Incredible India was my choice of destination in April 2017 for a family vacation. With the help of a local travel agency, I had the pleasure of visiting Delhi, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Vrindavan and Mumbai.
With a population of around 11 million, Delhi’s streets are constantly buzzing from early morning to late evening. People, scooters, motorbikes and Tuk tuks grace the streets in abundance. Delhi is the union territory of India and I was fortunate enough to visit the site of the India Gate, Sansad Bhawan (Parliament House) and Rajpath (Ceremonial Boulevard). The list above is historical monuments in Delhi and is given the utmost importance by the people. Other places of spiritual interest that I visited in Delhi were the Lotus Temple (Bahâï House of Worship), Swaminarayan Akshardham (Hindu Temple) and Gurudwara Bangla Sahib (Sikh House of Worship). The highlight of Delhi for myself was visiting the Swaminarayan Akshardham, which I consider to be the most beautiful and serene temple that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.
The holy city of Haridwar was a short stay with my sole purpose to experience taking a dip in the Ganges River. It is said (in Hinduism) that a dip in the Ganges River will wash away ones sins and bring inner peace to the one that performs this act. I attended a local religious tradition, The Ganga Aarti (Prayer for the Ganges River) which is also attended by 3000 to 30 000 people every evening depending on the season (May/June is high season while July/August is low season). The Ganga Aarti is performed by Hindu priests chanting Sanskrit mantras and singing while offering the aarti (light or fire from wicks soaked in purified butter/ camphor), cotton, milk, coloured powders, honey, sugar, curd and purified butter. After the aarti, I decided to fulfil the reason of my visit to Haridwar and dipped in the River Ganges along with thousands of other locals and tourists. I was overcome with feelings of happiness, contentment, serenity and bliss with my experiences with the great River Ganges.
My day in Rishikesh consisted of a walking tour around the main parts of the city. Renowned for being the center for studying yoga and meditation, I saw it apt to visit the Sivananda Ashram (The Divine Life Society) located on the banks of the Ganges River. The Ashram and Clinic is where Swami Sivananda treated sick people (as a physician), and introduced the science of yoga. The Ashram is quiet, simple and peaceful; however its beauty speaks volumes. Located close by the Ashram is Ram Jhula, an iron suspension bridge crossing the Ganges River. Approximately 2 kilometres away is another iron suspension bridge, Lakshman Jhula. These bridges are iconic landmarks in the city of Rishikesh and popular with the tourists for pictures over the Ganges River.
Vrindavan is town in Mathura and is a significant Hindu pilgrimage site. This is where I experienced the reality of India. In 45° temperatures, I braved the pathways of Vrindavan and surrounding districts of Gokul and Barsana to visit temples. Poverty, hunger and the lack of proper sanitation is widely evident. Cows and bulls roam the lanes freely also in search of food and water. After driving around, visiting a few places and interacting with the locals, it dawned on me that this group of people are content. It is noticeable that they are at peace with their surroundings and situations. Vrindavan and its people hold true to a quote by an unknown author: “Happy are those who take life day by day, complain very little, and are thankful for the little things in life”.
The city with a population of approximately 18.4 million, it is nicknamed the City of Dreams. Upon my arrival in Mumbai, I was impressed with the cleanliness and modernity of the city. While there are some state-of-the-art buildings and bridges, the architecture that caught my eye are described as Indo-Saracenic Revival (Gateway of India, Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus Railway) and Art Deco (Cinemas and buildings along Marine Drive). The locals are positively upbeat, with intentions of making a success of themselves by following the path of hard work. Some places of interest that I visited were the Gateway of India, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Railway, Haji Ali Dargah (Mosque), Marine Drive and Colaba Causeway. Another place worthy of mention is Mani Bhavan – the headquarters of Gandhis political activities while he was based in Mumbai which now serves as a museum. It was a pleasant and educational visit with insights into the background of Gandhi, his relationship with South Africa and his teachings on non-violence.
My visit to India was inspirational; I learnt a great deal from this experience and I am grateful for being proudly South African Indian. I will definitely go back to explore other places in India and I urge anyone looking for a culture-rich experience, to visit India.