3 day trip

Belgaum: Chorla Ghat and its surprises

After Gol Gumbaz and catching a quick breakfast, we headed to the bus station to make our way to Belgaum. We had booked in advance which turned out to be unnecessary with the sheer number of buses that ply between the 2 districts. In fact, it seemed like online bookings for those buses were so uncommon that most staff at the bus station were confused why we’d book it online+ weren’t sure which bus our ticket referred to.After some back and forth, they came to an agreement on the bus we should board.


It was supposed to be a short journey and we settled in to our seats- however not all things go as planned and so the bus had trouble mid-way and had to stop. The bus conductor and driver stopped buses passing by, to request them to accommodate the stranded passengers. Also the heat was at its peak since it was now around 11:30am, and the roadside didn’t have much cover. Since there were families with babies and older people, we let them go ahead and boarded the last bus that accommodated us. Luckily other than being ravenous and covered with a layer of dust by the time we reached Belgaum, there wasn’t much damage due to the delay.


After a heart lunch at a restaurant very close from the bus stand, we decided to walk to our hotel which was 15 mins away.Incidentally our hotel was in the possibly busiest areas of Belgaum which is the market. This also gave us a chance to get snapshots of what Belgaum was about in all its bustle by the time we got to the hotel. A quick shower and nap later we were refreshed enough to head-out to pick up our rental bike. It’s not often that we recommend services on our site, but we’ll have to with this one. It’s run by a young, earnest gentleman who’s passionate about bikes and has the most adorable German shepherd who loves to play. The bike was also well maintained since they don’t just rent bikes but also function as a bike service centre.


With not much time with daylight left, we decided to head inside the Belgaum fort. The significant area inside the fort now houses military training and housing sections and at built into the narrow entrance of the fort is the Military Durga Devi Mandir – it is tradition for the military staff to keep the lamps burning in the temple. Driving by, in just a couple of minutes we got to the Kamal Basadi. A 13th century structure in black stone with flawlessly smooth pillars built by a minister in the Ralta Dynasty. The temple’s name is derived from its design that is supposed to be shaped like 72 lotus petals.IMG_4353.jpg

Just beside it is the Chikki basadi– which also has its own charm with dancing figures and animal motifs on the outside too.IMG_4360.jpg

We spent some time in the calm green space watching contrails of jets criss crossing the blue sky. With my love for large stained glass windows, we moved on to the St.Mary’s church built in a very impressive Gothic style but found it closed.IMG_4518.jpg

As daylight faded we made our way back to the hotel passing by Ganesha pandals on every street elegantly designed playing devotional songs mildly vs the garish decorations and loud “music” some other parts of the state have taken a preference for. We spent the evening walking the streets stopping by for some delicious and interesting soda flavors even including one of chilly!IMG_6219.jpg After picking up a must-have- an Ilkal saree for myself, and  a quick dinner, we decided to catch up on our rest for the next day’s ride to Chorla Ghat.

Chorla Ghat is a section of the Western ghats that is at the intersection of the 3 states- Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka. This time we were heading towards it from Karnataka. In search of more waterfalls and greenery we passed by lush trees on either side of a beautiful road. While the road through it is itself quite lovely one has to take a not-so-clear deviation off-roading in order to visit the waterfalls sprinkled about the region.IMG_4385

Many folks reach these waterfalls via a trek/hike up the route we took, but we’d recommend a really sturdy bike if you’re not walking. The route while being perfectly stunning is also quite backbreaking. We were served one delightful scene after another with the fields in perfect shades of green and the sky competing with its fluffy white clouds against just the right blue. IMG_4381.jpgWhole stretches were covered with blooms in pink and yellow, and we rode through streams along the way. We were sorry to disturb a lovely sunbathing snake that slithered away into the bushes. After quite a drive we decided to stop at this serene meadow of a spot overlooking endless layers of hills changing color with the clouds that floated above them.IMG_4391 It was decidedly one of the best spots we’ve ever come across on our travels with just the two of us at the edge of what looked like an utopian new world. IMG_6264.jpgWe wandered around the place and realized we had in fact reached the Chikhale falls. It was not at its best since the monsoons weren’t at their peak but it was still our favorite surprise of the day.IMG_6289.jpg

Note :Maps do not help out here! We found them quite incorrect and we’d strongly recommend asking the very few locals you may meet on your way instead.


