Travel: Hinduism and Peace

The one thing about traveling in a foreign country whose citizens are predominately one ethnicity or skin tone, is the complete incapacity for me to blend in. Much like a blonde friend of mine who studied abroad for a semester in Hong Kong, I am a curiosity to the locals. More so an anomaly, because it seems that East-Asians do not often visit India.

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Credit: Juthani1

It is a little strange to feel eyes on oneself everywhere I go. This was best exemplified today when we went to visit the Akshardham. A toddler baby pulled my hair as we were going through security, and an entire school trip of boys all shouted hello and goodbye as we walked past their orderly line. One even ran up to me to shake my hand.

 

. . .If only they had been a few years older, it would have certainly been a major ego boost. ūüėõ

The Akshardam is a massive complex with a Hindu temple, devoted to Swaminarayan as its central focal point. Swaminarayan is the founder of one of the sects of Hinduism. Originally born in Chhapaiya, Uttar Pradesh, India in 1781, he began a 7-year pilgrimage across the country on June 29, 1792 at the age of 11 after the death of his parents.

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Credit: Juthani1

He traveled across India and Nepal in search of an ashram that practiced what he considered to be the correct understanding of Vedanta, Samkhya, Yoga, and Pancaratra, the four primary schools of Hindu philosophy.

 

 

Finally, in 1799, Swaminarayan’s travels as a yogi concluded in Loj, where he stayed as a disciple of Ramanand Swami, and took over leadership as guru¬†after Ramanand died. Swaminarayan passed away on June 1, 1830.

The Akshardham, although a more recent structure that was just completed in 2005, is designed according to ancient Vedic text, and features a blend of architectural styles from across India. It is not supported by steel nor concrete, but is constructed entirely from Rajasthani pink sandstone and Italian Carrara marble. Pictures can’t even begin to illustrate the ornate detail and craftsmanship that was invested into each microscopic niche of the temple. It’s truly an awe-inspiring piece of architecture.

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Credit: Stanislav Sedov and Dmitriy Moiseenko

 

To quantify, the main monument is 141 ft high, 316 ft wide, and 356 ft long. There are 234 intricate pillars, 9 domes, and 20 0,000 murtis and statues of Hinduism’s sadhus, devotees, and acharayas. It also contains 148 scale-sized elephants. This total building weighs a massive 3000 tons.

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

In stark contrast to the elaborate and jaw-dropping Akshardham, Raj Ghat is understated and simple, as one would expect of the burial place of Mahatma Gandhi.  Its difficult not to be overwhelmed by the legacy this great man left behind.

 

 

Not only did he free his nation through peace, but he also inspired countless movements across the world. You can see his influence span from the American Civil Rights Movement to the Occupy Wall Street Moment. So many of the leaders we admire today have used Gandhi as there guiding light, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama are but a few.

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

Our last stop of the day was Humayan’s Tomb, the inspiration behind the Taj Mahal, and the resting place of Emperor Humayan.

 

 

 

I shall leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“Be the Change ¬†you wish to see in the world” ~ Mahatma Gandhi.

Travel: Chaos of Delhi

imageAfter finally meeting up with Nick at the Delhi Airport around 6 AM (his flight was delayed by 2 hours on his way out from Dubai), we hopped on a Metro to reach our hotel.  Emerging from the metro station, I was quickly overwhelmed by the site that greeted us. It can best be summed up in one word: Chaos.

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India is the most populous democracy in the world, with a staggering 1.2 billion citizens. However, despite being the world’s 10th largest economy by GDP, and the 3rd largest by PPP, this nation struggles to align its modern ambitions with its financial limitations.

 

After securing its independence from British rule in 1947, a period during which Mahatma Gandhi yielded significant influence, ¬†India continues to face the shackles of corruption of corruption and poverty. It is home to the largest concentration¬†of people living below the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.25 a day.

Chronic malnutrition of children is rampant across the nation, and the socio-economic disparity between this nation’s states has only continued to grow. India can only tax about 0.1% of its population, and then these¬†funds are directly used to feed its poor, leaving little flexibility for the money to be allocated elsewhere. ¬†It is a sobering reality to see all the day-to-day battles these individuals have to endure.

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The street clamours for attention with the loud yells of the rigshaw drivers bantering for business and the constant beeping of horns as cars dodge each other, and people, as they drive the street.

 

We decided to take a rigshaw to our hotel, since we were a little disoriented after our tedious travel. I’d describe riding in a rigshaw as a harrowing experience, filled both with excitement, adrenaline, and an ounce of fear. There is little regard for right of way, and the drivers bravely weave their cars in and out of traffic. We like to laugh and call it taking a gamble on life, akin to playing a round of Mario Cart.