Not unusual in itself, but a very Indian Jain temple in the heart of the quiet Wilrijk neighbourhood of Antwerp was a most astonishing discovery. I had never heard of it until my daughter’s friend – a Jain herself – who serendipitously happened to be visiting her parents in Antwerp, insisted on showing us around.
The ornate marble structure, completed in 2010 and funded by the Indian diaspora – mainly Gujarati Jains in the diamond business – is purported to be the largest Jain temple in Europe, perhaps the largest outside of India. The craftsmanship is exquisite, especially the pristine white principal idol of Parshvanath (the 23rd Tirthankara), and the lapis inlay on the floor around the sanctum.
For all its translucent magnificence, I found the temple as incongruous in its suburban European setting as I did Gehry’s spectacular hotel in the Rioja valley.
My visit to Belgium was prompted by a modest Airbnb voucher I had earned, and my (American) sister’s desire to join me on an Euro trip I had been planning in order to utilise the voucher. She just had a week to spare in April, and we opted for Belgium for its size and ease of travel. It was a crazily impulsive decision considering my older sister’s husband hadn’t yet fully stabilised. Sure enough, he took a turn for the worse, and we came close to losing hope for a while. The (American) sister’s calendar was tight, with her daughter’s graduation coming up in May, as well as her July visit to India, so she cancelled.
I rescheduled for late June, since insurance companies in India do not cover – at least I do not know of any that do – ‘cancellation for no reason’. Come June, I was in no mood to travel solo and happened to mention to a young friend I was out at lunch with, that I might be cancelling after all. She called back the next morning to say she would gladly join me and that’s how I found myself a lovely travel partner, as crazy and impulsive as myself.
My absence from the blog since our return in early July was a digital detox in honour of my visiting sister. We got to bond after all, even if it wasn’t in beautiful Belgium.