I am taking a course called Comparative World Religion here in London, and our first assignment was to visit a temple of a faith different than your own. I chose to travel to a Hindu temple, and was directed to one in Wembley, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. I did a little research on it beforehand, but had little idea of what to expect.
Getting to the temple is about an hour and fifteen minute commute via Tube and bus. I was beyond proud of myself because I did not get lost (another lesson I've learned in London, I am not good with directions...)!! The tube station drops you off right in front of Wembley Stadium, which was really cool to see in person, and I made sure to walk around and take it in considering I probably won't be out to Wembley for any other reason. I then took about a fifteen minute bus ride to reach the temple. The area is much different than Kensington and other ones I've been in while in London. It seems like a much more working class, residential area; much less glamorous or "posh" as people here like to say, yet equally as fascinating. School must have been letting out about the same time as I was getting on the bus, because there were about 20 elementary and middle school aged children getting on as well.
The temple itself was breathtaking. In the middle of a very industrial and somewhat dingy area, is a fantastic white limestone structure. It looks like some sort of palace. Once again, forgot my camera, so if you're really interested you can Google (plus no picture taking is allowed inside, which was the best part anyway). You are required to leave your bag across the road at the security building, and then must walk through a metal detector and security checkpoint once inside the temple. You are also required to take your shoes off and leave them at the front. From that point on, you are pretty much free to walk around as you please.
I came right around the time that Murti Darshan, or viewing of the sacred deities, was open for visitors. I was able to walk upstairs into a massive marble room with about 20 marble statues of gods and avatars and observe the different practices of the people there. From about 30 to 45 minutes of observation, I learned that each Hindu seemed to have a different way of worshipping. Some would lie flat on the ground and say some sort of prayer, others would touch the stone closest to the foot of the statue, others placed their foreheads at the foot of the statues. I watched one man walk in circles around the room for a good 15 minutes, touching each statue as he passed and saying the same word over and over again. It was so different than anything I have ever experienced and so interesting to observe.
I clearly stood out because I had multiple people come up and speak to me and explain different things to me while I was there. When I was in the area with the deities, an older man came up and began talking to me about the significance of some of the things I had been looking at. At the time, I was standing in front of a statue of Shiva, so he gave me a fairly detailed description of him as well as the "founder" of the sect's statue.
Overall, I was at the temple for about two hours. Completely stunning and extremely interesting. Surprisingly, I think it was one of the most interesting things I've done here in London so far. Midterms are coming up next week, and then Spring Breakkkk (!!!!) so hopefully I'll be able to post something before then, but if not, be prepared for pictures of beautiful Portuguese beaches!