My bus to Ahmedabad from Udaipur was at 5 AM. 5 AM! I had initially booked a bus which was a 7 AM, not many people signed up for that bus, so the bus agency cancelled it. I was shifted to a 5 AM bus. The benefit of the shift? I had initially booked a cheaper sitting berth, with this shift I was moved to a sleeper berth, I hadn't had much sleep last night, a slumber on a flat back is always good.
I was going to take a walk to the Bus Stand, a short 3-kilometer walk. Everything was set, My backpack was packed, I had taken a shower, all alarms were in place. I was to wake up at 4 AM, and then take a pleasant 40-minute walk to the bus stand, and still have 20 minutes to rest before the bus arrived.
I woke up at 4:30 AM. Because screw the guy who invented snooze. Walking was out of the question, I had already delayed my trip to Ahmedabad. More delay would've been catastrophic for the rest of the trip. None of the cab aggregators showed any vehicle nearby, I was almost ready to run to the bus stand with a huge backpack. I cursed myself and walked to the main road still hoping to find an auto. With only 15 minutes remaining to the Bus, I did find an auto. He said he wanted 200 Rupees. The usual fair was not more than 80 Rupees. I bargained and we finally settled on 150. I reached the bus stand with 5 minutes remaining. The bus came right on time. I was glad I didn't walk. I got onto my berth. This was my first time travelling in a sleeper class bus. I would love to compare it to a train journey, but I don't remember any of it. I slept as soon as I got to my seat and woke up minutes before I was to get down.
I woke up when the bus was in Ahmedabad. Making its way through the chaotic city, filled to the brim with autos and people. I called Rahul, another VCR(I wrote about them last year! Do read the blog if you don't remember) companion. He said He'd come to the bus stand and would take at least an hour to reach there. Rahul had told me to reach Sabarmati Ashram, he'd meet me there.
As soon as I got down on the bus, I was swarmed by auto-wallahs. I kept denying them while walking out of the bus stand. It looked like a busy junction, with traffic swiftly moving in multiple directions. I stood there at the junction for a while to get the sleep out of my system. And then proceeded to ask first of the many people the direction to Sabarmati Ashram. It took me about 20 minutes to reach the Ashram. There was heavy security outside the main gate, I gave Rahul another call and he said it'll take another 30 – 40 minutes. I sat on the benches outside the main gate and started reading my lonely planet guide book to plan more for the rest of the trip.
One of the cops saw me read a book with India written boldly on the cover, came to me and asked me what I was reading, I didn't say a word and handed the book to him, he went through a few pages, handed the book back to me and joined the other cops back.
Rahul finally reached after full 40 minutes, I was under the assumption that he was coming on a scooter or a bike, he said he didn't know how to drive. We entered the Ashram. It contains displays on the life of the true Saint, his teachings, his struggles with casteism, and the freedom struggle. It took us about an hour to cover the Ashram.
While exiting Rahul told me that he had the entire day planned for me and he was going to take me to all the best places, as per his plan we were actually starting straight on sightseeing. I told him I was tired and need to get fresh. We decided to make a stopover at his house and the start the city tour.
We took a BRTS bus to his house. If you don't know what BRTS is, let me give you a quick summary. It is like Metro but uses buses and existing roads, and is much much cheaper to develop.
If well managed it could become a genuine alternative for Metro in places where creating the infrastructure isn't feasible or is too expensive. While on BRTS Rahul kept telling me about the places in the city. IIM Ahmedabad, his job, and everything else about his life. I am not going to divulge more details about his life as he doesn't want them to be written.
It took us about an hour to reach Rahul's house, It was on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. His Parents were both out. Rahul's Mother has a fine taste in Antiques, I saw a lot of beautifully carved wooden furniture which was made years ago, and then there were old paintings with actual text behind them in Arabic.
It took me another hour to get fresh, and we left for the tour after another 30 minutes. The plan was to do a walk around the old city of Ahmedabad. Visit the wonderful old mosques and bazaars in the area.
We took an auto to go to the Old town, the auto wallah was a middle-aged man, grumpy at the number of autos in the city. He said he had been driving autos all his life, but now things have gone worse. The steep rise in the number of autos in the city has made his job similar to a beggars job. He often had to drive on no profit or even at the loss just to get some money. Most of the new drivers were young kids not more than 15 – 16 and most not even having a driving licence. As per the driver, these new kids won't go to a place where there are cops even when you pay them double or triple the fare. I could sense the resentment in his voice, we saw an accident where the driver as he described a young kid trying to take the tight turn in a speed hit a scooter. The city had a serious traffic problem, with people often driving into BRTS corridors which were not supposed to be used by regular traffic. This was the very basic purpose behind BRTS, a rapid transport system bringing relief from the choking traffic and providing easy commute.
