>10 day trip

Junagadh: Of generous gifts and stories of intrigue

From Veraval we drove to almost a 100 km to Junagadh and first landed at Mahabbat ka Maqbara.

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Tomb of Wazir Bahaduddinbhai Hasainbhai

Its location is quite a play on your senses – right opposite the Junagadh District Court – it has accused individuals, their distraught families, busy lawyers, the alert police force all bustling just opposite this calm witness to it all.

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Tomb of Bahar-ud-din Bahar

It is hard to believe that such grand structures are mausoleums. The first one seems like a brilliant front for a Gothic library and the second for a palace- however they house the tombs of Wazir Bahaduddinbhai Hasain bhai built by the King Mahabat Khan of Junagadh and another of Bahar-ud-din Bahar respectively. Its Indo-Islamic, European, and Gothic architecture is attributed to it being constructed in a time when Junagadh was one of the princely states under the British empire in the late 1800’s.IMG_3053.jpg

It is remarkably easy to stand and stare at the buildings exteriors, arches, French-style windows, columns and doorways with the intricate work on them a feast for the eyes. The 4 minarets around the tomb of Bahar-ud-din Bahar have staircases winding in the opposite directions of each other paint a picture in symmetry and elegance.IMG_3066.jpg

Just beside them is the Juma Masjid built even earlier in the 1400’s by the founder of Ahmedabad – King Ahmed Shah. It has a vast courtyard and also has the minarets with the winding staircases- though a tad less impressive than the ones on the mausoleum.

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Juma Masjid

The Narasinh Vidya Mandir just beside Jama Masjid is itself a heritage building that impressively has withstood the ravages of time and continues to function as a school.

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Narasinh Vidya Mandir

From there we drove on to the Uparkot fort. The fort which is at the center of the city but accessible via narrow roads whose traversal is left to the mercy of the herds of cattle who make themselves very comfortable in the middle of the narrow alleys. Also waiting for them is futile since they have no intention of moving for your automobile to pass by.

The entrance of the 2000 yr old Uparkot fort would welcome you with ancient carvings of the Gods Hanuman and Ganesh. is 150 ft high. We were accosted by a “guide” at the entrance and were soon joined by 2 young police recruits as they too explored the area with us.IMG_3114

History: The fort is said to have been built by Chandragupta Maurya but renovated after it fell into disrepair. While the entrance to the fort is via the bustle of the town, all other sides are covered by lush green forests and the sounds of peacocks interrupted the silence ever so often.

Guide Hearsay: The guide claimed that the fort was built by the father of Kans(the legendary villain of the story of Krishna) but either he was wrong or it was built by Raja Ganesh of Dinajpur in Bengal, who was referred to as Kans by Muslim historians due to his persecution of Muslims. The only other connection I could actually find is the legend is that the king of Jungadh was King Revat whose daughter married the brother of Krishna- Balaram.

Legend: The legendary beauty Ranak devi was wooed by both the Chudasama king Khengara and the Chalukya king Jayasimha. Her wedding to Khengara threw Jayasimha into a rage. The route to the fort was divulged to Jayasimha by 2 nephews of Khengara who had been unfairly accused of improper intimacy with the Queen. Jayasimha with their help entered Uparkot and won the battle against Khengara, killing him in the process. Meanwhile the nephews also led Khengara to the palace of the queen. To avoid any further vengeance by the young sons of the queen, he killed them and took the queen to be his wife. She however escaped via a secret tunnel and instead choose to immolate herself (commit Sati) on the pyre of her husband thereby ending that tale. According to the guide, the nephews were also killed by the King Jayasimha  and buried under the underground granary knowing that they betrayed their own king and could similarly betray him someday.

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Queen Ranakdevi’s Palace / Jama Masjid

Guide hearsay: It is believed that there were originally houses built over the granaries to prevent them from being easily found.The reserve food there also helped the people in times of long drawn war.

Note: The fort as it is today, is not as large in terms of areas to explore today as most forts, so we’d recommend you take a picture of the map at the entrance and make your own way in. We had a guide but we could have easily skipped it.

The first thing one would encounter is the Jama Masjid which is said to have earlier been the Queen Ranakdevi’s palace that was converted to a mosque by the King Muhammed Begda when he conquered Saurashtra. The insides of the mosque are therefore different from typical mosques since it has several pillars holding up the roof.

A lady inside the premises had setup a tiny makeshift stall with sweetmeats and small books in Gujarati. She inquired if I’d buy some of the items she had to which I smiled and refused. Then she attempted to start a conversation too but my non-existent knowledge of Gujarati failed me and I mumbled that I didn’t speak the language. She picked up 2 sweets made of tamarind wrapped around a stick and offered it to me- when I insisted that I didn’t want to buy it- she gestured that she wanted me to just keep it anyway as a little something from her. Needless to say I was moved by her graciousness. Every single time on our journeys we end up receiving the richest gifts from the simplest folk.IMG_3115

From atop the palace/mosque one is treated with an uninterrupted view of the Girnar hill, of which, if an image was rotated vertically, could be imagined to be the shape of a man’s face. It is also called Revatak Parvata in view of the story that the king of Jungadh was King Revat whose daughter married the brother of Krishna- Balaram.The hill is a popular pilgrimage spot with a cluster of Jain and Hindu temples atop it that can be reached with an ascent 10000 steps. It is also known for the Aghori ascetics who reside there and apply funeral ashes on their person and in general embrace everything society discards or fears.  There are edicts inscribed on rock dating back to 250 BCE near Girnar in a language similar to the ancient language of Pali too.

