Monday, November 21, 2005

Trip to Ahmedabad

During my last trip to India, it was Sunil Gavaskar in my emirates flight. This time Mumbai – Ahmedabad Indian airlines flight , it was his son Rohan Gavaskar. He was with his East Zone players minus Saurav Ganguli who were playing west zone in Duleep Trophey finals.

It was misty cool evening in November and became chilly when we reached Police officers mess – an open arena guesthouse on the bank of river Sabarmati. Our East African friends were keen on warming up in this pleasant weather. Someone told us that one could have warm up session only in luxury hotel and that too for foreigners with tourist visa. We decided to raid one such place – few block away to Taj hotel but only to be told that one can have warm up permit between 9.00 and 10.00 am. Our Africans friends were bewildered why Govt should force them to have at breakfast time. They reconciled to the fact that this is a holy place and they should banish the thought of alcohol until they reach Mumbai. But surprise was in store next day, when our local guardian arranged whiskey bottles!!

Police officers mess in Shahibag is shahi and soothing place to reside on a vacation. I had seen on TV Indian politicians and businessmen having breakfast in their mowed lawns. This was my first time having a luxury of sipping masala tea with newspaper on sprawling lawns in the company of roaming peacocks and chirping birds. Guesthouse rooms are spacious and equipped with remote TV, AC with a common balcony that connects neighboring rooms. All this comes at Rs 500 for non members. However, I guess one does need a reference to stay in such serene surroundings. The only sight that spoils the beauty of this place is Thermal Power station across the other side of the bank.

I was visiting Ahmedabad after almost 15 years . My image of the city was that of high pollution, crowded streets, dry riverbed of Sabarmati and busy ashram road. In all my previous visits, thought of sight seeing Ahmedabad never flashed my mind. I end up doing sightseeing only when I am on vacation or accompanied by visitor. This was one such occasion to see what Ahmedabad had to offer.

After getting inputs from local people, we decided to cover Gandhi ashram and Akshardham on our last day evening. It was a surprise to reach ashram within few minutes. It was almost the opposite side of the bank where we stayed. Gandhi ashram is facing the road and has very little parking space But what I liked about the place is the absence of any security, frisking of cameras or metal detectors. Gate entrance leads to vista flanked by canopy of trees. The place is humming with people but it is not noisy. We could have turned left to see the museum but decided to head towards open porch that houses famous tree under which Gandhiji talked to his ashramites in the evening. This tree must have been witness to great thoughts emanated from this amazing man. Just next to this open porch is Hridaya Kunj – his home. As we enter his place of residence, an old Gandhian took over a charge and explained every minute detail of this place. We stood in an open verandah where Gandhiji would sit on white cushioned seat flanked by his Charkha on right, wooden writing desk in the front and meet his visitors. We were told when Gandhiji left for famous Dandi March, he vowed never to return until India became independent. Its irony that he never returned to this place despite India getting her independence. Naukhali Hindu Muslim riots took him away and on his return to Delhi, he was assassinated. On the right of his sitting place was a room where he slept. His wife ‘Ba’ had another room behind his. Both these rooms bore a stamp of simplicity. Adjoining room had a cabinet that showed his Thali, Spoon, Spectacles etc. From the window of his room, one could glimpse a small hut that housed his favorite disciples Vinoba Bhave and Miraben. A guesthouse opposite the open space was meant to accommodate dignitaries that came to visit him.

It defies my logic why river that encircle such wonderful places like Sabarmati Ashram, Taj Mahal are always famished and banished. As one stand on the edge of ashram, one can see barren riverbed of Sabarmati with poodles of water that are used to wash clothes or bathe buffaloes. I often asked this question and was told that dam ensures that water is conserved but I still feel it is not difficult to have at least an artificial lake to give semblance of flowing river. After all these places were chosen primarily because, they were next to flowing river.

Once we were through with Hridaya Kunj, we entered museum that we had passed on the left side of the entrance .The ground story museum building with tiled roof is spacious and houses office, library, photo galleries and an auditorium. Most interesting part was to see original manuscripts of Gandhiji’s letters and articles. We breezed past this place as it was getting dark but if one has a time and interest; it is interesting to spend hours rummaging through countless original letters, articles, photographs of Gandhiji and his freedom struggle.

Journey to Akshardham takes through Gandhinagar – a capital city. All round tress, wide smooth avenues with sprawling parks and vast open spaces surrounding the articulately planned city makes Gandhinagar rival any city in the world. Our visitors were stunned to see the transformation in terms of landscape, meticulous planning, but so was I. I never knew, Gandhinagar would be so nice.

I doubt if I would have gone to Akshardham if this place had not shot into in to the prominence by terrorists by siege of this temple. The live images of commando operation that led to temple salvage albeit losing 37 innocent lives was vivid in memory. Being a Sunday, this place was crowded. Nobody seemed to complain about harsh security measures that preclude carrying any bag, camera. I could see a large Muslim family being turned away when woman folk were not allowed to go with Burka. I felt sad when they decided to go back. But security risk was understandable after losing innocent precious lives.

Akshardham is not a temple but monument. But what a magnificent monument it is. Built without any iron or steel, it rests on ornately carved pink stone pillars with multiple domes on sides and central dome. This monument is dedicated to Lord Swaminarayan, who lived from 1781 to 1830. it is an architectural marvel. A stone pathway leads to the main monument and the imposing central hall. This place is looks enchanting when lit up. A gold layered bronze idol of Lord Swaminarayan is installed in the central shrine with marble idols of his l successors. The temple’s sculptured pillars are exquisitely sculptured with dancing figures of Ganesha, incarnations of Vishu. We could not go to basement treasure house that I believe contains rare objects related to the life of Lord Swaminarayan. Temple complex houses fifteen acre culture garden with fountains, rolling green lawns, trees, colourful flowers, a lake and waterfalls, an open air theatre and even rides for children. I must say that tour of Gujarat is not complete without a visit to Akshardham and I am glad I did that.

Many years ago, I had a Korean visitor in India who commented about seeing only historical places in India. He wondered why Indians proudly present only historical places but never are proud to show their contemporary creation. I wish I had this Korean friend with me this time to show him Akshardham.

Returning flight had players from west zone. Smiling faces of Zaheer Khan, Romesh Powar, Bahutule summed up their victory over East Zone. It made me happy too, it brought back memories of Mumbai and west zone team lifting Ranji and Duleep trophy almost every year .


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