More riding across pretty scenes and muddy roads we reached a junction with directions to the Sural waterfalls. Where one gets to is more of a view point to see the waterfall in brilliant white piercing through the deep green pristine surroundings.IMG_4452.jpg

A ride further ahead, and we saw the route shown by maps lead to a dead end with a path under construction and heavily dug up. However there was a kind gentleman and his wife who insisted we’d get lost and let us follow them all the way to the nearest village to Sada waterfalls. They further introduced us to a gentleman who came with us the rest of the way till we reached what was less a village and more a group of houses and parked there. The “guide” let us leave our helmets, and park our bikes and after checking we had water took us along our way to the Sada waterfalls.



1 day trip · 4 day trip

Bijapur- Of origami mosques and kite flying

After an overnight bus from Bangalore dropped us in Bijapur one fine morning, and a quick round of freshening up, we hired an auto rickshaw for the day to take us around the historical city of Bijapur.

Jamia Masjid/Jama Masjid/Jami Masjid (all names used in various articles of literature) is said to be the largest mosque in the Deccan plateau during the medieval times. It is a white , large and calm spot within the city. The first aspect of the building one notices on entering it are the arches in clean lines when looking up inside the mosque- for some reason it reminds me of origami folds.IMG_4050.jpg

The tiles in the prayer hall were interestingly made to look like prayer rugs and the most special/ornate part of the mosque is the mehrab with Persian inscriptions inscribed in black and gold. The kind caretaker even translated a line for us on our request. It is said that the mosque was originally built by Ali Adil Shah who was from the Shi’ite sect of Islam- hence the simple structure of the mosque- but the inscriptions were added on later by the Sunni king Muhammed Adil Shah. The money for building this structure is said to have come from the battle of TaliKota were the kings defeated Rama Raja in the 1500s. Aurangazeb contributed to the structure by adding a gate to it in his time. The large square courtyard also has a tank for ablutions before prayer. It is believed that there is sufficient place for 20,000 people to pray in the premises within the gate simultaneously.IMG_6191.jpg

Just a few meters away, the driver then took us to see the facade of Mahtar Mahal Masjid. The pretty jharokas(windows) instantly transport you to Gujarat/Rajasthan despite being on one side of a narrow busy lane. It is said that this 17th century structure was built when the king Adil Shah donated a large sum of money to a sweeper since a soothsayer advised him to do so to cure his leprosy- whether it helped or not is not entirely clear :). So well that gave the structure it’s name that translates to “Sweeper’s Palace”. However there are a bunch more legends around it so we personally cannot be certain of its origin.IMG_4066.jpg

Our next stop was my favourite of the day – Asar Mahal. Asar Mahal said to house two strands of hair from the Prophet’s beard (second strangest thing I’ve heard since the wars over Budhha’s tooth in Srilanka). It functions as a mosque now and therefore women are prohibited from entering it. Didn’t dampen my time there, since I found the reservoir next to it much more interesting – there were kids in all sizes having a great time- some being instructed by a teacher under a tree, some flying a kite, some more playing gilli-danda – all quite interested in us and in being photographed with their younger siblings. It made me wish I too had carried a kite along! The reservoir was built to commemorate Taj Sultana, King Ibrahim II’s 1st wife.IMG_4086.jpg

Gagan mahal– All that’s left of this 16th century palace are the still-standing-wall and the majestic arches aptly aiming to reach the sky. The space in front of it is a well maintained park used by locals to take a break from their day or kids to frolic around. The structure was meant to be the royal residence and the royal court by the Sultan Ali Adil Shah.IMG_4099.jpg

Barah Kaman: is a 17th century unfinished mausoleum of Ali Adil Shah II, his wife, daughters and his mistresses. Earlier called Ali Roza to indicate the king’s name it was changed to Barah Kaman since it was the 12th monument to be built during the reign of Shah Nawaz Khan. It’s quite a dramatic structure that leads one to wonder how it would look complete. Succeeding to the throne at the young age of 18, Ali Adil Shah II struggled with battling the Marathas and the Mughal invasionsIMG_4142.jpg

Jod gumbaz – from outside it’s an almost non-descript old building but was one of the only spaces here that seemed to have a huge section of spiritual followers, even waiting in line to offer their prayers. We were charmed by a lady with stunning tribal jewellery and attire also in the queue. However it isn’t as well maintained as some of the other structures in Bijapur. Jod(pair) refers to 2 mausoleums that house tombs of Khan Muhammad and Abdul Razzaq Qadiri – the general and spiritual advisor of the young Adil Shahi Ruler Sikander who helped Aurangazeb defeat their king.IMG_4151.jpg

We next made our way to Taj bawdi, a pond built by Ibrahim Adil Shah in memory of his wife, Taj Sultana. To avoid the place being dirtied, it can only be viewed from outside today but is still an impressive pond with flights of stairs leading to the water and a few rest houses meant for travelers also seen on the other side. However just outside it we met a huge group that were celebrating their village festival and had taken a break right there to have lunch they’d carried along.IMG_4159.jpg

By this time we were starving and yearning for some kadak roti with ennegayi but unfortunately the restaurant we found had only north Indian food. Only half day in and we gobbled our food to continue on our way.

