Earlier this year I decided that I absolutely needed to see more of my grand ol’ city and what it has to offer. Unfortunately, I am not quite ready for a full on nomadic, travelling for years kind of trip. So what do you do as a single gal in London on Valentines Day? Go to a Hindu temple very early in the morning, that’s what! I know you’re wondering why I would go to a temple when I have absolutely no religious affiliation, and especially on Valentines Day. But when the temple looks like this, I think you find time to make the trip.
I had first found out about BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir [aka Neasden Temple] from a Buzzfeed article about the hidden gems in London that very few people knew about in the city. I was amazed to see such an astounding monument could be housed in London, and planned to go there over the weekend. What is even better about this amazing place is that it is absolutely free to enter. I had not planned on going on Valentines Day, but that is just how things worked out. Due to the location of the temple it was a little awkward to get there from my house. But having lived in London so long, I was used to the many disabled UNfriendly stations we have in the capital. The Temple’s website has directions on how to get there using different routes, and I decided on the train and bus route as it involved the least amount of walking for me.
Having already checked out the temple before going, I knew that I would not be able to go into the building with my shoes on. But I had spoken with a gentleman earlier who informed me that they would be able to provide shoe covers for me, as I need my leg brace for stability. Arriving at the temple, there is a small security booth at the entrance gate and you cannot take any bags with you inside the temple. There is another booth across the road that you can leave your bags in and collect when you have finished. Or you could just travel super light and not take a bag with you, if you can.
Leaving my bag behind, I went into the temple and was met with a man that provided me with the snazzy blue shoe covers. In order to get through to the marble mandir, you have enter the wooden haveli, and the first part of the temple is called the Haveli. It is the cultural and learning section of the temple for all visitors, both Hindus and otherwise. He walked me around the bottom half of the temple and into a very large hall, he said that this was where they would gather in large numbers for holy events and other occasions. There was plush carpet everywhere and finely carved wood columns separating the different floors. He told me that this temple was Europe’s first [and perhaps only] traditional Hindu temple, and was similar in design to those found in India.
The entrance of the temple also has a shop area available for people to buy gifts or books to learn more about the religion and its history. I found it relatively easy to get around the temple as it is disabled accessible and has a lift available leading you to different parts of the temple. Moving away from the first part, I walked along a corridor that had pictures and articles dotted around the walls about the famous people that had been to the temple. Both national and international, and it also had children who had come over for school trips.
Past the wall of articles is the first of the prayer sections downstairs, and when I was there I saw a few people worshipping. As I had gone so early in the day, there was not a large amount of people so I was able to walk around with ease and take my time. Taking the lift one floor up to the marble Mandir everything becomes pristinely white. And you can walk through a large hall that has different pictures and sculptures of Hindu gods and the history of the temple itself, and its religious leaders. There were a few more people hear of differing races, all learning a little bit more about Hinduism.
I believe this to be very important, as religious tolerance and understanding will only help everyone. As it is much easier to understand the viewpoints of someone if you are more aware of their religious beliefs. Or if they don’t have any at all. And this is especially essential to learn at a young age, andwhy I absolutely adore living in London. From primary school, I made friends and grown up with people from all different backgrounds. This helped me open my mind and be more accepting of those that have different beliefs. Which is why, when I was in university, me and my house mates went to Leicester to celebrate the Diwali festival.
Stepping outside, you get a lovely view of London from the top and can even seen Wembley stadium from there. But I did not stay outside for long, as it was the middle of February in London and we all know what that means. I have a video of my experience at the temple up on my Facebook page, can you tell how incredibly cold I was? Going back down the lift and stepping out, I noticed that there were a few wheelchairs by the entrance that were available for visitors to use. Which just made me love the temple even more. It has got to be one of the most accessible holy buildings I have ever been, take a note St Paul’s!
Having been to more than my fair share of mosques, churches, synagogues and temples; I can say without a doubt that this has to be my favourite. Not only for the architectural brilliance in its design, but how easy it is to get around and see everything the temple has to offer. It is very accessible as disabled parking, disabled toilets, wheelchairs and assistance are all available. As I had mentioned before, you do not have to pay to get all this amazingness! Quality. I highly recommend that everybody goes and visits the Neasden temple, definitely not one to be missed!