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I arrived early to find a modern net cafe and omelette at the station, always a good start to a day. I had had to put the fan on in the train and sure enough for the first time they were turning in Ahmedabad, the long awaited heat was surely setting in at last. I was still in 2 minds as to whether I should just settle for the day in Ahmedabad or continue onto Vapi for Daman, the old Portugese enclave I fancied seeing. In the end though I was so bushed that apathy took over and Vapi was ruled out anyway due to lack of time, the schedules werent conducive to affording it any worthwhile attention. With humble expectations cum ambitions for Ahmedabad, I still managed to pass a worthwhile day with first a visit to the especially old and ornate Jami Mosque, dating from 1424. Though in good condition it was of distinctly medieval appearance and had unusually thin, close set pillars devoid of linking arches and with a stone cut curtain on an upper floor tier, obviously from which women had surveyed the goings on undetected. It had an architectural naivety which belied its age and I could not recall seeing another one like it.

Upon exiting I got another nice surprise when right in front of me I saw my first elephant ambling along the road, a mahout mounted behind its ears. Ahmedabad was a very sprawling affair and it took me the morning just to eventually track down a coffee shop conveniently set inside an excellent bookshop. Even a humble meagre espresso was a welcome rarity in quality and the air-con was certainly appreciated now too. There was nothing for it then but to bite the bullet and shell out for an autorickshaw in pursuit of the Sabarmati Ashram and it was my first encounter with a metred one. Though you might expect that to impart a degree of fairness into the proceedings I ended up shelling out 84 Rupees for the 3K journey, perhaps double what I expected and you had to be suspicious of some scam, that was a lot. I even wondered if the guy was deliberately missing out a decimal point!

Gandhi was worth it though I mused. The Ashram had been Mahatma Gandhi's home and operating base in which he lived from 1915 to 1930. Thus it was from here that he developed and espoused his "experiment with truth" and commenced his campaign for Indian independence. He took to 30 minutes cotton spinning per day here as part of his initiative to harness the beleaguered Indian textile industry as a vehicle of defiance. It was also from here that he left to pursue his high profile protest march culminating in the symbolic illegal gathering of salt. It still remains a very peaceful refuge from the hustle of the city overlooking the river as it does, and contains a very well presented history of his life and the freedom movement, expressed very poignantly in the speeches and maxims he preached. There are a few meagre personal effects, he was not a man of material things after all, and you could walk inside the house where he lived his 15 years, his trademark white cushion and spinning wheel still in situ. There were his distinctive round rimmed glasses and placed incongruously in one corner of a musty presentation cabinet sat a copper urn reputedly containing his ashes. Of the other artifacts on display, copies of his sizeable correspondence and photos in the main, of particular interest was a typed letter he wrote to Hitler in July 1939 in a pre-war attempt at appeasment. Its not clear whether a reply was forthcoming! Though no longer operating as an Ashram, in wandering further round the grounds I came across hostelries which now served a charitable organisation known as Manar Sadha. They help and house 4500 marginalised women and kids and their motto was proclaimed here as "Love All, Serve All". I wondered if they knew that they shared it with the Hard Rock Cafe! I wandered back to the city centre in the now sweltery heat suitably humbled, on the way noting the shanty town by the river and enduring more of the "hello hello" chorus. Ahmedabad cuisine was renowned for its Thali's and so thats what I had for my dinner, just to see what it was as much as anything else. It was dhal, curry, paratha and chapati with rice, I would never have guessed! Duty done and no beer to be had in prohibition Gujarat, I rounded off the day nicely with 3 hours on the net and it was only by good fortune that I ran out of steam to realise that I had just 20 minutes to catch my train. Phew! I boarded to the chirp of crickets to find cockroaches, mosquitos and unfriendly Italians, a sign of the undesirables to come. I was on my way to Mumbai, a city recently renamed in a fit of ardent nationalism, coined for the local deity figure Mumba. It was merely coincidental that Bombay had been a similar word, that was derived from the Portugese "bom bahia" (good bay), who had passed it over to the Brits as part of a wedding dowry to Charles II of Dunfy fame. How the history of the world had hinged so often on such incidental matters.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in India

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