A spectacular Hindu temple, a Gandhi memorial, a mosque, a wild rickshaw ride, Indian food in a historic hotel, and some shopping filled our final day of touring in Delhi.
We were originally scheduled to visit Delhi’s Red Fort, but as we will be seeing forts in both Agra and Jaipur, our guide instead took us to visit the truly incredible Swamidarayan Akshardam temple, the largest Hindu temple in the world. It is a very new temple: construction began in 2001 and finished in 2005 using over 7,000 skilled artisans. The intricacy and quality of the carving seen throughout the temple and grounds was nothing short of breathtaking – I don’t think any of us stopped gasping as we walked around and through the complex. The carvings also gave us an idea of how beautiful the original carvings of the Qutb Minat complex must have been in the past. (We were not allowed to bring cameras or cell phones on to the temple property; the photos above come from the Touching Hearts blog.)
Following our visit to the temple we made a short trip to view the memorial at the site where Gandhi was cremated. We did not walk down to the memorial (none of us felt like taking off our shoes) but viewed the simple black platform which is adorned daily with fresh floral wreaths, and an eternal flame, from a path above the memorial. Our visit was short, but inspired a lively discussion among us about Gandhi and his impact and how he would be viewed today.
Then it was on to Old Delhi to view the Jama Masjid mosque, the largest in Delhi, inaugurated in 1656 by Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Majal. We were not able to go in because it was Friday and people were arriving for services. Instead, our van dropped us off and we climbed into rickshaws for a wild but fascinating ride through the everyday traffic around the perimeter of the mosque and through the Chandni Chowk bazaar and neighborhood. The Muslim call to prayer began just after our rickshaw set off, and with the horns honking as we wove between trucks, tuktuks, and cars, we got an exciting but brief authentic Indian experience (the rickshaws are used by everyone; they’re not just for tourists).
I should point out now that the traffic we encountered today throughout Delhi was just plain awful. At times it felt like we were getting a tour of Delhi traffic jams more than anything else, and yet our long waits and the van’s inching along were also authentic Indian experiences – no one else was going any faster.
Our lunch today was at the elegant Maidens Hotel, built in 1902 by J. Maiden, during the height of the British Raj. In the early 20th century it was considered the premier hotel in Delhi, and stepping into the hotel today was like stepping back in history. I was thrilled to finally find samosas on the menu and enjoyed those along with some lamb rogan josh (lamb curry) and garlic naan bread.
The final stop of the day was an artist’s atelier showcasing handmade Kashmir wool and silk rugs, jewelry, and other Kashmir textiles. We were served Kashmir tea (delicious!) and cookies and then given a demonstration on how the rugs were made. Next we were shown many different styles and sizes of rugs, each one unique and a work of art. Except for the fact that we are currently homeless, Brett and I saw one rug that we would have eagerly snapped up (free shipping to the U.S. was included in the price), but our travel partners did purchase an exceptionally beautiful rug for their home. I didn’t leave empty-handed though: Brett bought me a lovely pashmina shawl from the textile gallery and I’m very, very happy with that!
We were also supposed to visit Humayan’s tomb today, but the traffic really messed with the schedule, so we will go there first thing in the morning before setting off for Agra. We’ve had a wonderful time in Delhi, and will miss our fabulous hotel, but can’t see what awaits us next!