We started our forth day in Delhi fairly late, as we spent the morning lazing in our room and working on our blog. We walked to Connaught Place, a grassy, couple filled park encircled with a large roundabout and multi-story buildings, holding major banks, stores and a couple fancy hotels. We needed to find Deutsch Bank, so we didn’t have to pay fees for a cash withdrawal. The walk should have taken roughly twenty mins. On the way we were greeted by a gentleman who inquired where we were from and started up a conversation. He tried to give us directions and guided us towards a tourist info booth and insisted they would help us find the bank. There are many “government” tourist booths that are set up to take advantage of naive foreigners looking to give their cash away. To his dismay, we declined and continued on our journey. We were given “assistance” three more times, making our walk around forty-five minutes long. After finding the bank and withdrawing some money we resolved to try out the New Delhi metro.
After hearing horror stories of confusion and crowds, we were pleasantly surprised to find the metro nicer than the New York subway system. The process was straightforward; the conveniently placed English signage and air conditioned cars put us at ease as we made our way across town to the Akshardham complex. The best thing about the metro is the price; it cost us around $0.30 each to get across the city.
Off the metro and into the complex we went. After handing over our bag and cameras to the organized cloakroom deposit, we separated briefly to pass through male and female security. There was probably more than a hundred men in my line while Chantal got rushed through her line immediately. As I waited anxiously, I realized I had left my Swiss army pocket knife in my pant’s zipper pocket. After taking one last look at the inscription “Kodi Hudson 2008”, I tossed it in the nearby trash bin. The line moved along and after a quick, albeit unpleasant pat down, I passed through the security and immediately found Chantal, smiling with raised eyebrows that said, “it’s okay Kodi, I’m right here!” We immediately sat down and I expressed to Chantal my discomfort and annoyance with our long day, full contact pat down and loss of my pocket knife.
Melancholic but determined to let India roll of our back, we headed towards the temple. Not two minutes after going through security, we walked next to a group of twenty five or thirty preteen school kids sitting crossed legged. We received from them ear to ear smiles and from a few a loud “Hey!” I jokingly gave a reply “hey!” back to each one we passed. They ate this up and excitedly laughed and continued to greet us. My mood made a u-turn. Overflowing with joy, Chantal and I reflected on how India stays the same while we change, back and forth, up and down, and side to side, with every passing moment.
My first thought was that it was too late in the day to see the temple at its best. I was wrong. The temple and grounds were beautifully lit and made us feel like we were in an old story book. The Akshardham complex is described as a Hindu spiritual and cultural campus built by 7000 artisans with the help of 3000 volunteers. It includes a mesmerizing temple and gardens, as well as a touristy light show, IMAX screen, cafeteria and more. It was inaugurated in 2005 and is a definite stop for anyone visiting Delhi.
As we walked through, shoeless and awestruck, we were moved by the intricacies and detail of the stonework. Images of people and animals covered the walls and pillars. The outside of the temple is surrounded with a 10-12 foot wall of statues, telling stories of Hindu beliefs and Indian culture. With plaques along the the way, we learned a lot about the history of Hinduism as well as the elephants role spiritual and in daily life. We skipped the pricey light show (making today’s visit completely free) and headed to the food court where we ate a South Indian thali. After seeing the bowl used to measure out rice, we only ate the dishes that were steaming hot. The food was however, delicious and very spicy. After one last look, we left the complex and headed back to the metro, which took us back to our part of the city. This ride home was packed; It was chest to chest, shoulder to shoulder and you literally got shoved inside and out. After hearing some stories of inappropriate contact, Chantal was pleased to report that she felt as if she had a bubble around her. Many men we very polite and made sure the two of us stayed together. Of course Chantal and I chose to stay together, but for other women travelling, there is a female only coach at the front of the train.
On a related note, Delhi’s pollution problem is at its worst. The smoke and smog in the city makes it unpleasant to walk around in some areas and the sun has a hard time shining through. Much of this pollution is caused, at certain times of year, by rural farmers burning their fields as well as locals burning their garbage in the city year round. Other than industrial plants, the other main contributor is the 7.4 Millions register vehicles. The city is currently in talks regarding implementing an Odd/Even Road Rationing scheme, which will take half the vehicles off the road. While this plan is heavily criticized and there are many issues to be ironed out, the health and environmental repercussions are quickly piling up. The main concerns with the idea, from what I gather from local newspapers and speaking with locals, are the effects it will have on out-of-towners coming into New Delhi, as well as on private doctor’s vehicles and the strain on public transportation. While many large Delhi based companies will give incentives to use public transportation, be it free metro cards or otherwise, after riding the metro, I can’t imagine where the millions of extra people would fit.