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Girnar hill

Guide’s heresay :It is believed that the King Ashoka circumbulated the Girnar hill in repentance for the lives he took during Kalinga war after which he converted to Buddhism.IMG_3137.jpg

In the fort premises,it was the first time we’d encountered cannons with actual names assigned to them – Neelam and Manek who had traveled all the way from Cairo before making their way here to defend the kingdom against the Portuguese.IMG_3113

 

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>10 day trip

Diu : Of lighthouses by the ocean and a labyrinth of caves

Diu was a stark difference in terms of the rest of our trip and a time we were looking forward to spending by the ocean. After a leisurely breakfast, we made our way to the Diu Museum. It is a church converted into a museum and it seemed even more charming with the bustle and energy of the children in the school that it shared a wall with,  providing a contrast to it’s calm interiors. The simple museum houses figures carved in wood of almost every christian saint we’ve heard of (mostly as part of names of educational institutions)- St.Anthony, St,Johns,St.Francis to name a few.

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Diu Museum

A short walk away was the St.Paul’s church which is supposedly one of the best examples of baroque architecture of the 16th century in Italy with Roman influences.

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St.Paul’s church

While the outside is quite impressive, the true beauty of it to our eyes lay inside with the very intricate woodwork that adorned the main altar and several areas inside the church.

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St.Paul’s church

A little ahead is the church of St.Francis of Assisi by climbing up a pretty flight of steps up to the church that lies at the turn of the road.

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Church of St.Francis of Assisi

It is purportedly used a hospital today but seemed to have no signs of it with a peek inside the locked doors.

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Church of St.Francis of Assisi

We couldn’t resist the ocean any longer and went right to it to at the Jalandhar beach. We got to what was called the “heritage walk” point. It is a lovely viewpoint to enjoy the sights and sound of the sea that manages to look both soothing and intimidating at the same time.

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The expanse of the ocean from the heritage walk point

The heritage walk itself turned out to be a walk over the endless fort walls – while it manages to give you a higher view of the city, it’s otherwise something we’d have spent lesser time on, had we known that it was not leading anywhere.

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The endless path on the fort walls

Yet, we had a top view of the Naida caves from the fort to which we decided to make our way.IMG_2775

It is a maze of underground caves that make up quite a sight with the light streaming in through various slots above the rocks with the roots and branches of trees casually entwining the boulders and creating their own patterns.

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Nadia caves

There are scattered Hoka trees brought in by the Portuguese from Africa here too, seemingly having embraced their newer home. There is debate wrt whether these caves are a natural formation or rocks dug up to be used in the Diu fort or maybe a little bit of both. While Anand was enjoying his picture taking, I found it a great spot to lie down on one of the benches and take in the view of the rocks in various shapes and textures, the overhanging roots and the play of light.

 

Fort Diu is perhaps the most known of Diu’s places to visit and welcomes you with its moat gushing with the monsoons waters. IMG_2897The fort itself has an unparalleled location by the ocean. It is the perfect spot to stroll by churches, cannon balls, tombs, lighthouses as you explore its every intriguing turn. IMG_2914There’s something poetic about the tomb of a soldier(?) with an open roof and a window that provided the sights and sounds of the ocean just outside its tall walls.

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The soldier’s tomb- on one side of the wall was the ocean

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We next headed to the dry dock in the city to spend some time watching the colorful fishing boats and folks crushing of huge blocks of ice. Just as we were about to leave, a gentleman asked us to head to the Nagoa beach. And of course, we followed orders. On the way we noticed a board stating “Fudam Bird Sanctuary“. However a man sitting at the entrance casually told us it was closed which seemed hard to believe since it was simply a small open area. Nevertheless we climbed up the watch tower outside and took in the sight of the stream and made do with sighting a few birds casually flitting by before we made our way to the beach.

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The strange Fudam Bird Sanctuary

 

The Nagoa beach was definitely a favorite of the places we visited in Diu. It was the perfect evening hangout with a warm cob of corn to watch the waves crashing against the shore endlessly. The sounds of the water were only interrupted by the occasional words from a passing conversation or giggles of kids enjoying themselves in the park by the water.

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Nagoa Beach

Note :We see reviews often calling this beach crowded . It just maybe that we were there during what’s considered the off-season(August-monsoons) but it was just on point for our tastes at this time 🙂

 

After checking in to the hotel at Veraval for the evening, we headed off to the temple – Somnath. We were just in time to get there since it closes at 9 PM. The temple is well lit up, large, has beautiful carvings on its exterior and interiors . It is surrounded by a town whose economy is seems pretty much based around the visitors to the temple.  The main deity in the temple is in the form of a Shiva linga. The temple is particularly known for having been re-built many times since the 11th century despite invasions by several rulers. When one looks at a map, it’s also observed that an imaginary straight line from here to the south pole would encounter no landmass till Antarctica. Since it was dark by the time we got there, we couldn’t truly enjoy the view of the ocean just beside the temple- nevertheless the soothing sounds of the ocean and slivers of the ocean waves still provided a peek into the experience.