9 day trip

Champaner : of cliff-hanging palaces and muddy paths to wonder

Next day morning, after breakfast we drove up the Pavagadh hill, we got to Saat Kaman located on the edge of the cliff on the south and built with the local yellow sandstone. It was meant to be the end of a gate but now stands by itself looking intriguing.IMG_3835.jpg

A short distance ahead, we happened on the fort we walked into, upto a path that diverged. IMG_3853.jpgA walk ahead through one of the paths and we landed at the Khuneshwar Waterfalls. We were the only people at this very scenic and dreamy spot. A tiny temple balancing on the rocks, the colour green taking over every spot and the eager gush of water made it the perfect place to take a break and just sit and stare.IMG_3880.jpg

Finally pulling ourselves away, we backtracked and this time took the route to Saat Manzil: a seven storey palace built into the hillside right from the 15th century. While I was hesitant to climb the stairs down after straining my legs a bit on the boulders at the Khuniya Mahadev Waterfalls, a security guard urged me to go on insisting I should.  A view of waterfalls in the distance amidst the misty expanse of green made it well worth it. It feels like quite the spot for the palace – what a joy it must have been to wake up to the amazing views every morning.


We also stopped at the Mint which while simple from the outside had enclosures in the floor presumably to store all the mysterious royal riches.IMG_3911.jpg

The Mahakali temple atop the Pavgadh hill is accessible via a ropeway and is considered the oldest temple in Gujarat being from the 10th-11th century. However on driving to it the crowds led us to change our mind and we instead made our way back down the Pavgadh hill.

Kamani Masjid: is a mosque so named due to the arches that make up most of it. The ceiling long gone, it also has a broken minaret upfront. Overall it’s hard to deduce whether it was left incomplete or destroyed/fell into ruin later.IMG_3936.jpg

We next tried to find Lila Gumbaz ki Masjid, but the negative of visiting during the monsoons was the amount of slush in some of the narrower paths we would take from this point on. That mixed with generous amounts of cow dung from the cattle in plenty led us to give up and return to try another spot.

We moved on in the direction of the Kevda Masjid and yet again a good distance was to be covered on foot only. After a while we came up to an area entirely covered with water where we had to pretty much roll up our trousers and walk through ankle deep water. Just behind us were 3 tiny school kids who with their backpacks were going on their regular day. One of them decided he really didn’t want to step in the slush and Anand gave him a helping hand.IMG20180818121107.jpg We finally reached the lovely Kevda Masjid. While following the rough pattern of the other mosques, it still retains its own charm. The arched entrance with intricate designs is flanked by 2 minars(towers) on either sides.IMG_3961.jpg

Not knowing how far the walk was we had left our umbrellas and ponchos behind. Poor Anand went right back to pick them up while I sat guard over the camera and luggage.

Once done with walked it, now on to Nagina Masjid. The path had no one but us and we had to stop and convince ourselves we werent entirely lost! But finally getting a look at the Nagina Masjid through the mild drizzle was worth the distance. It was my favorite of the smaller structures. The delicate and complex patterns carved out in to the pillars is something one can admire for hours. One can see the 2 storeys and balconies inside the mosque.img_4018img_4012

Passing by the peacocks in the fields on out way back we finally got back to the car and made our way back by the Narmada canal to Ahmedabad.IMG_4031.jpg

Note: We missed out on 2 places – the Lakulish temple and the Navlakha Kothar within the Archaeological park. They seem interesting too, we’d recommend giving them a shot when you visit, especially during the monsoons.IMG_6041.jpg

IMG_6052.jpgWe had our flight the next morning and we wanted to make the best of our evening there, so headed off to Rani no Hajiro to pick up some beautiful bandhini sarees in every possible color for the family.img_6052 By the time we were finished, Manek Chowk was all setup for the evening food extravaganza and we decided to dig into an overly indulgent pineapple ice-cream sandwich. While I called out to the distracted Anand, the sandwich storekeepers also pitched in together calling him “Anand bhaiii” (brother). This was not a bad end to the trip at all- with a feeling of being honorary Gujaratis once you’ve been called Ben and Bhai atleast along the way! 🙂img_6102img_6070


9 day trip

Champaner- An unexpected waterfall and a town-namesake pitstop

The next morning after a dry spell through our trip, we woke up to the sound of rushing rain. Thankfully our hired car was being dropped at the hotel but we were in for a surprise. We dragged our luggage getting drenched despite being under the cover of the hotel porch due to the sheer force of the wind on the rain. We drove out only to realise the roads were flooded beyond expectations – all after a few hours of rain. It was a nerve-racking experience being in a hired car driving through unfamiliar roads with the tyres completely under water for really long stretches. Mercifully we got out of Ahmedabad and headed towards our next destination Champaner.

