beyond the unesco sites: what not to miss in ahmedabad

You have finished exploring the UNESCO-designated historic city of Ahmedabad. And combed through the sites to its north [Modhera, Patan and Sidhpur] and south [Lothal and Utelia] spanning a few millennia each in time. What now? Is there more?

There is in fact lots more, but if one had to pare it down to the absolute unmissable, what would that be? The one museum not to give a miss. The one restaurant where not eating at would be sacrilege. This post is about that—about the unmissables. Luckily, I was guided by friends who have lived in and loved Ahmedabad, with all its quirks and treasures. This is what they insisted I experience. Paying it forward, these are the top five experiences I insist you too have whilst in the city. 😊 Continue reading

36 hours in india’s only unesco world heritage city: ahmedabad

When Ahmed Shah I laid the foundations of his capital way back on 26 February, 1411, little did he know his legacy would earn the status of a World Heritage City six hundred years on. Nineteen years old at the time, Ahmed Shah I was the third Sultan of the Gujarat Sultanate (1407 – 1573). In July 2017, his city Ahmedabad beat Delhi, Mumbai, and Varanasi in the bid to become India’s first, and as of now only, UNESCO designated city. Continue reading

incredible gujarat: from 4,400-year-old lothal to 120-year-old utelia

I was first introduced to Lothal on my visit to Dholavira, another five millennia old Harappan site across the white salt pans of Kutch in Gujarat. Multiple references had been made to it: of Lothal’s significance in the bigger scheme of things in the Indus Valley civilization and the incredible finds unearthed from its excavations.

Now at Lothal three years later, as I sat under a tree in the deserted site, the sun bounced off the satin-silk waters of the dock lined by 4,400-year-old sun-dried bricks. I could almost hear the banter between the dock-hands in the 24th Century BC as they loaded and unloaded the boats with bags full of carnelian and steatite beads, ready to set out for distant lands beyond the seas. Over the distance of time, traders, both rich and poor, in the nearby market haggled with buyers using stone weights and gold discs based on the first ever instance of the decimal system. In the intersecting narrow side lanes, little children played with clay animal figurines, marbles and cowries, punctuated with gleeful peals of laughter. Continue reading

travel diaries: the padlocked past of sidhpur

Travel reveals the most fascinating places. Surreal. Otherworldly. And more often than not, unexpected. Don’t you agree?

My most recent experience that fell into this category was a candy-coloured, turn-of-the-19th Century, European-styled neighbourhood in the nondescript, dusty town of Sidhpur in Northern Gujarat. It was almost bizarre in its very existence. What added to the drama of this completely out-of-place ensemble was that it was abandoned and padlocked, and has been so for years, save a handful or so of its houses.

Much written about in recent times by various bloggers and writers, with even an entire photo exhibition on it by the celebrated Sebastian Cortés in Mumbai in 2015, the place still took me by surprise. I was like, “Is this real?” Even to the extent of touching a few walls, and checking the efficacy of a few locks. I must confess I could not decide what was more hypnotic. The opulent, antiquated mansions. Or the outback, deserted, dusty mantle. Continue reading

a 1,000-year-old royal couple’s expression of love and piety: modhera and patan

Do you like stories? I do. A lot. 🙂

Especially stories of those who live larger-than-life lives in spirit and feat.

This post is the tale of one such story—of a king called Bhimadeva I and his lovely, loving queen Udayamati, who lived a thousand years ago. And no, it is no myth. There are colossal monuments they left behind as testimony of their love and piety, as I discovered one sunny wintry day I travelled 75 kilometres north-west of Ahmedabad in Western India, in the state of Gujarat.

Come, let me tell you more.

Son of Agni, the fire-god’s, Sun Temple of Modhera

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global travel shot: an ethiopian soldier’s gift to ahmedabad

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Yin and yang. Negative and positive. Feminine and masculine. Dark and light. Two sides which together make a whole.

Sidi Saeed, an Ethiopian who found his way to the Gujarat Sultanate’s army via Yemen, way back in 1572, seemed to have some inkling of this. Armed with 45 sculptors, “the nobleman who helped the poor and had a large collection of books,” created a series of jalis or stone screens as part of the Sidi Saeed Mosque in the heart of Ahmedabad. The most exquisite was the “tree of life” with its swirling, leaf-lined, abloom branches, topped with a palm motif; its beauty heightened when seen from both the outside and inside. It was hard put to decide which side was a lovelier sight. Continue reading

the 6 untold treasures of vadodara

Friend: “You’re going to Vadodara. Wonderful idea! There is a lot to see in the city. After all, it is the cultural capital of Gujarat.”
Me: “Nice. So what do you suggest I visit and explore?”
Friend: “The Lukshmi Villas Palace is an absolute must!”
Me: “Ok, will do. What else?” [As I jotted it frantically in my notebook in anticipation of being hit by a barrage of to-do-things]
Friend: “The museum attached to the palace is another must do.”
Me: “Ok, got that down too. And?”
Friend: “Hmmm. Oh well. I don’t know. But there is a lot. Hey, it is the cultural capital. But I don’t know…”