 

Note :You would have to leave behind phones, luggage, footwear before entering the temple and it’s a bit of a distance from the temple to the place where you’re supposed to leave all your things- so if in a group, take extra care to stay together since it’s otherwise easy to miss each other. Interestingly the queues for men and women are separate and there were relatively very few women- that however led to most women waiting for up to an hour for their spouses/relatives to come out of the men’s queues. Not having phones along meant you were stuck to waiting at a predetermined place like I was too.

Uncategorized

Palitana : Of visiting the past and being lost in the present

We drove off on a cloudy morning towards Palitana – the temples on the Shatrunjaya hills had piqued our interest very much. On the way however, we decided to risk the location and instead take a detour to Lothal more as a tribute to our history text books that mentioned it as an ancient Indus flourishing trade site in Gujarat on the Gulf of Combay. It was a touch and go since we had a long drive ahead of us and even skipped the museum next door- it maybe a worth a visit.

However we walked around what’s left of the ruins of the dockyard (the earliest in the world),IMG_2562.jpgthe warehouse ,the kitchens,IMG_2570.jpgand even the remains of the drain system which was  a unique attribute of so ancient a civilization c. 3700 BCE. The acropolis and lower town demarcated the rulers from the common folk.IMG_2575.jpg

It was yet another of those moments that make you wish you had a time machine to just glance into the past to peek into the lives and times of the people in the era. For now it’s a beautiful green spot that the current winged residents seem to enjoy.

Despite running late, seeing directions for Uthelya and remembering having read of a palace there, led us to the village. It’s a quaint, sleepy village with large amounts of cowdung on its narrow streets- so we’d recommend watching where you step. Also if in a car, do park where possible since the alleys are very narrow at several points. When we finally happened on the palace, it turned out that it’s only opening up for visitors starting Oct 2018 and the gates locked. So well, that was a fail.

We drove on to Palitana to see the cluster of 1300 temples on the hilltop that painted quite a picture. It is also the most sacred pilgrimage place for the Jain community. We first reached a spot by the Shetrunji lake that’s quite a lovely stop to take a break from the drive.

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The Shetrunji lake

A temple with steps leading to the lake is also under construction beside it. On asking a gentleman for directions he pointed to a hill in the distance with a few temples atop it as the place we needed to reach. However maps again failed to point us there despite different location inputs from us.

It was already 4:30pm when we reached there and we instead to try our luck asking for directions within the busier part of the town. The main street in the town is itself full of Jain temples (the city itself has 8316 temples) each competing with the other on the intricate artistry and craftsmanship on display. We randomly entered one that looked lovely and enquired with the security guard. His wasn’t sure of what we wanted but his unintentionally philosophical reply “A temple is a temple…what difference does it make which one you see.” 😀 However for the 2 of us who had driven more than 200 kms to get here – it wasn’t much consolation. We decided to make the most of where we were and wandered around the temple that only had 1 middle aged couple praying and the priest so it was quite a peaceful spot.

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The temple that showed us the way, only literally.

In a short while, the couple too finished their prayers. As it turned out, the temple we had entered actually belonged to the family of the kind couple – so we were lucky to meet someone who knew the area well too and we finally could stop wandering direction-less.

Take heed : What we were looking for, were rightly the temples atop the Shatrunjaya hills- however one had to climb up stairs a couple of hours to get to them and there was no driving path. We didn’t have much of a chance that day since it was already 5pm and the temples closed at 6pm. Lack of prior research had let us down this time.

Just as were about to leave, seeing our slightly dejected faces, the lady stopped to give us another option. There is a simpler replica of the temples atop the hill right at the end of the main street which is meant for people who aren’t able to make the climb. The temples also to some extent look similar. And there was the silver lining we grabbed and decided to head that way.

We headed to the cluster of temples each a short climb above the other. IMG_2614.jpgWhile the first one had groups of people engrossed in singing prayers, the next few were mostly bereft of people other than the priests so we were left to our devices to breathe in the serenity of the space as we admired the finesse of the work on the temples.IMG_2619.jpg We were also running out of daylight so just before heading out of town our last stop was this dome shaped temple that reminded us of the Shanti Stupa in Ladakh.IMG_2625.jpg

Note :The online maps were especially useless within Palitana. Every single spot was incorrectly tagged/labeled and only wasted a lot of our time. Even asking locals for directions isn’t fail-safe and they may not always be able to point you the right way since there a very large number of temples in the area.

While it had a few fiascos, in all, it wasn’t too bad a day that we ended by driving on and reaching the union territory of Diu.

9 day trip

Ahmedabad : Of casual sacrifice and easy indulgence

We could scarcely believe it had been less than a day since we were in Ahmedabad with all that we had seen, heard and experienced. But after a short nap, we were on our feet again for the Night heritage walk. There is a lot to glean from these walks as we had learned from our delightful experience in Pune. Specifically, old Ahmedabad has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage city because of its various characteristics. And while one could read it off a book, what better way to stroll through the past on a cool evening in the old city.

