A Travellerspoint blog

Surat

Hume India se pyar hein.....we think!

sunny 35 °C

We decided to go to see a bazaars on Wednesday night in Baroda and then find somewhere to eat. We asked the hotel to get us a tuk tuk and the doorman went out onto the street and called a tuk tuk. We suspect the driver may have been his grandson, as the doorman went through a spiel telling him to take us directly to the bazaar, not to stop at any shops and not to go too fast (all interpreted through Natalie), whilst the driver sulked like a teenager, but he got us there in one piece. Bill's Hindi lessons continue, the driver has also joined in giving him lessons as we drive along. Everywhere we go, Bill tells everybody his name is Bill in Hindi.

We are not sure if we got to the bazaar, as we saw a great street of stalls and called out for the driver to stop and let us off. The street was full of ceramic shops and material shops and we strolled down the road. Bill found a wall mounted Ganesh and quickly brought it. Ganesh is the God of knowledge and the remover of obstacles and is the older son of Lord Shiva. Lord Ganesha is also called Vinayak ( knowledgeable ) or Vighneshwer (god to remove obstacles). He is worshipped at the beginning of any blessings. He has four hands, an elephant's head and a big stomach. His vehicle is a mouse (Hindu deities have particular vehicles or 'vahana' on which they travel. The vehicle, which is either animals or birds, represent the various forces that he or she rides. The deities are seldom depicted without their corresponding creatures).w In Ganesh's hands he carries a rope (to carry devotees to the truth), an axe (to cut devotees' attachments), and a sweet dessert ball -laddoo- (to reward devotees for spiritual activity). His fourth hand's palm is always extended to bless people. A combination of his elephant-like head and a quick moving mouse vehicle represents tremendous wisdom, intellegence, and presence of mind. Bill has become a little obsessed with Ganesh and particularly of his vehicle the mouse, who is called Kroncha, Bill always looks for him when he sees a Ganesh (he even lifted up the gowns on Ganesh in a temple to see the mouse). We have brought several in our travels.

After traipsing around several stalls to find material for Natalie (Natalie has not got the shopping gene and was close to melt down, Bill on the other hand got a shirt and material for another shirt), we went to the railway station to find a restaurant. After Natalie and Bill led me across the road (with my eyes closed), we were met with a row of stalls/restaurants with men outside shouting for us to come in. We were unsure which one to go to, so we gave Bill the choice, he choose one because the seats looked nice, but Natalie and I had seen several cute guys outside another restaurant and headed that way. Fortunately, it was a great meal and Bill even used his fingers only to eat the meal, for the first time.

Yesterday morning we were heading for Surat; we checked out of the hotel and we were rather embarrassed by the clinking box of bottles of beer that the doorman had to struggle with, as well as our bags. We were not the only ones with a box of booze, there was someone checking in that had a similar box of clinking bottles. We have seen more drunk people on the streets in Gujarat (a none drinking state) than anywhere else. To break the journey to Surat, we decided to stop at the Swami Narayan Temple in Bharuch. It was a beautiful temple, there was a deity inside who was placed on a swing and there was a young boy in the temple, whose job was, to keep the deity swinging!

Driving into Surat, we started to see people walking along the side of the road, these people were pilgrims. They were dressed in orange and had long poles over their shoulders and had pots hanging off the poles, which contained holy water from the Ganges. It seems that they cannot put these poles down. Natalie said she would have candles at the end of her poles and ditch the holy water! We saw these people several times, because as usual we drove around and around trying to find our hotel.

We did eventually find our hotel and after booking in (they were unable to find our bookings as they had us booked as Mr Claire and Mr Bill and couldn't find William and Alison, as in our passports) we went for a walk around the streets to look for a material shop. We were not sure where it was but a lady, out for her evening walk, marched us down the road at some speed, but she was very kind. We had a good material shop, and Bill managed to buy two more shirts and on our way back, we found a marvellous English bookshop. Walking back to the hotel we had a sugarcane drink, Natalie and I loved it, it tasted very much like a grass drink, but Bill hated it. By chance we found a Hindu temple and the man in there showed us how to do a certain blessing and gave us some fruit and we found another much larger temple. Outside this temple was a brand new combined harvester, which was covered in flowers, the owner had brought it to the temple to be blessed.

