Saturday, March 25, 2017

Vibrant Gujarat: The Gujarat leg of my sabbatical trip (part 1)

This post is in continuation of series of posts on my sabbatical journey. Read about my sabbatical journey planning, hotel details and cost breakup here. Our official trip started on 9th March. Ahmedabad was our starting point of the trip. The road from Mumbai to Ahmedabad was the best I’ve ever driven on. It’s a six-lane highway throughout the route. It took me 10hrs to cover 526 KM which includes 1.5 hours of breaks and halts. I could have covered it in less time but there were a lot of trucks on the highway and they seldom follow lane driving. At many points, all the three lanes were taken by slow moving trucks and it used to get hard overtaking them.

My Alto K10, wandering in Gujarat.

I had booked Hotel Kalash Residency at Navrangpura through Goibibo. It was in close proximity to all the major attractions. We reached our hotel at around 5 PM, did check-in formalities, had snacks, freshened up and searched for any nearby place to hang out. Sabarmati riverfront was nearby.

Sabarmati Riverfront
Long exposure shot at Sabarmati Riverfront.
We decided to cover it today itself. The riverfront is approx. 11km stretch made similar to marine drive with a separate walking area, a cycling area, park, boat rides. We had next full day ahead and made a list of places we'll cover.

Light paintng photography
My wife light painting her name at Sabarmati Riverfront. It's a long exposure shot taken with remote shutter.

We started with Gandhi ashram, or popularly known as Sabarmati ashram. It was one of the residencies of Mahatma Gandhi and was the base from where Gandhiji had led the Dandi march (Salt Satyagraha) movement. The ashram has a dedicated museum where some of the rarest relics, including the charkha which Gandhiji used himself, are displayed. There's a library consisting of numerous books written on Gandhiji's life and ideologies. The ashram is spread across a very big area which includes old buildings like Vinobha-Mira Kutir, Hridaya Kunj, Nandini, painting gallery.

dandi march miniature art
Dandi March miniature depiction at Gandhi Ashram.
dandi march miniature painting
Dandi March miniature depiction. Closeup photo.
cotton weaving using charkha
A local news reporter trying her hands at weaving cotton using a charkha,

We continued from here and our next stop was Adalaj stepwell. Also known as Rudabai Stepwell, it is located in the village called Adalaj, a little far from main Ahmedabad town. Legend says that during the reign of Rana Veer Singh, Muslim ruler Mohammed Begda attacked the city and killed the king. Veer Singh's wife asked Mohammed Begda to complete the stepwell construction which Veer Singh was supervising.

Adalaj Stepwell
View of Stepwell minarets from the bottom most floor.

The Muslim ruler agreed with a condition that the queen will marry her on completion of the work. The well was completed in a record time but the queen subsequently killed herself by jumping in this stepwell.  This is the reason why the construction around the well has both Hindu as well as Muslim architecture style. There are six tombs on the terrace which are said to be of the masons who built the well. Similar to Taj Mahal's story, Begda asked the mason if they would build a similar stepwell if given a chance, to which they agreed. Begda then ordered their execution.

adalaj stepwell terrace
Adalaj Stepwell Terrace. It's a five stories deep construction.

We left from here and continued to Akshardham temple. The temple is actually in Gandhinagar, just on the highway NH 147. The premises has a huge paid parking area for tourists and devotees. Cell phones or any kind of camera are not allowed inside the temple area due to security reasons. This is where the infamous terrorist activity in 2002 happened. We forgot to keep our cell phones in the car so had to deposit at the deposit counter. The counter guy takes your photo and gives you a token. The main building of the complex, Akshardham Mandir is interestingly built entirely without iron or steel. There's a counter for depositing shoes just below the temple's entrance. The floor of the temple was surprisingly cold compared to extremely hot weather.

The entry to the temple complex is free but there's ticket for entry to the exhibition halls. The ticket costs 170 Rs and includes entry to all the five parts of the exhibition halls. We managed to visit three of them and skipped the last two as we were running a bit out of time. The exhibition halls are similar to the halls in Akshardham Delhi. First two halls, Neelkanth and Sahajanand, showcase Swaminarayan's work and teachings. The third hall, named "The Mystic India Hall" is an IMAX theatre which screens a 40-minute film about Swaminarayan's journey towards spirituality from a very early age. The cinematography of the movie is spectacular and watching on IMAX makes the scene look more beautiful. If you're running short of time, I'd suggest you may miss other halls but not this one.

It was almost 4 PM by the time we left from here. I searched for our next point, Bhadra fort, on GPS. It was in the main city and quite near to our hotel. The road leading to the fort was quite narrow and the car couldn't go till the fort gate. I found a good parking spot nearby and started for the fort on foot. There's a big street market on the way leading to the fort. It was not a quality street market like commercial street or Sarojini Nagar market. We quickly made our way to the entrance of the fort. The main gate was closed and we had to find an entry from the rear side which one of the shopkeepers showed us. The fort was in a despicable condition, to say the least. Although it looked like renovation work was going on as there were heaps of cement and bricks, I didn't spot any labourer nearby.  There were dogs roaming around inside the fort complex. There was no one inside the fort other than my wife and I. We quickly made our way out of here.

A beautiful Sunset at Kankaria lake.

We next went to Kankaria lake. The lake complex has numerous attractions inside which includes a zoo, toy train service, water rides, kids amusement park. The design of the lake is said to be the inspiration behind SBI logo. This is a good place to hang out and spend time if you're with kids. We just sat on the porch and watched the sunset.

Google maps rendition of Kankaria Lake. Notice the design looks like SBI logo.

Our last spot of the day was Sunset drive-in cinema.We were eagerly waiting to reach here. There are hardly any regular drive-in concept theatres left in India. This one is, surprisingly, a regular operating theatre. Jolly LLB 2 was the current release and the theatre was playing the same. We quickly joined the long queue of cars waiting to buy ticket and park inside the theatre. The tickets were 50Rs each and car parking ticket was another 50Rs. I swept past already parked cars as I wanted a good seat for my car :). I found one spot and parked the car. The parking has parallel ramps where cars are to be parked front facing so that there's no obstruction for fellow movie watchers. The screen is said to be the largest screen in Asia. I'm not sure about that but it sure was big. 2 set of speakers are installed at regular intervals so that everyone can listen to the audio. The audio quality was not good, though. It lacked bass and sounded like local speakers. Locals bring bedsheets and homecooked food here, sit in front of the car and enjoy the experience. There's a big food court behind the parking area. It has a lot of options and it's pretty reasonable if compared to the overpriced f&b at multiplexes.

sunset drive-in cinema
Sunset Drive-in Cinema. Enjoying Jolly LLB2 from inside my K10.

We were quite tired and crashed for the day to get a good sleep as we had to leave for Diu the next morning. Ahmedabad has a good number of tourist attractions and it can be covered in 2 days. We tried to cover most of them in a day and were successful in doing that. One peculiar thing I noticed about traffic here is that there's absolutely no regard for traffic safety and rules. I drove all around Ahmedabad in two days and everywhere I found the same disregard for traffic rules. No one follows traffic signal, there's BRT corridor but except buses, all other vehicles run on it. I was scared that I may get a scratch or two but I was fortunate nothing like that happened. I wanted to continue writing about my Gujarat journey on this post but it has already become like an essay. I'll skip it for next post. Read more on my visit to Diu, Dwarka here and Bhuj.

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