Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ahmedebad to the Bone

Disclaimer: Below is an account of my recent trip to Ahmedebad.  It is only an expression of my opinions, and I don't wish to offend anyone who has either been to Ahmedebad, or plans to go one day.  Also, if anyone from the Lonely Planet staff, particularly Mr. Lindsay Brown, should happen upon this blog post, please disregard all the mean stuff I said about you.
I love these birds, and apparently they love India, so maybe I love India too?  

Before I begin, let me start by saying that blog title was Matt's idea.  His knack for puns is unlike anything I've ever seen.

Now that that's taken care of, let's get down to business.  This past weekend we took a trip to Ahmedebad (Ahmdevad to locals), which is only about 100 kms away.  In theory, this trip should have taken an hour, so of course it took us three.  We used Matt's driver from the refinery, who theoretically could have taken us for free, but because he asked the refinery's permission, we had to pay.  (In case you haven't figured it out yet, the refinery says no to everything.  Except to Matt working overtime.  This they love.) The round trip cost about $80, but there were four of us, so it was relatively cheap.  Anyway, so even though Matt had printed out instructions and a map on how to get to the hotel, AND wrote down all the hotel's contact info, good old Vinod (the driver) still couldn't figure it out.  We stopped no less than six times to ask for directions, and when we weren't stopped, we had the windows rolled down with Vinod yelling questions at every passerby on a motorcycle.
The random Italian Bakery we found on one of our many stops for directions.
To Vinod's credit, we never had to turn around and backtrack, but that doesn't mean we didn't take the most random way possible to get there.
View of the city from our hotel room. Ain't she fine?

After finally arriving at the hotel, Katie (Jones, UOP) realized she had forgotten her passport.  Not needing to travel internationally, we didn't think this was a big deal, but this is India, after all, so of course it was a monstrosity.  Long story short, she ended up getting a copy emailed to her, which she then had to fax to the police station.  Dumb.  Other than that mishap, the hotel (a brand spanking new Courtyard Marriott) was blissfully clean and bright and all-around wonderful.  Because we were all Platinum members, we got access to their "Executive Lounge" where they had free snacks and drinks (and non-alcoholic beer, of course).  I'm pretty sure we took them for everything they had in that lounge. I drank a lot of their super fancy water.

View of the street in front of the hotel.  I wouldn't call this the "nice" part of town.
Anyway, Saturday we set out in the afternoon to see the glorious city.  Ahmedebad is basically just a big Baroda.  It has all the same stuff, but it's bigger, and a lot more crowded.  So it's basically just another dirty, run-down Indian city.  I'm sure there are lots of other way cooler things there, but we didn't stay long enough to find out.  They had an Ahmedebad Central, not to be confused with the Vadodara Central we have here.  We did go visit the Sabarmati Ashram that Gandhi built, which was pretty interesting.
The man himself.  

 Founded in 1915, Gandhi used it as sort of a headquarters for the struggle for Indian Independence.  The ashram is now a museum, with Gandhi's room as the main feature.

Gandhiji's room. Making fabric was a main duty of the Ashram members, and they have a lot of antique spinning wheels on display there.   
  They have tons of Gandhi info - more than I could ever want or need to know.  I learned a lot (and promptly forgot most of it), but mostly the museum served to point out to me how uninformed I am about Indian history.  Don't worry, I've got lots of time to learn.  Anyway, if you are a Gandhi fan (and who isn't), and you're in the area, the Sabarmati is the place to go.

After that we tried to do some shopping but were thwarted in our efforts by several factors, the most important being that This Is India, and everything is difficult here.  Also, I'm pretty sure that the guy who wrote the Ahmedebad section of the Lonely Planet has never actually been to India, much less Ahmedebad.  The whole section appears to be riddled with errors.  Thanks, Lindsay Brown (yes, that is a guy.  I looked it up).  Anyway, long story short, after an hour and a half of walking in the 90+ degree heat (with 110% humidity), we still had not located the "fabulous" evening market.  We finally gave it up and hopped in a couple of tuk-tuks, only to drive around the corner and pass right by the market!  It was literally about 30 feet away from where we had been.
Evening market.  It's very shiny.  

 We stopped the tuk-tuks and had them wait for us while we quickly rummaged around the stalls.  It took us all of ten minutes to realize that not only were all the stalls selling the same things, but also, none of it was stuff we were interested in.
I was actually interested in these wall hangings, but ol' Mr. Moneybags wasn't, so we didn't partake.

