanish again. We talked for a good while and decided to team up to see some the famous Jaipur sites. The boys from Mai Thik Hoo called up a tuk-tuk driver that they trust (the kept stressing that they feel responsible for their guests) and for the princely sum of 500/-INR Liliana and I took off for out tour.

The Pink City

We were taken first to a part of the Pink City where we got out and took some photos (or clicked some photos as the Indians say) and then headed off to Gaitore Ki Chhatriya, the Royal Cremation Ground of the Kachhwaha Rajputs.

Gaitore Ki Chhatriya – Jaipur royal memorials

Gaitore Ki Chhatriya will cost you 30/-INR to get in and it’s a bargain! There are three “courtyards” and they are incredibly beautiful. Built of marble, all hand carved and following the Vedic rules for building a memorial. Vedic rules, they state that crematoriums should be in north of the village and sloping southwards. A body of water should be nearby. A lake or a river is perfect backdrop for these memorials. The crematoriums and memorials should be constructed in a concealed location in order that they cannot be seen easily. I won’t go into it any more here but here are two links for those that are interested. [ 1 ] and [ 2 ].

The Amber Fort

Next stop was the famous Amber Fort of Jaipur. This fort is a spectacular piece of architecture sitting on top of a ridge. The Fort is known for its artistic Hindu style decoration. It is truly huge. It is actually located in Amer, about 11km away from Jaipur. As we were on a limited whistle stop tour we decided that to go in to the Amber Fort would use up too much time so we contented ourselves with walking round the outside and seeing the views from some of the ramparts. We also walked down into Amer from the fort and saw the Shiva Temple there too. It would be easy to spend a day in the fort alone. For those that want to know more, I have linked the wikipedia entry here.

Panna Meena ka Kund

Panna Meena ka Kund - Jaipur
Panna Meena ka Kund
We were then taken to Panna Meena ka Kund. This is another stepwell like the one in Delhi mentioned in this post, but more beautiful. There really isn’t anything more to say about stepwells but this one is situated near Anokhi Museum on the Jaipur – Amer road, It is a beautiful place that was built during sixteenth century. The place was mainly used as a place for social meetings. People from nearby places would come here to get water, go swimming or just to pass time with friends and family. This beautiful well has a unique architecture and style.

The Water Palace – Jal Mahal

Heading back into Jaipur from the Amber Palace we stopped at the Water Palace. Our tuk-tuk driver told us that once one could visit it but these days the government has shut it off to visitors. So we took some pictures, (which you can see here) of this amazing piece of Rajput style of architecture, bought cucumber snacks and kulfi which is an incredible rich, dense, creamy non-whipped ice cream and headed off to the Monkey Temple.

The Monkey Temple

This temple is dedicated to Shiva. Upon our arrival a very slick young man with good english entered the tuk-tuk and started giving us his sales pitch. He lives in the area and has worked with the monkeys all his life. They can be viscous and carry rabies and apparently we really needed his help. Liliana and I took an immediate dislike to him. He wanted 200/-INR from each of us to walk us up a hill of about 800m to a temple. There are supposed to be loads of monkeys around. We were also hassled to buy peanuts for the monkeys, being told it was “good karma” to feed them. Anyone who has any knowledge of the laws of karma knows that that’s pure BS. The result was another young lad took us up for a quarter the cost. Maybe he only had a quarter the knowledge because he really didn’t seem to know what he was talking about and contradicted himself a few times. But there again there wasn’t really much to say. Hey ho. We saw not one monkey! However when we got back down we found them all asleep near where our tuk-tuk was parked. In all honesty this was the most uninteresting part of the trip and we were both happy to get back to the hostel.

Pink City revisited (day two).

Liliana and I arranged to wake early and get back into the Pink City fairly early to try and maximise her last day. We caught the metro from Civil Lines, where Mai Thik Hoo is situated, and headed for Chadpole station. While India wakes early, not much starts before 09:00. We arrived at Chadpole and put on Google’s location service so that we could navigate. Both of us wanted to see more of the Pink City than we saw the first day (all the photos are above). We also wanted to go to Jantar Mantar, the Palace of Winds (Hawa Mahal) and the Albert Hall Museum. Unfortunately we ran out of time for the latter.

Temple Shri Maji Tawar - Jaipur
Temple Shri Maji Tawar
Drum machine in Jaipur
Drum machine

On exiting the metro station we happened upon a beautifully decorated temple. I haven’t been able to find anything online about this place so I asked Mickey from Satya Dhaam to translate the hindi in the photo. This is what he said it says. Maji Sahib Shri, Shri Tawar Ji. He also says that he thinks the temple is to a person called Maji Tawar and the Sahib, Shri and Ji are honourifics or marks of respect for the named person. I have searched google and can find nothing more. It seems a shame that no one has written anything because it was quite beautiful. It also contained a drum machine. The strangest drum machine I have ever seen as you can see in the photo.

The next few hours were spent with Liliana taking photos and shopping for presents and souvenirs. It was fun but tiring. The shop keepers always want you to buy more and more. You tell them you haven’t any money, they say “use a card”. You tell them that you are backpacking and don’t wan’t the weight, they say “we’ll send it to the hotel or your home”. It’s never ending, very tiring, stressful and irritating and a lot of time was wasted just trying to say NO. The people of Jaipur have a much better command of European languages. We were hassled by a young man speaking excellent spanish who wanted us to go to a particular café overlooking the Palace of Winds. Looking for his commission I suppose. By now I was hot, tired and my blood sugar levels were dropping fast and all the both of us wanted to do was sit down, have a bite to eat in relative quiet. I lost my temper with the guy and asked him, none to subtly, if there was any danger of us being able to do what we wanted to do without him hanging around hassling us. He left and so did we.

Palace of Winds – Hawa Mahal

The Palace of Winds (or Palace of the Breeze) is a super impressive structure built of red and pink sandstone. However it is really just a screen to allow the women of the palace to watch parades without being observed. It is attached to the women’s quarters of the palace. Built in 1799 and supposed to emulate the crown of the Lord Krishna. There are 953 small windows covered with a lattice work that allows the breeze to pass through and creates a form of “air conditioning”. The whole structure is only one room deep but the lower floors have small patios or terraces. There is a lot about Hawa Mahal on the web and this is the wikipedia entry.

Jantar Mantar – astronomical instruments

Salads finished we headed for Jantar Mantar. Jantar Mantar is is a collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments, built by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh II, and completed in 1734 CE. It features the world’s largest stone sundial, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which, in my experience means higher entrance costs, longer queues and more tourist prices and rip-offs. The observatory comprises of nineteen instruments for measuring time, foreseeing eclipses, following the placement of significant stars as the earth circles the sun, finding out the declinations of planets, and deciding the heavenly elevations and altitudes. Most of this information is from wikipedia and I won’t repeat it here. It is enough to say that it is very technical and very impressive. The instruments are huge with a view to increasing their accuracy. The Giant Sundial, known as the Samrat Yantra is one of the world’s largest sundials, standing 27 metres tall. Its shadow moves at 1mm per second, or roughly 6 cm every minute. It rained when we were there so this phenomenon was lost on us.

And that was it – we were out of time. Liliana had to get back to the hostel to get her stuff together for the train at 17:00, so we grabbed a tuk-tuk and headed back. All in all a good day. Personally I have to say I was super to be speaking Spanish with Liliana and we both enjoyed the days and each other’s company.


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