Kem Cho Gujarat!

When Gujarat was afresh in my mind, I’d planned to write a long post singing praises of the state & its government. However, now, a considerable amount of time’s passed & the detailed memories have started fading. A few aspects stand out, & will continue to do so, till a contradictory experience occurs.

Speaking of contradictory experiences, I’d hated Gujarat the first time I’d been there. It was 2008. I was a fresher with stars in my eyes & into my first job. The client site was on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. I’d hated everything about the city. In retrospect, my hatred stemmed from the treatment meted out by the client & our senior management to us, rather than from Gujarat itself. But you know, the law of generalization etc.

So, in a nutshell, I was glad I got a chance to revisit my opinion. & thus, listing down 5 things I simply loved about Gujarat. My experiences cover Ahmedabad, Dasada, the Little Rann of Kutch, Modhera, Patan, & all the towns & villages that fell along the way.

#1. Roads – Now, I’m a Delhi girl. It’s quite difficult to impress me with roads. But I’m also a traveler. & I’ve seen the worst of roads. I’ll not talk about the mountains for that’ll be an unfair comparison. But, an apple to apple comparison can be done with roads in Uttar Pradesh. In almost all my travel posts, I’ve written about the sorry condition of the roads in UP. An eight-hour drive to Nainital becomes a harrowing 12-hour battering due to the roads in the UP stretch.

In contrast, the roads in Gujarat were a delight to be driven on. Not just the highways; the back of beyond villages had ‘pukka’ roads. I’ve always believed roads are the harbinger of growth & development.

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Image 1: The buffaloes find joy in pooping on the ‘pukka’ road

#2. Water – The remotest of villages have running water. It is quite a feat to be able to guarantee water supply to every nook & corner, especially when you’re a predominant dry state. The capital of the country, Delhi, is unable to provide tap water to a number of its colonies, even though it’s the best resources of the country at its disposal.

Yet, Gujarat has achieved this. It saves the womenfolk the drudgery of drawing water from wells and carrying it over long distances. & honestly, doesn’t the thought excite you that you can get a stream of water every time you open your tap? Well, maybe, you take it for granted, for you’ve never known otherwise. Let me assure you – the alternate’s not pretty…

#3. Electricity – Rural menfolk in white kurta-dhoti, women in colorful chaniya-cholis, children playing in the mud, cattle, goats, sheep & dogs freely roaming around, elders sitting under the banyan tree discussing sociopolitical affairs… this pretty much paints a picture of a typical Indian village. What stands out is the fan whirring inside the hut, the bulbs twinkling at night, the small fridge to keep matters cool. This’s not something you can see in every Indian village but it’s something we saw commonly in Gujarat. You can see the poles running through the length & breadth in every village but seldom have the wires carried current. In Gujarat, they did…

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Image 2: Functional wires serving as a community spot for our feathered friends

#4. No beggars outside temples – So, to be honest, I visited only one temple in Gujarat – the Bahucharmata Temple in Bahucharaji. The Sun Temple at Modhera doesn’t count as it’s a tourist attraction than a pilgrimage spot. I’ve not been to a single temple in India where I’ve not been flanked by beggars asking me to give something to them. They either hound me till the time I enter the temple or my vehicle, or they sit forlornly, their bodies covered with dust, grime, sores & wounds. It’s not a pretty sight & I feel bad for the ones who’re genuinely destitute, but I hate to be hounded. This is usually by those who’re active and fit, & can easily pick up some sort of work. But, of course, beggary is an easy way out.

At the Bahucharmata temple, I didn’t see a single beggar. No old man, no young girl carrying a baby, nil, nada, niyat. It made me think – what’s different here compared to the rest of India? Is it because Gujaratis as a community don’t believe in asking? Or is it because there’s no need for anybody to beg? Or is it simply because the administration does a good job of keeping them away? Sadly, I couldn’t ask anyone these questions but I would love to unravel this mystery. But, whatever it was, it put me at ease. I didn’t have to look away out of disgust or guilt or helplessness.

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Image 3: Outside the Bahucharmata Temple

The other aspect that stood out was the absence of hawkers trying to coerce you into buying offerings. I’ve not been to any place of worship where the hawkers outside haven’t tried to sell me all sorts of offerings to make the gods or saints happy. This’s as true for a Hanuman Mandir in Delhi as for the Ajmersharif Dargah. In Bahucharaji, the hawkers peacefully went about their business, selling their wares to only those who approached them. There was no shouting either by them, trying to seek attention of pilgrims. This’s how a place of worship should be – peaceful and with the liberty for you to interact with the Almighty as you want.

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Image 4: Colorful wares & no pressure to buy

#5. Tourist Spots – Spotlessly clean. Well – maintained. Adequate signboards and historical references. No hanky – panky. No touts. There were only ASI – approved guides at the Modhera Sun Temple, who asked you only once if you wanted their service. If you said no, they would quietly move away to the next set of travelers. We were so pleased with their professionalism, we ended up engaging one. And don’t regret it one bit.

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Image 5: The well-maintained precincts of Rani Ki Vav

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Image 6: The spotless compound of the Sarkhej Roza

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Image 7: The Sabarmati Riverfront

To balance my post out, there were a couple of things we disliked about Gujarat.

#1. Disregard for traffic rules – We were constantly at the edge of our seat whenever we were on the road in Ahmedabad. There was a complete disregard of traffic signals, lane driving, overtaking rules etc. it was a miracle vehicles didn’t bump into each other. I’m quite a paranoid on the road, & the situation in Ahmedabad was pure horror for me. The plus side – it made us remember God more than we usually do.

#2. Food – what’s the deal with making even the curries sweet? How do you differentiate between entrée & dessert? Perhaps, it is an acquired taste but it was quite unpalatable to us. After one Gujarati meal, we slipped back to north Indian cuisines.

Sigh! I still managed a long post but I felt I needed to write this as a tribute to the good time we’d in Gujarat. We intend to visit it again soon, hoping to cover all the other tourist spots that Amitabh Bachchan has requested us to 🙂

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