We are in Surat for two whole days so we had a slow morning today, Bill went to the gym for a first time in days. This afternoon we decided to go for a long walk. We got our driver to drop us off at the starting point (he really wanted to drive us and it took a lot of persuading for him to leave us) and off we went. Our first stop was the English cemetery ; the first grave was for 1649 and we can see the changing architectural styles as time went on. There was a little old man there and he let us into one of the tombs, Bill and Natalie climbed to the top, where they had a great view. I noticed that the man had a stash of empty bottles in the corner and some playing cards! Inside another area (as we went in the man pushed all the empty bottles off the grave as we went in). We were looking at the stones for children who had died at birth. We walked further along the road, looking at houses and shops. Everywhere we went people were talking to us (Bill was telling them his name is Bill in Hindi) and waving and talking to us in English. Several people got off their motor bikes to talk to us and we invariably had a group of boys following us, who were trying to practice their English. Walking passed a bakery we were offered biscuits to try which we loved and further along the road a couple proudly showed us their house. We had a brilliant afternoon, strolling along and dodging the traffic and talking to everybody as we went along.

Tomorrow, we are determined to have a restful day and I have booked a massage; the following day we have a long journey ahead of us.

Posted by mulliganward 05:00 Archived in India Comments (1)

Police, sweets and alcohol

sunny 33 °C

Yesterday morning, we set off for the first time without our guide. The atmosphere in the car was so much better, we were able to have little chats without been interrupted and we commented on the energy in the group being so much better, plus there was less people to share our Indian sweets with. As we left Ahmedabad we commented on the number of police who were giving out tickets that morning and laughed that they must have a quota, as up until then, the only police we had seen were at chai stalls. We must have been traveling for about ten minutes and our driver was pulled over, it seems they said he had taken a wrong turn, but he was very cross with this and argued his case for quite some time. We just sat in the car in the middle of a very busy interchange and watched the proceedings (we were rather worried about our 'illegal' bottle of gin in the back of the car in such close proximity), he did eventually come back but he was cross that they had tried to bribe him, telling him, if he gave them two hundred rupees they would drop the fine. He had refused this (I told him I would have paid), people in India are very cross with the corruption around the police.

We set off on our way again. When we got to Vadodara, we spent sometime trying to find the hotel (we found the only thing the guide had been good at, guiding us to hotels). The driver needed someone to guide him to the hotel, using the GPS on his phone, here we hit a problem; Bill gets travel sick if he has to read in the car, Natalie could not read the small writing and my Indian vocabularly is on par with pre pre learners. So, I was deemed the most appropriate to guide and consequently we spent the next hour stopping and starting and going in the wrong direction. We did eventually make it!

The hotel is said to be five star, but we feel possibly four at a stretch. Bill sat down and Natalie and I went to book in, I had to fill in a form with my details on; I saw it had Bill's name at the top, but hotel forms usually do. I handed the form over, the lady went away and came back and said they needed Bill to fill in the form. We called Bill over and he started to question why he needed to do it, when his wife had already filled it in. I kept telling him just to fill it in as I wanted to get to the room but he kept insisting and never got a direct answer. We were given a letter each when we had booked in and although Natalie was in a room by herself it still said Mr Ward on the envelope. The rooms are ok usual hotel fare; Bill was told not to open the curtains as the view was awful (actually isn't too bad) and the pool is closed due to the monsoon, although there is no room here, the monsoon seems to be the stock answer for everything.

Vadodara, which used to be known as Baroda, is the third largest city in Gujarat, after Ahmedabad and Surat (which we travel to tomorrow). It has a population of almost 1.8 million people. The driver and Natalie had several attempts at trying to get me to say Vadodara and in the end suggested I say Baroda.