However on seeing the map, we noticed a detour we could simply not avoid- one to the town Anand.

Just in case I had second thoughts…

It’s not very many people who can boast of sharing a name with a town and so we had to drop in even if only for him to enjoy a fruit based lassi that he deemed was perfection. For those not in the know, the place Anand is the milk capital of India where the Operation Floor launched in 1970 transformed India to the worlds largest milk producer.

Driving on to Champaner, the historical city established in the 8th century and named after the General Champa who was also a friend of the then King Vanraj Chavda.

Note: the area called the Champaner-Pavgadh Archaeological site is huge- ie., 3280 acres so we wouldn’t recommend exploring it all on foot. There are numerous rickety cars available for hire so there shouldn’t be too much trouble exploring even if you get there via public transport.

Our first view of the place was that of hills topped with mist and a glistening Patal lake providing a backdrop to the simple but beautifully symmetric Sakar Khan’s Tomb from the 15th century.

Patal lake

We noticed several vehicles parked at the spot and people going beside the tomb on foot. Curious, we enquired and found that the path led to a waterfall.

Sakar Khan’s Tomb

We walked past bright green foilage, ruins of the fort, purple flowers reminiscent to us of the Valley of Flowers, gurgling streams and fellow explorers. Unprepared for a trek, I quickly used Marathi/Tamil mami dressing hack to covert my flowing skirt to a pair of trousers to navigate the large and slippery boulders that is the only way to reach the Khuniya Mahadev Waterfalls.

The green path to the Khuniya Mahadev Waterfalls

Considering the waterfalls were not part of our plan it was such a delight – the waterfall itself was translucent and the breeze made it all the more ephemeral. We spend a good amount of time just watching the water flow into the crevices and nooks of the rocks below splitting into umpteen tiny waterfalls.

Khuniya Mahadev Waterfalls

Once back we picked up a steaming cob of corn each to munch on and then headed to the nearest point to us- the 15th century helical step well with the staircase along the wall of the well shaft vs the other step wells we’d seen on our trip.

Helical step well

We next headed to our favorite of the places that day – the Jami Masjid. A few steps in and one would be at the section with an open roof and lovely stone-screen work.

Jami Masjid, Champaner

The mosque itself is accessible through porches from the north, south and the east. It is easy to believe the structure with almost 200 pillars took 25 years to build under the king Mohammed Begda.

Jami Masjid, Champaner

Like in many mosques we’d seen in Gujarat- the patterns reflected more the culture of the craftsmen from Hindu, Muslim and Jain backgrounds rather than strictly what is seen traditionally in Islam.

Incidentally there were several artists painting within the mosque that day. Some of their interpretations that we enjoyed almost as lovely as the mosque itself.

Jami Masjid, Champaner

There is a lovely octogonal pond for ablutions on one side of the mosque too.

Jami Masjid, Champaner

A little ahead is the Kabutarkhana Pavilion next to the Vadatalav Lake. It’s a simple structure with upper walls intentionally riddled with pigeon holes to allow the pigeons a place to stay thereby yielding the place its name.

Kabutarkhana Pavilion next to the Vadatalav Lake

Just opposite is the Khajuri Mosque that raised on a slightly higher level , looks like it was left incomplete.

Khajuri Mosque

The Saher-ki Masjid is another mosque just a little away which is a far simpler version of the Jami Masjid. The mosque was meant for the Royal families and the nobles that therefore it’s size wasn’t as much of a concern as that of the Jami Masjid meant for the public.

Saher-ki Masjid

Citadel of Muhamed Begda is just something we passed by which mainly encompasses the gates and bastions with rooms for the watchkeepers.

Citadel of Muhamed Begda

One area called 3 cells is exactly as promised- 3 cells surrounded by greenery and more ruins.


Bawaman Mosque: is a simpler mosque that also seems to have been damaged quite a bit with time.

Bawaman Mosque

With it getting dark, we had to call it a day and went over to the hotel we had booked. It was clearly one of the strangest we had experienced since it was in the same floor as a movie theatre. Unfortunately we were too exhausted to stay up for the show later in the night and had just missed the evening one, but nevertheless it was definitely a stay to remember.

