ramblin’ around town

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Above you’ll find the photos of graffiti from a bike ride that took me though town to the Ghandi Ashram. You’ll see a view from one of the many bridges in Ahmedabad, Ghandi’s home while he lived in town, a view from the Ashram walls over the Sabarmati river, some local primates, the main hall at Gudjarat College (British built ) and the advertising on a milk stand. You’ll see a drawing of a bhes (water buffalo) which is the main source for ghe (butter). I was told that durring the monsoon bhes will wander the streets because they were so wet. It was fun to see not only dogs, guy (cows) and bukari (goats), but bhes as well. Just one more thing for me to look out for while I ride my bike in the rain.

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A walk through the old town of Ahmedabad

I’ll be zipping up my suitcase soon and heading to the airport. I’ve got a minute to upload some more photos. Better explanations will come later.  But quickly, below are photos from a city heritage walk through the old town of Ahmedabad. We walked through narrow streets and pathways connecting Pols. It’s a shortened sandskrit word meaning “gate”. Usually a Pol only has one to two entrances with a gate and lookout house above the entrance. The houses and shop all touch and the pathways between Pols are narrow and winding. Many have secret passageways known only to the local inhabitants of the Pol.

Below you’ll see old carved wooden houses, puppies, tall birdfeeders (because the trees are disappearing), and Europeans!

language barrier

I am at the point in time where I would need to finish visiting and start living if I were to stay in Ahmedabad. Mainly, I’d need to learn Gujarati. I can only smile and nod for so long. I do pick up the gist but mostly because it’s common for Gujaraties to intersperse english words and phrases into normal conversation. Without that, I’d have very little understanding of what’s going on outside of locations and greetings that I know. Plus I have a pretty good idea of when were going to move onto the next event. Chalo (Let’s go).

What’s funny is hearing the occasional error in pronouns by my friends. The most common mistake is mixing up he and she. But not because they are similar words. There is no distinction in Gujarati as they just use ‘te’ for he/she. I asked if this was confusing. They said no. I found this doubtful so I tried to put it to the test. We were listening to some music – a female soloist. I asked “Who is this?” The responded with a name. I said “Te su.” This was my sorry excuse of trying to say ‘She is good.’ After they figured out what I was trying to say they laughed. The word ‘te’ is a bit confusing but that’s probably more so due to me not speaking as they do. I have much to learn.

Things to come…

It’s been a busy past couple days. Most have been without internet connection. Many photos and better descriptions will follow.

* Heritage Walk trough Ahmedabad
* Road trip to Palitana (aka: Ay Kaka! Palitana kei bayju?)
* Mumbai in a day!

I hope to get another hair-cut and shave. That will set me back about Rs. 70 so I think it’s worth it.* Time is moving fast now as I have less than 24hrs here in Ahmedabad. I’ll have to say goodbye to new friends and pack my bags. On the bright side I think I have about 4 to 20 people to potentially host if they ever wish to come to California. I look forward to returning all the hospitality that I received.

Thanks for reading about my journeys. I’ll be posting my final adventures soon!

*Rs.45=$1

Udaipur, day 2

Our second day in Udaipur started off with the rental car coming to meet us. In India you get a driver with your rental car. I don’t think the rental companies trust the average driver. We headed north out of town and passed by 2-3 km of marble and decorative stone yards. This isn’t where one would just pick out the final stone. It’s where trucks bring in 4x4x8 foot blocks of freshly mined marble. The mountains surrounding us are metamorphosed layers of old seafloor. Sandy beaches and channels are now quartzite. A muddy continental shelf (outer shore) is now sparkling mica schist, and ancient coral reefs have been folded and squished into marble. Due to humidity and the ease of cleaning the homes here are mostly concrete and stone. It was great to see where so many beautiful finish stones originate.

We left the city proper about 30 km back and had passed a couple small villages. Our first stop was right along the road where the spacing of the buildings slowed the traffic. We waited outside a temple where shops and homes crowded the gate just as close as the people did. The temple was privately built in 734 AD. By far the oldest thing I’ve seen here and extremely beautiful too. The multi-spire roof compliments the knobby schist in the hills peaking into the protected sanctuary.

Our second stop was off the main road where we followed a smaller asphalt lane to a worn down town. We parked and walked, as the roads were too narrow and packed with people. There I found a sea of shoes outside another temple. The lines to get in were long and jammed packed. Lets just say I hit my limit as far as personal space goes. I opted out and couple of our crew went through. Below, you will see me standing outside the temple. It was an odd dichotomy to be at the front of a well-kept temple and parts of the city in decay. Many open stalls with jewelry and clothes enticed shoppers on our walk back to the car.