  • Sidi Saiyyed Mosque: The not-so-large 16th century mosque presents quite a sight even when nearing it with the lights piercing through the intricately carved tree-like design atop its arches.
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    Sidi Saiyyed Mosque

    It feels surreal in comparison to its surroundings considering it’s at a very busy traffic junction in the city.

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    Sidi Saiyyed Mosque: the famous jaali

    The jaali (latticework) has become pretty much the symbol of Ahmedabad and would be familiar to CAT aspirants as the logo of the IIM Ahmedabad. Built by an Abyssinian – Sidi Saiyeed it is said that people from his community – the Sidi community still reside in Gujarat.

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    Sidi Saiyyed Mosque

Note :The auto drivers and locals refer to this place as Sidi Saiyyed ni Jaali, so you may want to use that to call an auto to reach the place. Again, avoid cars in old Ahmedabad.

Our guide provided more details to the story narrated by the auto-driver earlier that day.

History/Legend: King Ahmed Shah from the Patan region was out hunting in the ancient sites of Ashaval and Karnavati. As is turned out his hunting dogs came across rabbits, but the rabbits seemed to be bravely defending themselves almost scaring the dogs away. Mystified, the King narrated the story to his advisor Sufi Saint Ahmed Ganj Baksh Khattu who opined that the land and water of the place seemed to make the inhabitants especially brave and he decided to build his capital there- naming it Ahmedabad (Ahmed- with his name and Abad- standing for prosperity).

  • GTS  standard Benchmark: A short walk ahead and we stopped at an inconspicous block of stone jutting off the ground with rubble on it. Brushing it away the guide enlightens us to the stone being the point that marked the center of the walled ciry of Ahmedabad when determining the height of the city above sea-level during what was called the “Great trigonometrical survey of India”. It was as part of this survey that Mt.Everest’s height was also determined making it officially the tallest mountain above ground.

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  • Bhadra fort:  was built by the King Ahmed Shah and while it’s said it’s  named after the presiding deity Bhadrakali but a plaque there states that it was named after an ancient Rajput citadel the Sultans held before taking over Ahmedabad.

 

  • Bhadrakali Mandir : we were right in time to just walk in and get out of the Bhadrakali temple during the evening prayers. The chanting of the Godess’ praises by the crowd truly fills the temple with a pulsating energy.IMG_2546.jpg

 

  • Statue of Chinubhai Baronet:  is one of the forward thinkers of the time and the adopted grandson of the owner of the first textile mill in Ahmedabad- a city which is still known for its trade in fabrics. He was extremely generous with his financial donations  to educational institutions and even built the very first maternity hospital of the times which is still functional today. He even expanded on the first maternity hospital in Ahmedabad that was initially constructed by his grandfather. Due to his active participation in civic affairs he was knighted and then deemed a Baronet by the British crown too.

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    Statue of Chinubhai Baronet

 

  • Teen Darwaza: is said to be the gate the king used to come to the Jama Masjid for his Namaz and therefore is large enough to fit an elephant that he rode. It also has a white plaque that bears an inscription that was radical for it’s time where the Governor Chimnaji Raghunath in the 1800s decreed that daughters were to be given equal share of the property failing which he appealed to their religious beliefs by stating the Hindus would be answerable to Lord Shiva and the Muslims who fail to do so would be answerable to Allah.

History/Legend:  has it that the Goddess Lakshmi( The Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity) was headed out of the kingdom of Ahmedabad while a Muslim soldier, Khwaja Siddique Kotwal ,manning the gates, stopped her to ask her of why she was leaving. She refused to stay on but he managed to elicit a promise from her that she’d wait until his return after speaking to the King before leaving on her way. In order to save the kingdom from ruin due to her departure, he instead kills himself so that the condition of his return is never met. It is believed that his sacrifice led to the continued prosperity of the land, that has even to this day the richest people in India hail from.

In dedication to the story, it is said that his descendants even to this day light a lamp for the Goddess, like they have been doing every day for centuries- thereby giving the lamp the name “Akhand jyot” (perpetual light) providing a touching view into what continues to keeps the country united across communities and religions.

 

  • A short walk away houses the Oldest commercial Market in Ahmedabad within a pol (gated community of sorts), such that stores were on the ground floor and the storeowners resided with their families in the floor above. This allowed all family members irrespective of age/gender/ability to contribute in different ways to the business.

 

  • Jama Masjid :  built in sandstone in 1424 by Ahmed Shah was original intended for the private use of the King and continues to be used for prayers even today. Stepping in to the space from the frantic bustle just outside its doors it feels like a cool oasis of calm and serenity with just a step inside. There are several carvings that are typical to the Hindu and Jain symbolism perhaps the contribution of the local artists who worked on the structure. A large rectangular basin for ablutions houses several pretty fishes too. The main prayer area with 260 columns and 15 domes make it quite a lovely sight even from afar. The largest pillars were also supposed to be the jhulta minar (swinging towers) like 3 more in the walled city- however an earthquake in 1819 impacted its structure so it sadly doesn’t have that ability any more.IMG_2553.jpg

 

  • Rani no Haziro:  houses the tombs of the queens and female members of the court of Ahmed Shah. It is very easy to miss amidst the bustle of the market around it selling jewelry and clothes in every possible shape and color. It’s sad that the locals even have their clotheslines on the pillars of this very historically relevant monument. We weren’t sure if it is always locked – so all we could get is a peep through the lattice work on its walls into the courtyards that housed the tombs.

