There’s something about routine things, things in proximity, places that you come across sometime or the other, in periodical cycles. They hold a huge importance in your life, except that you never really know how important they are.
Ahmedabad. 74 km from a small city, that I call my home, Anand. Ahmedabad had always been a city where I’d go to meet family friends, a place with huge malls, the closest airport to my place, a place where easy train reservations were available from, a place where the Times Group Festivals happen, in general a place where things are happening! Never had I been to a different part of the city where one would find people sitting and washing clothes in the chowkdi or just sitting and chatting in their verandas. The thing about wonted places is that unless one looks at it from a different perspective its value isn’t magnified in one’s life. Every city has its own story. Most stories are unheard and untold. So for my periodical visit to Ahmedabad, this time I choose to travel alone and take a heritage walk in the city.
Now that I am in college, I am left to plan my travels myself. This is strangely exciting. Strange because the comfort of dependence was replaced by the uncertainty of independence. All these years, having to travel the next day meant just to catch some sleep early. It is midnight when I start planning the trip only to realize I’m going have just about 4 hours of sleep before I begin my journey to Ahmedabad by train!
4:40. I start from home to catch a superfast train .The best part about living in a small town is you don’t need to worry about traffic at anytime of the day. The streets are being swept in the morning. The town is still sleepy. I reach the station in 10 minutes. 34 mins. That’s how much the train 12918 was late by. I hop in the general compartment. My co passengers are Marwadi nomads. The big nose rings and ghagra choli embellished with glitter was characteristic of a Marwari woman. Marwaris are the business community of Rajasthan and Gujarat. They travel in search of opportunities in trade and commerce. How ironic it is that, I who was travelling for the sake of travel, meet them. Only the man of the family is awake. He tears off a pan packet and pops the contents into his mouth, a habit prominent among the men of Gujarat. 5:50. It’s still dark. I keep scribbling something in my notepad. I look out of the window and all I can think of is how my town had extended its boundaries. The same plots which five years back were agricultural lands are now small townships. In sometime the landscape, again, changes to forests. According to me, these transitions, from towns to villages, villages to farms, farms to forests, are one of the best parts of the train journeys. How often do we get to see the calmness and stillness of nature. One can stare out through the window towards an unknown direction into the infinite expanse of these lands and never run out of the engaging thoughts gathered in the mind. Lost in my thoughts I realize, the train reached the next stop- Nadiad.
6:02. Dawn. The fields are then covered with a blanket of fog. My co passenger woke up. She stares at me for a while wondering what is it that I am doodling in my notepad. I try to figure out what it was in me that made her curious. is it my clothes? Or is the fact that I have no luggage but a purse which seems to be stuffed? Or just that i am murmuring songs out of tune?
It is cold. After days of complaining about it being hot, Gujarat gave me a fitting reply! It’s just then that I hear a song on my playlist that I’ve never heard before. It’s the same with Nadiad, I know it’s a town close by but never really went there to explore. I make a mental note that I should plan on going there sometime soon to go there now. 6:30. People start their morning. I can see people going to get water near the fields.
7:00. I finally reach Ahmedabad. I turn on the GPS to navigate my walk to the place where the heritage tour starts. I walk for about 1.5km to reach Swaminarayan Mandir. The heritage walk is to start in 10 minutes. My co travelers are some people from USA and some people with big cameras. And here i am sitting with a small purse, with a pen in one hand and a notepad in another. Travel definitely instilled some sort of monasticism in me. I am quite content with my mobile camera and that I have to travel for only two hours back to reach back home.
Pink, green, orange painted flowers sculptures are all around the temple. The colours are just beautiful. It almost looks like a huge palace with a temple in the middle. The grand entrance welcomes one directly to the temple.
The temple front yard consists of a bird feeder where the devotees can feed the pigeons grains. The birds, about fifty or so, made the atmosphere livelier. Opposite to the main entrance of the temple, was the open space where the priest
preached the young disciples. The walk starts at about 8:30. Finally!
