A full day in Delhi: Tues 28th May

On Tuesday, we chose not to spend 2,000 rupees (about £21) on a driver with our own private air conditioned taxi for the day, opting instead to get a tourist day travelcard for the metro for 200 rupees each. The metro really is brilliant and goes all over Delhi. For single journeys, there is a limit for the maximum amount of time you can spend on the metro system. When you go inside the amazing air conditioned trains from outside it is easy to see why: it would be a cheap way to stay cool if you could pay for a short journey and then stay on the trains all day!The signs and maps are all quite familiar, being in a very similar style to the London Underground. Another sign of colonialism we suppose. Unfortunately we couldn’t take any photos as cameras are forbidden on the metro (along with food and drink, sitting on the floor, and spitting).We started off visiting the Lotus Temple, which we had seen a picture of at the Indian visa offices back in Manchester in March. It is a Bahá’í House of Worship, so it is open to people of all faiths to visit and worship. It was built using donations and with volunteers from the Bahá’í Faith from around the world. The information centre had displays about other Bahá’í Houses of Worship and they all incorporate local traditional architecture or features, in this case the lotus flower, the national flower of India. Again we were not permitted to take photos in the information centre or temple (though there were traffic jams of people taking selfies along the path up to the temple!). I have found some online pics to share here and for our own records.It is a very popular destination in Delhi, so the crowd control was very strict, with queues leading down to the shaded external area outside for everyone to remove their shoes and put them in a bag, and then queue again to go back up some external stairs (along old pale carpets as the stone is too hot to walk on). Here we had to wait for a briefing before entering the temple, and one of the staff approached us and said “English?” and took us out of the queue for our own little briefing in English. He told us a little about the temple and emphasised that we couldn’t talk inside. There was a special ceremony taking place so we could enter and listen to it but would not be allowed to leave until it was over in ten minutes. He then took us to the front of the queue and let us in before everyone else who was still having their briefing – awkward!

A very flattering photo of me and the Lotus Temple!
The temple is absolutely beautiful inside as well as outside. The service we sat in on involved amazing chanting and the acoustics were incredible. There was also some singing along by a bird that had made its way inside!
Interior of the Lotus Temple (from Wikipedia)
Interior view of the symbol of the Greatest Name, set at the top of the temple (from Wikipedia)
Architectural model showing the layers of concrete, wood and stone used to build the temple (from Wikipedia)
We then went back on the metro to a central shopping area. It was definitely still Delhi, but there were also familiar shops like M&S and of course a packed McDonalds. We took a selfie at Chelmsford RoadWe then had a pretty disappointing lunch at the only vegan place we could find in Delhi, an international “yoga cafe” serving the same sort of food we’d get at home. We’ll definitely stick to the vegetarian restaurants which are everywhere and just use our translation cards to specify vegan. We stopped off for a quick cold beer which was amazing.Next stop was “Old Delhi”. Once again we declined to get a tuk tuk from the metro station and just started walking using our free city map from tourist information – not the best idea! We were on a road full of hardware stores and clearly no other tourists! After about 20 mins walking in the baking heat we accepted that we didn’t know where we were and hired a rickshaw to take us to Red Fort which was easy to point to on our map. The rickshaw ride was fun! Our driver took us to a mosque that he uses, which was fairly confusing as it wasn’t where we’d asked him to take us. It got more confusing when he told us to follow him out of the mosque, in the opposite direction to his rickshaw. He led us out on to a street where ever vendor was hawking spices. Any spice or herb you could imagine was there. He rushed us along the street and we turned into a dark alleyway in a low ceilinged structure. It was cool inside and the walls were lined with more people jostling for space with sacks of spices. The air was thick with the various powders and they found their way into our nostrils and eyes,working their potent way down into our bronchioles. Neither of us could see properly as he led us up some tiny stone spiral stairs in the heady air. We stopped, uncertain, and he motioned us to follow. On the next floor he went behind a stall and indicated we should follow up another flight. At this point both of us felt it was getting sketchy enough that we weren’t prepared to follow any further. Surrounded by merchants who clearly knew him, and in an unfamiliar maze of a building, we said no and retreated. Eyes itching we were both struggling to breathe, having paroxysms of coughing and sneezing. In the humid daylight once more we gulped in the air and waited for the burning to pass. I can’t imagine how it must affect those who have to spend their days working in those stone tunnels.Disconcerted but back on more familiar ground, we asked the guide to take us to the Fort as we’d asked him to do. We got back on the rickshaw and we’re setting off when he got a flat tyre! So we left again on foot and decided to skip the Red Fort – we had wanted to see some of Old Delhi which we had been able to do.
Side street in Old Delhi featuring terrifying electric cables!
Excited/apprehensive rickshaw faces!
Street in Old Delhi
Final stop of the day was Swaminarayan Akshardham, a temple and Indian cultural centre. The tour guy at the hotel had suggested it and we’d looked it up online, joking that it was like disneyland… and in some ways it really is! Getting in was a long process though, as we had to queue with hundreds of others to deposit our bag and all electronics (absolutely no phones, cameras or anything is allowed on site). We had just bought some mangoes from Old Delhi so had to take these out of the bag whilst everything else was checked and switched off. After that massive queue we then moved round to the gendered security queues; for once the women’s queue was much longer than the men’s, probably because all the children were in that queue and they were scanned and frisked as well.
Approach along the road tooo Swaminarayan Akshardham, giving a hint of the sheer scale of it!
The centre is a complex of sandstone and marble buildings, archways and other structures, all covered in spectacular intricate carvings. As well as the temple there are several other buildings housing exhibitions; unfortunately we didn’t have time to see them all so we skipped ahead to the boat ride: a tour through 10,000 years of Indian history including science, education and religion. As we reached the front of the outside queue and went inside the building to join the next queue a staffmember saw us and shouted “English! Along there!” and pointed to us to skip the queue entirely. He followed us into the next room where people were waiting to get on the boats, knocked on the door and shouted “Full English!” – apparently we had arrived just in time to join the next boat with an English recording playing (rather than someone bringing out a cooked breakfast). The boat ride was brilliant – it did feel a bit like It’s a Small World After All, but all about Indian history, with a genuinely interesting narrative and information, and without the annoying song!We got dinner from the food hall on site – a south Indian thali as the north Indian dishes all had paneer. A VAST improvement on the bland lunch and about half the cost. Next stop was the Hindu temple, the spectacular focal point of the complex. It was supposed to be silent inside but there were so many people filing through that it was actually quite noisy. The carvings on all the surfaces were amazing, we spent a lot of time looking at the ceilings (and probably getting in everyone’s way!). At the centre was an 11 foot gold-plated sculpture of Bhagwan Swaminarayan in an ornately decorated room. Finally we navigated through more hoardes of people for the water show – another thing we’d seen online and thought was a bit Disney! We all sat on the steps leading down to a massive fountain, above which is another gold sculpture of a teenage yogi who was the young form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. The water show was an amazing combination of lasers, water, projections on the buildings, fire and sound. There was a story and four boys acting out part of it around the fountain but of course we didn’t understand any of it! It was spectacular anyway, a definite highlight of our trip so far. The effect of the lights on water which moved in the wind and evaporated almost immediately was incredible. And the first time we’ve seen bats lit up by lasers! Of course when the show ended everyone left at once so there was yet more queuing to get out, and for the cloakroom. When I handed over our token to the attendant he picked up our bag and said “ah, mangoes!” so clearly we made an impression as the weird English people who’d brought their food shopping to temple for the evening.

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