Sunday, February 23, 2014

New Delhi, India

Though it was night, as we rode from the airport to our hotel, it was readily apparent that New Delhi, like most capital cities, was more modern and better cared for than Mumbai.  I recognized familiar store logos on store fronts all along the freeway.  But that was about all I saw of the city until we returned two days later.  In the morning, while Bob was taking care of business, I had the pleasure of being taken on a personal tour of "Swaminarayan Akshardham", a huge Hindu Temple complex south of the city.  The drive gave me an opportunity to snap a couple of photos through the car window along the way.  The abundance of mosques tell of the Muslim influence which exists throughout India.

Akshardham was built in tribute to Bhagwan Swaminarayan, an Indian spiritual leader who lived from 1781-1830, and whose divinity is worshiped by millions.  The cultural complex was completed in 5 years and took 300 million man-hours to carve the 300,000 stones needed to create this temple!  The skilled work of 11,000 volunteers and artisans completed the task in 2005.  It is an amazing work of art and I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the project.  I had never seen so much detailed carving and beautiful sculpture work in pink sandstone and white marble as is seen here.  There are two exhibition halls, one depicts the life and teachings of Bhagwan Swaminarayan through films, light and sound shows and animatronics, and the other features a 14-minute boat ride exhibition showing the history of India's culture and contributions to the world.  In addition, there is a light and sound water fountain, cultural gardens, ornate gates and a food court.  Can you begin to imagine my disappointment when they said no handbags, cell phones or cameras where allowed?!  I reluctantly left everything with our driver and proceeded (as everywhere in India) through the entrance gate labeled "women".

I was able to purchase a photograph of me at the temple with my guide, and a couple of guide books with photos and explanations in them, and am posting a couple of photos from them to give you an idea of what a magnificent structure it is.  The life-sized carvings of elephants which form the "Gajenddrapith" or foundation of the temple is incredible.  Each elephant scene tells a story with a message from Hindu beliefs. I was surprised to be familiar with one story (never knowing where it originated from) which tells of five blind men who wanted to "see" an elephant.  With their hands touching it, they described it in five different ways according to what they felt:  a dustpan (ears), a python (trunk), a tree (leg), a rope (tail), and a wall (side of stomach).  The story teaches "Only he who has the total realization of God can describe the Truth", although I have heard different morals ascribed to the tale.  My guide shared with me many Hindi beliefs, which I found interesting, but which I could not reconcile in my mind and spirit.

I met up with Bob and his work associates for a late lunch, following which we drove south to the city of Agra.  There is a new expressway that makes the drive about 2 1/2 hours, and our early evening arrival allowed us to get checked in to our hotel, grab a quick supper and head over to a "light and sound" show at Agra Fort.  The "show" was basically an outdoor historical narrative of the history of Agra. The drive took us through a lovely agricultural region and it was a nice respite from city life.  It was fun to see the many forms of transportation in the country towns along the way and laugh at how many people could cram into each.  I was fascinated by the millions of cow patties laid out to dry or gathered and stacked into piles for fuel!  (I know - so true to my childhood nickname, "Poohpie"!)

The next day would be purely for site-seeing and driving back to spend our final night in New Delhi.  Agra sites, including the Taj Mahal, will be covered in my "Agra" post.  We had Friday morning to see a bit of the capital city before having a nice lunch and driving to the airport for our flight back to Seoul.  Jack and Manesh (Bob's work associates), were wonderful guides and we appreciate so much all the arrangements they made in our behalf.  They took us to the most beautiful part of New Delhi, where the tall "India Gate" stands 42 meters high and commemorates the 70,000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the British Army during World War I, as well as more than 13,000 British and Indian soldiers killed in the Afghan war of 1919.  A beautiful park surrounds the monument and at the far end of the boulevard, you can see capital building and government offices.  The area surrounding the gate is home to the world embassy's, and here, the beggars and hawkers appear to have been banned.


We had time for a quick stop at the National Museum, which was mainly filled with Hindu and Buddhist statues and carvings.  The Indian's skill for carving is one that remains most vividly for me on this trip.  I copied the information about Lord Vishnu, one of the important Hindu Lords (not called a God), because it gives an example of prevalent Indian religious beliefs.  But Bob and I especially liked the big "chariot" which looks more like an armored tank.


The chic Indian Restaurant, "Bukhara" had a rustic decor with tree stump chairs and wood posts.  Menus were painted on large blocks of wood, like the sign outside the door.  Full sized embroidered aprons were provided for us to wear and we were expected to eat with nothing but our hands.  We were served the largest piece of Naan I have ever seen, which the four of us were unable to devour even half of!  The huge leg of lamb was the most tender and delicious I've ever tasted, and the fish and chicken were also quite flavorful.  Since most Indian's are vegetarian, Bob and I had lots of meat to enjoy.  It was a fun and delicious way to end our visit to India!

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