It’s been a busy week on the road with the Cloth and Stone Tour of Gujarat: too busy even to get this blog written! So instead of day by day, here is a brief account of our first week.
Our week began on Sunday in Ahmedabad. Sunday is the day for the Ellis bridge flea market where anything and everything an Indian family might need can be found.
Goats, hairbrushes, motorcycle parts, new cloth, secondhand clothes, saris, all manner of food and drink etc. Most foreigners do not find this market and our group soon became the focus of attention: many requests for selfies with us, hold the baby, taste this food, buy that thing, but mostly good natured banter in simple English from them & simpler Hindi from me. Our group had a great time there, returning happily to our hotel after this encounter with a slice of the real India.
In the afternoon, we headed to the old city first in pursuit of a famous family of cloth sellers, Gamthiwalla, who have been selling their block printed and/or hand woven cloth for generations out of the same tiny shop a few metres away from the ancient Jama Masjid (mosque).
Being Sunday, Manek Chowk ( the old city market) was crowded edge to edge as far as the eye could see. Our auto rick driver dropped us us off some distance from our destination, with the promise of “5 minutes walking only”. After a good half hour of negotiating the crowds, stopping often to ask the whereabouts of the shop, we finally found it. Closed. After walking around the mosque for a while enjoying its architecture, we headed off to our second destination – a restored heritage house owned by some friends of mine to observe the old building style from the inside and to meet up with Jagdip and his extended family who live at and host paying guests at their beautiful 200 year old award winning home.
On Monday, my guests headed off to see the world famous Calico Museum of textiles: the premier museum of its kind in India and of world significance for its comprehensive collection of handmade textiles and artefacts spanning five centuries. As I have visited the museum twice in recent years, I took the opportunity to attend to some business, but I wrote my account of my visit to the museum which you can read here >>>
After the ladies returned from the Calico Museum full of awe and wonder at the collection and the experience that one has in being admitted to the collection, we headed to the Gandhi Ashram. Mahatma Gandhi was born in the state of Gujarat and he selected a place on the bank of the river Sabarmati very close to the Saint Dadheechi’s temple as well as a jail and a crematorium. Gandhi used to remark, “This is the right place for our activities to carry on the search for Truth and develop Fearlessness for on one side are the iron bolts of the foreigners and on the other, thunderbolts of mother nature.” After building a few essential structures, the activities of the Ashram commenced in 1917. He stayed in the ashram for many years before he began the salt march to Dandi on 12 March 1930.
After visiting the Ashram, we thought we had some free time to visit some optional extras like the Art Book Centre or the Gaatha Handicraft Centre, but the traffic was so bad in Ahmedabad – gridlocked at times – due to the confluence of three factors: a mega international conference, the Kite Festival and the fact that many of the traffic police had been sent to the state’s capital, Gandhinagar, as it was deemed to have more pressing problems with a visit from Prime Minister Modi and other government officials. As a result, the traffic was so slow, we covered 4km in an hour and had to abandon not only some interesting destinations but also dinner at Vishalla, a lovely village style restaurant and museum 15km away. However, you can read about Vishalla from a previous visit here >>>
Tuesday was the day when we connected with our comfortable 12 seater tourist coach with its amiable and capable driver, Gajendra. Both will be our constant companions for the reminder of the trip. And Tuesday was also the day we escaped the city to drive north to see first the Sun Temple at Modhera, and then to Patan, the old capital of Gujarat, to visit the Patan Patola (double ikat weaving) Museum and the World Heritage listed Rani Ki Vav (Queen’s Stepwell).
The Sun Temple – an eleventh century jewel of a temple complex came into view through green manicured gardens and shady trees, with gardeners sweeping up leaves. After all the gritty suburbs, chaotic traffic and dusty dun coloured countryside we had driven through, this was a relief for eyes and soul.
The first monument one comes to is the Surya Kund – beautifully a carved stepped tank that was named after the sun god. Still holding water after all the centuries since its construction, fine architectural details are doubled in perfect reflection.
The other two monuments are Sabha Mandap – the hall, where people would gather for discussions on religious topics and Guda Mandap – the sanctum sanctorum, also known as the main temple. On my last visit here a year ago, there were no guides to be found, so the iconography in the fabulous carved stone temples was a mystery to me. Luckily, on our visit there was a guide available, and for a measly Rs200 (about $4), he explained myths and legends and the sagas of the gods depicted here.
After a healthy lunch of fruit and nuts in the shady gardens of the Sun Temple, we headed off to Patan 20km away – our first stop, the wonderful Rani Ki Vav.
Next stop was the Patan Patola Museum…… see next missive, coming soon.