9 day trip

Patan : Of exquisite weaves and tales in stone

Continued from here

As we passed by the Doshiwada ni Pol we stopped at Astapadji Derasar built in the 1800s. It played to my weakness for the lovely jharokas(windows) that only the Gujaratis and Rajasthanis seem to have gotten right. Other than more than 100 pillars, it has very attractive carvings of human figures dancing, those playing instruments, and several motifs of flowers, animals and those related to Hindu-Jain styles of architecture. The name comes from the shape of what is believed to be the footprints of Lord Adishwar under a tree. An interesting quirk of the temple is that one isn’t allowed to take water inside since water from outside the temple is considered impure. Water for the temple’s use is secured by rain-water harvesting.

Astapadji Derasar 

We only saw the Harkunvar Sethani ni Haveli from the outside with the exquisite carvings in the oriental style on its long brackets. It is named after the 3rd wife of the prosperous trader Seth Hutheesingh.From the outside It is hard to imagine something from so narrow a street leading to a residence with 60 rooms.

Harkunvar Sethani ni Haveli

If one has the time and money one can also choose to stay in the Dodhia Haveli that is a heritage home available to book rooms within.

Dodhia Haveli

Passing by kids playing gully cricket We revisited Badshah no Hajiro– the tomb of Ahmed Shah.

Badshah no Hajiro

Even today, everyday at a sunset, the 9th generation of musicians play the shehnai and nagara instruments at the tomb. In the earlier days, this was taken as an indication for all the pols to close their gates for the night.

Badshah no Hajiro

Also passed again , Rani no Hajiro that was busy with the morning shopping options. It’s shocking to see the outside of the heritage building used to dry laundry amidst the shopping area. However a peep inside leads us to a view of the tombs in a wide courtyard. Apparently the queen had wished to be laid under the open sky after her passing and she got her wish.

A drop to the lovely Jama Masjid again helped us appreciate further its beauty in daylight.

Jama Masjid
Jama Masjid

Alternately Manek Chowk presented an almost unrecognizable day time version of the place with 3000 jewelry stores that doubles up as a food street at night. Our guide dropped us off at the last stop for a very hearty Gujarati breakfast in the oldest restaurant in the area – Chandravilas.


Apparently this place was visited frequently by Gandhiji himself and Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bacchan among others.

A hearty breakfast at Chandravilas

Picking up our hired car we headed to the Sun temple of Modhera.The first thing one would notice on entry in addition to the temple itself is the dramatically dreamy Surya kund(the stepped pond) right in front of it.

Sun temple of Modhera

Even between the steps it houses 108 shrines dedicated to various gods and demi-gods , the main ones to Nataraja, Vishnu, Ganesha and Sita. The steps are designed as a mirror image of the shikhar (top half) of the Sun temple thereby lending meaning to it reflecting a link between fire(sun) and water(the pond).

Sun temple of Modhera

The Sun temple itself was built by the Solankis in the 11th century who were considered descendants of the Sun God.

Sun temple of Modhera

The beauty of the complex prior to the destruction by Allauddin Khilji is hard to imagine considering the grandeur of the temple that still remains.

Sun temple of Modhera


Rani ki Vav: This well with 7 stepped terraces is said to have been built by the widowed queen Udayamati in memory of her husband Bhima I in the 11th century. IMG_3609.jpgIt is made all the more intriguing since it was flooded by the River Saraswati and under it all , it was protected in pristine condition when it was de-silted in the 1980s.IMG_3604.jpg Due to geo-tectonic changes that impacted the flow of the river, it no longer functions as a source of water.The sculptures are exquisite, just a few of which are the 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu and the 16 styles of makeup depicted on beauteous ladies. IMG_3616.jpgSome patterns on the wall also reflect in the stunning artistry of the Patan Patola sarees.IMG_3628.jpg

At water-level is the figure of Lord Vishnu resting on his 1000 hooded serpent.IMG_3614.jpg While it’s hard to pick a favorite amongst the stepped wells we were visiting, Rani ki Vav is aptly known is the queen of step-wells in India with its mesmerizing beauty. The heat in the region is quite unforgiving and the Vav itself is located extremely near to the Tropic of Cancer. The temperature is said to be 10 degrees cooler in the Vav which is very easy to imagine a huge relief to locals and travellers both then and today.

We learnt from the guide that there were roughly 4 styles of vavs

  1. Nanda – the simplest with one flight of steps leading to the shaft.[Dada Harir Vav]
  2. Bhadra – two flights of steps aligned in line with the shaft in the middle.
  3. Jaya – three flights of steps perpendicular to the adjacent ones and arranged in three directions around the central shaft.
  4. Vijaya – similar to Jaya but in four directions.

