This was a most rewarding Gadabout. It lived up to my expectations of finding more than the usual. More even than what I had envisioned. Having intrepid traveling companions obviously helped. I was able to think aloud and voice even half baked ideas in a safe space. There is so much more to travel than mere site-seeing. Insights into oneself : one’s reactions and responses to situations is continually tested and honed through travel and a Gadabout attempts to do this at many different levels.
We started off in Bhuj with textiles. We gave due respect and recognition to the block printers, weavers, tie/dye crafts people and embroiderers. Meeting these amazing women and men who are masters at their craft was inspiring. It is satisfying to be able to buy a product from the artisan artist and to have a conversation about the masterpiece. The thought and the story behind the use of colour, the design and what they were expressing in that particular piece. Knowing that the purchase is being made directly adds a lot of value to the product and also to the experience of the purchase.
We kept well away from the Rann Utsav, a Gujarat Tourism jamboree, except for one evening to see the sunset over the white Rann.
Mandvi on the Arabian sea coast continues to be tranquil and beautiful and the walk through its old town was icing on the cake. The wooden ships in various stages of building is a fascinating sight in Mandvi.
I was re-visiting the Little Rann after ten years. It was heartening to see a healthy population of wild ass and flamingoes and a sizeable population of winter migrant birds though we were told there were far fewer winter visitors because of a failed monsoon and scarce water. A few minutes into the jeep safari in the Little Rann and we spotted the shy McEwans Bustard and the Desert Fox. Beginner’s luck!
The first wonderful detour on this Gadabout was Sidhpur. The enterprising Bohra Community have grand European style villas in Sidhpur although the majority of these homes are locked and their owners live in other parts of India and the world. Sidhpur echoed Chettinad in some ways……
A Bohri lunch with Insiya and her family was a wonderful experience.
The story of the salt pan workers has not changed much in all these years of their existence (perhaps even since before the Dandi March!) though SEWA has helped with providing them with solar power for their tube well needs. My cynical view of “vikas” being limited to the very rich in the past 4 years was further reinforced by meeting Raju Bhai and Sonalben in the salt pans of the Little Rann.
While talking to Gujaratis from different walks of life I heard mention of the 2001 earthquake and the 2002 riots all in the same breath as events that set them back. It was the matter of fact way that the riots were mentioned by even the Muslims that kept me guessing and imagining my own narrative. I had no moral standing to ask any probing questions. I was merely a tourist.
While walking through the old city of Ahemdabad, our guide mentioned that the sense of community was completely disrupted in the Old City and now hardly any Muslims lived within it. The soul of the old city seemed shattered…..
The other most interesting detour on this Gadabout was to Balasinor to pay our respects to Rajasaurus and Titanosaurus, a carnivore and herbivore dinosaur respectively, both of who’s fossils were discovered in Balasinor. We had as our guide the inimitable Aaliya Babi, a princess of the erstwhile State of Balasinor and affectionately called the Dinosaur Princess. But the icing on this cake was a most delicious Balasinori seven course meal orchestrated under the watchful eyes of Aaliya’s mother, the Begum Sahiba and served at the high table.
Gujarat is touted as one of the most developed States in India. Apart from the main arterial highways I did not see its urban or rural areas more developed than in other parts of India. It was certainly not “swachh”! There were heaps of garbage in the villages and I spotted enough open defecation to know that every house did not have a toilet! I have seen better “vikas” in many other States that also have a better track record of communal harmony.
Having said all of which, Gujarat wins hands down for its varied craftsmanship, natural history, architecture and (ironically!) a beautiful history of the deep social inter connectedness of the different tribes and communities following different religions and from different castes. It boasts of an old and scenic landscape that feels almost pre historic. Gujarat will require many more exciting Gadabouts to fully experience its vastness.