Well, I arrived safe but maybe not sound in Delhi after a non-stop flight from Melbourne. Air India was great: friendly staff, good food, free alcohol (wasted on me, but not the guy in the seat behind who decided to have a one man drinks party), comfortable seats and enough legroom on their Boeing 787 Dreamliner. But my flight seemed to be full of unhappy toddlers whose mothers either did not own or forgot to pack pacifiers of any kind, resulting in a whole lot of high-pitched noise for the duration of the flight. This, along with the boozy neighbour made me very happy to find my Delhi bed for a good kip.
After my first cup of excellent masala chai (spiced tea) bought for me by my lovely taxi driver at a street chai stall, took an early morning flight from Delhi to Ahmedabad, the largest city in the state of Gujarat and the launching point for my Gujarati adventures. But first a few days around town – revisiting some favourite places like Sidi Saiyyid Mosque, and some new to me like Dada Harir Vav and Adalaj stepwells.
High on my list of favourite places to eat is in this city is The House of MG (the former mansion of Mangaldas Girdhardas – an early 20th century philanthropist) with its lovely open air garden pavilion restaurant on the ground floor. Fresh fruit juices, traditional Gujarati food and homemade ice cream make this a must-do destination on every visit to Ahmedabad. Happily it is just across the road from the aforementioned Sidi Saiyyid Mosque which was built in 1573 by an Abyssinian in the retinue of Bilal Jhajar Khan, general in the army of the last sultan of the Gujarat Sultanate. The mosque is built on a series of arches and is famous for its beautifully carved stone latticework windows (jalis) on the side and rear arches.
So day 1 in Ahmedabad saw me spending a lot of time in an autorick doing errands, lunching and sightseeing. You don’t know you’re alive until you experience the craziness that is Indian city traffic! I have learnt long ago to sit back and relax knowing that these drivers are very talented, squeezing the vehicle into impossible places and narrowly avoiding all the other road users – vehicles of all sorts, pedestrians, cows, dogs and the occasional camel – in what seems to be a real-life version of bumpem cars, with surprisingly few bumps. The open-sided autoricks place you in the thick of it, and so close to other travellers that there is almost time to form short-term relationships along the way. It’s great street theatre! And there always seems to be a wedding parade somewhere – first noticeable by the loud music produced by the uniformed wedding band and then women in colourful saris dancing, all moving along the road to their destination with traffic swirling around them.