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Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Old City - Emma

Hi, everyone.  A brief disclaimer - please click the links for more pics or go to my flickr account here or here.  It's worth it, I promise.

There is an assumption (at least among cynical New Yorkers) that when you travel, you never really see the full width and breadth of the place you are visiting.  To a certain extent, this is true.  Tourists tend to stay near tourist attractions, if only because they are safe and often the only place they know to go. But - and this is a large interjection - the full scope is there. All that's required is searching a little further than we ordinarily would.  
Here. This is what you search further to. 
(this picture doesn't even begin to capture the insanity, the color, and the beauty of the old city)

Today, we went on a historical walk in a part of Ahmedabad called the Old City, which is saturated with a combination of reminiscent atmosphere that seems almost fictive and the stampede of modernity.  It is all winding, narrow streets, stone houses, an eclectic mix of architecture (imagine an ambivalent artist, switching from European styles to Indian to Middle Eastern and back again, irrespective of time period), motorcycles and motorized rickshaws and people thrust together by the limitations of space.  

The walk began at the Swaminarayan Temple, snakes through the domestic pols (neighborhoods) of the city and ended at the spectacular and entirely unique Jama Masjid Mosque.  This is one of those times when pictures speak louder than words, so let me yell.
You can't tell from this distance, but the woman in the window is beaming. 

Throughout our stay in Ahmedabad, we have received stares.  This in and of itself is unsurprising; we look different and some of us (myself included) have hair color that simply doesn't occur naturally in India. However, we don't usually get smiles and frequent petitions for photographs.  The people here are friendly, incredibly interesting to look at, willing to be photographed,  though they are poor (I'm not sure why this is a concessive clause, but I cannot deny that it is.)   

 This woman asked me to take pictures of this child and of her.  It is a way, I think, of raising awareness.

They live. They yell and gesture and love and cook and clean and honk and almost run us over with rickshaws and sometimes, they just stare.

Like this gentleman.

I can’t begin to describe how wonderful it was to smile at people (I couldn’t stop) and to receive wide and often surprised grins back.  I cannot fully communicate the feeling one gets when walking through narrow streets, knowing that you are there.  I can’t explain why going into a mosque can translate you from one universe to another, one where the heat rising from the white stone of the courtyard is - as another intern said - raw and the odd contrast of white on white is somehow more profound. I don't know how to explicate the excitement that comes with the chaos of narrow streets and the smells of different cultures. How can anyone perfectly put into words the snuffling curio of claustrophobia and the sheer, clean relief of the open sky? It is something a person simply has to experience for themselves. 

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