There are part of the structure getting chipped away due to recent earthquakes. Hopefully the work of the Archaeological Survey of India bears fruit and the structure continues to survive for people to enjoy and learn from in centuries to come. Meanwhile the guide had some sad tales to share about the lack of water in the region forcing entire families to be uprooted and move out from their homes and children from their schools in search of water. The quality of water and the dry air also impacts the health of the locals quite a bit. Interestingly, there are villages in the border of Patan that overlap with Pakistan where the farmers are allowed to work on their lands crossing the border every day.

We moved on to the Sahasralina Talav which functioned as the canal/water management system channeling the Saraswati river that then flowed through the area. It too was built in the 11th century by a Siddhraj Jaysinh.IMG_3633.jpg

Legend: It is said that he desired a wife of a tank digger who in turn cursed him then killed herself. The curse was said to have left the tank empty and it took the sacrifice of 2 gentlemen from a “lower” caste to repeal the curse. Their sacrifice also led Siddharaj, out of gratitude, to allow people of the “lower” caste to live in the same part of town as those of the so-called higher castes.

The name of the tank stems from the numerous lingas that were placed on the sides of the reservoir. However one can only see ruins of the Shiva temple with some pillars still left standing. We were thoroughly entertained by the huge number of monkeys and parrots in the premises going about their merry day.IMG_3643.jpg


Though we were running a bit late, we could not convince ourselves to leave without visiting the Patan Patola Heritage museum. It’s an unbelievably meticulous and painstaking process of tying innumerable threads to tiny areas of the each strand of threads to prevent them from picking up the color from the dye, then removing all those threads by hand, retying them in different areas to accommodate a different part of the design, dying the threads again and repeating this process numerous times till the very complex and stunning designs take shape on the fabric. It’s hardly surprising that this entire process done by hand takes 5-6 months. We’d rate the museum as a must-visit just to have a glimpse of the artistry and skill that is hard to even imagine. While it’s a dear wish of mine to pick sarees from our travels, this once’s a tad above our budget starting at Rs.1,00,000.  The craftsmanship to get this done though does not even allow us with any conscience to dispute the price.

We made our way back to Ahmedabad after a day filled with marvel- marvel of beauty, craftsmanship and stories.

9 day trip

Old Ahmedabad : of feeding squirrels and a poet turned grandpa

The morning led us to the very start of the Morning Heritage Walk in Ahmedabad starting at the Swaminarayan Temple bustling with devotees.

Shree Swaminarayan Mandir Kalupur: Passing by the vegetable carts’ owners calling out their wares early in the morning, we got to the gate of the Swaminarayan temple. It’s somehow clear that the temple has no dearth of donations from the religions followers.

Shree Swaminarayan Mandir Kalupur

The temple was built on land gifted by the British government to Swaminarayan who was the founder of the Swaminarayan Sampraday, referred to as a Hindu sect but locals seem to see it as a different religion entirely. The temple is made of Burma teak wood and has grand carvings in various colors of dancers, gods and insignia from folk culture.

Shree Swaminarayan Mandir Kalupur

Around the temple, the large structure houses visiting pilgrims in comfort. The clothes of the idol are changed 7 times a day and never re-used ( we won’t go into my thoughts on that for now). The building also houses an area for the students of the sect to live and learn from the religious teachers.

Shree Swaminarayan Mandir Kalupur

While we were wandering around the area ourselves a man yelled to me to not come back towards the temple but take the gate outside to leave the premises. Needless to say I was utterly confused, but without having the Gujarati to clarify, walked into the alley outside hoping to meet Anand back somehow. In a short while I luckily met a lady heading towards the temple and to my luck she did speak Hindi and explained to me that it was simply the head of the temple entering the premises which meant no one was supposed to walk in his way. Ahem..


A gentleman very casually feeding pigeons in the temple

A separate part of the structure is only available for women to visit. While it was a mansion earlier it now houses the Samkhya Yogi women(the equivalent of nuns within the Swaminarayan Sect). The wife of the current spiritual head of the temple holds prayers here and is considered the spiritual leader of the women in the sect. I entered the place and with bright saris hung out to dry it felt like a secret but communal space for the women.

For some reason it was one of the few places that we’ve visited that evoked significant reaction/opinion from us, in the end leaving us quite conflicted about the whole space. We were therefore glad to leave and walk into some of the 360 pols(gated communities) within Old Ahmedabad for the rest of our heritage walk. The pols have some characteristics in common- small intentional holes in the outside walls sometimes decorated- to allow for parrots to nest while being just the right size to disallow bigger birds to enter. IMG_3403.jpgIt is said that sometimes even earthen pots were embedded into the walls to allow for the birds to rest in the absence of trees. Between layers of bricks there is also plenty of food left for several generations of chipmunks who seem to have a merry run of the place. There are also at frequent intervals. Chabutaras (often ornate, bird houses) with plenty of food left for birds , mostly pigeons, too. These small gestures towards the animal kingdom are supposed to have been inspired by the Jain religion that upholds beliefs about all life being sacred.