Vadodara (or Baroda to it's friends) is the site of the Lakshmi Vilas Palace belonging to the royal Gaekwad dynasty of the Marathas and this is where we headed in the afternoon. The palace is the most beautiful building in India and it was jaw dropping, it is the largest palace in India where there are people living in it. We did not have a guide and the driver could not get us one, so we used an audio guide. After filling in several forms we were given the audio player. So we were not all using them I volunteered to be the guide, whilst Natalie followed on behind me and Bill wandered off into the distance taking pictures. Now I believe I was an excellent guide although I may have hit fast forward several times and missed some important information, but Bill and Natalie advised me not to take it up as a career. There were times when they were both doubled up with laughter at my Indian pronunciation, which I admit needs some work. Bill on the other hand is doing extremely well and Natalie is a good teacher. Everywhere we looked there was absolute grandeur but we did notice that the upper floor was falling into disrepair. The ball rooms was magnificent and we could just imagine the balls there, although I realised that the women would not be allowed downstairs and would have to watch from the balconies. We had a fun filled couple of hours that only felt like fifteen minutes.

When we got back to the hotel, we decided to get an alcohol permit, as this was the first time we had an opportunity to get one. I had to fill in a massive form, have my picture taken and my finger prints taken and have my passport stamped, but we are now legally allowed to drink alcohol in Gujarat as tourists (only in hotel rooms) for a month. Bill and Natalie were very jealous that I got my passport stamped.

This morning Bill and Natalie set off (at the ungodly hour of six thirty) for the foundation Akshaya Patra, which was just outside Vadodara. It is a foundation which runs food production and distribution and feeds over 1.3million children across India with free school meals, with the belief that no child should ever miss education because of hunger and it is seen as an incentive for children to go to school. When we were on the hill top the other day surrounded by children, we asked how many went to school and just two of the children put their hands up in a group of about twenty. We do believe that to change anything you do have to start with children and educating them, so there is a long way to go. Natalie has been donating money to the foundation for some time and has told us about it on many occasions, we now realise the important work they are doing.

We have just three weeks left before returning home, but we are having such a great time in India (even Bill who was very reticent about coming to India and even now says it is his favourite place) that we only have time for living in the moment.

Posted by mulliganward 20:06 Archived in India Comments (0)

Terracotta Horses

sunny 29 °C

On Saturday morning we set off for Poshina. Poshina is in the north of Gujarat and is very near to the border with Rajasthan and was about a four hour drive. As we made our way down the roads we came across several groups of nomads who were traveling. The men would travel in front with great big herds of sheep or goats (several hundred) and then the women would travel behind with all their belongings on camels. We noticed pretty quickly that we couldn't see any children and we were told that they were rolled in what look like sheets at the side of the camels. We also saw groups traveling with donkeys and they were carrying kids (as in baby goats) in their packs, very very cute. Bill and Natalie jumped out of the car several times to take pictures and the women would shout out that they wanted money for their pictures to be taken and one lady picked up a rock, but it was all none threatening. It was truly a brilliant sight.

We were staying in an old palace in Poshina, as grand as it sounds it was pretty basic, but there were some beautiful antiques scattered around and it was an experience we wouldn't have missed. There was an old guy at the gate (to keep out the villagers!), who had a glorious moustache and turban and he always insisted Bill took his picture, last night he was in full regalia, including sword and gun. The owner of the palace really saw himself as Lord of the Manor and would talk to us of the 'tribals' and the good work he had done for the 'tribals' (it seems he was a Maharajah cousin).

The hills around Poshina have two sites where there are thousands of terracotta horses. Each of these horses is said to have a soul and will grant a wish. To me this was one of the most important things to see in on our trip. Our first afternoon in Poshina, we went to the local potter to buy our terracotta horses (Natalie lost her heart to an Elephant). We seemed to acquire a large group of children that followed us along the streets and they all crowded into this tiny room with us. There was a potter sat on the floor, who was sat at something that looked almost like a spinning top (two large flat stones balanced on top of each other) and he would spin it with a large stick and he would then pass his finished work over to a man who put the horses together.

