Ahmedabad: Day 03 (Heritage Walk)
February 22, 2013
Sudhir, Ira, and I met early at the business lounge as Ira had to get to school and we had to be at the Heritage Walk site by 7:30-8:00am. It was lovely to watch the sun rise over the river as well left for the old town by electronic rickshaw. Ahmedabad is less noticeably smoggy than Pune and definitely Mumbai.
The markets of the old city do not open up until 10:30am, so the streets were just waking up with some small vegetable sellers, early shopping housewives, packs of dogs, and morning worshippers as some of the many temples.
Sudhir and I arrived arrived at the starting part of the 1.5 Km tour through the Old City. The Old City is of course much larger than that. It was first established in the 10th Century by Ahmed Shah. Sudhir paid our entrance fees. As a foreigner, my fee was 50 rupees while his was 10 rupees. Unlike others, I never consider this foreign tax unjust considering the global economic structure that makes $1 AUD equal to 50 rupees.
At 8:00am, there was a small group today of about eight people plus our guide: Sudhir and I, a trio of overseas Indians from Chicago and their local sister, an Indian/Turkish couple (the Turkish female was an architectural student based on her sketches), another Indian couple, and the guide. I looked at the log and the day before they had 17 visitors, the day before 20. The guide told us that a couple of weeks back she had a group of 150. They showed us a slide show of the history of Old Ahmedabad and its changes through the centuries. Then we went to the first site of the tour, the temple across the street from the office.
We had 10 minutes to look around the temple, which was crowded because prayers had just started. Women and men entered into different compartments, with men in the front closest to the Gods, and women behind them. Men rang the bell to alert the Gods to their presence. Most women could not reach the bell to ring it
I do not have pictures of the women performing sutras as I thought it is disrespectful. But the temple was filled with young and old. Groups of middle-aged women in colorful saris gossiped in the back patio of the temple. Young women in jeans and tunics moved towards the front. Old women in white sat on the ground with their prayer books.
We were quickly corralled to move into next site of the tour. The memorial dedicated to Kavishwar Dalpatram Dahyabhai, a famous Gujurati poet of the old city. They just had the façade of his home and a statue honoring him. Our guide who was a volunteer recited some of his poetry which every student learns in school.
We then moved to our first of many pols. Pols are the main subdivisions of the old city. Basically they are urban villages. Each pol had its own locked gate, guardhouse, water well, temple or small mosque, gathering square, which was lined with three to four story town houses.
Ahmedabad is famous for its birdhouses, which are called chabutara. Carved intricately in wood, the guide told us that the residents of the city built them to show compassion for the birds whose trees they had displaced in when building the city. The residents are responsible for providing water and food to the birds each day and evening. Some of them are over 200 years old.
The guide told us that they are built high so that the cats cannot reach the birds and that women who carried water could rest the jugs on the ledge.
What strikes me about India is the extent to which there is so much diversity and religious intermixture. The guide took us to one pol in which one house was of the British style (determined by the brickwork and shape of the arches, one of Mugal style (determined by the portraiture on the door entrances and arches), and one Persian style (determined by the grapevine motifs).
We continued the tour through the narrow passageways, some of which were secret passageways.
On the main streets were shops of everything one could imagine. There were streets devoted to books and paper. Streets devoted to clothing for the Gods, which are changed everyday. Streets devoted to jewelry, etc.
Of course, one must have the ubiquitous photo of the colorful spices organized in the market staff. So to not disappoint here it is.
Quickly we arrived at the end of the tour, Juma Mosque. The Mosque is the other place where you see Indian diversity and religious intermixture. According to the guides, there were Jain, Hindu as well as Moslem motifs. There are the tree of life and lotus patterns of Hindu temples.
The Mosque is beautiful. Women are not allowed in during prayer, so we (women) were lucky to get to see it.
After visiting the Mosque, Sudhir and I got back into another rickshaw to go to Subrata Bhowmick’s studio. Sudhir had a business meeting about Pool Magazine with Kamal Khokhani, the publisher of InSite Magazine, the official B2B magazine of the Indian Interior Designers Association. Subrata wanted me to visit with some of the textile artisans not far from his office. Subrata introduced me to Payal Nanavati the main graphic designer in his design company. They specialize in advertising for the textile industry, in particular wedding saris. I received from Subrata the most amazing gift: one of his limited edition prints based on 17th century Rajanstani paintings. He asked me if I preferred Krishna or Ganesh. I think in the past I was more into the playboy Krishna types, but as I get older I appreciate the seriousness of Ganesh types. He gave me a Krishna print beautifully wrapped in handmade paper and dyed ribbon.
After masala tea, we went to the office of Kamal Khokhani. On the way we ran into a wedding party. A uniformed band, giant mobile music system, and dancing party of relatives lead the groom, on his white horse, to the home of his bride, whom he will take back to the wedding site. The music and dancing is infectious, although I did not dance as Subrata would have liked me to do. During the rest of the day and night, I saw a lot more wedding parties as it is the height of the wedding season.
While Sudhir had his meeting, Payal, Khokhani's daughter and I went to visit print artisans. I got to see a demonstration of the block printing technique done to make bedsheets. The uniform precision of the manual technique is really amazing. They used to use more vegetable dies, but now they use chemical dies.
Traditionally, they specialised in block and hand printing of religions stories for temples. They continue to do that work, but suppliment it now with making beddings and curtains.
We then returned to the office to go to lunch at Swati, a resturant that serves traditional Gujurati food, but also a variety of other Indian regional foods. Subrata pointed out how the owners had used copies of his yellow plate design. The food was wonderful, of course.