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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Jami Masjid, Champaner

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Citadel of Muhamed Begda

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

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3-cells

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Dodhia Haveli

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

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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.

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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.

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Jama Masjid
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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.

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Chandravilas

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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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..

 

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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The museum for headgear

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

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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.

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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. 

>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

 

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.

9 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

 

9 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.