OK, let’s get this out of the way here and now: a year has gone by and I’ve failed to do the One Hundred Things. But let’s ignore that and, instead, turn our collective attention to the Neasden Temple. Or, if you will, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. Just so you’re in the zone with me, I’m currently sitting on a train listening to England give India a bit of a kicking in the third test match. Cook’s just knocked 250.
Back to Neasden Temple, then. It’s a bit of a pain in the arse to get to. For me, a couple of trains to get me to Stonebridge Park followed by one of those peculiar tiny buses with two letters in its number. In this case, the PR2. It’s a half-hourly service, except for on Sundays (when it doesn’t bother to show up at all). Those who don’t obtain the same thrill as I from spending 25 minutes at a bus stop on an overcast North Circular can explore other avenues of getting there. But then you might not get to go past the Taylors Lane Power Station (132MW of open cycle gas turbine power, kids). It’s all fun in Willesden.
So, etiquette and process when you get to the Mandir. This is the useful stuff you need to know to not look like a fool, so pay attention: put all your bags in the security hut in the car park opposite the Mandir. Leave any cameras and food/drink in there as well. At the gate is a nice chap in a stab vest; it’s probably nice if you say hello to him. There’s an airport style security checkpoint just inside the front door of the Haveli (the community/wedding/function centre stuck on the side of the Mandir). All the security chaps are very pleasant.
Right. Once you’ve been through the metal detector, stallions to the left and fillies to the right. Shoes off and into the self-service cloakroom. You won’t be alone in this, of course — everybody’s loafing around in socks or bare feet (I couldn’t find anybody who could give me an official line on those Totes slipper-sock type things that were popular in the 90s (although I didn’t really make a point of asking)).
To get to the Mandir itself, walk down towards the left; you’ll pass a wall of screens showing public transport information, a photo display of visiting dignitaries, a cabinet rammed with Guinness World Record certificates, and some puff pieces for the Swaminarayan School. At the end of the corridor, you’ll reach the Mandir itself. The door on the left houses seven shrines, one under each of the pinnacles, each of which contains images of the Deities. These are revered like God in person and are tended to, each day, by the Mandir’s monks. I can’t really say too much more than what’s on Wikipedia, seeing as I decided to go when the shrines were closed. Check http://www.mandir.org/ before you travel.
I can tell you that there’s some very nice stone carving upstairs and, when I was there, God was on a swing. The Understanding Hinduism exhibition is well worth the £2, too (although one of my associates, who has subsequently visited, has complained the aspect ratio on one of the video exhibits was incorrect). Although it’s very cheap for a couple of hours out, and educational, it has made me want to visit India (which I expect will be a considerably more expensive affair). I’ll keep you posted on that one.
Tea’s been called, Cook’s on 266, and the train’s nearly at Doncaster. More wittering soon.