Day 3: Royal Haskoning and the Akshardham temple

New Delhi Travel Blog

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15 people in 1 tuktuk

Tuesday was the first day I was beginning to experience some problems with my stomach, even though I had been obsessed with washing my hands and drinking only mineral water in the first days. Our group was split up for this day and we would visit several companies according to our three study tracks: Mobility and Infrastructure, Energy and Materials and Medical Biotechnology. I follow the Mobility and Infrastructure track and the rest of our M&I-group consisted of Casper, Edo, Charlotte, Jeroen, Erik Westerduin, Thijs, Sanne and our track coordinator dr. Farla. We left early that morning for a 1,5 hour drive that would take us to the engineering company Royal Haskoning in Noida, an eastern district of Delhi.

bamboo scaffolding

We were driving a smaller bus with this group and we also had a different driver. It was our third day in Delhi, but I was still amazed at the way the traffic drives in India and all the strange combinations of transportation we saw during our drive. On more than one occasion I was convinced that we would hit a bus or a motorcycle, but the little image of Ganesh that our hindu driver had placed on his dashboard protected us. During a traffic jam on a bridge we were able to count people in tuktuks and we saw one that had at least fifteen people in it. We also saw a huge temple as we were crossing the river and we asked our driver what it was. He told us it was the Akshardham temple and as none of us had anything planned for the afternoon, we decided to visit it on our way back.

Sanne, Jacco and Edo at Royal Haskoning
Noida is on the other side of the Yamuna river and in this district it became visible that India was experiencing an enormous economic development at that moment. Noida was very different from old delhi and there were construction sites, brand new appartment complexes and modern shopping malls everywhere. On one building site, the bamboo scaffolding that they use instead of iron looked as if it could collapse at any moment.

We arrived only half an hour late for our appointment, which is on time according to Indian standards. We were greeted outside by an employee and walked inside the airconditioned building. The office looked a little bit like offices in the Netherlands, but everybody was sitting in one big room instead of several rooms. The only big difference with a Dutch office was the fact that there was no separate room for our presentation.

Royal Haskoning
We were seated in one corner of the room and every now and then some people joined us to listen to what we were talking about or left us to return to their work.

Our meeting began with a presentation by Edo about our country, the university and about our study programme. After that they told us something about Royal Haskoning, the transportation system in India and about some projects they were involved in. One of those projects was the National Highway Development Programme, a programme from the central government to improve the national highways of the 'Golden Quadrilateral', which connects the largest cities of India in the North (Delhi), South (Hyderabad), East (Chennai) and West (mumbai). We discussed some instruments that the government used to stimulate private investments in the infrastructure such as offering loans with lower taxes for investment in construction equipment or using public-private-partnerships with private investors who would build the road, operate it for a few years and then transfer it to the state government (Build-Operate-Transfer contracts).

Appartments and a mall in Noida

After our discussion we returned to our car and followed a few employees to a nearby shopping mall, where we would have lunch with them. We had our lunch in a restaurant on the top floor of the mall. During this lunch we had the opportunity to have a more informal talk with them about India and about our experiences so far. The food was good, but I didn't eat much that day, because by now I was feeling rather bad and I was sweating even though the mall was well airconditioned (in fact it was very cold inside the mall). The entire mall was modern and it was very different from the streets in the centre of the city. This clearly was a place where the upper class and the emerging middle class of Delhi were spending their free time. We stayed there for about one hour, after which we all thanked them and Thijs offered them some souvenirs from the Netherlands.

our lunch

On our way back we looked back at our first visit to an Indian office while our driver returned to the Akshardham temple. The temple consisted of a huge monument with an entire complex around it and the parking lot looked a little bit like a parking lot at a theme park. It was about two o clock at this moment and the temperature was above 40 degrees again, but the smog protected us from the sun, so we didn't bother with extra protection from the sun for our visit. Our driver stayed in his bus and we left most of our bags there. The rules at the temple were very strict (no food, no telephones, no leather objects, no cameras, no mp3-players, no cricket bats and not even guns) so we collected all of our valuable possessions and put them in Sanne's bag (which turned out to be a big mistake later during our visit).

The Akshardham temple
She turned in her bag at the reception and got a token to collect it again after our visit.

The entrance was free and after a thorough security check we were allowed inside. At this time I still didn't understand much of the entire hindu religion and I didn't know what I could expect. Our cameras were not allowed inside, but I found some nice pictures on the website of the temple (www.akshardham.com). The temple was completed in 2005 and it had taken about 11.000 volunteers only 5 years to build it. We started by walking into the garden of the complex with the monument rising into the air at the end of the garden. We took of our shoes and walked inside. Inside there were thousands of sculptures on every pillar or wall of the temple and in the centre there were five statues of different gurus from the Swaminarayan sect and one golden statue of Baghwan Swaminarayan.

The main monument

As I walked around in the temple and followed the rest outside to a large stepped well around another huge statue of a young man, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and the serenity of the temple. At this place everything seemed to be at peace and in harmony. I cannot really explain the feeling I got at that temple, but everything felt very calm. We walked around the complex into a garden that was shaped like a lotus flower, but there simply wasn't enough time to see everything. We waited for the rest of the group to return and when they did, we found out that the token of Sanne's bag was now moving towards the river as she had dropped it into the toilet. This had a negative influence on the tranquility and harmony that was surrounding our group, but eventually she was able to explain to the man at the reception that she had lost her token and that she wanted to have her bag back.

Inside the temple

As we waited for our driver I walked towards the end of the road with Casper and Erik to buy some water. A big sign above the road told us that this would be the site of the village for the Commonwealth Games that Delhi would be hosting in 2010. On our way back to Karol Bagh I was beginning to see some familiar roads, but I still didn't know which way our hotel was. We rested for a moment in our hotel room and changed to some casual clothes before we went outside again. By now most of us were beginning to get tired of indian food and as most of us were sick and couldn't stand spicy food, we decided that we needed some 'healthy' western junkfood, so we went to the McDonald's restaurant that was along the Karol Bagh market.

The stepped well at the temple complex
The restaurant only had a chicken burger or a vegetarian burger, so I ordered the Chicken Maharadja (something like a big mac, but better).

We returned early to our hotel to play some poker again. Charlotte had stayed at the hotel to read and she had been talking to the man who was serving our drinks every night and breakfast every morning. He was about my age and he worked 7 days a week at the hotel from 9 o clock in the evening untill 9 o clock in the morning. He had a pregnant wife in a village some hundred kilometers from Delhi and he only saw her once in every four months. We were playing poker with quite a lot of people, but I was pretty lucky with my cards. I made some aggressive moves and in the end only Merijn and I were left playing. I had never played poker with him before, but he was very good and eventually he won the game. While we were playing the 'Energy and Materials'-group was preparing their presentations as the company that they would be visiting the next day had asked if they could explain some theories of innovation to them. Edo and Casper went to bed after the game was ended, but I stayed up for a few more hours to have a drink with the rest.

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15 people in 1 tuktuk
15 people in 1 tuktuk
bamboo scaffolding
bamboo scaffolding
Sanne, Jacco and Edo at Royal Hask…
Sanne, Jacco and Edo at Royal Has…
Royal Haskoning
Royal Haskoning
Appartments and a mall in Noida
Appartments and a mall in Noida
our lunch
our lunch
The Akshardham temple
The Akshardham temple
The main monument
The main monument
Inside the temple
Inside the temple
The stepped well at the temple com…
The stepped well at the temple co…
New Delhi
photo by: peeyushmalhotra