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Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Heritage Walk: First Experience of Old Ahmedabad for ITSA's International Interns

Team Member Natalia Choi reflects on her day:

It was an especially hot day today in Ahmedabad. I mean everyday is hot, but today we didn’t have as much air conditioning since we were out and about the city unlike the past few days when we mostly stayed indoors resting and preparing for our workshops).

Guide, Nirav Patel, explaining the history of the Jumma Masjid
(Mosque) on the Heritage Walk in Ahmedabad
The day started out early at 6am because we wanted to avoid some heat and crowd for our Heritage walk through the old city of Ahmedabad. [We avoided neither the heat nor crowd…] As we waited for Aiyub, our driver to come pick us up, we spotted several monkeys on the roof of a building nearby. They were huge! I expected to see the little monkeys like Abu from Aladdin, but they were close to human-size (maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but they were not small cute creatures). Then came my turn for the rickshaw ride! Karen, Pavithra and I loaded up in this yellow-green rickshaw and our rickshaw weaved and honked our way through bikes, motorcycles, and cows toward the Old City of Ahmedabad. Because I didn’t have a layer of glass separating me from the outside, I felt that everything was even closer. I must say I am amazed that I have not been in or seen an accident yet given the chaotic nature of the streets. The cars seem to build their own system as they go. There seems to be no marked lanes, and rarely do we run into traffic lights. Here, our tour guide told us that to drive, one needs three things: good breaks, a good honk, and good luck. And from what I’ve seen, that seems to be true.

Though it was before 8am when we arrived at the temple (the starting point of our walk), there was no time for the morning calm. The place was packed with vendors selling their fresh produce, women in their beautiful saris, men biking through the crowded street. I had expected to encounter more tourists in this historic attraction, but soon realized that we were the only ones. We had become the focus of attention and many curious gazes followed our group.

We waited for our tour to begin upstairs where we had some distance to look at the site from a birds-eye view. It was nice to see and taken in everything and not be seen. Our tour guide arrived with a huge eager smile and began a presentation introducing Ahmedabad’s history dating back to the 15th century. He was proud of the city’s smart planning (ex. buildings made of stone-wood walls which survived major earthquakes; doors leading to secret passages that only locals would know) and peaceful state (there are no “defensive” architecture). It was interesting to learn about how commerce and business helped maintain peace in the region because they formed business partners. For example, because the British relied on Ahmedabad’s textile industry, they developed and maintained a friendly relation. The Old City was divided in “pols” which are little neighborhoods that was originally organized based on profession/religion but later came to be based on class. Each pol has a gate, a public board, a temple, and a bird feeding tower. I was impressed by how people were sensitive enough to build these bird feeding structures to compensate for the birds losing their homes as the city expanded and cut down trees. Our walk took about 2-3 hours and we saw temples, a plethora of stray dogs, beautifully colored walls (very pastel-ly I thought), and then ended our tour at a mosque.

The rest of the day was spent viewing some Indian paintings and sculptures at the Institute of Indology, eating a scrumptious lunch at Havmor, a nicely air-conditioned restaurant, and resting at Riana’s great aunt’s house. Then we headed back to Riana’s apartment and dinner (a salty popped rice dish called bhel and sev puri, a taco-like dish) and returned to our prospective homes (for some, their host family’s house, for others, the ITSA apartment or Riana’s place) afterwards. Whew, what a full, wonderful day!  

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