 

  • Badhsah no Haziro : walking by a narrow passage passing kids playing their version of cricket and goats bleating, one reaches the Badshah no Haziro that houses the tombs of the king Ahmed Shah, his son and grandson- in a structure that looks both out-of-place and like it fits right in at the same time. The tombs of the era were often built by the individuals themselves well before their passing to ensure the structure is just as per their own tastes and so could also be made as grand as they wished them to be. We however missed the traditional orchestra that plays every evening at sunset-so it may be worthwhile timing your visit to experience that too.

 

  • Old Stock Exchange Building : we also pass by an easy-to-miss heritage building that housed the 2nd oldest stock exchange in India – the Ahmedabad stock exchange where it’s said that shares were bought and sold in a trust-worthy manner with prices agreed on with just verbal agreements that were met without question.IMG_5719.jpg

 

  • Mahurat Ni Pole :   The pols were and continue to be gated communities often with families belonging to one religion/belief/occupation living in a space that catered to their religious and social needs. This was the first pol  in Ahmedabad thereby lending the name mahurat(auspicious start) to it. We were even taken entered to see the exterior of an extremely beautiful house with intricate carvings all over it.

Note : While curiosity and interest while being a traveler is understandable, it is also important to be respectful of these spaces that continue to be private residences. So it’s important to ensure one does all one can to not cause them any disturbance- by being noisy or intrusive.

  • Manek Chowk : is named after the saint Manek Nath who supposedly interrupted King Ahmed Shah’s fort construction near the Sabarmati and insisted the fort be constructed here instead. Today however it’s a market for precious gold and diamond jewelry during the day and an extremely crowded street food market at night starting at 8pm and going all the way till 3 am. This supposedly works as an effective deterrent to any thieves attempting to steal from the stores since there was an abundance of people all night around the shops.IMG_2561.jpg

 

After bidding the guide goodbye we decided on an extremely unhealthy but delicious dinner of pani puri, followed by a sandwich made with a mountain of cheese. For dessert we were spoilt for choice but settled on a delicious rose coconut kulfi for myself and a rabdi with kulfi for Anand.

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What looks like a white cushion is actually made of piles of cheese on each slice of bread.

 

Just as we were making our way to find an auto, we stopped at a soda stall and decided to pick a glass of kala khatta soda from a gentleman with a small cart in a relatively darker and less crowded part of the area. For a moment, he thought I looked familiar and so started a conversation – apparently he had been working at Aggarwal park in Ahmedabad for 17 years and had a stream of regular clientele visiting his stall every day. However he was uprooted along with other street food vendors as part of the local governments attempts to “Clean” the city and is now working in unfamiliar territory in a lesser prominent spot which is all that’s available for now. While there was only so much we could do, just telling him that we enjoyed the drink brought a smile to his kind face.  He seemed quite sad at losing his clientele – so please treat yourself to a lovely soda from him on your way out and stop to say a hello. Meanwhile, let’s hope we as a society learn, instead of leaving them behind, to take our people along as we head towards progress and development.

8 day trip

Ahmedabad: Of step wells and swinging towers

Amrutavarshini Vav: We happened on an enthusiastic auto-driver who was so passionate about the city that he almost gave us a guided tour as we passed by various landmarks within it. We were completely charmed by his perfect hindi and casual use of words like sanstha and vibhaag that we’d last used in school. We started off hunting for the 18th century Amrutavarshini Vav in Old Ahmedabad – my motivation to see it more due to it’s pretty name than much else. It’s not popular and was quite hard to find – even the online maps don’t do a great job of pointing to it. It’s in a very easy-to-miss corner of the extremely labyrinthine streets of old Ahmedabad. Sadly it was closed but we could still have a peep at the relatively simple 3 storey step-well it through the gates. If you go looking for it- just mention that it’s near the PanchKuva Darwaza (which is one of the gates of the walled city of Old Ahmedabad).

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Adalaj Step well : a peep through the gates

Note : Do not attempt to take a car of any size into Old Ahmedabad- the streets are narrow and hard to navigate except if you’re a local.  Even locals wouldn’t bring in a car since there are several carts/cows along the way that could simply let you be stuck for a while- also annoying everyone around. Autos are your best bet.

Dada Hari ni Vav: The same auto driver took us to Dada Hari Vav which was next on our agenda. The place had absolutely no other visitors when we arrived. The step well was built by Dhai Harir, a lady who overlooked the royal harem of the King Mahmud Begda in the 15th century.

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Dada Hari ni Vav

Each level has corridors for weary travelers to rest too. The well itself was gorgeous and despite seeing 2 more just hours earlier, the feeling of seeing those stunning step-wells doesn’t get old.  While to our untrained eyes, there are similarities with Adalaj, the opening being octogonal and the well being 5 storeys deep, this well is supposed to be built in the Solanki architectural style.