So we hopped back in the tuks and back to the hotel to drink more fancy water (for free!) and shower.  Later we headed out to a restaurant the hotel staff had recommended to us, in a tuk-tuk (yes, one tuk-tuk... there were four of us...) that the hotel arranged.  The hotel staff told the driver where we were going and how to get there, but apparently the driver wasn't listening, for he proceeded to drive randomly for 15 minutes, and then dropped us of in the middle of nowhere.  We didn't understand that we were at the wrong place until he had already left.  So we grabbed another tuk-tuk and headed back to the hotel... only to pass by our destination restaurant a few minutes later!  (To our credit, it was on a completely different road and we couldn't have seen it from where we were.) So we finally made it to dinner, where the food was less than stellar, but at least it was different from our usual Baroda WelcomHotel fare.

Sunday we awoke early with bright eyes and fresh faces, eager to get to the Calico Textile Museum before it closed (our trusted Mr. Brown from the Lonely Planet said the last entry was 11 a.m., so we needed to make it by then).  It was a 30 minute haul in the tuk-tuks (two this time), but we made it right at 11.  We rushed in, only to be told by the rude (and lazy, and condescending, and a lot of uglier descriptors I won't use here) guard that the last entry was actually at 10:30.  So we missed it by half an hour.  The guy would not let us in no matter how we begged and pleaded, so we eventually left.  We had been planning to spend a lot of money there on random textiles, too.  His loss, I guess.  Anyway, after that debacle, we went to a step well in the middle of nowhere called Dada Hari Wav.
Dada Hari Wav from the top step.  

This well is so randomly placed amid shacks and mud huts that we thought surely we were in the wrong place.  But no, all the people standing on the street (or laying on their bed frames in the middle of the road - they do that a lot here, and it's weird) assured us it was the right place.  For those of you who don't know, a step well is basically an ornately-carved series of platforms, each separated by a series of steps, that is used to hold water (thus the "well" part).
On the second level.  It's kind of hard to look at these pictures because they're dizzying.  Feel free to skip the rest.  

I guess ancient Hindu texts say it's good to build communal wells, so these were once very common in (and unique to) northwestern India.  Lucky me, I got a couple so close to Baroda.  To give you a little more info, I'll turn you over to Mr. Brown (though we all know by now just how reliable he is).  The guidebook says "Often attached to temples so that devotees could bathe, the wells were also meeting places, with verandas where people could take refuge from the summer heat, and stopping places on caravan routes.  ... The wells have been long neglected and are often used as toilets, and so are no longer the cleanest sources of water."  Yum.
First two levels.

View from the bottom to the top.  Matt had to hold my waist while I leaned over an open hole filled with bat guano for this picture.  Anything to get a good shot.  
 Anyway, this one is super cool and way more impressive than that stupid Calico Textile Museum would have been.
We wandered around there for a while before discovering the mosque (yeah, it was a mosque... I thought that was kind of weird too, it being a Hindi step well and all, but as I've said before, I really know nothing about Indian history) behind it.
Front of the mosque.  I think there used to be minarets but they're long gone now.

Actually, I guess the old man at the mosque found us, as he was waving us over and hissing at us for a while before we noticed him.  He was kind enough to show us alllll around the mosque, and then he showed us his collection of monies from different countries, and asked if we had any dollars.  We didn't, but we gave him some rupees, because we're so kind.
View from the roof.  The man in white is our new friend.
After this adventure, we were in much better spirits having finally seen something interesting, so we made our way to the Hatheesingh Temple, a Jain temple built in 1848.
Hatheesingh Temple. 

I learned nothing about it, except that although they are really serious about you not taking pictures, it is relatively easy to do so, and so we did.  A lot.
A forbidden picture inside the temple walls. 

Eventually I think the guard heard our camera shutters, because he came running over to point at us and shake his head.  He did this maybe ten times, and then he went back to his post, and we went back to taking pictures.  We're awful.  As Danielle recently told me, I'm pretty sure in my next life I'm coming back as a cockroach.
Details on the columns outside.  

I guess that about does it for our Ahmedebadian adventure.  I can't say for sure that I'll go back, but possibly, just to stay in that Courtyard again and look at some other temples and wells.  I know this is an inexcusably long post, and for that I apologize.  I finally saw some of the "Incredible India" I've been waiting for, and I thought it worthwhile to write about it.  In immense detail.


  1. Thank you for the disclaimer. I too have some major complaints with these travel book writers....I think that we can do a much better job. Also in Hong Kong I took some forbidden pictures in a temple so we'll be cockroach friends together in our next life.

  2. Mary and I went to the Law Garden market too!