Another stop along the way was a museum. There I got some what was supposed to be coffee (see photo). It was chock full of sugar and I think I could taste some coffee in it. It took a while to find the hidden flavor. Bhadresh and I went for a camel ride.

The roads out side of Udaipur are wonderful. They gently wind through rolling hills with highly foliated rock sticking out like headstones. The outcrops are similar to the Sierra foothills and the drive reminded me of Highway 49. Walls are constructed out of this flat rock with squarish (equate) quartzite and marble spaced within. Our road paralleled the long straight ridges. We passed many people herding goats (bakari) and sheep (ghetu) along and across roads. Cows (guy) and water buffalo (bhes) are kept for milk and butter respectively. Devansh’s friend informed me that a few goats are always kept with a flock of sheep because “sheep are so dumb”. Ii have been learning my numbers: ek, be, tran, char…   I would make a pretty good pre-schooler with what I know in Gujarati. Though the agrarian scene was idyllic, the life looked hard. Most people I saw were walking carrying wood or water and watching some animals at the same time. I can see why people would choose to move to a big city like Ahmedabad. It might mean moving to what looks like a dirtier place with smog and traffic. But the convenience of water, prepared food and making money has its draw.

Our last stop and turn around point was at a river. We were trying to get to a mountain fort but ran out of time. The river was wonderful and probably the highlight of the trip for me. (Not a surprise.) I quickly ran out of the car and scrambled across a shallow area to get to a large granitic outcrop splitting the rushing river. The water was warm as I’m used to cold mountain rivers. Further downstream I ran across some gneiss boulders and an outcrop. The photo below shows some ‘top to the right’ sense of shear (knife for scale.)

Back in town everyone got some local food that wouldn’t work for my digestive track and I settled for a guilty pleasure of U.S. Pizza. I felt a bit ashamed, but hey, I can’t get U.S. Pizza back home. I had the Pepperoni (lamb) pizza.

Udaipur, day 1

Devansh, I and four of his friends left on a bus at 10:30pm to Udaipur, Rajasthan. It was nice to travel by bus as the driving on the highways here can be, how do you say… hectic. (More on that later). We each had our own respective sleeper bunks. I appreciated the access to windows and the curtain.

At some point in the middle of the night we made a pit stop. The Shrea Naruta Nandam Resort, Garden Restaurant & Guest House was full of charter busses. Village shops and pit stops like this look like a open front dessert cantina with a high-school snack shack on the front end. The bathrooms from the outside made me think of the line from The Goonies, “Mikey, Mikey, this ain’t the kind of place you want to go to the bathroom in.” Lets just say the inside was better than the bathroom I used at the elephant yard.

The most surreal part was stumbling back into the bus, and falling back to sleep listening to the bus driver blasting his multi-pitched horn and The Wall from a phone below me. That and an Advil PM, I was set. We arrived in Udaipur around 4:15 am.

Upon entering the hotel room that Devansh, Bhadresh and I would share I had to play the Bad Smell/Different Smell game in my head. Sometimes in a different country you smell something – odd. I wouldn’t want to ask what smells so wrong only to find out that what I was smelling was normal, maybe dinner. I keep my mouth shut around odd smells. When Bhadresh asked if he could burn some incense. I deduced it was a bad smell. Other than that the room was nice.

*******

Udaipur is amazing. Lets just say I’m a sucker for topography. The city is situated within a medium sized plain between Coast Range size mountains. There are prominent hills with palaces on top, next to reservoirs that previous maharajas and moguls have made. The city also has many expansive parks and gardens. The gate to one very large garden greeted us near our hotel.

We toured the palace of the King of Udaipur. It’s a multi layered complex built over many generations. Between beautiful paintings, mirror work, armor, and gardens the architecture sets the stage for a lot of rich history. I would almost say, start your India trip in Udaipur. The king still lives there in a very large wing of the palace. We toured roughly 1/12 of the structure in about 6 hours.

There was a multi-cultural cafe with food from all over. As I was still getting my stomach back and couldn’t eat from many restaurants in the city I was happy to try a chicken hot-dog and minestrone soup. I felt like I was cheating eating meat in India but I felt plenty better afterwards.