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Dada Hari ni Vav: it’s easy to feel so tiny within.

There are inscriptons in both Sanskrit and Arabic script that we wished we could read to deduce a little more of the stories the place had to narrate. Just behind the step wells is the Bai Harir mosque and another structure housing a tomb of Dhai Harir – both very beautiful too.

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Bai Harir mosque

The young Imam came shuffling to us to with a lungi for Anand to cover up since he was wearing shorts. He added a friendly lament that these are the new dressing styles but visitors would be naraaz(upset) if they couldn’t visit the place solely due to their attire.

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Some help with dressing appropriately

He reminded us of the Imam in the movie “Ali’s wedding” (catch the movie if you haven’t) and he himself maintains the premises single-handedly and has done a lovely job of keeping it clean.

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The pretty pillar in the foreground of the tomb of Dhai Harir

Anand and I both agreed we liked the gentleman – so do drop in to say hello to him when you visit.

 

Our auto driver further drove us towards the Jhulta Minar but on the way we couldn’t help but notice carts of what looked like ice-cream covered with a muslin cloth – though it couldn’t be icecream or it wouldn’t survive the heat. When we enquired, he got a cart to stop and bought us a slice of it for just Rs.10.

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Yummy balli

It was a delicious sweet made of milk (which I’m not a fan of otherwise) called . It’s cooling, not overly sweet and has a texture that’s right in between jelly and custard. Do give it a try if you come across it.

Jhulta Minar : With the number of places to see in Ahmedabad, we hadn’t done enough research to predict what each looked like – so in my head this minar (pillar) would be a narrow one that for some reason swings. However the 2 pillars – that were part of a mosque were extremely large – I daresay the largest engraved pillar I can recall and the intricate work on them is quite entrancing too.

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Jhulta Minar

While entry into the tower is now prohibited- pushing a specific area within one pillar rocks the other one also slightly- thereby  lending the name to this tower. Our auto-driver also finished his prayers while we admired the mosque. We were glad to have been included in his routine- even if for an evening.

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Jhulta Minar: a closer look

 

8 day trip

Ahmedabad : Of saints and stories

Gujarat is a state we’ve spoken of visiting on and off for quite some time now. A large part of friends in my first job being from there also had piqued my interest in deducing the mystery of the khakra, thepla, fafda and other foods that they’d rave about at every chance. All it took to finally visit was a wedding of a friend in the group. We were honored to be swept right off from the airport by the bride-to-be herself who treated us to a quick intro of the city Ahmedabad that seemed like perfection in the early morning traffic-lull. For breakfast of course we first stopped for the most traditional of the foods.

 

Khaman dhokla,khandvi (insanely melt-in-your-mouth texture),patra (a roll of batter dipped leaves tempered with mustard and curry leaves), Fafda– the uniqueness is to be seen to be believed.

Once checked-in to the relatively seedy looking hotel, we bid goodbye to our friend who dropped us mid-way to the Adalaj Step wells in Gandhinagar on her way back home.

Note:Autos are super convenient in Ahmedabad- as long as you ensure they apply the meter when you get in (or you insist they do) you should be good to hire autos. On the outskirts (like towards the Adalaj step wells), autos are often shared- which is an experience in itself but they pack people to the brim, so if you’re like us, with cameras and some luggage, you may want to clarify that you don’t want to share to ensure a more comfortable ride.

 

Adalaj Step well : The main draw of Gujarat for me were the step wells and this was a stunning start.

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The dramatic entrance to the Adalaj Step well

History/story/Legend : King Mohammed Begda defeated King Rana Veersingh of the Vaghela Dynasty and proposed to marry his wife, Queen Rudabhai enamoured by her beauty. She set a condition that he complete the in-progress construction of the 5 storey sandstone vav to prove his devotion to her. The effort took several years and once done in 1555, the king proposed to her again. She however, decided to drown herself in the well to avoid the predicament. Needless to say, the construction of the domes was never completed by the King after that tragedy. The tombs around the well are said to be that of masons who were killed by the King in order to prevent them from ever building a replica of the remarkably stunning well. The story even inscribed in Pali on one of the walls of the well.

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Adalaj Step well : Levels of perfection

The temperature inside this 5 storey vav has calculated to be 6 degrees cooler than that outside- which is significant respite in the heat of Gujarat. Hence it’s easy to believe that in additional to being a social gathering point to collect water, it was also a pitstop for weary travelers traversing the semi-arid regions in the several rooms around the inside of the vav.

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Adalaj Step well : The mundane with the exquisite

The well has an octagonal opening and has 3 entrances to its first storey.

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Adalaj Step well: The well of dreams

There are delightful carvings in Islamic style, Hindu and Jain imagery all over the insides of the step well too.

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The sigh-inducing jharokas

While the functional need to have water for survival is out of the question, the stunning artistry and meticulous work that’s gone into the sculptures in the Adalaj stepwell made it clear that this was an era and a land of people who truly understood that water was worthy of worship and deserved a home worthy of royalty.

