Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
Rising improbably from a 22-acre plain in a far-flung and otherwise bleak Houston suburb on the flat Gulf Coast landscape, this is the first traditional temple of its kind in North America, constructed according to ancient Hindu tenets of divine architecture. Opened in 2004 and assembled on site, the 33,000 individual stone blocks (Turkish limestone for the exterior, Italian marble for the interior) were hand-carved in India by master stone workers and artisans. The term "wedding cake" doesn't begin to describe the blazingly white, intricately carved edifice, with five towering pinnacles, 12 domes, 136 interior pillars, and polychrome deities. Mingle unobtrusively with the Hindu worshippers in colorful saris as they meditate, and offer up a prayer of your own to Vishnu. You will return from Shri Swaminarayan, a 30-minute drive from downtown Houston, dazed and dazzled by the scale and beauty of the structure and by the way it attests to the diversity of this city. Visit in the evening, when the Mandir is even more beautiful and beguiling in starlight or under a full moon.