Kem Chho Gujarat?

When Gujarat was afresh in our minds, we had planned to write a long post singing praises of the state. However, now, a considerable amount of time has passed. The detailed memories have started fading.

A few aspects stand out, & will continue to do so, till a contradictory experience occurs. Listing down 5 things we simply loved about Gujarat. Our experiences cover Ahmedabad, Dasada, the Little Rann of Kutch, Modhera, Patan, & all the towns & villages that fell along the way.

Pukka road, Gujarat village
Caught in a traffic jam but on a ‘pukka’ road in a rural setting

#1. Roads – We are a Delhi NCR couple. It is quite difficult to impress us with roads. But we are also travelers. We have seen the worst of roads. But, the roads in Gujarat were a delight to be driven on.

Not just the highways; the back of beyond villages had ‘pukka’ roads. We have always believed roads are the harbinger of growth & development.

#2. Water – The remotest of villages have running water. It is quite a feat to be able to guarantee water supply to every nook & corner, especially when you are a predominant dry state.

step well, 108 shrines, Modhera Sun Temple
A step well having 108 shrines on its stairs at the Modhera Sun Temple

The capital of the country, Delhi, is unable to provide tap water to a number of its colonies, even though it has the best resources of the country at its disposal. Yet, Gujarat has achieved this.

It saves the womenfolk the drudgery of drawing water from wells and carrying it over long distances. & honestly, doesn’t the thought excite you that you can get a stream of water every time you open your tap?

Well, maybe, you take it for granted, for you have never known otherwise. Let us assure you – the alternate is not pretty…

Rani ki Vav, Queen's Stepwell, Patan, UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Rani ki Vav (Queen’s Stepwell) at Patan – a UNESCO World Heritage Site

#3. Electricity – Rural menfolk in white dhoti – kurta, women in colorful chaniya – cholis, children playing in the mud, cattle, goats, sheep & dogs freely roaming around, elders sitting under the banyan tree discussing sociopolitical affairs… this pretty much paints a picture of a typical Indian village.

What stands out is the fan whirring inside the hut, the bulbs twinkling at night, the small fridge to keep matters cool. This is not something you can see in every Indian village but it was something we saw commonly in Gujarat.

You can see the poles running through the length & breadth in every village but seldom have the wires carried current. In Gujarat, they did…

jharokha, window, Sarkhej Roza, Ahmedabad
A Jharokha (Window) at the Sarkhej Roza, Ahmedabad

#4. No beggars outside temples – So, to be honest, we visited only one temple in Gujarat – the Bahucharmata Temple in Bahucharaji. The Sun Temple at Modhera does not count as it is a tourist attraction rather than a pilgrimage spot.

We have not been to a single temple in India where we have not been flanked by beggars asking us to give something to them. They either hound us till the time we enter the temple or our vehicle, or they sit forlornly, their bodies covered with dust, grime, sores & wounds.

It is not a pretty sight. We feel bad for the ones who are genuinely destitute, but we dislike being hounded. This is usually by those who are active and fit, & can easily pick up some sort of work. But, of course, beggary is an easy way out.

Bahucharmata Mandir
Business as usual outside the Bahucharmata Mandir

At the Bahucharmata temple, we did not see a single beggar. No old man, no young girl carrying a baby, nil, nada, niyat. It made us think – what is different here compared to the rest of India? Is it because Gujaratis as a community do not believe in asking?

Or is it because there is no need for anybody to beg? Or is it simply because the administration does a good job of keeping them away? Sadly, we could not ask anyone these questions but would love to unravel this mystery.

Whatever it was, it put us at ease. We did not have to look away out of disgust or guilt or helplessness.

Rani ki Vav, Patan
Well-manicured lawns at the Rani ki Vav, Patan

The other aspect that stood out was the absence of hawkers trying to coerce you into buying offerings. Again, we have not been to any place of worship where the hawkers outside have not tried to sell me all sorts of offerings to make the gods or saints happy.