 

Akshardham : We had once reached the gates of the Golden temple in Vellore and returned since it seemed very commercial and crowded – also we’re a tad partial to the ancient over the new. It was the same sense with Akshardham – except this time we decided to go in instead. It is an undoubtedly beautiful monument – with the carved pillars, sculptures – the main building has some lovely artistry too. It is very apparent that an incredible amount of wealth and effort including volunteer work has gone into its construction and continues to go into its upkeep. It is a temple dedicated to Bhagwan Swaminarayan who founded the Swaminarayan sect of Hinduism which we’ve to admit we weren’t even aware of till we visited Gujarat. It was constructed by his successors as a tribute to him in pink sandstone – a whole 6000 tons of it. For us, post a walk around the sprawling complex it was a good pitstop to have lunch at the restaurant in-house that we started with ice-cream to beat the heat followed by some good khichdi. Photography wasnt allowed at the premises.

Note: Throughout or trip- whether it’s temples or mosques/tombs – dressing conservatively is recommended even for men. Ensure you wear longer trousers Vs shorts of any length. You may be denied entry but sometimes (in mostly Islamic spaces), you’re given a piece of fabric to cover up which may not be the most comfortable to walk in unless you’re used to it. For women carry a scarf throughout, since some spaces require covering your head before entering (for men too but less often). Even if not, your head could use some protection from the unforgiving heat of the sun.

Before we left, I asked Anand if he would visit this again and his response summarized our opinion of it “Maybe after a 1000 years it’ll finally mellow down to a version we’d appreciate.” Today, for us, it lacked soul.

 

Sarkhej Roza: Hunger satiated, we made our way in the opposite direction to Sarkhej Roza. It’s a 15th century, large complex originally of 72 acres, which seemed to function in several ways in the eras gone by.

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Tomb of Sheikh Ahmed Ganj Baksh Khattu with the pavilion in front of it

It houses palaces, tombs, mosques and areas for social gathering. Of the tombs, the most prominent is that of the Sufi Saint Ahmed Ganj Baksh Khattu- who was the one who suggested to Sultan Ahmed Shah to choose the current Ahmedabad as the capital of his Kingdom on the banks of the river Sabarmati. IMG_2351.jpgAfter the tomb, the King Mohammed Begda (Remember him from Adalaj ki Vav?), dug up the Sarkhej lake of 17 acres with stone steps from it leading to the palaces.

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The queen’s palace

Today, however we saw a couple of kids riding their horses in the space and a herd of water buffaloes making good work of chomping on the greenery. The king, along with his family also have tombs in the complex just opposite to that of the Saint Ahmed Ganj Baksh.

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The king’s palace

Sadly the palace is in ruins but still has it’s charm. It includes a private mosque for the King Mohammed Megda and a secret passage out of the palace within it too! The simple mosque’s large courtyard also overlooks the lake.

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Jama Masjid

History/Legend : The saint has quite a story around his life. Known to be the child of aristocratic parents, he’s carried away in a dust storm and one way or another reaches a hermitage where he was raised. He was finally a part of the Maghribi order that was known for its “rigorous austerities and fondness for poetry and music” the latter of which  I completely understand. He also had the respect of several kings who ruled in his time. Read more here to learn of his fascinating life.

The fluidity of religious lines is heartening when you learn that during Krishna Janmashtami, devotees even perform a garba(dance) in front of his shrine. We found the local people and the staff there extremely kind at our ignorance of not knowing how to proceed within the large area and even guided us to areas we missed seeing in the premises.

Note :Women are not allowed inside some spaces that house tombs of male saints (and most tombs we happened on this trip were of male saints) . The locals/priests will let you know, alternately some places have boards indicating it. Also do be considerate and respectful of spaces of prayer. Especially, stay clear of those areas if it’s one of the 5 times of prayer and let the devotees pray undisturbed. Even otherwise, attempt to not be boisterous in such areas. When in doubt, ask a local.

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Part of the building is even today actively used as an Urdu and English library. Something of the space is extremely calming- there’s a gentleness in the silence around it even with several people around.IMG_2411.jpg It seemed to lack the ability to ever seem crowded – which of course holds great appeal for us. As it occasionally happens, we had a couple of endearing kids enamoured by Anand’s camera, asking for him to take a picture of them, to which of course we obliged much to their glee before bidding the place farewell.

1 day trip · 3 day trip

Chitradurga : Of stories of the brave and a cradle for the Gods

The Chitradurga fort is so vast and so filled with interesting information that it’s not possible to see all its quirks without a guide. However, if you miss any of them- it’s worth a second trip to wander around and find new surprises along the way.

The fort is often referred to in Kannada as “elu-suthhina kote“or the fort with 7 encircling walls. Of them only 4 are still standing but doesn’t make it any less impressive. It was designed such that each of the entrances to the circles was not aligned with the other and doors often had walls at a short distance behind it.IMG_1821 This was an effective deterrent to the common method to break open doors ie., battering with a huge log that required them to start from a distance to gain momentum. Also the spikes in the gateways prevented the use of elephants for the same. The fort walls themselves have 2 slots one below the other at frequent intervals to allow for the defending soldiers to watch the enemies and for their guns to fire at them respectively.

Under the rocks were carved out places that were meant for soldiers to stay guard or take turns resting. A noise made while seated within the slots meant for soldiers to sit , echoes and rings out loud thereby working as an early warning system for troops further along the way.

