Expected today to be short and simple, but we got a fair amount of sightseeing in. Just over 100km to Ahmedabad, but in the western suburbs Mr Deep took us to the mausoleum, palace and mosque complex at Sarkhej Roza. I’d seen pictures of out but hadn’t worked out where it was.
Now completely encroached by the growing city, there’s a huge but dry tank surrounded by ruins and tombs; all 15th century. Tower blocks are now the background to massive stone steps into what is till occasionally a reservoir.
There’s an old mosque, the cloth-covered tombs of some kings and queens, and a mausoleum to a Sufi saint (and friend of Sultan Ahmed Shah). I had to wear a little cap in the central tomb and Kim wasn’t allowed in at all. Lots of silver chain and wood inlays of mother of pearl and gold-painted frescoes, though these seem mainly painted over. Also interesting were the jali windows made of brass.
Adalaj step well
We then moved on to the Adalaj step well along modern roads and development that felt more like China. A real contrast to the old city.
The well is nowhere near as ornate as Patan, but it was far more enclosed and atmospheric. As you ventured down the five levels you moved between darkness and brilliant light.
On the northern fringes of Ahmedabad, by the river there’s Gandhi’s ashram, where he lived for 17 years. The museum was a little less useful than the one at his home in Rajkot and a lot more reverent. There were plenty of people, a library of relics, a school and images of him everywhere. There was also his little house with the famously bare room of a mattress and his loom. We had to be content to peer into his, though his wife’s was completely empty.
We returned to the House of MG and a slightly smaller room since I hadn’t been so quick on the early booking discounts. We said goodbye to Mr Deep and tipped him 8,000 rupees. I’d previously begged for some idea of the size of the tip from the travel agency. Eventually he suggested around 300 rupees a day (about £3.50).
That evening an extended visit to a specialist (and incongruous) bookshop that specialises in architectures, design and textiles. Bought some books and some design samples used by the old textile factories in Ahmedabad.
A quick trip to the Law Garden night market (a bit tacky), some chaat for dinner and back home.
Wednesday 9 January
Found the main post office round the back of the hotel and had an amusing bureaucratic process in order to buy a single stamp for the UK. Man behind the desk needed detailed instructions for all stages.
But also wanted to find the families of cloth painters who lived in an alley somewhere round the back of the post office. Mati ni Pachedi textiles are traditional hand painted and block printed shrine cloths only found in a couple of places in Ahmedabad. We eventually found a couple of examples among some very poor streets but no-one was actually painting them. A woman eventually invited us into a roadside shack and showed us a few while her husband slept in the same room. But not to our taste, and I felt they could just as well have been screen-printed. Another traditional art totally wasted on me!
We then walked to the three-arched gate (the Teen Dawaja) where the market starts. Kim found a shop that sold her some glass mirrors for embroidery. We walked down Gandhi road with all its specialist sections: the religious suppliers, the calendar printers, the wedding invite specialists, the pann sellers, the secondhand textbooks, and so on. Then started searching for the pols mentioned on the guidebook, initially unsuccessfully.
But there were cute pols with bird and squirrel feeding stations and old wooden houses in various states of decay. Most had sturdy supports, heavily carved and designed to support the projecting floors above.Some had carvings that covered the facades. We even stumbled upon the House of MG’s haveli. No longer a cafe it was worth wandering around. There was another house – restored with French money – where the family invited us in.
Rickshawed across the rIver to find a shop that turned out to be shut, so then on to the university to find the gallery cafe which was also closed. Ended up sitting in the sun in the art department of Ahmedabad University, among the squirrels, the college camel and lots of sculptures. Eventually got to visit their famous underground gallery and the cafe that sold real coffee.
Had a dosa dinner at the hotel after checking out the unsanitary conditions in the Muslim food market close to the hotel. It was a lovely night market around the city gate; basic lamb skewer stalls and some interesting curries but we didn’t feel like risking it. There were some charity restaurants where people sat in neat lines in the road outside the restaurants until called in.
The night walk
We joined the night walk. Driven to the Haveli with an Indian family to find it packed by a multi-country group who we discovered were here on a two-week field trip from London, doing an MA at the Architectural Association on urbanism. This was their third day and they all looked a bit shocked as they walked through the shit-covered streets, encountered AMD’s traffic and the rats running over their feet. A number had come from China.
The tour covered much of the same ground as we did on the day only this time you couldn’t see the features and struggled to see where you were walking. By 10 and 11pm the streets were completely empty and dark.
It ended with us watching the drumming in a gate tower next to the royal tombs. The family has been doing this for the past 600 years!