While I would like to say my family travels full-time for a living, the reality is that my husband and I both work and our daughter is in school most of the year. But in between our travels, we still seek out local ways to experience new cultures, foods and activities and, surprisingly, there is a lot out there to do in your own areas if you know where to look!
Rayna and I, along with my mother, recently spent a morning visiting the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, or in other words, a Hindu Temple. And no, this visit did not require an 18+ hour plane trip to New Delhi! This authentic site is located in Lilburn, just a few miles outside of Atlanta. An impressive structure, this place houses shrines to various Hindu gods and deities.
Our family is un-apologetically Christian but I want my daughter to see other religions as an insight into different cultures. Luckily, they state on their website that the Mandir is "open to people of all faiths and backgrounds" and we found the place to be very welcoming!
A laborious undertaking, this temple took 17 months to construct and assemble. Over 34,000 pieces of individual pieces of stone were carved in India and shipped to the U.S. Comprised of three different types of stone- Turkish limestone, Italian marble & Indian pink sandstone- the temple is a beautiful example of the distinctly recognizable architecture characteristic of Hindu temples.
Since this is a fully functional place of worship, you will need to make sure you are respectful of their rules. A detailed list for visitors can be found HERE but the most important ones to take note of include the dress code (conservative clothing), no photography (within the Mandir) and you will need to remove your shoes when you enter.
<<Trip Tip>> Make sure to wear or pack a pair of socks- the stone floors can be quite chilly!
This was an excellent opportunity to teach my daughter a bit about Indian culture and the Hindu religion, which is the oldest living religion in the world. (The earliest texts of the Vedas were believed to have been written between the 15th and 5th centuries BC!) Within the Mandir, we were able to view the shrines of Devas (Hindu deities) and prominent Yogis amongst stately carved stone columns.
The interior dome of the Mandir was breathtakingly intricate. While we couldn't take photos inside, I was able to purchase a postcard from the gift shop that showed the interior. The gift shop is a nice little place to grab an authentic Indian snack or souvenir. You can also pick up a self-guided audio tour here for $5. (There is no admission fee to enter the temple, but it would be nice to bring a few dollars as a donation.)
The outside grounds were neatly manicured and there was a beautiful reflecting pool in front of the temple, adorned with elephant fountains. It was a chilly day so we didn't tarry long but in nice weather, it would be a nice place to enjoy a tranquil moment.
Our experience was completed by a stop in at the Shayona Cafe, located on the temple campus. We enjoyed a sampling of traditional samosas, vegetable curry puffs and for dessert, the yogurt based Ras malai. Chai tea and fruit juices were beverage options.
So the next time you are craving an international experience, check out the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir! And if you've visited other temples or places of worship in Georgia, share them in the comments so we can add them to our list!