Today I’m going to visit an enormous, beautiful, white marble Hindu Temple in……Mumbai? Jaipur? Kolkata?.......No. Neasden, West London!
It’s a beautiful Spring morning and as I approach what we know locally as the ‘Neasden Temple’, it stands out like a huge white jewel against the urban landscape, with the famous arch of Wembley Stadium in the background.
To give it its correct name, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is like an island set in what was once Europe’s largest industrial area. The construction of the Temple was funded entirely by donations, mostly from the local communities, and built using traditional methods with 5,000 tonnes of Indian & Italian marble and Bulgarian limestone. All the stone was shipped to Gujarat in North West India, where craftsmen hand-carved 23,000 individual intricate stone pieces. These in turn were transported to London, where, in over just two years, they were assembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle by about 1,000 volunteers to complete the incredible building we see today.
Upon its opening in 1995, it was the largest Hindu Temple in the world outside India, and is described by Time Out as ‘One of London’s Seven Wonders’.
The view of the building from outside is spectacular. Beyond the arched gateway, a huge staircase leads to grand white domes and towers, topped with gold and flying pennants, surrounded by beautifully kept gardens with manicured bushes and tulip beds in flower. It’s hard to believe I’m in London!
There’s a warm welcome into the Temple, however this is a sacred place and I must respect the Hindu customs, removing my shoes, adhering to the dress code and as no photography is allowed inside, leaving my phone with their efficient security (hence no photos of the interior). Once inside there’s an immediate sense of calm and peace which prevails throughout, whilst all around is a stunning array of colour, light, incredible stone carvings and the many and varied shrines to the Murtis, the sacred images and mannequins.
Whilst the Mandir may not be on the usual ‘tick list of London attractions’, it’s one of the most visually rich sites that London has to offer. To proceed with a Hindu theme, one can then continue with a visit to Bhaktivedanta Manor, the Gaudiya Vaishnava Temple, donated to the Hare Krishna movement by George Harrison of Beatles fame, which is only about 40 minutes’ drive away in nearby Hertfordshire.
Alternatively, from Central London, the Temple can be visited en route to many locations to the West, including Oxford, the Cotswolds and Windsor.
Post By Tom, British Tours Tour Guide