Sunday, February 26, 2017

Ahmedabad, Modhera, Stepwells, apro Gujarat - II

There is plenty of stuff to do in Ahmedabad if you care to venture around. After paying my respects to my Fire Temple, I went straight to Sabarmati Ashram. Located on the banks of river Sabarmati, this was Mahatma Gandhi's first ashram that he built to promote social welfare and propagate ahimsa. There's a lot of text to be read here as part of the exhibition halls and very little artefacts or paraphernalia that Gandhiji had used. But it is still a very peaceful place to be. The place is very well maintained, but I wish more of his original things or clothes or equipments were there for us to learn more about his way of life. The chakras are there including the latest one (which looks very different than the traditional one we see in pictures) that he used before he passed away.

Before stopping for lunch, I spent some time Sidi Sayyed mosque. There are several mosques in and around Ahmedabad and some of them look quite beautiful, but what's special about Sidi Sayyed mosque is its intricately carved jaali work or lattice work windows. That is a must-see. I was especially intrigued by the Tree of Life lattice work, which later on became the symbol of IIM Ahmedabad.

Lunch was at Honest restaurant. Their pav-bhaji was awesome and it came highly recommended to me by a friend. In Ahmedabad, pav bhaji is called bhaji-pav. The texture was reasonably thick; I like my pav-bhajis to be on the thicker side rather than the gravy sort we're used to having in Mumbai. Also, in Ahmedabad I learnt that if you order cold drinks with your lunch, you get the drinks served after your meal. In Mumbai, they pop open the bottle right away and then serve you the meal. But the pav bhaji was delicious and I hesitate to say, amongst the best I've ever had.

A short detour and two hours later, I was back at the airpot and headed for home sweet home.

Ahmedabad, Modhera, Stepwells, apro Gujarat - I

This was a trip that was long pending. But I didn't want to make a very elaborate plan and take off from work and so decided to pack in as much as I could in a weekend. So off I headed to the airport to catch a 5:30 am Jet Airways flight to Ahmedabad. Before any of you smartees attack me about not flying Vistara; NO, there is no Bom-AHM Vistara flight. I think this is only the third time in my life that I have caught such an early flight.

Whatever in the name of sleep I could catch on the flight and an hour later, I was in Ahmedabad. At 6:30 am, I thought I might need a sweater but I knew- and as it eventually turned out- temperatures would go up to as much as 35 degrees C. After a short pitstop at my hotel (Ginger Hotel; my review on TripAdvisor here, I dashed off to Modhera Sun Temple. All historic places in Gujarat that I visited on this trip allowed cameras but not tripods.

The guide was good. Make sure the guides you pick at these places are licensed. Mine was and so were the others who were present there. They will show you their identity cards. The Modhera sun temple is a beautiful structure. There is the main temple in one building, the hall in an adjacent building and a step well next to it that looks like a pond. Infact it is called 'kund'. The interiors of the temple has intricate carvings depicting scenes of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The exteriors have carvings of Shiva, Vishnu, Sun God and many Hindu godly figures, apart from animals like elephants. One statue of the Sun God has him wearing boots because the worship of Sun had started in Iran (Zoroastrians or Parsis) and so this avatar showed him in western influence. The exteriors also had elaborate carvings of erotica like the ones you see at Khajuraho Temple; reason being the temple's carvings depicts a person's journey from birth till death and all his / her phases of life.

Note that the tropic of cancer runs right through this temple. The entire temple is built on a structure that resembles an inverted lotus flower.

Next stop was Rani-Ki-Vav stepwell. If you haven't yet seen a stepwell, I suggest you make that your next trip. These are such architectural wonders and so uniquely Indian that you won't find them anywhere else. Many step wells have been filled up presumably all over India, but there a few that have survived. Did you know that there was once a stepwell in Parel, Mumbai (outside the Tata Mills compound at the foot of the Elphinston bridge) that catered to the horses that pulled the initial tramways in Mumbai? This stepwell has been dedicated to Lord Vishnu and you'll find many beautiful carvings of statues on the walls. Designs of Patan sarees can also be seen inscribed on the walls. This well, like most others in step wells across India, is not in use anymore. This stepwell has been maintained well.

The best time to enjoy a stepwell is late morning and around noon when the sun is at its peak and sunlight can penetrate all the way to the bottom of the stepwell.

After a quick lunch in the town of Patan, we heard towards the town of Sidhpur, a 45-minute drive. On the face of it, the village offers nothing. But look closely, and you'll notice homes. Look closer. The havelis will take your breadth away. These are heritage villas, rows and rows of them, abandoned because the owners have long moved to greener pastures like Kolkata, south India, and beyond. You'll find art deco and victorian buildings. Built as early as 1920s, many of these villas look breathtaking.

Our final stop was Adalaj stepwell. I thought we'd miss it since the sun was already on its way down. We reached here at about 5:45 pm and in fading light got to see the interiors of this stepwell. It's a much smaller version of Rani-ki-Vav, but still beautiful.

End of a very fascinating day. 

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