When we got back to the hotel, we got into a jeep with the owner and two members of staff and set off for the smaller site. We had to walk the last five minutes (along a dried up river) and when we came around the corner we saw thousands of terracotta horses. To make your wish, you have to go through a ceremony, where you would wave incense sticks in a clockwise direction and break a coconut on the alter and then give the gods at the alter coconut and gaggery (very sweet sweet, something like fudge) and you leave your horse on the riverside with all the others. When you were sat near the altar you were surrounded by the horses and it was a very spiritual experience. When children in the area see people arriving they run down to join you as you have to share out the coconut and gaggery with them, they are extremely sweet all sat in a row waiting. The following morning we went to the larger site and went through the ceremony again with new horses (please read Natalie's blog The Town Drunk, which I will share). This site had about forty thousand horses there and they were all looking up the mountain. It is a lovely feeling to think that when we are at home we can think of our horses in the hills in India, granting our wishes.

In the afternoon we went to the Hindu Temple of Arasuri Ambaji, unfortunately the temple was closed for repairs. We decided to amble around the market and it was not long before I had purchased some material and Natalie had a new top. Poor Bill became very hot in the heat and had to have a sit down and was soon surrounded by children wanting to practice their English with him. Everywhere we have been in India, Bill's tattoos have caused quite a stir and people always want to talk about them, they always love his runners wings on his ankles. Mohammed our guide came to find us to tell us that we could get to see inside the temple. Bill stayed in the car as was still very hot and Natalie and I trotted after the guide to enter the temple. The temple was not actually open but there were hundreds of people queuing up to get in. We sat on some steps and Natalie and I marvelled at the beautiful saris (Sunday best) and the queue management and we never actually got into the temple, but loved our time people watching. Travelling to the temple we saw nomadic people at the sides of the roads with just the most amazing outfits on, the ladies had waistcoats on with their names embodied on them and flowers on their shoulders.

Traveling in India (and before for Bill and I) we have been saddened by the amount of rubbish we have seen and this was the same when we got to Poshina. The hotel owner, when we were out in the jeep with us, was handing out material bags to any villagers he saw with plastic bags and telling them not to use plastic. We were very taken with this and we have paid for over a thousand bags to be made with 'Ward Women' on the side so he can keep handing them out. Not a great leap but at least when we see the rubbish we can think we have done our little bit. The hotel owner could just not believe that we were not putting Bill's name (although he always called him Phil) and kept suggesting we had 'Ward Women and Phil on the side of the bags.

Our hotel, although advertised, did not have wifi (all the telephone lines were down) and for the first time in our trip the children were trying to contact us. The hotel did have a washing service; Bill handed our washing in at breakfast time and Veejay (the local wide boy, come waiter) counted out all our washing including my underwear on the breakfast table, we do not know how Bill managed to keep a straight face.

Today we are back In Ahmedabad (just for a night as we travel down Gujarat). We have decided to part company with our guide as although he was booked for the whole trip we have decided to go it alone. Natalie has a good vocabulary of Hindi (everyone loves to speak to her) so we wanted to do it on our own as we always have more fun when we are just out on our own and we find people interact with us more. We have a very busy itinery but we are absolutely loving India :)

Posted by mulliganward 01:01 Archived in India Comments (0)

Wild Asses

sunny 30 °C

The wifi is only available outside the office here and is very sporadic, so I thought I would do a quick blog whilst I had the opportunity.

Bill and Natalie are still in their rooms and will be over soon to get their wifi fix. This is easier said than done as they both have a terrible sense of direction. This hotel is set in grounds and our rooms are in what looks like mud huts (very pretty mud huts, with tiny pieces of glass in the walls that twinkle in the light). Bill and Natalie spend their WHOLE time walking around lost, neither of them know the route to our rooms and just head in a general direction and hope for the best. Luckily the staff have sussed them out and are always on hand to take them to the rooms or restaurant. It is certainly a turn for the books when I am the one who has the sense of direction! The food here is wonderful, we have three rather large meals a day, for lunch yesterday we had four curries, starter and dessert, we are always so full.