This is as true for a Hanuman Mandir in Delhi as for the Ajmersharif Dargah. In Bahucharaji, the hawkers peacefully went about their business, selling their wares to only those who approached them.

There was no shouting either by them, trying to seek attention of pilgrims. This is how a place of worship should be – peaceful and with the liberty for you to interact with the Almighty as you want.

Sabarmati Riverfront, Ahmadabad
The Sabarmati Riverfront at Ahmadabad – a role model for all river fronts in India

#5. Tourist Spots – Spotlessly clean. Well – maintained. Adequate signboards and historical references. No hanky – panky. No touts. There were only ASI – approved guides at the Modhera Sun Temple, who asked you only once if you wanted their service.

If you said no, they would quietly move away to the next set of travelers. We were so pleased with their professionalism, we ended up engaging one. And do not regret it one bit.

To balance our post out, there were a couple of things we disliked about Gujarat.

Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi Ashram, Ahmadabad
Remembering the Mahatma at his ashram

#1. Disregard for traffic rules – We were constantly at the edge of our seat whenever we were on the road in Ahmedabad. There was a complete disregard of traffic signals, lane driving, overtaking rules etc. It was a miracle vehicles did not bump into each other.

We are quite paranoid on the road. The situation in Ahmedabad was pure horror for us. The plus side – it made us remember God more than we usually do.

#2. Food – What is the deal with making even the curries sweet? How do you differentiate between entrée & dessert? Perhaps, it is an acquired taste but it was quite unpalatable to us. After one Gujarati meal, we slipped back to north Indian cuisines.

Sabarmati Riverfront
Evening stroll at the Sabarmati Riverfront

Sigh! Long post but we felt we needed to write this as a tribute to the good time we had in Gujarat. We intend to visit again soon, hoping to cover all the other tourist spots that Amitabh bachchan has requested us to! 😀

Beauty in Barrenness

There is such an emphasis on adornment. Cakes are expected to be decorated. Clothes are required to be embellished. Girls are supposed to be ornamented. Presentations are expected to be beautified.

Amidst all these trimmings, we forget about the innate beauty of people, of places, and of things. We do not, for a second, imagine there can be attractiveness in simplicity. In our estimation, a plain Jane cannot be beautiful.

Unless we garnish our dishes and make them look pretty, we are dissatisfied. We purchase knick – knacks to be kept around the house; these will, presumably, make our dwellings worthier.

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Emu in such an unlikely place…

When we are conditioned thus, it was exciting to find beauty in barrenness. We had had our eyes set on the Rann of Kutch for quite a while. The white salt desert was enticing. We found the miles of nothingness inviting.

But, going to the Rann of Kutch needed time, and we were not getting any holiday which was of more than three days. So, patiently, we waited. October threw up an opportunity and we found ourselves on the path to Gujarat.

Rail journeys have caught our fancy as we realize it is quite convenient to undertake them as long as we can book in advance. And, well, our travel planning is in ADVANCE! So we booked ourselves onto the Ahmedabad – New Delhi Rajdhani and sat back for a comfortable ride.

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This beautiful thing wanted a ride.

From Ahmedabad, it took us about four hours to reach Dasada, a hamlet on the edge of the Rann of Kutch. We had booked ourselves at Rann Riders, which turned out to be one of the best places we have stayed at. But, more on that later.

We cannot even begin to describe the beauty of the Rann. And, mind you, we were at the Little Rann of Kutch. The Great Rann of Kutch is supposed to be grander and prettier. We went to the Little Rann for a sunset safari; everything they show in photographs and movies is cent per cent real.

For miles and kilometers and a few more miles, there was nothing except the parched land of the Rann, crusted white due to the salt deposits. This was immediately after the monsoon. We cannot imagine what the land would be like during summer.

