|Lodi Garden, New Delhi|
As I sit down to write this, it is 8pm and I have succeeded in not taking a nap today as well as in trying Indian cuisine! I also got a chance to use my new point and shoot camera I got for Christmas to replace the unfortunate toilet camera. It was an eventful day for me and I have now discovered for myself that there are two sides to India (or at least to Delhi): yes, you can get things very cheaply here but there is also a high-end lifestyle as well. I discovered this while out shopping. I think there is an assumption that because I am a foreigner (more specifically, a westerner), that I have money. Certainly not the case. I found some shop owners willing to listen to me when I said “no” to things that were out of my price range and others that did not. More on shopping later... Delhi itself is a very interesting city. I saw much more of it today and I can’t quite figure out how best to describe it. I’ll start from the beginning. I spent a few hours this morning reading since I was awake at an obscenely early hour. Once I determined it was a respectable morning hour, I got up and got ready to head out. I walked to the metro station and took it one stop to Rajiv Chowk which is at the center of Connaught Place. My plan was to head to the official India Tourist office to get a better map (mine fails to show many of the streets and also doesn’t name them). I walked out of one of the several exits of the metro unsure if I had exited at the appropriate gate. When I walked out, I found myself in the middle of a deserted torn up road. Looking clearly unsure of what to do, a man asked me where I was going and offered to point me in the right direction. The India tourist office was unfortunately on the road that was being completely reconstructed. With help, I did make it there and was immediately offered chai tea as I discussed my plans (or more accurately, lack thereof) with one of the tourist workers. The office was a lot smaller than I thought it would be (I foolishly had something in mind more like the tourist offices in Scandinavia). Although all I had planned to get from the office was a better map of Delhi, I left with a map, a personal guide for the day to take me on a tour of Delhi, and a completely planned two day/one night trip to Rishikesh - a town at the base of the Himalayas and the start of the Ganges River. I am sure I could have planned the trip myself for much cheaper than the price I paid for it, but at least I don’t have to worry about anything and it is all inclusive (including guided tours of Rishikesh and the surrounding area) except for a couple of meals. Plus, it actually turned out to be around the same cost as one of my weekend excursions while I was in Sweden.
My driver was going to take me Humayun’s Tomb for our last stop of the tour but unfortunately the road to the Tomb was so backed up with traffic that we were unable to get there. That is definitely on my list of places to visit on one of my three full days I have left in Delhi. Instead, we went to a very new Hindu temple - the Swaminarayan Akshardham. The temple was built in 2005 and is massive and over the top ornamental. The grounds are overwhelmingly huge (100 acres of land). To enter the temple, I was required to go through an extensive security check. The only personal items allowed into the temple were my passport, money, and jewelry. I went through a metal detector followed by a wand search then a pat down more invasive then any I have had in any airport in the US. Thankfully there are separate sections for women and men for this search. I’m not sure whether to feel comforted by the security measures or alarmed by them. The Delhi metro has a similar security system although the pat down is not quite as invasive. You are required to go through a metal detector, a wand search, and a pat down and place your bags through the security x-ray. The temple itself is built entirely of pink stone and marble without any use of steel. It is the most ornamental architectural work of art I have seen so far in my travels. The building is comprised of thousands of detailed sculptures of Hindu gods, elephants, and other symbols of the Hindu faith. Like the Bahai Temple, I had to remove my shoes before entering. Inside the temple was a huge gold plated statue of the yogi Bhagwan Swaminarayan for whom the temple was erected. He was a child yogi starting at the age of 11 and is an example of Indian culture and the Hindu faith. The exhibits at the temple provide a detailed historical background but due to time constraints, I limited myself to just wandering the grounds and the temple and being impressed by their richness.