Yesterday morning we set off in a jeep to go on a safari to the Little Rann of Kutch, the monsoon has not really started here yet, but they have had some rain so we were unsure how far into the desert we would be able to go. Whilst we sat in the back of the open jeep we were been battered with wind and a little rain, but as this is Gujarat it was warm. We went through villages and passed farmers and everybody waved at us as we went along. The roads were very bumpy and every now and again we would all be sent up in the air a good six inches on a bump in the road. The Rann is a salt desert and we saw large piles of salt that were been loaded onto a lorry. A man brought a pile of salt over for us to look at and it was like large sugar lumps, Bill tasted it and verified it tasted like salt! We saw several large groups of wild asses, they were very timid and would run away from us. Our driver said they were very excited as they had had some rain and were getting new grass growing.

On a way back to the hotel, the driver stopped at a camp of Rajasthan nomads. As we arrived the shout went out and ladies and children appeared from all directions with bundles of bangles, which they set out in front of us. Bill got out of the jeep with a hundred rupees to buy some bangles so Natalie and I could take pictures. The women were dressed amazingly and had bangles all up their arms and the beautiful children came up to us smiling. All the ladies were holding out their wares and asking Bill too buy them. I found it quite hard as they were all sooo poor and the children were so beautiful and just wanted to give them all money.

Yesterday afternoon we set off to go to a village to see some material. It was beginning to rain when we got into the jeep, but it was really coming down within a few minutes and we were quite wet. Our guide and driver were asking if we wanted to go back and we said that we were English and a little bit of rain didn't bother us. We went off road and through several villages and people were in the streets and their doorways staring, waving and laughing at us. We got out to walk down to see the material and the streets were a mass of mud and we were sliding and slipping our way down the road (absolutely soaked). People in the streets were giving me their hands to help me along (I find it hard to walk down a street in Crowthorne) and wherever we looked there were groups of people standing looking and laughing with us. At one stage we were invited into this house and this poor two year old was made to pose and have his picture taken with us. People in India have been really interested in our tattoos, especially Bills and people were talking to him about them, we stopped and spoke to a lady who had tribal tattoos (poor lady she looked absolutely exhausted after a day in the fields) and a lady showed us her earrings. We had the best of times we laughed from start to finish and so did everybody we came across.

Today we are traveling to Poshina.

Posted by mulliganward 19:26 Archived in India Comments (0)

Pols and wells

Sorry no proof reading

sunny 38 °C

We have done such a lot of things the last few days and we have limited wifi here, so I shall try and get it all down quickly, before I head for breakfast.

On Wednesday Bill and Natalie went on a walk around the pols in the old city of Ahmedabad. Pols are typical urban centres particularly in Ahmedabad and a Pol is an entrance to an enclosed area. Pols have one or two entrances and some secret entrances to give those living in the Pol greater security. Ahmedabad is said to be made up of over three hundred and sixty Pols. The houses in the Pols are called Haveli and they built on a water reservoir. Each Pol has it's own temples and community wells. They had great fun walking in the Pols and they came back telling me stories of the man who welcomed them into his house and the sweet tasting they had. They also sat near the courts and heard (well through our guide) a man's family bribing the judge for a lighter sentence for their son.

