I found it fascinating that so many people who have visited India all told me varying degrees of the same thing. They said it’s a country of harsh extremes and that you will either love it or hate it, but you’ll be sure to take something away with you, whether it’s a lesson in gratitude or simply a different way of seeing the world. I couldn’t have agreed more. One of the first people I saw when my hotel car stopped at a traffic light was a well-dressed gentleman in a suit waiting to cross the road. Crouched on the pavement, by contrast was a woman sitting in a sari beneath the bridge. It made me sad that she looked almost elegant but she probably had no access to a shower because her clothes were covered in a film of dust and sand. Somehow, our eyes connected and she smiled and I was very humbled by the fact she could still find it within herself, in the cold of winter to smile at a total stranger passing her by. My car was already moving past the bridge and I waved at her wishing I could do more, and at the same time reminding myself to always be grateful because whatever problems you think you have, pales in comparison to not having a roof over your head.
The next thing, which struck me, because I jumped in alarm at the blare of a horn right beside our hotel taxi, was how the constant beeping and tooting of horns on the street was so normal, that it was almost a cultural backdrop of life here. It was literally the ‘sound’ of India, which would have been considered a sign of frustration or road rage anywhere else in the world but our driver hardly batted an eyelid at this cacophony of noise around us so I settled back into my seat and surrendered to the beeps, all the way back to my hotel.
Once you let go of all the expectations you come with from your country of origin, the scene changes and I was suddenly taking in all these sights and sounds, excited that I was embarking on yet another new adventure.
The beautiful Westin Gurgaon hotel I was staying at felt like another world away from India’s dusty streets and it was such a contrast that it makes you appreciate the immaculate cleanliness and beautiful grounds of this hotel even more.
I turned in early and it was the best decision I could have made. When you go to bed early, it’s much easier to rise early so I was up first thing in the morning and feeling well rested after all that travelling. It wasn’t easy to leave the warm cuccoon of my incredibly comfortable mattress but I was already excited to head to the poolside to do a bit of yoga.
I find that even a few minutes of exercise, movement or breathing can make a difference to your headspace for the rest of the day. It’s important to always start your day right. I was pleasantly surprised when I was having my morning coffee that the cups were even personalized. What a nice touch!
I was now in the mood to start soaking up some of India’s historical gems and I headed to the ‘Humayun Tomb’, built in 1565, in honour of the late Mughal Emperor. I was awed by the magnificent arches and gateways, which led to the emperor’s final resting place.
This architectural work of art was commissioned by the Emperor’s wife, nine years after his death and I assume she must have wanted the people to remember her husband because this elaborate red-sandstone work-of-art has stood the test and ravages of time and has become a Unesco Heritage sight today.
I then made a trip to the stunning Gurudwara Bangla Sahib temple which had these majestic golden domes and elegant arches built over a sprawling expanse of pure white marble. It was a very serene place to visit and of great significance to the Sikh community.
I walked barefoot in silent contemplation on its pristine tiles encircling a pool believed to have healing properties and started looking back on 2015 and all its challenges. I mentally sent out positivity and prayers for peace while making a fervent wish for more acceptance and racial harmony in this world, which led me to my next stop.
I wanted to visit the unusual ‘Lotus Temple’ or ‘Bahai’s House of Worship’, built in the mid 80’s, because of its unique premise. It was a lotus shaped structure, made with Greek marble nestled on immaculately groomed verdant gardens. I was told it had no statues or signs of any Gods anywhere on the grounds, so I was perplexed. “Is it a Hindu or Buddhist temple?” I asked my guide, and he said it was neither. It’s a place that was built to honour the equality of all religions so everyone, from all races and different backgrounds were welcome to spend a moment of solitude or prayer in this silent space.
I thought it was a lovely reminder to everyone despite coming from different walks of life, to remember that we can stand united, with the same heartbeat, made of the same ‘stuff’ as we let go of the need to search for similarities but instead, celebrate our differences and the simple fact we are all human at the end of the day.
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Jojo Struys/Westin/Starwood Asia Pacific