The old town of Ahmedabad reminded me of Kolkata so much that, I once thought I was in Esplanade-Dalhousie area of Kolkata. The resemblance was eerily similar. The multinational banks and government offices, The street hawkers, The old mosques and buildings, the crowded streets, and the restaurants. I felt a lot like being in Kolkata.
I and Rahul went to Ahmed Shahs Mosque. I asked an elderly man coming out of the Mosque if it was allowed to take photographs inside, he said it was. We went inside, there were a lot of people praying, and a kid reading in the corner. While I was taking the photos a man signed me to come to him. We went to him, he asked us if we took permission to take photos from the Maulvi. I said I did ask an elderly man coming out of the mosque. He took me to the Maulvi, I asked the Maulvi if I can take photos, he said yes without even looking at me. The man then asked me to follow him and guided me to take some photos from the Mosque courtyard and different angles. He was a typical patriarch, firmly ordering me to take a photo, I followed whatever he said for a while, and then I told him, I was getting late and had to visit other places too. He said I could go, and then while I was leaving he called me up again and said, "You should not wear shorts to a Mosque". I said I didn't know about this and came out of the mosque.
|And the photos taken under his guidance|
Rahul and I had planned to go to a few more mosques around the Area. The next was Siddi Syed's Mosque. This mosque is famous for beautifully carved ten stone latticework windows (Jaalis). One of the Jaalis is famous for beautifully carved ten stone latticework windows and is Popularly knows as Siddi Syed ki Jaali. This is the unofficial logo of Ahmedabad and was prominent in all of the logos designed for Smart City Ahmedabad initiative. This is also the inspiration behind the Logo of IIM Ahmedabad. We didn't go inside the Mosque because of me wearing shorts and I tried to click as many pictures as I could from the long zoom of my camera.
The next destination was New Lucky Restaurant. This is not just another Restaurant. It comes with a unique experience of eating with the Dead. Yes, you read that right. The dead! The area used to be a graveyard many years ago, the owner of the land decided to start a business, but didn't want to remove the graves, so, he made sitting arrangements between the graves. There are about a dozen graves inside the Restaurant, all of them sealed off with iron grills to protect people from causing trouble. The graves have been a lucky charm for the Restaurant, giving it a quirky twist which grabs the attention of almost everyone who visits Ahmedabad. This place also has a painting hanging on the wall, this was made by M.F Hussain, and was gifted to the owner. The Maska Pav and Chai they serve are to die for.
|The maska paav The guy in the photo is Rahul|
|The MF Hussain Painting in the background.|
We roamed around the old city for a while and then went to Jumma Masjid. It was clearly written outside the mosque that shorts were not allowed. I took a Lungi on Rent to cover my legs and went inside. None of the photos actually came out good as it was dark inside and my camera isn't very good at night photography.
|Teen Darwaza market of Ahmedabad|
After the mosque, we took a BRTS bus to Kankaria Lake. The lakefront is a popular hangout spot for the city people, with eateries, toy trains, zoo, a tethered balloon ride and other attractions build on the recently revamped and developed lakefront. The shiny colours in the night catch your attention. I and Rahul took a walk around the lake but didn't try any food or any ride, because these were something I could do in any city. I did want to try the tethered balloon ride but paying a 1000 Rupees for a 10-minute ride to go a few feet up in the air sounded too expensive.
The next and the final stop for the day was Manek Chowk. This was one of the few places in Ahmedabad I was excited about. The stories and fame of the food available here had always widened my eyes and watered my tongue. Unlike other Food Streets in India, to reach this place you have to go through tiny lanes. Some of them almost deserted, and when you reach it, you cannot believe your eyes. The aroma in the air of burning butter and spices keeps increases your breathing and salivates your mouth. This place is crowded to the brim. To go from one corner of the lane to the other corner we had to create a shortest path plan among the scant walking space available between the table and the chairs.
The food here is quirky to delish quirky to classic delish. Have you ever had a Pizza topped with Chocolate and cheese? I can say I have! And I am not ashamed of it. It was goood! People here don't care about calories. Everything we tried had either tons of cheese or tons of butter or tons of something else gluttonously caloric. Don't believe me? See the photos for yourself!
It was late and we I was tired and barely in the condition to walk, mostly because of the amount of food I had had. I wanted to call an uber to reach Rahul's home, but none of our phones had a data plan. So we walked, and while walking, we found an auto driver who was kind enough to drop us to nearest place in the direction to Rahul's home. He was going to his home, and from the place he would've dropped we would have to take another auto for the next couple kilometers and he was charging only half the usual fare. We hopped in.
I met Rahul parent, his dad has lived in Kolkata for a long time and knew about everything there. Rahul's mother had her own Salon and his dad now retired was assisting her in the salon. He brought the business instinct while she brought the business skill. They were the perfect entrepreneur couple, each admiring the other.
This was all for Ahmedabad, I was too tired to plan the next day, after writing my notes for the day, I hit the bed, deciding to plan the next day the next day.