In the afternoon we traveled outside the city to see a salt well; Adalaj Vav was constructed in 1499 by the Muslim king Mehmud Begda for Queen Rani Roopba, widow of Veer Singh, the Vaghela chieftain. The step well or 'Vav', as it is called in Gujarati, is a fusion of Indian and Islamic architecture. The five storey step well was beautiful and had such intricate stone carvings. Natalie and I were taken with the history of the step well; the Muslim King Mohammad Begda invaded, defeated and killed Veer Sing who ruled here. It is said that Begda after seeing the beautiful queen longed to marry her. The queen promised to marry him once he constructed the step well. Begda ordered the construction of the step well which was finished in record time. Open completion Begda pressed the queen to fulfill her promise to marry him. But the queen, who was still devoted to her dead husband decided to end her life by jumping in the same step well. The entire episode is depicted in the walls of the Vav as well as the graves of the architects of the Vav, who the king had killed in his rage.

We then went to see the Hathee Singh Temple, which is a very famous Jain temple and also one of the most popular temples of the city. The temple was beautiful and surrounded by gods, I could almost feel the power of the temple, a very beautiful spiritual place. The Jains are looked on as the rich people in Ahmedabad, and this is why they are said to have such beautiful temples. After the temple we went to see the Ashram where Ghandi lived, it was quite a tourist attraction and Bill and Natalie were particularly taken with it has become the opposite to what Ghandhi would have wanted, this cult adulation for him. Bill and Natalie both tried spinning some yarn, Natalie was actually very good, but a Bill has not found a new vocation as he kept breaking the yarn.

Yesterday morning, Bill and I arranged for a guide to take us around the Pols as I really wanted to see them. We had the best of times, walking along, people were calling to us to look at their houses, we saw Pols where the 'untouchables' had lived, which were significantly smaller than the other pols and we stopped and had a chai with a group of people. Something I have been significantly taken with here in India is the beautiful cows, they are such beautiful, soulful animals and I have to stop and look at each one. After the pols we went to the mosque in the pols, Jamaica Masjid, is a blend of Hindu and Muslim styles and is built from materials of demolished Hindu and Jain temples supported by two hundred and sixty pillars and fifteen domes. The previous day when Bill and Natalie had visited the mosque our guide showed Bill how to 'ritual' washing before prayer. He showed Bill how to washthree times up to his elbows, rinse his mouth and nose and face three times, to take the water over his head three times, how to clean his ears three times (in the restaurant that evening when we offered water to clean our hands, Bill got confused and washed his hands three times!). The only previous Mosque I have been in was in Whitechapel and this mosque was certainly different and felt so spiritual.

We got back just in time for me to go with Natalie to visit a calico museum. Well, the materials were beautiful and Natalie and I were taken with the intricate tie die, which was so different from the usual splodge we see. The museum was steeped in rules and regulations, before we got to see the first piece of material we had passed through six different people and signed our selves in twice. The lady taking us around the museum had 'control' issues and marched us around, telling us off, insisted at one stage I go to toilet ("as you have a long journey back to the city"), she told Natalie off for reading some information before seeing the exhibits and told us that some young ladies (who for some strange reason wanted to leave) were sinful.

After signing out of the hotel we were heading for Dasada (Natalie and I had finished the picnic we said we didn't need by the time we had left the city). On the way we stopped to take pictures; as we crossed the Tropic of Cancer and went to see a World Heritage salt well (well I couldn't get down the seven stories of stairs so stayed at the top talking to our lovely driver). There were a group of young men, who were particularly taken with Bill and insisted he had there picture taken with them all. We then stopped off at the Sun Temple in Modhera, which was built in 1026. All around the temple were intricate carvings and we also saw two Indian owls. We saw so many animals on our journey; we saw monkeys, lots of camels, goats been herded, lots and lots of beautiful cows, owls, a boar, an elephant and parrots.

We arrived at Rann Riders in the dark, we are staying in little round huts and I spent the night being traumatised by insects. I always thought I had the worse sense of direction, but I have learnt Natalie has no sense of direction, she spends her time wandering around hotels, not knowing where she is going. So last night, why Bill and I decided it was ok to follow her in the pitch black is questionable. She was leading the way saying its funny how I know my way around here, only for two members of staff to save us as she was leading us towards the swimming pool in the pitch dark!

Today we are off on a safari.

Posted by mulliganward 17:51 Archived in India Comments (1)

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