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A Black-Shouldered Kite

At the far end was a lake, on which the Sun was slowly setting. A flight of flamingos brooded on the lake, wondering surely what we humans found so interesting in them. Or, perhaps, they wondered, how after destroying their natural habitats, humans create sanctuaries to ‘protect’ them.

No matter what the flamingos thought, they were a sight to behold. The curved beaks, the pink bodies, the slender legs- all proving, yet again, what a great artist the One above is.

Coming back to the Rann, the precise barrenness was what we found beautiful and calming. We are so used to chaos around us, and the need we feel to be constantly doing something, that these moments, and these spots, where time stands still, are rare.

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An international sales conference in progress

We felt at peace with ourselves. We felt one with nature. For our eyes, there was the Sun, mellowing down to a soothing yellow. There was the lake, shimmering against the rays of the Sun. There was the earth, cracked and white, and yet moist underneath.

There were shrubs, providing a splash of green in the somber setting. The only sound around us was the patter of the hooves of the wild asses running around. (The Little Rann of Kutch is home to the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary.) And, once in a while, when the flamingos took flight, their wings flapped to create a symphony.

The only smell we had was of the dry, salty earth. The only taste we had was the salt on our lips. And the only sensation we had was of pesky insects trying to bite us. But we felt complete. All our happy memories rushed back to us to make us smile.

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This one we know. We made friends with one in Jammu and Kashmir.

All our pain disappeared for that moment. And yet, we neither felt great joy nor great sorrow. We just felt peaceful.

The Rann wildlife was another aspect that caught our fancy. We could not imagine a landscape as arid as that supporting any kind of flora and fauna. But, surprise! God must have thought- let me make a few patches of earth unfit for human survival, but let me create a few gorgeous animals who will thrive in the same ecology. Good move God!

Among mammals, you can see the most gorgeous wild asses, nimble desert foxes, shy rabbits, and even more shy nilgais. We are not great at identifying birds but we had some help from our safari guide.

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The gorgeous Wild Ass. Not an iota of fear from the hoomans… It knew this was its turf!

You can easily spot ducks, flamingos, and francolins among many others. Of course, they are all wary of human beings, and will fly away the instant you step closer to them.

Lastly, our resort- Rann Riders- was a delight to stay at. We were in the midst of a lush green setting, making us wonder how such verdure could survive the harsh weather condition.

Acres of plants and trees, the names of which we would take a lifetime to find out, surrounded us. Playing hide and seek in these trees were a plethora of animals – dogs, cats, horses, ducks, peacocks, emus, monitor lizards- all living in harmony with each other and with us human beings.

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Flying flamingos… Ooh! Alliteration!!

Our dwelling was a little mud hut called ‘kooba’, a typical village house but with modern amenities. We woke up to the sounds of the animals and slept to the gentle hum of the air conditioner. Truly a step in the Eco-tourism direction!

We are all the more determined now to visit the Great Rann of Kutch, but it will have to wait, and also for the winter months. Even October smoldered here…

 

We suggest a four days, three nights itinerary to the Rann of Kutch and surrounding areas:

Day 1: Arrive in the morning at Ahmedabad. Take a cab to Dasada; you will arrive here by afternoon. Time permitting, take an evening safari of the Little Rann of Kutch. Overnight at the Rann Riders.

Day 2: Take a morning safari of the Little Rann of Kutch. Come back, refresh & head to Modhera & Patan. You can spend the day gaping at the Sun Temple in Modhera and the Rani Ki Vav in Patan. If your pocket allows, indulge in a Patola sari at Patan. Overnight at Rann Riders.

Day 3: After breakfast, checkout & head to Ahmedabad. Try to get to Agashiye for a typical Gujarati Thali. Spend the evening sightseeing through the Sabarmati Ashram & the Sabarmati Riverfront. Overnight at Four Points by Sheraton.

Day 4: Morning will be a great time to check out the Sarkhej Roja. By afternoon/ evening, prepare to leave Ahmedabad.

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