To close out my hotly-anticipated series of blog posts on India, I've got one last one up my sleeve. (You know, for the fans.)
After leaving the perfect Taj Mahal and Agra behind on Tuesday morning, my driver Sunil and I backtracked to Delhi for a final half-day before my perfectly-normally-scheduled 2:30am flight on Wednesday.
The first stop after a three-hour drive on the Taj Expressway was Akshardham, the largest Hindu temple in the world. I mentioned in my Mumbai blog entry that security in India is very tight, and nowhere was this more true than Akshardham because you're not allowed to bring anything in except your wallet. No phone, no camera, no purse--nothing. Which I suppose is understandable given the threats religious institutions can receive on a regular basis in a country still suffering after-effects of terrorism. So unfortunately, I have no pictures, and that's a shame because other than the Taj Mahal, Akshardham was the most impressive thing I saw in India: another few "wows" escaped my lips while I was there. I shall turn to Google Images to demonstrate:
The best thing that happened to me there was that two young, shy children, aged about 7 and 9 (and likely brother and sister) walked around the perimeter of the main temple building just behind me, admiring the 148 lifesize elephant carvings at its base. They didn't seem to speak English, but kept smiling shyly at me. I'd wave at them, and they'd wave back. Since I was the only non-Indian I saw the whole time I was in the complex, I assumed they weren't used to seeing people who look like me. Just when we had completed the circle around the temple, the girl (the younger of the two) finally got a burst of courage, running right up to me, extending her hand and saying: "Hello." We shook hands, and I answered her: "Namaste." She gave me a huge smile and ran back to her brother, and they both waved goodbye at me. It was a really lovely moment.
I visited the temple alone, but on exiting I was met by my Delhi guide Prashang, who showed me some quick 'n dirty highlights in only half a day, starting with India Gate, supposedly modeled after Paris' Arc de Triomphe. Then we drove around the government area of New Delhi, where a lot of the architecture is very British, stemming from the pre-independence days.
"Gandhi's house is in Delhi, right?" I mentioned to Prashang, and he nodded. "Would you like to see it?"
The next thing I knew, I was standing in front of the spot where Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Indian Nation, was assassinated as he arrived for evening prayers, shot three times at point-blank range and supposedly dying with the name of God on his lips. Stylized footprints mark his last walk from the house to the garden, ending at the spot where he fell. The house has been turned into a museum devoted to his life and teachings, and it's all quite moving.
The last site I visited was Qutb Minar, a brick minaret and UNESCO World Heritage site. When it was finished in 1220 AD, it was the tallest manmade structure in the world. And I know now we have skyscrapers and antennas and other things that stretch up into the sky, but it's still kind of amazing to stand at the foot of a 75-metre tower and think, "someone made this" and still be wildly impressed 800 years later. Isn't it just kind of amazing what's been accomplished by people who refused to think something was impossible?
After that, I still had hours stretching ahead of me before I need to be at the airport. So I did one last round of bazaar shopping. I enjoyed one last order of garlic naan. I had a glass of tasty Indian wine. I topped it off with one last chai, the perfect end to a perfect trip.
A few people told me I was crazy to travel to India for only six days, but look at what I was able to fit in! A three-day Indian wedding, a catch-up with old friends, a visit to one of the world's most beautiful monuments, and now all this. Delhi was the true cherry on top to a trip already filled with wonders. That's not even counting amazing food, lovely people, general culture, and just an overall feeling. When you set your mind to it, you can really do so much when you travel. Let's seize the day! Get on a train, a plane, or even a bicycle. Go visit your nearest museum or art gallery. Stay curious! It's a big world out there.
And with that, it is finally time for me to say: thank you, India, and namaste.