It's the sort of undertaking that requires faith, or a lot of chutzpah. Build the largest Hindu temple outside India, in the finest materials, using master craftsmen with ancient skills rarely found outside the diaspora. Ask unpaid, untrained members of the community to give up their time to work on the site. Raise more than £10 million to finance it, with no government aid. Finish within three years. And do it all in Neasden. The great Pyramid of Giza took 100,000 workers 20 years to assemble its 2.3 million stones, but the Swaminarayan Hindu Temple, also known as Neasden Temple, can stand shoulder to shoulder with it. Inside, the mandir is a space of almost blinding whiteness and purity. Every vertical surface is carved with stories from the scriptures (veda) and lacy motifs. A forest of pillars fills the floor and above them soars the central dome, stepping up in wedding-cake tiers towards the two-and-a-half tonne keystone which drips downwards like a glorious stone chandelier. It is a labour of love and a work of art. Anyone is welcome to look around the mandir, Hindu or heathen. The temple complex falls into two distinct parts: the marble and limestone mandir, based on ancient Shilpashastra architecture, and the conventionally built prayer hall and community centre, which used for sports clubs, yoga, football, badminton, temporary clinics and study groups. On Saturdays, it hosts 2,000-strong prayer meetings. A souvenir shop sells henna kits, incense and photos of the deities. A permanent exhibition 'Understanding Hinduism' explains the history and philosophies of the world's oldest living religion through videos and dioramas. At November's Diwali celebrations, thousands came from all over the UK to offer their devotion, have their account books blessed (it is effectively the Hindu new year) and watch a spectacular firework display.
For Open House London 2014, the Neasden Temple will be open on Saturday September 20 and Sunday September 21, 10am-4pm. Tours will run every hour with a maximum of 30 people on each tour. Visitors, who are asked to dress respectfully (meaning no shorts, short skirts or sleeveless tops), will be able to explore all areas except the monks' quarters, the admin block, the kitchen and the gym.