Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Picture This

I was quite the little tourist today and it wasn’t even Seven Cities day (That’s tomorrow and I’m trying to figure out a way of not going: Humayun’s Tomb and Safdarjung’s Tomb are so annoying! And I’ve been to both places twice and was miserable both times. Not really feeling the return trip for a third time, thank you). But on with our story… The Organization… well… they organized a trip to the new Temple in town: Swaminarayan Akshardham. And it was, if I may be so bold as to say, rather cool.

First of all, the place is wickedly clean if ridiculously run. They are militant about what you can’t bring onto the premises: no purses, no phones, and no freaking cameras! I’m sorry but the best way to advertise a new monument, which this is, is to let freaky expats like me take photos and brag to our friends back home about the cool places we’ve been (The photos on this blog have been borrowed from their website).

Unlike most sites around here, there is only one price to get in regardless of whether you’re a local or not: this is a good thing. Your 125 Rupees get you the mini movies, the Imax movie, and the boat ride. The mini movies are kinda lame, but since we went as a semi-organized group, we actually got to see these in English. They also weren’t really movies – they were more like animatronics dioramas. The minis were lame but seemingly informative.

Why only seemingly? Because the Imax (whose volume was on full blast) rehashed all the minis in one biggie. Lame but air conditioned so I expect it will be rather popular in summer.

(To Big Bro S: You will, I’m sure, be pleased to hear that we’re totally headed here during your visit!)

The Temple was built to honor Bhagwan Swaminarayan who became like a super cool yogi by the age of 11. We learned about his teachings and how everywhere he went people thought he was cool, deep, and way in touch with God (OK, they put it differently and brought up Hinduism a lot but that was the gist of it.). Despite what Grumpy Lady kept complaining about, they were not trying to convert us. It was actually quite interesting and explained why they got together to build a massively amazing monument/temple.

After the dioramas and movies, we went on the boat ride where we learned that Indians were the first in flight, invented the 0, algebra, and modern democracy. If you think I’m kidding, please understand that even I couldn’t lie about this. It was too funny for words. A Disney ride with revisionist history. What more could you ask for in a Temple ride?

The Temple itself is amazing (Have I said that already?). The workmanship on this thing is worthy of the Taj Mahal or Notre Dame. Along the outside of the temple are carvings of animals including lions and thousands of elephants of various sizes. There are also bronze reliefs on each side of the temple depicting different important moments and vignettes in Swaminarayan’s life. You can’t look at these and not be in wonder at the 11,000 workmen and artisans who constructed the temple and surrounding buildings (Weird but cool fact: they buried the architectural blueprints and design details under the temple so that if anything ever happens to the building in the future, the future people can fix it correctly).

Inside the Temple, the detailed carvings go on forever in literally every direction. The walls, pillars, and even the numerous domes are an art lover’s paradise. You could literally drown in the detail work: from dancing Ganeshes and celestial musicians to marble carvings of Swaminarayan himself with avatars and deities. I must again pout about my lack of camera because there were photo ops everywhere. How am I supposed to prove that I was there without a photo of me looking like a local tourist gone amok wearing my jeans, baseball cap, and salawar kameez top?

Ok, so you’ve heard me gush. You’ve listened to me rave. Now read about my doubts. This facility is only 6 months old, and while the grounds are fabulous (I haven’t even touched on the beautiful gardens) the washrooms are already gnarly beyond belief. *shudder* I admit that they’ve taken great care of the place so far but what is it really going to look like in 5, 10, or 100 years? I’m afraid that it may well turn into many other such sites around here: it will be in disrepair, gross, and vaguely sad. People will remember how wonderful it was in 2006 and reminisce about the beautiful place it once was.

Maybe I’m a pessimist or maybe I’m simply a seer – you know me well enough to know which is more likely the correct guess. Either way, get your cute Dedicated Reader butts to the Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple. It’s worth the drive to Acton.

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