Right behind the temple was the famous 19th century poet Kavi Dalpatram’s home which was restored by the municipality. I had passed through the same lane.Probably saw the house too. But never thought it had such a huge importance. It was a regular house with a huge front yard. There were children playing there. Sitting on his statues. I wonder if they realized, it was this great man’s stories and poems that they probably read in school.
After this, did my journey in the Pols of Ahmedabad begin. Pol comes from a Sanskrit word pratoli for gate entrance. Pol is a gujarati word for a small locality. There are around 600 pols in Ahmedabad. Another important feature of every pol is a chabutaro, meaning a bird feeder. Under the watch of King Ahmed Shah in 1411 AD the forest cover was cut down to construct the city and it was to make up for the loss of shelter for birds and small animals that bird feeders are installed at in every pol. The city had a lot of scientific planning involved. Most of the old city is built on wood, the brackets, the roof, the window sills and doors. Wood absorbs the vibrations and, thus, earthquakes have had less effect on the old city. The pols of Ahmedabad have secret passages that have served as shortcuts and escapes routes since their inception. Ahmed Shah was a liberal king and understood the value of diversity which is reflected in the way the pols are developed. A lot of mixed culture is reflected in the houses. The architecture is from various places as people living in Ahmedabad came from different places and different backgrounds. Even today, Ahmedabad is home to a population that consists of Hindus, Jains, Muslims, Parsis, and Bene Israel Jews too! Some houses reflect Mughal culture, while some British, Maratha and Persian too. The longest wooden bracket has Indo-Chinese carvings. Right next to a Hindu dominant pol is a Jain pol where resides a Jain temple. Interesting thing about this temple is that it adopts a 500 year old concept of water storage. All of it is so fascinatingly unbelievable and the only thing that comes to my mind is why aren’t these practices used now? Such practices are efficient and much needed in the contemporary world.
Next to the Jain Pol is the Ol, the market place. The market is still closed in the morning. While the underground book shop has opened. Book shop! What more would someone need! The smell of old books and magazines, the pile of old newspapers, all of them looked so inviting and warm.
The last stop is Jumma Masjid. Before entering the masjid one could see the royal burial grounds, separate of kings and queens, where King Ahmed Shah was buried. Would he have ever imagined how the city would turn out and how people would come to see the skillful architectural insights from all over the world? Jumma Masjid in Ahmedabad was the first mosque in India to allow Ladies inside. Jumma means Friday, the day when collective prayers are held. The architecture of the mosque again reflects how accommodating the king was as a ruler. It had Jain and Hindu influences as well. The domes are carved and the pillar had designs of ashoka leaves. The entire structure is held by 256 pillar and 3 domes. I sit there for a while before I set out to go back home.
I loved the trip. Every bit of it. I don’t know if it was the beautiful planning of the old city of Ahmedabad that struck me or just that I did this all by myself. The truth is, i don’t even want to figure that part out. Travel is all about experiences. I don’t think one should put conscious effort into understanding what a journey is about. The experiences impact our lives in way we don’t know. The learning might crop up somewhere, somehow. Maybe, all that is needed is we at least see some part of the things we planned. I had seen the different part of the city i was hoping to see. I did see people washing clothes and just sitting in the veranda to chat afterall! And that was all I needed, but I got more. I always wanted to travel somewhere, sometime alone. Little did I know, that i would enjoy it so much. I saw regular people doing everyday stuff. Nothing new really. But everything different. The sheer joy of walking down those small lanes, seeing routine things with new and accepting eyes made me want to take on more of such journey. I didn’t really talk to a lot of people. In fact not at all. I just observed them, trying to figure out what their story is, by being merely a background in their life story. But the realization that they also live lives that are complex and they also have stories to tell is ingrained in me now. Some of their stories are reflected in their actions and work. I saw King Ahmed Shah’s story, part of it, through these tiny places, that make people wonder!