Thursday, January 13, 2011

DAY 103 – In Ahmedabad/Gandhinagar

Rita Teaotia IAS is a batch mate of the Gujarat cadre and is presently posted as Principal Secretary Rural Development and Commissioner RD. She had suggested last evening that I try out the Heritage Walk that begins at the Swami Narayan Temple Kalupur. The Walk is organised by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and is run by volunteers. The program started with a slide show that gives an appreciation of the founding of the city by Ahmed Shah in 1411 when he was impressed by the aggressive rabbits along the banks of the Sabarmati that took on his dogs. The Walk is just a half kilometer spanning a couple of hours, but is highly rewarding in terms of culture, architecture, history and contemporary life. The volunteer who guided us on the Walk told us that it is one of the smallest batches that she has been with recently. The last two days saw groups of over a 100 people.
The Swami Narayan Temple at Kalupur is a work of exquisite beauty. The wood carvings are elaborate and aesthetically painted. The gate complex is indicative of the stresses the sect would have had to overcome to establish itself. The huge gates are studded with spikes to stave off attacks using elephants and camels. Some way down the route we saw how the threads for the kite festival are made – flour, glass powder, gum and color are mixed to form a paste. The thread is stretched out tautly from end to end and the paste is run over them and dried to keep the kite right up there even in heavy winds. The house of Kavi Dalpatram, the famous Gujarati poet has been maintained as a memorial with a false facade. During the walk one can see many structures to feed birds, some made of lime and mortar, some of wood, some plain, some ornate, many over a hundred years old. Many houses have bird holes in them, some kind of nest for birds. Today people leave fresh cabbage leaves for squirrels. The dome of the Calico showroom that collapsed in an earthquake is one of the ‘sights’ during the walk. The walled city of Ahmedabad has 11 gates and 600 ‘pols’. A pol is a gateway with a security cabin over the gate. Each pol is a community. The 600 pols had over 1600 temples. In contrast with the pol, which is a purely residential complex, the ‘ole’ is a commercial cum residential complex. The unique Ram Temple, with Shri Ram in a seated pose, the Jain Temple with exquisite carvings, another in a basement with the facility for elders to catch a reflection of the deity and rain water harvesting facility are all part of the experience. A feature of the architecture is the elaborate brackets that are often carved out of single pieces of wood. Little further down the Walk is a gulley where you see the British, Mughal, Maratha and Farsi architecture all together. En route, a huge pole with a weather wane type indication on top puzzled all the walkers. Apparently it showed the direction in which the elaborate sewage system flowed underground and housed the ventilation for gases; the sewage system that was built during the British even today adequately serve the city. The Fernandez Bridge is over 100 years old. The Mahurat Pol is supposedly the oldest residential complex in the walled city set up when Ahmed Shah set up a community here. Through the Manek Chowk we made our way to the Juma Masjid, a 256 pillared prayer house with 15 major and 52 minor domes, an exquisite blend of Hindu and Islamic architecture, built in 1424. The Heritage Walk ended at the Juma Masjid and I enjoyed every minute of it. The Walk is a community owned process; we even had a shop distributing glucose biscuits to keep our energy levels up.
I asked Sunil to take me some place for a typical Gujju breakfast. We landed up at Oshwal on IT Road. I was told that during the kite festival people have to collect tokens to enter the restaurant with queue a mile long. I understood why when I had the Fafda and Khaman with chutney, followed by Jalebis and tea. The chutney was exceptional. An elderly gentleman in the restaurant, when asked about the ingredients of the chutney, would only say that it has 15 special ingredients. I had many helpings of the chutney with the fafda and khaman. The latter virtually melted in the spoon, it was that soft. The Man Mandir garment shop specialises in kurtas. I looked around and discovered that the ‘Modi Kurta’, half sleeved kurta, is the ‘in-thing’. The CM, besides being an envied administrator is also a fashion protagonist, one understands. 
On a full stomach there was only one place I could go, the Sabarmati Ashram. The precarious condition of the Dandi Pul kept me away from this historical place from where the 241 mile long Dandi march originated. 110 kg may have tilted the balance of the bridge in favor of extinction! The more one navigates through the Sabarmati Ashram the more one realizes the old saying “Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man”. As Indians belonging to a generation after the Mahatma, the visit brings one closer to the Saint who we are fortunate to have as the Father of our great Nation. How morality, truth and non-violence ultimately triumph is the lesson we learn from his life and even his death. His life, truly, was his message. The Museum has many interesting photographs, writings, letters and other memorabilia. The building that housed the Mahatma and Kasturba as well as the one in which Vinoba Bhave and Mira stayed are attractions of the complex.
The afternoon began with a visit to the Calico Museum which is universally regarded as the second best Textile Museum in the world – frankly, I don’t know which one is the first. Since Ahmedabad is widely regarded as the ‘Manchester of the East’, I may just be right if I guess that the best is in Manchester, UK. The afternoon guided tour is all about Vaishnavism, Pichchvais and the themes thereof.
Rita had sent invitations to visit the ‘Vibrant Gujarat Exhibition’ in Gandhinagar. More than 30 countries are participating in the meet and so are 11 Indian States. The exhibition showcases the tremendous strides Gujarat has made in the recent past with particular emphasis on infrastructure development. The growth of educational institutions, ports, roads, hospitals, hospitality sector and tourist centres stand focused in the stalls. The feel good factor is palpable and it is reflected in the investments committed to the State. I had the good fortune of meeting Vipin Menoth, who was with the Cochin Port Trust, and who is now working with the Essar Group. He is engaged in Business Development for the Group in the Port sector. He is thoroughly enjoying his job and it showed in his conversation.
The Watershow in Akshardham is promoted as the first Vedic water show in the world. There are two shows daily at 6.45 and 7.45 pm. Entrance into the Akshardham complex in Gandhinagar is regulated by strict security requirements. The tickets priced at Rs. 50 are on first come first served basis and the show lasts for 45 minutes. The combination of fountains, lighting, music, special effects and laser together with a Vedic theme makes for a sensational display and entertainment. Even though the show has a religious theme it is quite clear that people have paid the entrance fee purely for fascinating entertainment.
Following the brilliant exhibition of fountains and laser I proceeded for dinner with Amitabh and Rita Teaotia in the Indus Hotel in Cambay Complex in Gandhinagar. I was meeting Rita for the first time after probation. Amitabh is a much sought after Landscape Artist. Besides his avowed profession I could discern that he is a gourmet. When the Chef came around to check if all was well he had a few suggestions for him. It was fun catching up with both Rita and Amitabh on matters of mutual interest and common friends. On the way back to the IPS Mess I confirmed through Sunil the route I have to take to hit the highway. Shankar warned me that the MP road would be a challenge.

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