When I was planning my Gujarat itinerary last year, the most important consideration was my parents as this trip was for them. I had to plan an itinerary with enough and more breaks so that it would be comfortable for them. This was crucial as my father has acute motion sickness, something that developed as he aged and it’s so bad that he cannot travel at a stretch even when moving from one place to another within the city. That’s why Jamnagar ended up being part of the itinerary as a break between Ahmedabad and Dwarika. The travel of 7-8 hours by car from Ahmedabad to Dwarika wouldn’t work for my father. So, we took a train to Jamnagar, stayed back one night, and then proceeded to Dwarika.
Jamnagar, the city of Jaamsahebs, was known as Nawanagar when it was established centuries ago at the banks of Rangmati and Nagmati rivers.
The feeling of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) would have made me sick if I was to leave the city without experiencing anything of it. So, before leaving for Dwarika, we decided to go to Jamnagar’s signature tourist spot – Lakhota Fort located in the middle of Ranmal Lake. The fort was not quite like the fort we expected but was not bad either.
Ranmal Lake, also known as Lakhota Talav was constructed by the Maharaja of Jamnagar, Jam Ranmalji-II, between 1820 to 1852 and spreads around 5 lakh sq. meters. A sprawling garden surrounds the lake with pavilions for resting and pathways for walking around. The pathways were very spacious and I would not be exaggerating if I say they were larger than many a road in my city of Bangalore.
It was morning time and we found elderly people walking around or seated at different places gobbling up the morning newspaper while youngsters were jogging through the morning air. On the back ground was playing old Kishore Kumar melodies throughout the garden making the morning refreshingly soothing and beautiful.
My parents and I walked around leisurely and the garden was turning out to be a good place to start the day. The lake and the garden was very well maintained. There were several entrance gates and a nominal entry fee was charged.
We learnt that the well-maintained lake was used for pearl culture during the times of the Maharaja.
At the center of the lake is the Lakhota Fort or Lakhota Palace, the latter being a better description of the place. A short causeway that runs over the lake like a bridge connects the garden to the palace. The palace houses a museum that stores artifacts and pottery dating from 9th to 18th century. Photography is not allowed inside.
The palace was built in the mid-19th-century by Maharaja Jam Ranmalji-II, at the same time when he built the lake. I am not much of an architecture person but the fine woodcarvings at the palace did catch my attention.
At the south east side of the lake, is Bala Hanuman temple. The specialty of this temple is that it is in Guinness Book of Records for non-stop chants of “Shri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram” that have been going on continuously since 1st August, 1964.
With my FOMO put to rest, we happily exited Jamnagar and proceeded to Dwarika.
It was a little after 6.00 AM when I stepped out of my hotel room. It was still dark and that made me double-check my wrist watch. The morning aarti (prayer) was due at the temple at 6.30 AM. I could either watch the sunrise or attend the aarti and I still hadn’t decided which one I wanted to do. My parents preferred to stay back at the hotel as we were expecting a long day ahead.
We had arrived at Dwarika the day before. After settling down in the hotel, I had stepped out for a stroll in Gomti Ghat while my parents rested after the 4 hour drive we had from Jamnagar. Our hotel was located at Gomti Ghat and it was just a few meters from the temple.
It was late afternoon and the first thing I saw on stepping out was Sudama Setu, the suspension bridge, over Gomti River. The ghat had as many people as there were cows. There was a camel too offering rides with its owner and it just seemed so out of place. Street vendors spread out their wares and tiny shops dotted the ghat. Someone was also seeking donations over a loudspeaker for feeding cows. I turned around and spotted the temple Shikara (spire) just opposite to the ghat.
This part of the world looked so different from the hi-tech world of Bangalore – reason enough for the sense of excitement I felt. The thought that it was Christmas day and for the first time I was in a not-so-Christmassy set up amused me even more. I walked leisurely towards the point where Gomti River meets Arabian Sea while enjoying the old world charm around me.
An interesting thing about Gomti River is that, its water recedes during the day and one can walk to the middle of the river, in the mornings the river gets filled with water once again.
Somewhere on the way, I stopped to have a cup of tea from a roadside Chaiwala (tea seller). Meanwhile, the Sun was busy conspiring with the sea and the sky. By the time I finished my tea, the sun had started bathing the sea and sky in a burning red with tinges of orange and yellow. I hurried my pace to reach the end of the ghat to get a good glimpse of the gorgeousness that was unfolding as the sun was bidding goodbye for the day.
This morning I felt compelled to step out. All in the hope of beholding the golden colours once again. This time for sunrise. Though the morning was still dark, the ghat was abuzz with activities. It didn’t take me long to decide it was sunrise that I wanted, the morning aarti could wait for the next day.
Once again, all the activities in the ghat fascinated me – some were bathing in the river notwithstanding the cold December morning; some were performing Puja and releasing oil lamps onto the river; some were hurriedly walking towards the temple; some were feeding fishes; some were buying sea shells; and so on and so forth.
The cows were up too, jostling to share space with their human counterparts. Few sadhus in their saffron robes wandered around aimlessly. The shops of colourful shoes and bags were opening up. Those selling Puja items had already started their business.
Somewhere, I met my Chaiwala where I sipped tea while watching people – watching people happens to be one of my favourite activities. The buzzing energy all around was somewhat contagious. Everybody and everything at the ghat seemed like little stories to me.
Somewhere in the flurry of activities, nature had quietly started painting the sky in hues of yellows, oranges and reds. As the Sun peeked over the horizon, it was time for me to go back to the hotel where my parents were waiting for me.
