I spent a few days traveling across Gujarat. The state has surprised me in many ways. One of the things that stood out for me was the people of Gujarat. Here, I came across some of the most honest and genuine people. Having traveled across quite a few places in the country, I can safely say that as a woman I have felt most comfortable in Gujarat. And, this is huge for non-touristy women travelers like me!
Of the many wonderful people I met during this journey, I want to put down three of them, those whom I would not like to forget.
The Boy in the Yellow Shirt
It was the last day of our trip and we were at Ahmedabad. Our flight wasn’t until 8.00 PM, thanks to the slow pacing of our travel. My parents had decided to rest at the hotel, so I made my own plans. I set out with the intention of visiting Jami Masjid, Sarkhej Roza, and then exploring the market at Lal Darwaza.
An Ola auto took me to Jami Masjid in just 10-15 mins. I didn’t realize that it was this close to my hotel, which was located at Sabarmati Riverfront. On the way, I spotted Siddi Sayed Mosque, which we had visited earlier. I felt tempted to go inside once again to take a closer look at the jaalis of this mosque, also known as Jaali-Wala Masjid.
I asked the auto driver about Sarkhej Roza, he had no idea and recommended I ask the people at Jami Masjid. On enquiry near the masjid, I got to know it was 11 Km. away. The auto driver demanded a whopping Rs. 800 to take me there and back. I bid goodbye to him and entered the mosque.
At the entryway, I crossed a young 19-20 year old boy. He called out that I shouldn’t enter the prayer area, as women are not allowed. A little irked that I don’t need to be told about that, I used the moment to enquire about Sarkhej Roza. He said it wasn’t that far and then offered to take me there. Not sure if I could trust him, I hesitated and said I may get delayed as I would like to explore Jami Masjid first and also planned to go to Jaali-wala Masjid. He said he had no problem and would wait.
In the 15-20 mins of exploring Jami Masjid, I had decided to take the risk of going to Sarkhej Roza with the young boy. We stepped out of the Masjid into the narrow crowded market place outside. Instead of hailing an auto right there, my young guide started walking into narrow alleys. Enough for me to pull my guards up. “Why don’t we take an auto here?” I asked. “We’ll take it from the main road,” pat came his reply.
Doubting his intentions, I started probing further – Why are you going to Sarkhej Roza? What do you do? What were you doing at the mosque? Simultaneously I took note of his bright yellow chequered shirt, the slight limp in his gait, the Cello tiffin box that he hung on his shoulder. I got to know that he worked in a notebook shop opposite the masjid. His Seth had not opened the shop that day, so he was going back home after offering namaz at Jami Masjid. His house is close to Sarkhej Roja. He went on to sing praises of Gujarat and even telling me with conviction that I should shift to Ahmedabad.
After a walk of about 15 mins, we arrived at the main road and just across the road was jaali-wala masjid. Ah! He remembers that I wished to stop here. After I was done, we crossed the road and boarded a shared auto. The shared auto put to rest all the unnecessary speculations my mind was occupied with.
Somewhere this young boy got off and when I offered to pay his fare he hesitated but accepted later. The auto zoomed away and the distance seemed to be quite a bit. I could hear myself saying – Sarkhej Roza better be worth all this trouble!
Soon the shared auto dropped me off at some point. With ample guidance from the autowala, I crossed the road, boarded another auto and reached my destination – Sarkhej Roza or Bara Maqbara.
This young boy had no intention other than just taking me to the place I wanted to go. A gesture I will always fondly remember.
We live in a world where even good acts are viewed through the tainted lens of suspicion and we find it difficult to accept that a stranger can do something nice for us. I firmly believe the world is made of more good people than bad and this is just another case in point to prove that.
The Driver Who Cared So Much
Have you ever come across a driver who pays for your tea and nariyal paani and also treats you to roadside street food? I never had until I met the driver of the car I had hired for our travel. It wasn’t a package tour and I had just booked a cab separately for 5 days and 4 nights.
The driver went beyond his duty of driving us around to make sure we had a very good experience. He became our guide taking us to places that we had no idea about and treating us with all the best roadside food found in each place. Not just that, while in Somnath he invited me to his house for an authentic Gujarati lunch prepared by his sister.
The Unassuming Chaiwala
The chaiwala (roadside tea seller) at Dwarika is again someone who touched my heart. He was just one of the chaiwalas selling chai (tea) at Gomti Ghat. I had chai from him on two occasions. The third time I had no change and he said that I could pay later. Selling chai to a tourist on credit, I thought was a very nice gesture. I told him I was leaving that day and may not be able to come back. “Koi nei” (“It’s okay”) is what he said.
These people and many others have been instrumental in making my Gujarat experience a wonderful one. And, these are precisely the kind of experiences that propel me to travel.