I woke up at 6 am New Delhi time and could not go back to sleep so I started looking through the tourist materials I accumulated over the past 3 days. A photo of a giant temple on the back of the "Delhi Old and New" pamphlet I got for "free" at Rajghat with two sets of Gandhi postcards caught my eye. Thus began my pilgrimage to Swaminarayan Akshardham – a ginormous modern Hindu temple designed and sculpted according to ancient Indian architectural practices.
Oh and did I mention it's the Epcot Center of India? It starts with a giant parking lot, followed by a giant line after a giant coat check of all electronics including cameras, followed by a crowded line divided by gender for security check, followed by a holy crap this place is HUGE moment when you walk to the ten gates and then face the temple proper. The only thing missing is a hefty entry fee- because its free to all – even foreigners! I wanted my camera so bad I got in line for the tourist shot.
Then I got in line for the 10,000 years of history in a 15 minute boat ride- and found myself on board for a full scale sound and light show including robotic figures presenting the life of Bhagwan Swaminarayan in Hindi. Surreal is putting it lightly. I eventually made it out the other side with my boat ride (this time in English) having learned that everything from math & atomic physics to plastic surgery, democracy & religion were invented in India first. Who knew?
3 hours later I returned to my driver enlightened by Vedic teachings and feeling slightly brainwashed into a state of bliss – or it was the Diet Coke I had with my samosa at the cafeteria.
What does one do after one giant monument? You go to another. So next on the list was the observatory built by Sawai Jai Singh, Rajput king of Jaipur, in 1724. The observatory includes a giant sun dial and is believed to be for observing the movements of stars and planets. Whatever it was built for one can feel large scale intellectual all over the place.
Finally to end the sightseeing day on a somber note I educated yet another driver on the location of yet another Gandhi memorial – only this one was not about Mahatma but his fellow martyred relatives.
Everyone and their mother (for real) was at this free museum on a Sunday. But as it was 45 minutes until close why not push through? And then I was literally pushed through by throngs of touring families and mothers and museum staff with whistles.
Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister of India (before Margaret Thatcher made it anti-revolutionary to be a female prime minister) until she was shot in 1984 by her own security personnel. They have encased her final steps walking from her home to an interview in glass.
One thing I can say about India is that it does not hold out on memorializing its murdered leaders. Nor does it lack assassinated heroes. The fact that a whole family of individuals holding the name Gandhi died in the service of humanity and India is a whole tradegy in itself.
All of the people in this photo died serving India.
The memorials for them do not spare the details. Can you imagine a JFK memorial where you could see the suit he was wearing in that fateful Texas parade? Well here is Indira's blood soaked sari and the remains of Rajiv's clothes after the bombing. Intense.
As it is traditional to eat after a funeral I went to early dinner at Vegetarian Paradise and entered the gates of cauliflower heaven with my Aloo Gobhi Adrakwali (cauliflower and potato with spices) accompanied by Aloo Methi Parantha (potato and fenugreek stuffed naan).
Then I was forced to shop by my driver. After handicraft experience number one on day one I was apprehensive about stepping into another store to "look" as there is no "just look" when you enter a place of possible purchase – there is only how little can you pay for something beautiful you didn't even know your life was missing before you walked in the door. I left with a green silk scarf for my mother (it being mother's day after all) and a sandstone elephant for good luck.
And as luck would have it my bank card started working for the first time – which meant another round of bargaining over a tempting scarf. I left the take it or leave price and went home to pack for my journey to Agra in the morning. But first I made the driver stop so I could photograph the chicken shop.