Kavi Dalpatram Chowk (Lambeshwar ni pol): Kavi dalpatram was a 19th century progressive thinker and poet who contributed significantly to Gujarati literature at a time when it was not popular among writers. Today, in his memory there lies the façade of his house re-created and his statue in bronze. He’s supposed to be affectionately referred to as Dadu(grandpa) by the local children, who undoubtedly like me find it inexplicably fun to insert their foot into the empty bronze shoe that’s part of the statue. Our guide explained the designs of the houses from the times- while the houses themselves were not very large, the courtyard was where most of life happened due to the unforgiving heat of the place. Sleeping, cleaning vegetables, socializing, working on seasonal handicrafts, children playing were all marginally better outdoors where the breeze could provide some respite.

Kavi Dalpatram Chowk

Calico Dome: was a dome that housed the Calico mills stores in the 1960s in a state which is to this day famous for its textile businesses. The 5 pointed dome is considered a marvel of mathematical precision. It also hosted the first fashion show in Ahmedabad. While it has collapsed in earthquakes in the early 2000s there are proposals to restore it.

Kala Ramji Mandir (Haja Patel ni Pol): while the warrior God Ram is most often in the upright posture in all temples, this 400 year old one is supposedly the rare exception of him seated and also made with  a black stone called Kasoti. The seated posture is supposed to represent his time in exile from his kingdom with his wife and brother. We say temple, but one gets the feeling of walking uninvited to the an older era and a private space since the rest of the building functions as residences of the locals. The priest however is a friendly gentleman so do stop for a chat if you’re up for it. The hindola festival is celebrated with the idol where the idol is placed on a swing decorated in different ways(flowers, mirrors,dry fruits, pearls etc) every single day during the Hindu month of Shravan and gently rocked.

Kala Ramji Mandir

Legend : has it that the idols were found buried under the ground and then the temple was built due to that. This is a common legend for many temples in India.

Khara Kuvo ni Pol : is named after the hard water well in the center of the pol that continues to nonchalantly bear witness to the ongoings in the pol.The pols also housed temples within them since many communities had rigorous religious needs to pray several times a day for even upto 3 hours in the mornings- so having a temple just a few steps away from their homes was a matter of convenience.

Kuvavala Khancha (Doshivada ni Pol): Here it’s possible to notice doors leaning to one side- an impact of the earlier earthquakes the region is subject to. However the construction with layers of bricks and Burmese wood have led to the structures still surviving due to the flexibility of the wood. While the alleys inside the pol are winding and long, it was designed to also defend the pol from any attacks. From the very end of thepol there is a secret passage to the outside that is not apparent to someone who doesn’t live there looking like just another door to a house. There is also an area with homes on all 3 sides , each with a different style of architecture- Persian, Mughal, Maratha and European.

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But my favorite part of the heritage walk was learning that in this was a pol where every home had a well……wait for it…right in the middle of the small rooms within the house.This was not the typical well one sees in village homes at the edge of the house facing outward . Despite us interrupting their day, the older couple who owned the house were gracious enough to welcome the assortment of people of various of colors and sizes into their home to peek at the small opening of the deep well, casually covered with a utensil. The well is still used by them for their daily needs.


9 day trip

Junagadh and Gondal : Of a journey to the earth’s core and a palace for 9-lakhs


The  Uparkot fort also houses 2nd-3rd century Budhhist caves that served as living quarters which are 2 storeys under the ground level with areas for prayer and rest.IMG_3149.jpg Interestingly the entrance is via a space with one deep tank and what looks like large puddles filled with water that could be thought of to be for the purpose of providing a place to bathe.IMG20180814133724.jpg

The 11th century – Navghan Kuvo (well) named after a Chudasama King who reigned Surashtra and whose son is the Khengara from the Ranak Devi story. The step well itself is 52 mt deep and there are spiral stairs right to the bottom. It is said that the Uparkot fort was able to withstand long sieges (one up to 12 years) due to the availability of water from this well. There are numerous cubes carved into the walls of the well to serve as dovecots- presumably from the era where they were used to carry messages. The path down the well even has rooms on either side that are definitely cooler than the outside.IMG_3205.jpg

The Adi Kadi Vav is a truly breathtaking step well inside Uparkot and I don’t use the word breath-taking casually. It’s like you had this stealthy view into a cross section of the earth all the way into it’s very core. The 15th century well with 120 steps has a stunning beauty with how raw it seems. This for me was one of the highlights of our trip. 2 dogs decided to give us company as we went right up to the shaft of the well feeling like explorers who had stumbled upon a new world.IMG_3184

Legend: After digging the earth for a long time and not finding water it was decided to sacrifice 2 unmarried girls Adi and Kadi after which they struck water.

