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Rediff.com  » Business » Delhi gets a spiritual theme park

Delhi gets a spiritual theme park

November 09, 2005 11:17 IST

Saturday: Assignment Akshardham
Project: A spiritual theme park
Location: By the Yamuna's banks, Delhi
Entry: Rs 125
Experience: Other worldly

An-award winning film on an IMAX screen, a subterranean boat ride, a wave pool, 3-D dioramas consisting of robotics, fibre optics and son-et-lumiere effects. A trip to Disneyland, Hong Kong -- or Akshardham, Delhi?

The opening of the Swaminayaran Akshardham temple complex in East Delhi this weekend has signalled the arrival of the capital's first spiritual theme park.

Aimed at an audience that comprises the religious as well as those wanting a slice of entertainment, the Akshardham complex is an unending joyride for those wanting to combine a religious or spiritual experience with a day out for the family.

Spread over 100 acres, the Rs 200-crore {(Rs 2 billion) this includes the cost of the land} tourist attraction has created enough of a buzz, with busloads bringing in visitors from the international airport, and in "Volga" and "Volvo-like" buses all the way from Gujarat (the original Akshardham temple is in Gandhinagar). Its beautifully lit facade has already charmed the city.

"We're getting innumerable calls from schools and from people abroad who want to make group bookings of around 100-200 people," confirms Wing Commander Rajesh Danak, a volunteer and official spokesperson for the temple complex.

"Though it's too early to say how many people will come on a daily basis, we can easily accommodate over 25,000 people in the premises every day," he adds.

Danak is just one among 7,000 volunteers who have given their time to the complex since the groundbreaking ceremony five years ago. Other volunteers include our guide, Dr Vyas, and co-guide, 22-year-old Vishal Patel who otherwise works for Siemens India. "This is my kind of spirituality," explains Patel, "to grab the chance to do my bit for society."

Inaugurated by the president and the prime minister on Sunday, Akshardham, Delhi combines ornate, traditional architecture in white marble and pink sandstone with amazing technology. While entry to the main monument where the 11-ft high, gold-leafed idol of Swaminarayan stands, is free, it costs Rs 125 to see the three exhibitions complete with 3-D dioramas and the IMAX film.

This fee also includes the 12-minute, underground boat ride where a series of audio-visual presentations on India's mystic, scientific and historic past take people through a 10,000-year journey.

The boat ride is the brain-child of Vipul Waghela, who earlier worked with ISRO (Indian Science and Research Organisation) in the electronic engineering department. "The entire complex," says Danak, "is disabled friendly and we also provide wheel chairs on a first-come first-serve basis on a refundable deposit of Rs 100."

Volunteer Dr Vyas was part of the crew filming Mystic India: An Incredible Journey of Inspiration, on the saint Neelkanth, made by Hollywood director Keith Melton, that won the Audience's Choice Prize at the 10th International Large Format Film Festival, Paris in January 2005.

With nearly 45,000 actors, and shot in 108 locations and pilgrimage centres, the film covers the entire stretch of 12,000 km that the sage is supposed to have travelled in the mid-17th century. "We have our own recording studio in Mumbai where we compose tracks, dub and prepare content for our audio-visual presentations," says Dr Vyas.

Besides, the complex has a food-court that serves south Indian and north Indian cuisine. "We serve strictly satvik (without onions and garlic) food," says Davak. There's a sprawling park where saplings of nearly 900,000 shrubs and plants have been planted.

Called Bharat Upvan, this area also has 60 bronze sculptures of national leaders and sages. "Our aim is to make Akshardham an enriching experience; to see smiles on the faces of those who have toured the complex," says Dr Vyas.

We can't stop smiling in response.
Abhilasha Ojha
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