You may notice in one picture below a beautiful blue dome with big wooden doors on either side. This is inside a gate to the palace. You may also notice the doors have some large spikes. Thesw large spikes (~8 in) start only halfway up the 25 ft door. They are thers to keep the elephants from ramming the doors down when an invading army is attacking. You know you’re in a cool place when you had to put up elephant deterrents on your palace doors.

Devanhs friends you may see in the Photos:  Bhadresh – Devansh’s longtime friend, Depa – Bhadresh’swife. You may notice she has many bangles on her wrists. She gets to wear that in the first two months of marriage. This trip to Rajasthan is a pseudo-honeymoon for them. They are a fun couple.

We finished the day at a clothing store where salesmen unfurl meter after meter of beautiful cloth for saris and shirts.  I just felt sorry for the young guy that was sitting there waiting to fold up all the beautiful clothes that were displayed for us.

I want to ride my…

Bicycle!

Devansh was a super friend and asked around for a bike at my request. He has shown me excellent hospitality by touring me all around the city but I’m a bit tired of the fast paced traffic. Plus I like to just roam, so a bike is a perfect way for me to explore.

The bike is a rusted, one-speed named a Hercules. It has a new-ish curved frame and “MTB” stamped on the side, but there isn’t a mountain for at least 70 km. The roads can be rough so the frame will help. Other than a slight miss-direction in the handlebars, the bike rides well. It feels great to get out and explore a bit on my own.

There is plenty to see. In two small trips I’ve ridden south along the river almost to the dam, and north, halfway to downtown. There is plenty to see. I can watch construction in progress. There is a multi-storied apartment complex growing into it’s third floor. Boys and men mix shovel sand and gravel into a 1yd mixer and pour out the concrete into wide bowls. Women in full sari carry the bowls on their head up a flight of stairs where the concrete is poured into forms that make the future columns. What surprises me the most is that people work in what look like normal clothes to me. The guys are in slacks and button down shirts or t-shirts, While the women wear colorful saris. I guess you wear what you have. Vegetable markets travel the city by push-cart and clusters of bottom floor shops are common to every other block. High rise apartments with parking guards are across the street from slums. I stick to the residential roads and enjoy all of Ahmedabad.

There is very little graffiti in Ahmedabad. Devansh claims it to be one of the safest places in India. We have been out late at night and never encountered any trouble. The graffiti I did recently see on my trip has been humorous to normal. It actually reminded me of home a bit which brings a smile. Pictures will follow soon (I didn’t have my camera with me.)

Riding around is not too different from riding a bike in a city in America. As there are really no laws to the road here, and no one really looks for bicyclists in America. It feels about the same. I think I get it a bit easier here as most people take a second look at me because I’m about the only white person in these parts. I’ve seen 7 so far. All were at tourist areas in the city. I had a hard time not staring at them.

*******

Devansh and family are off at temple for what is the there most holy day of the year. It involves a three and half hour service where everyone asks for forgiveness for any wrongs they did that year. It happens to start at the end of Ramadan and about one moon month before Rosh Hashana. I like moon based calendars and the cultures that still follow the moon. I read the Book of Proverbs in this way. It’s a chapter for each day. But I digress.

I wanted to join Devansh and his father (the women meet at a different temple I think) and he and his friends said, “You will be bored.” I sat with a lot of men outside the temple proper as there were too many people to all sit inside. For about half an hour we all sat. Most looked about as engaged as I was but occasionally said something in response to the persons who were reciting and calling out inside the temple. At one point everyone took their shirt off. I almost did too, as it was so hot. But I knew I wasn’t going to last this service for the long run so I didn’t. I sat about an hour and half and then went for a bike ride.

Michhami Dukadum (Me-ach’ameh Do-k’uhdum). This is sanskrit for “I ask for forgiveness”. It’s the traditional greeting for Jain folk. Devansh just got back and we have family to visit who are breaking eight day fasts. He gets to give them a spoon of sugar water to help them back into world of food!

*******

(New as of 9/5/2011)

We’ve travelled around to about 4 0r 5 different family gatherings of fast breaking. Mainly there is one or two people who are breaking a long water-only fast as the centerpiece of the room. The homes are decorated with mutile colored tule and expanded folded paper decorations. People are dressed up and gifts are given to the fast-breakers. As well, everyone (especially me) gets to take a turn and spoon feed the honored person some sugar-water or weak soup. I can tell they are tired and a little bit overwhelmed by the packed house. I feel a bit awkward spoon feeding a perfect stranger. A photo is taken of each guest feeding the person. I smile for the camera many times and wonder what the family photo album will look like.