|Imagine a massive hairdryer the size of a house with an ultrahot fry-your-hair-fast setting. You turn it on and stand in front of it, the wind drying your skin. The heat of it makes it difficult to walk, to move.
That is Ahmedabad.
Ahmedabad is easily the hottest place we've been so far, hotter than any place I've been before. The autorickshaw driver tells us it is 44 degrees as we drive to our hotel. And we thought Udaipur was hot!
We check in to our hotel to discover that the only room available (at least until another room checks out) is the "lavish suite," so named, we figure, for its circular bed so small that my knees were almost hanging over the edge. We relax in the room for a few hours before venturing out for an afternoon snack. We need something to keep us going before a thali feast for dinner.
We walk very very slowly to a nearby restaurant in the midday heat. As we languish in the air-conditioned restaurant, we watch a man breaking up pavement outside with a pickaxe. He works for about 15 minutes, then sits to take a short break. These are incredibly hardy people!
The road back to our hotel is lined with street vendors selling fruit and fresh juices, torture to look at and know we cannot have any. Ahhh to be able to buy fruit and juice again!
Our afternoon is spent watching television and enjoying the fan in our "lavish" room (well I watched tv and Laura did yoga). On our way to dinner, we're told that another room is ready for us ... one with at least slightly bigger beds!
Dinner is very tasty ... a Gujarat thali very similar to the ones we ate in Udaipur. As we'd been told by our cooking teacher, the food is sweeter (they add sugar to most dishes) which I found a little less tasty. It was good, however, and was served by the usual army of waiters, all incredibly happy to replenish our dishes after each bite so we are constantly facing a massive platter of food. Maybe an empty dish tells them we want more, and when we're full we should leave some left over? We don't know, but not wanting to waste food, we happily rub our bellies and decline more refills, much to the disappointment of the servers.
We consume a lot of food in a very short time (hard not to eat fast when your dish is always being filled) and return to our hotel very very full. The meal was tasty, very good, but not as good as the Gujarati restaurant in Udaipur!
We wake early the next day to visit Sabarmati ashram, Gandhi's headquarters during the struggle for Indian independence. It is also the place from which a 60 yr old Gandhi started the famous Salt March to protest British taxes (he walked over 300 km to the sea with several thousand followers to make salt from sea water, thereby defying the British tax on salt). Interestingly, it also contains Gandhi's 1939 letter to Hitler asking him to pull back from war.
The ashram is a peaceful place but feels very modern compared to the Sevagram ashram where we stayed. I doubt whether people actually live at the ashram any more; it is mostly a large museum dedicated to explaining Gandhi's life.
As we walk through the ashram we notice a large metal gate barring access to the river. A woman and her two children stand there, gazing up at the ashram. A little boy hangs on the bars for a moment before wandering away. Their clothes are in tatters and their hair is dirty and knotted. One has to wonder what Gandhi would think of modern India, where the gates of his ashram are locked to the poor and massive slums line the road around it. It is especially ironic since this ashram was the first to admit untouchables, one of Gandhi's key tenants and a source of conflict with his wife and other ashramites.
We have just enough time for another thali feast before getting ready to leave Ahmedabad. A brief conflict with our autorickshaw driver (though the driver said he would wait at the ashram, apparently we made him wait too long and so wanted to increase his fee by a third) and we're enjoying another wonderful meal . Each thali has slightly different ingredients, different flavours, and leaves us puzzling over what something is and how to eat it. Laura finishes with her beloved gulab jamon for dessert while I have something that is pretty much identical to a bowl of thick vanilla icing. People like their sugar here!
We return to our hotel, have a quick shower, and are off to the train station. It is too short a visit to say we really saw Ahmedabad, but the city certainly left us with some lasting memories ...
-Our first experience of the dry intense heat moving through the city in an wave of hot wind. It is like nothing I've experienced before, but as we move south, I suspect we will come to know it well.
-The people working in the direct sunlight without a hat, digging roads or carrying heavy loads of dirt on large pans balanced on their heads. It is unbelievable that they can do it and I can only imagine how little they are paid (we later learn that it's around $3 Cdn for 8 hours).
-The contrast between Gandhi's vision for India and what it has become. He pursued a dream of communal living where the poor are supported by handicrafts and textile making, and people exist with what they need, not what they want. Despite the reverence for Gandhi here, the divide between rich and poor is staggering: a poor family watches families with fancy cellphones and expensive clothing touring the ashram through a barred gate.
We leave Ahmedabad excited to meet our friends Sean and Trish in Mumbai!