Thursday, February 4, 2010

Delhi - Ãkshardham

After a great (but expensive) first day, we decided to figure out our own way around, without a driver. We'd been reading about the metro, and it's scheduled for completion for the commonwealth games in 2010. The Metro is new and nice (not like Seoul nice but nicer than Chicago), and well signed in English. But that's getting ahead of myself.

We stopped in at an internet cafe (30 Rs/hr). The electricity required to run the computers (and router/modem!) seems to be too great to leave on, so everything was turned on after we arrived. The Windows install was definitely ... non-genuine. We decided to not take the security risk so we didn't login anywhere. Currently we're relying on the Kindles’ web access for email. We did, however, read up about the Metro, and checked some maps/directions. Taking the Metro was empowering.

We decided to visit Ãkshardham, which we thought was a Hindu Mandir, though it appears to be a splinter religion (the Swaminarayan Faith). We also didn’t realize ahead of time, but this is actually a very new mandir, having only been completed in 2005. So basically, brand-spankin’-new. We actually saw some carvers at work.

From Trip of a Lifetime

There was a 1070-foot elephant plinth. That's a lot of elephant plinth! Each section of the elephant plinth depicted a different story involving elephants, and for some sections there was an English description of the story. Most of the stories were unfamiliar to us, but we did find and recognize the story of the blind men and the elephant.

From Trip of a Lifetime

The mandir was closed, but after exploring the grounds, we went on the “exhibition,” which was in part explanation, part evangelism. This included a “boat ride” (think indoor amusement park ride) with some history of India, a movie about Neelkanth Varni (child-yogi important in the religion), and an animatronics show about the life of Bhagwan Swaminarayan (founder of the religion, who lived from 1781-1830).

There were hordes of schoolchildren there, and in each group a few would come over and greet us through a combination of “hello,” “what is your name?” and invariably a handshake (one from each of a sea of kids). Once a few in a group braved coming over, the rest would follow. It is quite amusing to be surrounded by a hundred Indian schoolchildren. There were more girls, or perhaps they were just bolder, and Mary was definitely more popular. While we were wandering the Lotus Garden, one particular group of 6 girls kept coming up to Mary, and on the second time, one of them started speaking in Hindi and eventually pulled Mary down to kiss her on the cheek, then they all ran away. A little later one of them blew her a kiss and seemed thrilled to be blown a kiss back. A few minutes later they all came over wanting to kiss Mary and then the boldest wanted to be kissed back on the cheek, and then of course they each wanted a kiss. Good thing it was such a small group! The grounds are gorgeous; I suggest you look it up. As suggested, we spent over half a day there, so with our late start, that was the only sight for the day. We Metroed home.

And yes, you read that right -- Mary kisses schoolgirls.

Akshardham Lotus
Lotus Garden by Juthani1 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

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