I turned around and noticed the temple shikhara, which was now clearly visible with the first rays of the Sun.
I recalled last evening when we had visited the temple during the evening aarti. The temple was swarming with people. My parents didn’t dare to brave the crowd and found a place to sit instead. I went ahead and managed a quick glance of Dwarkadhish – that’s how Lord Krishna is referred to here – but not before the undisciplined crowd squashed me completely.
As always, I wondered why people become so unruly just before the actual darshan in some of these temples. All that I could think of is Lord Krishna perhaps enjoys all the attention he gets from His frenzied devotees.
A narrow network of dusty lanes and by-lanes, sunlight trickling through congested concrete, intricately carved wooden pillars and doorways, half broken creaking wooden windows, dusty wooden doors some with shining steel locks and some that appear to have been shut forever – these are just few of the things that greeted us as we stepped in through the gateway of Hari Bhakti Ni Pol.
‘Amdavadi Pols’ had piqued my interest when I first read about them in a newspaper article. The article had mentioned that these Pols significantly contributed to the 600-year old Ahmedabad City being declared as a world heritage by UNESCO. I was intrigued and the article gave only a faint idea about Pols.
Pols (pronounced as Poles) are Ahmedabad’s cultural identity and represent a unique legacy. Therefore, it featured in my list of things to explore in the city. During this trip across some places of Gujarat, I was with my parents and exploring Pols wasn’t something I could do with them. Hence, I was looking out for an opportunity to slip out on my own and go Pol-hopping.
A cousin sister happened to be in Ahmedabad for some work on the same day. She called me saying that she had read about these old havelis (mansions) in the in-flight magazine and wanted to go visit them. I instantly knew it was the Pols she’s talking about. Both of us hatched a plan and set out in the afternoon for our most looked forward to walk through Amdavadi Pols. The enriching experience of the 3-hour walk surpassed our expectations and we wished we would have had time for more.
The word Pols is derived from the Sanskrit word Pratoli, which means gate. Pols are a conglomeration of houses usually inhabited by people and families linked together through caste, culture or profession. They are living testimonies of the social unrest that existed in the region hundreds of years ago. Each Pol remains guarded by its own entry gate. In earlier days, these gates would be shut at night. Each Pol also has its exclusive secret exit gate, which is privy to Pol members only. During an attack, men would defend the entry gate, while women and children would escape into the labyrinth of pathways through the secret exit gate.
Each Pol also has a dedicated temple and a chabutro or bird feeder. Chabutro are tall poles that the people of Ahmedabad put up for birds. These were built with the idea of providing home to birds as trees were chopped off to build the city. A thoughtful gesture perhaps but replacing trees with man-made cement poles – I wish they knew better!
Pols are located within the walled city of Ahmedabad and have no space for motor vehicles. The narrow winding alleys are best explored on foot, bicycles or two wheelers. Apparently, there are more than 300 such Pols. While many people have moved out to live in better localities, many still prefer living in the Pols. Almost all the heritage houses in the Pols we visited were in a dismal state. I hope the authorities are aware and do plan to renovate some of them. Or else it will be a sad loss of heritage.
We walked from one dusty narrow lane to another, crisscrossing and trying to make sense of the maze that we were enthusiastically navigating. Nearly at every turn in the narrow lanes, we bumped into either cows or oncoming two wheelers. We came across a number of Pols in our pathway – Hari Bhakti Ni Pol, Khadia Pol, Fatasa Pol, Sheth Ni Pol, and Sakari Ser Pol.
Somewhere, we entered a Pol temple where we offered our prayers to Lord Krishna, who was the residing deity. There we met and chatted with a Baa whose toothless smile and wrinkled face stole our hearts and we felt like giving her a tight hug. She offered us laddoos as prasad and spoke at length in Gujarati while we tried our best to figure out what she had to say with very little success whatsoever.
Pic 9: The entry to the Pol temple where we met Baa
Pic 10: The temple inside, the entry was small but the temple is fairly spacious
My cousin didn’t miss a chance to peep through open windows whenever she found one, a habit she carries from childhood. At one time, she discovered an entire room filled with jewellery boxes and two men sitting in a corner with whom she went on to a serious discussion about the prices, where they supply those boxes, etc. In another, she found people busy sewing some kind of traditional stuff, maybe bags she thought not bothering to get into a discussion this time.
We realised that many Pols are part of some cottage industries that allow people to earn their livelihood without leaving their homes. We also noticed that though the pathways and the entryways were very narrow, the houses inside were quite spacious.
Pic 11: A haveli that was simple and not so elaborate.
My cousin was on the lookout for two specific havelis, ones she had read in the in-flight magazine – Mangaldas Ni Haveli and a certain French Haveli. Both these have been converted to hotels now. We did locate Mangaldas Ni Haveli. There were two of them – Mangaldas Ni Haveli-I and Mangaldas Ni Haveli-II.
Mangaldas Ni Haveli-I is a residential home and had a lock hanging on the front door at that point in time. Mangaldas Ni Haveli-II was the hotel. With no inhibitions, my cousin knocked on the door and it was opened by a gentleman. When she requested for a look inside, he demanded 100 bucks per person. We happily paid and took a tour of the inside. My cousin, with her penchant for interior design, was much more excited than I was.
I had a cap on time as I had a train to catch. So, we couldn’t go looking for French Haveli. I left while my cousin continued exploring Ratan Pol, which is now a wholesale market place.
Allured by what I heard from her I just had to go explore Ratan Pol, which I did when I had a day in Ahmedabad during my return trip. Overexcited with prices that I thought were dirt cheap, I only landed up burning a hole in my pocket, but that’s for another day….
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.