 

The rocks that make up the fort walls are in a pyramid shape and are each 5-6 feet long- that have allowed the fort to still be standing, centuries after it was built. The door hinges carved from stone to hold the wooden doors are still seen, though the wooden doors themselves didn’t make it this far ahead in time. Apparently one of them even had a bell that would ring the minute the hinges turned thereby providing warning against attack too.

The name Chitradurga itself is derived from the idea that many of the rock structures seem to have taken on a wide variety shapes- from an elephant, frog’s face, rabbit, ship to a chameleon’s face- much left to your imagination. The current name is a simplification of chitra kallu durga– the fort that was made of stones that painted a picture.

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The precise cutting of rocks that made up the fort was possible via closely spaced holes made in the rocks with wood pieces placed within them- wearing the whole thing down with hot water and salt to finally split them neatly. All materials for the fort construction were locally sourced, even before sourcing locally was cool! It took all of 211 years to construct the fort across several kings and empires and the space is 2500 acres large with 50 watch towers (Bateri-s).

There are several points of interest within the Fort but here’ll we’ll mention a few to pique your interest :

Ekanatheshwari temple– is built in dedication to the village diety and the family goddess of the rulers. Even today, the village festival celebrates her every year with a fair and a procession where the idol from here is taken around the village. The Jhanda bateri  is where the empire’s flags were hoisted. The Uyyale Stambha is the most prominent structure when viewing the fort from atop, and is the very large cradle to seat the Godess during festivals. Just beside is the Deepa Stambha that is the tall tower where the lamps were lit up in honor of the Goddess.

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The kitchen of yore continues to be used as a canteen today that’s the only source of food for visitors in the large fort. Just in front of it is a very small pushkarni where the Goddess is said to have been immersed in turmeric, post which the denizens of the kingdom would colour each other with the turmeric water to celebrate.

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The Hidimbeshwara temple is also a pretty temple on a hillock that allows for a view of the city from atop it.

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Hidimbeshwara temple

Murugha Matha, also atop a small hillock housed the gurukul (schooling system) of the time.

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Murugha Matha

The mint that managed the currency of the day is right beside the remnants of what was Paleyagar Kacheri(the accounts section) of the time. The treasury is only visible via a small opening and is otherwise underground. The opening was covered with an idol (the Shiva linga) and outwardly seemed like a temple to avoid theft.

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Paleyagar Kacheri

The Gym is a structure that resembled a warehouse but with a small opening at a bit of a height, the guide joked, so that unfit people couldn’t enter. The granary entrance went a step further and was only accessible via a ladder and had a sentry seated beside it too.

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And that, is the Gym door- a fitness entry requirement

Akka Tangiyara Honda: consists of 2 large adjoining ponds with an ancient system that allow for water to be filtered from one of them into potable water within the other. Legend has it that the queen’s committed suicide here when the King was defeated by Hyder Ali.

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Akka Tangiyara Honda

Onake Obavva Kindi: Obavva is considered the epitome of Kannada female valour. She single handedly attempted to stop the army of Hyder Ali with a common household pestle when they managed to find a way into the fort through the secret route used by the village milk-men to get curd and milk to the inhabitants. It’s quite a story and is the most famous of the tales of the Chitradurga fort.

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Onake Obavva Kindi

One of the first things one would see in the fort are 2 rock cut pits that were used to store oil in large quantities- to support the inhabitants for several years in case of war. IMG_1808A similar rock cut structure lies on a large hillock that has no clear steps to climb up but people still clamber atop. That tank is about 30 ft deep and is called the Tuppada Kola Bateri simply because it housed weapons of all kinds covered with ghee to avoid them rusting.

Sampige Siddheshwara temple: supposedly named after the 300 yr old Sampige tree. It paints a pretty picture with trees that have taken over some of the structure entwining themselves on the outside of the temple.

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Gopalaswamy Honda : was and continues to be a perennial source of water within the fort in a naturally built gorge that collects rainwater from rivulets down the hillock. The excess water from here flows on to the Akka Thangi Honda and then onward to the Sihineer Honda.

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Gopalaswamy Honda

Gopalaswamy temple: The waterbody itself is named after the Gopalaswamy temple that overlooks the tank.

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Gopalaswamy temple

Palace Complex: Not much remains of the palace since it was built of mud and gravel. However the ruins of different rooms and areas with the walls left behind provide a hazy picture of what may have been. IMG_1958.jpgThe reason the palace complex is located at a very interior part of the fort is that the enemies would have had to pass all 7 fort walls to reach the royal family. It is additionally protected by hills on 3 sides too.

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The remains of the granaries clustered together are much easier to recognise.

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Despite this being a large list, it’s only a part of the many towers, temples,ponds and other points of interest within the Chitradurga fort. So we’d recommend packing a lunch and sufficient water, having good walking footwear, a large hat and making a day of it when you visit.

 

After a day spent in the past, on our way onward we passed by rows of giant windmills working tirelessly to provide what we hope to have more of in the future- clean energy, that let’s us enjoy this endlessly fascinating world a little bit longer, a little bit healthier, a little bit kinder.