Guide’s heresay: People believe that if they carry water from the bottom of the well in their mouths to the top and spit it out under the tree just opposite to the well, and then pile a bunch of stones under the tree, one would be assured of owning a house of one’s own in the next birth. Ah well. It is also believed anyone who visits both the Adi Kadi Vav and the Navghan Kuvo would attain be immortal – so I guess we’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

Starving by now, we took the guide’s recommendation for a restaurant for lunch and the police recruits were kind enough to lead us there via the narrow alleys of Junagadh before bidding us goodbye. It was a no fuss restaurant with one of the most attentive owners we’ve ever seen across different ranges of eateries. We’d have water refilled and a second helping before we even requested for it and thoroughly enjoyed our meals there.IMG_5840.jpg

Hunger satiated, we now went to Gondal to the 18th century Naulakha palace. The alleys to the palace are very narrow and like Junagadh overrun by cows so navigating through them is an interesting experience in itself. This and the next 2 places on the itinerary had relatively high entry fees of a couple of hundred rupees per head. The entrance to the palace itself is via a clock tower.

The entrance to the Naulakha palace via a narrow street.

The first structure one is led to via wide stairs leading up, has a pillared courtyard with a seemingly mismatched set of architectural elements- the traditional jharokas, decorated arches casually mingling with and the very European gargoyle like creatures.IMG_3233.jpg

The durbar(audience) hall inside has appropriately high ceiling, grand furnishings, chandeliers and seating suited to royalty.

Durbar at the Naulakha palace

On the other hand the taxidermy of the hunted animals displayed around is quite unsettling to our current mind-sets. There are several rooms further inside with busts of a varied set of people from the past, furniture draped with silk, Kutch handicrafts, cupboards bursting with old books (my favourite part).IMG_3239.jpg

There are several separate sections of the palace currently used to display both items of regular use and collectibles of the royal family- the structures themselves from various points of view seems like areas in a school from the British era. The displays are of various degrees of interest- from the trophies of the royal family for various sports (mostly racing), different types of male headgear from the region and the world, the queens childhood personal collection of dolls from all over the world, to a whimsical collection of kettles one even shaped like a sewing machine!

The museum for headgear

My personal favorite of the displays was the dining area with the shiny copper vessels displayed all over the walls.

The dining area in the palace

A short distance away is the car museum with vintage cars from the 1910’s to the 1950’s in all shapes and sizes about with some very evocative horse drawn carriages too. When here it’s easy to imagine the era and its good looking automobiles some of which are as big as a small truck of the current times. What’s hard to imagine is how they got the cars got to the museum via the alleys of Gondal.IMG_3305

With a sprinkling of peacocks strutting around casually, the Orchard palace is in the same complex as the car museum and is more a luxurious home with seemingly handpicked handicrafts, furniture, art-work and color schemes from an era gone by. IMG_3293.jpgIf one has both the time and the money- one could choose to stay at the Orchard palace or the Riverside Palace at Gondal, both of which are used today as heritage hotels.IMG_3310

Away from man-made grandeur we next headed to the Hingolgadh Sanctuary: administered by the Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (GEER) Foundation in Gandhinagar as the Hingolgadh Nature Education Sanctuary. The guy collecting entrance fees asked for my name and then checked to confirm  “Divya ben likh du?”(Shall I write it down as Divya ben?”)- now who could say no to that 🙂

To people from more greener parts of India, it may not seem like much, but passing by the semi-arid regions of Gujarat leads one to appreciate this pocket of green that perhaps allows for a few fauna to flourish.IMG_3331

After a stroll around the area we meanwhile spent most of our time watching 2 small nests one with the fledglings being continually fed by the parents to calm their hungry twittering and another just being built painstakingly, one twig at a time. It took all our resolve not to pile a small heap of twigs to help the little bird.

It was exhausting even seeing the number of trips the bird had to make to feed the little ones continually

After spending a moment at Bhimkui, a well with large catfish, dropping into another area that housed a couple of snakes and being fascinated with a beautifully blue dragonfly we drove just around 200km back to Ahmedabad and called it a night.IMG_3356

Note : This place also had a steep entrance fee ,which we aren’t completely sure of since the receipt we received said it was an infrastructure donation, so you may want to be a bit more aware of it when you visit.