Yes, that is it with Vadodara, earlier known as Baroda. Though it is publicly acknowledged as the cultural capital of Gujarat, its attractions are neither documented nor publicised. At least not enough and one cannot be blamed for wondering if they even exist. Continue reading

champaner—the muslim part of the champaner-pavagadh unesco world heritage site

Fairy tales often start like this, don’t they: Once upon a time there was a fearless, virtuous king who had dreams of conquering an invincible fortress perched on a hill. His father and grandfather had time and again attempted to defeat it too, but to no avail.

The tale I am writing about continues like this: The brave king was Sultan Abu’l Fath Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah I, ruler of the Gujarat Sultanate and great-grandson of Ahmed Shah I, founder of Ahmedabad, Gujarat in 1411. The invincible fortress belonged to the Kichchi Chauhan Rajputs on Pavagadh.

Calling himself “Sultan al-Barr, Sultan al-Bahr” meaning “Sultan of the Land, Sultan of the Sea,” history knows him as Mahmud Begada. The name “Begada” was derived from his winning two gadhs in his lifetime, namely Pavagadh and Junagadh. Continue reading

pavagadh—the hindu part of the champaner-pavagadh unesco world heritage site

I have a book titled Speaking Stones World Cultural Heritage Sites in India which I must confess is my most prized possession. Coming to terms these past few months with some harsh realities on death and the transience of life, I reached out to the hard bound volume on my bookshelf to see what I could add to a wish-list to make come true.

The pages opened, almost as if urged by some mysterious calling, on Champaner-Pavagadh. Truth be told, I had never heard of the place before. But it was nearby and seemed doable over a few days. A friend pointed out the weather was all wrong for the rendezvous: “No one travels for pleasure to Gujarat in May when temperatures are soaring at 43 degrees.” The little voice in me said, “Who cares about the heat. Remember life truths!” 🙂

And, thus, one fine early morning, I found myself boarding a train to Vadodara, my base for my explorations. What I learnt and saw and experienced in the ensuing days far outweighed my expectations. But I run ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning. Continue reading

the mythological frescoes of nandalal bose in vadodara

In the heart of Baroda, now called Vadodara, within the royal Gaekwad family’s once sprawling grounds is the Kirti Mandir or Temple of Fame. The gigantic stone cenotaph was built in 1936 to ensure their ancestors’ posterity. A sun, moon, and a map of undivided India etched on a bronze globe are perched on top of its shikhara—a sovereign declaration of the spread and timelessness of Gaekwad rule.

But the cenotaph is weathered now and forgotten. It is visited on the rare occasion when a royal family member passes away and is brought to the adjacent cremation grounds to be burnt and then transposed into a plaster-of-paris bust placed in one of the rooms lining the passageways.

A lone 70-year-old guard, who has spent the last 60 years serving the royal family, with his one-year-old grandson’s arms wrapped around his neck unlocks the large doors should perchance a traveller land up at the temple’s doorstep. But this post is not about the royal family. I will write about them on another date. This one is about the art and artist whose mythological masterpieces decorate the walls inside Kirti Mandir. Continue reading

global travel shot: champaner, a 500-year-old indo-saracenic poem in stone

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“Look up, at the ceiling.” I am broken from my reverie, as I drift through a forest of 172 stone pillars, by my guide Manoj’s voice prodding me to halt in my tracks and raise my eyes, heavenwards.

High up, inside a dome above the main mihrab is the most exquisitely carved sculpture I have seen to date. And I find myself gasping in awe. Is this for real? I am not too sure what stuns me more. Its immense size, the fineness of the swirling leaves, or its incongruous placement—I am in a 500-year-old mosque in Champaner in Gujarat, 50-odd kilometres outside Vadodara, and the sculpture is Hindu-Jain in style and content. Continue reading

uncut: road trip to kutch

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“Sometimes it’s not about the destination, but about the journey itself.” ~ Anonymous

This is my last and final post on my 5-day road trip to Kutch taken in December 2014; a road trip full of personal 1sts that I would be happy to turn into 2nds. Uncut, here are some images which did not make it to my eight blog posts on the region but summarize my journey just as eloquently. Continue reading