London's Swaminarayan temple - an example of a different kind

May, 2001

The Swaminarayan Temple in London is a breathtaking sight - its architecture and sheer beauty is profoundly moving. It stands out, oasis-like, amongst the highways, roads, houses and the regular hustle and bustle of a big city. If you are visiting the UK, a trip to the temple is a must.

But the purpose of this article is not to tell you how beautiful the temple is, nor discuss spirituality. I'm talking about something more mundane here, but something that, as an Indian, seems like a wonder nevertheless. The temple is a marvel of another kind. It has something that most Indian tourist attractions (in India at least) don't: great facilities - and admission is free.

For starters, there are very clear and well laid out directions. Everything is neatly signposted and there is absolutely no chaos whatsoever. There are shoe racks where you can leave your shoes and another area where cameras and small bags can be deposited. Security guards are present but look approachable as opposed to threatening.

The temple is very clean, both outside and inside. It has toilets and temporary footwear is provided if you visit the restrooms, since you've probably already deposited your shoes in the shoe-rack area.

There is a car-park, although it can get very busy at peak times. For refreshments, there is a small canteen outside the temple complex, which also has an Indian grocery store attached to it.

Further, there is an exhibition on Hinduism that provides information in a manner similar to that of a local tourist attraction here. Although the purpose of the temple is obviously spiritual, everything in the exhibition area has been laid out in a manner that a regular tourist would expect to see. The information is presented in an attractive manner, with appropriate illustrations. Of course, the temple is not a tourist attraction. It is a place of worship. But nonetheless, the temple also aims to promote inter-religious understanding and the exhibition serves to fulfil that purpose - the sanctity of the temple is in no way violated.

There's also a video show on how the temple was constructed and other (to use a business term) marketing material like pamphlets, brochures and the like. All in all, even though the temple is not a tourist attraction in the strictest sense of the term, it does a great job of making your visit very comfortable. The temple attracts many tourists and their needs are catered for too - because for most of them, the temple is more of an attraction than anything else. That the temple does such an excellent job can be gauged from the fact that it is even mentioned in local guides as a must-see place.

The Indian tourist board would do well to learn from this example.

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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