Rickshaw Rides with a Touch of Spice…
This morning we were able to sleep in until 9:30 AM which was quite refreshing after the many early mornings we have had in India. We woke up to a nice breakfast at the Jaypee Siddarth Hotel complete with waffles, omelets and variety packs of yogurt (which we haven’t yet gotten to enjoy on this trip). We all devoured the food, as it reminded of us home, and gave us something familiar to eat.
After our breakfast we boarded the bus to see the largest Hindi temple in the world. The name of this temple is Swaminarayan Akshardhan, which showcases Indian art, wisdom, heritage, and values. Bhagwan Swaminarayan, whom the temple was built for, is the most recent Hindu God and a torchbearer of Indian culture (there are over 300 million Gods in India). This temple included thousands of intricate hand carvings and sculptures; that are almost impossible to describe. As we approached the entrance to the temple we were overwhelmed the craftsmanship of over 150 hand carvings of various Hindu gods and goddesses. The gate, while not a part of the temple, was incredible and left us wondering how majestic the temple must be. As with many of the caves we have seen here in India, the entire outside of the temple was hand carved. However, while most temples in India have taken up to 150 years to build, this temple was built in just 5 years (from 2000-2005). We learned that over 11 thousand workers and craftsmen donated their time to building the temple; which was built entirely from red sandstone and imported marble (from Italy). Upon entering the temple we saw even more sculptures and carvings, along with a gold-plated room and very large gold-plated sculptures. The temple had a similar glow and aura to the Taj Mahal which continued to astound us. (P.S. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures on the temple ground (which covered over 100 acres). As a result, we don’t have any pictures to post.)
After wandering through the temple, we proceeded to watch an interactive show about the life of Swaminarayan Akshardham, and his journey to enlightenment. We ended our visit to the temple with a boat ride through India’s amazing history, culture and inventions. Fun fact: The intellectual game of Chess was invented in India!
After our lunch, we again boarded the bus and headed for a Muslim Mosque (the largest Mosque in all of India). We were not sure what to expect, and were anxious about what we would learn. Similar to other times when we visited Hindu temples, we were instructed to take off our shoes. However, with the intense Indian sun beating down on the red sandstone, we realized that it would be unbearable to walk on. As a result, we all needed to “rent” white slippers to protect our feet. Also, the women were required to cover themselves more fully, and were given floral sheet-like robes to cover our bodies. We felt quite silly walking into the Mosque, and particularly conspicuous given our outfits. Our presence resulted in a lot of attention. As we listened to our guide tell us about the Mosque first one, then two, then three, four, five, six, and more men gathered around us, until we were completely surrounded. This made an uncomfortable situation feel even more uncomfortable. When the guide finished telling us about the place, many of us wanted to return to the bus. This experience helped us recognize our role as a minority and how others experience us in their religious settings.
After leaving the Mosque, we were able to enjoy two bicycle rickshaw rides through the streets of Old Delhi. There were two people per rickshaw, and we all followed each other through the streets. If you can imagine 7 rickshaws filled with white American Women (plus Rich, Eric and Paul), you can begin to imagine the scene we probably created. We all felt sorry for the old men who seemed to have some trouble bicycling up the small hills (The Indian food has been good to some of us J). Some of us tried to help these drivers by attempting to shift our weight forward to increase their momentum (although it is debatable if that helped at all). Halfway through the ride, we stopped at an authentic spice and teashop. The storeowner explained in detail the many different spices and teas that they produce (all from India), including the medicinal qualities of many of them. Many of us had a lot of fun shopping here, so look out families for your possible tea and spice gifts! After we rode the rickshaws back to the bus, we commemorated our experience with a group picture with the rickshaw drivers!
For dinner, we were feeling the need for a taste of home, and so we convinced the professors to take us to McDonalds! This was a cultural experience in and of itself, as McDonalds in India do not sell hamburgers (with beef), rather they sell veggie and chicken burgers. Despite this, we each enjoyed having a taste of home, including McChicken sandwiches, Fries, Chicken Nuggets and Milkshakes! Some of us also branched out and tried the Maharajal Mac (the Indian version of the Big Mac, made with chicken), the spicey chicken wrap, as well as a cottage cheese sandwich. Mmm delicious!
After dinner, we left for a sound and light show at the Red Fort, in New Delhi. As we approached the show, a thunder and lightening storm started to brew above us. After waiting a half hour, we entered the show, only to find it was outside. Just as we sat down, the rain started to fall. We quickly decided to take shelter in a nearby stone pavilion, where the king greeted his subjects during the day. This large pavilion was roped off; however, due to the intensity of the storm, we ignored the ropes and ducked in for cover. We then sat there for an hour listening to the storm above us (natures version of the sound and light show). The thunder and lightening was amazing, and unlike anything we have experienced. The temperature was still warm, which provided a calming environment. While we sat under the pavilion (which was 1200 years old), we found ourselves sharing many laughs and reflecting on our past adventures over the last two weeks. After an hour or so, we finally decided to brave the rain in order to return to the bus. Needless to say, no one arrived to the bus dry…except for Eric, as he was the only one who brought his poncho.
Unfortunately, we only have one day left in India, however we are all excited to get home to share our experiences with friends and family!
See you all soon!
Julia and Haley