People offer a flavour that nothing else can and will!
Even a tourist destination is more than just the site – its the people, the place and its environs that define a place. In the recent whirlwind 5-day tour we did in Kutch, we stayed 4 nights in 4 different places, traveled 1500 kilometers by road and took in a multitude of sights. So, there was little time or scope for people interaction. However, what ever chance I got, I did try and catch the local color!! (All pictures taken with permission of the subject)
The local tourists were few and far between. Gujarat Tourism charges just Rs 5/ per adult for entry, which I felt was ridiculously low. But then I caught these two women, in all their pinkness, sitting in the sun. And they said their …
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An early start again, this time with Nupur at the wheel, we drove northeast from Amdavad in the darkness and watched the many transitions of dawn. We admired the first hint of pink change gradually, in many shades till the sun appeared like a flaming orange ball. And suddenly, we passed a sign that said ‘The Tropic Of Cancer is passing from here’. I yelled from the backseat, and we took yet another impulsive decision to take a U-turn and go right back to the sign. Google Aunty sort of freaked out for a bit, but it was well worth it. We got off and took some crazy pics (including two crazy selfies), not finding anyone reliable (there was a very doped out man who walked by) to take our picture! Why we didn’t remember that the super organized Rachna Khanna had a camera with a tripod stowed away in her backpack at this point, well, that’s anyone’s guess!
After the divine Parsi breakfast, so unexpected in the Maharashtrian countryside, I took the wheel next and we crossed over into Gujarat driving past towns like Vapi, Salvav and Pardi, more familiar names like Valsad and Navsari and bypassing Surat via Kamrej. This was the stretch where we saw the most interesting stuff being carried on trucks and where our nostrils filled with strange smells at some of the industrial areas we passed by (a post on trucks will be contingent on Nupur supplying me the pictures!). A large number of rivulets, tributaries of the mighty Tapi river, criss-cross through this part of Gujarat heading down to meet the Arabian Sea not far out to our left and it was fun reading out their names.
But it was the Narmada at Bharuch that really halted us in our tracks. Mighty and magnificent, we were fascinated by these waters as we crossed the long bride over it. We spotted some ghats (steps) and impulsively turned in their direction. I have to mention that on this trip, impulsiveness was as much a reward as planning. We found ourselves in a temple on the banks of the Narmada. A few families were there, including one all the way from Bengal, engrossed in rituals and filling up on the holy waters. We sat on the ghats, watching some young men fish, some cattle wandering past and an old lady staring into the water.
This was a spiritual experience of sorts, just watching this massive body of water flow by us. It was hot and still and life seemed to simply stop. There are so many legends around holy rivers in India. You need to find a spot like this next to one and take the moments off to appreciate why!
Nupur was driver next. A short halt at a nondescript Café Coffee Day to rehydrate, grab a bite and empty the bladder and we were on our way to Amdavad, where we planned to halt for the night. An aside on the bladder issue: I was anticipating finding decent places to relieve ourselves to be the biggest issue on the trip, but we got lucky with this aspect, finding halfway decent toilets most places.
The Vadodara to Amdavad highway is a dream run in many ways and perhaps the most enjoyable section of the trip. Sadly, I slept through some of this. What makes it work are good design (verges, exits, landscape, all much better than he standard NHAI format), excellent road surface (we saw them repair it and they don’t do patchwork but actually take off and relay the surfaces that need attention) and the lush green landscape. I was pleasantly surprised to see neither Vadodara not Amdavad sprawling endlessly along the highway and neither Anand nor Nadiad that fall on the way made their presence overtly felt as we drove past. A new experience indeed!
Our divided political views were what made the Gujarat stretch particularly interesting. I am no Modi supporter, nor is Nupur, but Rachna is of the view that he is a doer and deserves a chance. We’ve ended up arguing about this once before, but I think we all decided to leave the issue aside for this road trip. Driving through Gujarat though, it’s hard to ignore the obvious signs of development—industrialisation, managed urban growth, agricultural prosperity all stare you in the face. Finding fault was a task and terms like vikas and prateek were being bandied about. At one point, Rachna asked me why I was so taken in by these two men? And I answered, “That’s because I am a men’s lady (inverse of ladies’ man). That’s the sort of ridiculous humour that marked this leg of the trip, intertwined with more serious observations and the twitter hash tag #vikaskaprateek was thus born!
The tag took on a slightly sarcastic tone as we crossed the vast slums of Narol on our way into Amdavad city. Congested and unsanitary, I could see this was a Muslim majority stretch, another sensitive topic we avoided. Conflagrations weren’t on the menu for the trip!
Google Aunty got us right to Pappu mama’s doorstep. Nilay Kapoor is Rachna’s mama (mother’s brother) and we call him Pappu mama. A figure from our schooldays, he works for India’s large public sector rural bank NABARD. I remember him as one of the most intelligent people I knew outside of my parent’s medical community back in the Lucknow days. He was always urging us towards academic excellence and I had fond memories of Pooja mami, his wife, who was a pretty young mother back in school!
An evening of family fun ensued. Amid chai, nashta, nostalgia and chitter chatter, Pappu mama offered nuggets from his own visits to rural India, on other postings and here in Gujarat. An unapologetic fan of Narendra Modi, I was impressed by his neutrality as he discussed Gujarat’s struggle with education and malnutrition and praised its co-operative movements and community feeling. Kejriwal, not one to be left out of any discussion on politics today, was also on the menu, as was shopping and the delectable Gujarati thali at Sasuji on CG road. I was, of course, tickled to find that idli sambar had now officially become a part of the Gujarati thali here! Another example of the myriad manifestations of cultural exchange in our country that make life very interesting.