Hi 🙂 Welcome to the final part of my nine-part series on India’s western state of Gujarat. For those of you visiting me for the first time, here’s the link to my previous post: Gujarat Travelogue – 8 : Mandvi & Bhuj
In this post, I travel from Bhuj to Ahmedabad where I spend a night before catching the return flight home. Happy Reading 🙂
Thursday, 5 February, 2015
At 7:00 am, I check out from the hotel. It’s too early to get an autorickshaw. Fortunately, the hotel security guard, who also doubles up as an autorickshaw driver, drops me at my destination. He leaves a happy man, having earned 50 rupees for the service. The bus has yet to arrive. And when it does, all the seats in the front get occupied. I’m glad that at least the fifth window seat from the front was available at the time of my booking.
At 7:40 am, the AC Volvo bus starts its 395-km journey to Ahmedabad. It’s a long drive. And the TV screen is a bit far. Moreover, the Bollywood suspense movie playing on is a tad boring. Yawwwn. The road route is via Anjar, the old capital of the independent kingdom of Kutch, before Bhuj became the capital in 1549. It’s supposed to be the oldest town in Kutch, and hence is of historic importance.
Two hours later, the movie ends. To my relief, the next one turns out to be one of the latest popular films, PK. It has me in splits for most part of its two-and-a-half hour duration. After the long session of hearty laughter, I feel totally perked up. Around noon, the bus makes a halt at a food court near the small town of Viramgam, 65 km from Ahmedabad. I’m happy with my packs of potato chips so I buy myself an ice cream instead. The third movie is a latest film too, but a murder mystery. By the time the movie ends, the bus enters the city. Now begins the problem of finding a good hotel! Knowing that most of the well-located good hotels would probably be booked for the ongoing international conference, I keep an eye out for some nice looking hotel building. As the bus drives past a residential area, I see a tall hotel building. I think of telling the driver to stop the bus, but seeing the traffic on the road, I change my mind.
Around 2:00 pm, the bus arrives at Paldi bus stand. The exit is immediately surrounded by hotel touts and autorickshaw drivers. A lad of 18 years or so, climbs in. On seeing me, he comes over to offer me a ride to a good hotel. He looks like a decent chap, so I agree to it. The boy tells me that since yesterday he has been driving around the city with visitors searching for a room in good hotels. At one hotel, he returns to inform me that they have one room available but I’ll have to check out by 11:00 am. My IndiGo flight to Mumbai departs at 2:10 pm, so I don’t mind leaving a bit early. Climbing up the stairs, I find that that the place is a small lodge and the room tariff is 1800 rupees. What??? It’s not even worth 800 rupees! And then, the guy tells me that I’ll have to check out before 9:00 am. This is too much! I pick up my bag and leave. The next two hotels draw a blank. The driver keeps insisting that I take up the room at the earlier hotel because I won’t get good hotels with available rooms in a nice locality. The third time he repeats it, I tell him, “Shut up or else I’ll take another autorickshaw!”
All the luxury, high-budget and medium-budget hotels are booked for one international conference which is being held in Gandhinagar, the state capital, 30 minutes away. Is it that the city isn’t well-equipped with enough good hotels? More than an hour has passed. I’m calm, but tired. The kid is amazed by my composure. A female travelling alone in the city without a hotel reservation! We have stopped at more than a dozen hotels in different parts of the city. I have checked up with the hotel where I had stayed earlier, and a few more nearby. At one high-budget hotel, all the rooms were booked except for a suite…costing 10,000 bucks! Even the evening flight of IndiGo is full. So I’m stranded in this city with no hotel room.
A week ago, I had thought that I had seen quite a bit of the city for a one-night stay. But, no. Over the past one-and-a-half hour, I have got a much clearer picture of the city. The city map has helped me a bit too. On the way, I get to see the unofficial symbol of the city, the famous jaali (latticework) of a tree with intertwining branches, done on the windows at the well-known Sidi Saiyyed Mosque. The kid tells me that he has a class to attend. So when he sees his father driving past, he calls out to him. He expects 400 rupees for the ride which I think is quite a lot, but I pay him anyway. I climb into the other autorickshaw hoping that I don’t have to spend an hour more touring the city. Earlier another autorickshaw driver had suggested checking a few hotels in some residential locality. And now, the kid’s father is taking me to one there.
It’s a two-storey lodge above a fast-food court. The road-facing first floor room shown to me is okay, but the bathroom is so-so. At 800 rupees, it looks fine. And absolutely amazing, compared to the 1800-rupee dark and dingy room in the earlier lodge. The old autorickshaw driver gives me his mobile number for a ride to the airport tomorrow.
It’s 4:15 pm. I decide to rest for a while before venturing out again. It’s my last evening in Gujarat so I might as well tuck into a nice meal at some good restaurant. Two hours later, I’m outside. A walk down the road makes me realize that this is the same residential area that my bus had passed two hours ago. The tall building of Hotel Platinum towers over the skyline. Curious to know if there is a room available, I drop in to check. Rooms are available, but they do not offer discount and their checkout time is 9:00 am. The deluxe single room tariff is 3300 rupees. Hmmm…
Walking further ahead, I find a couple of fast-food joints, including pizzerias but I’m looking for a classy-looking restaurant. Not finding one, I return to Hotel Platinum, the only expensive-looking place in the neighbourhood. The multi-cuisine restaurant interiors are pleasing, so I expect a lovely dinner. But after a quick look through the menu, I’m disappointed. It’s a vegetarian restaurant! I ask for soup, and Hakka noodles. A while later, the young attendant brings me the noodles. Hey, where’s my soup? He has forgotten the soup! That’s okay, but what he says next, irritates me. “Will you have the soup after the noodles? The noodles will get cold.” I take a deep breath. “No, I won’t! I’ll have the soup first, and then the noodles!” The guy returns, “Okay, I’ll get the soup and then reheat the noodles.” What sort of a place is this? Even a small city like Bhuj has well-trained and well-mannered hotel staff, and this is…Ahmedabad! Two minutes later, I see the chap getting a dressing down from the manager. Must be a new recruit… I soon realize that it was a mistake coming to this place. The food tastes no different from that of a roadside Chinese fast-food eatery. A pizza would have been a better choice. To end the meal with a sweet taste, I ask for gulab jamun. The bill amounts to a little more than 500 rupees. A waste of money. Sigh. I spent a little more on my meals while in Bhuj, but the food was excellent, and the restaurant had a lovely ambience. In fact, all the three city hotels that I had been to, in the Station Road area, had impressive interiors.
Disappointed by my dinner experience, I return to my hotel. It’s 8:30 pm. I push open the bedside window to let the fresh air in. There’s no road pollution in this quiet neighbourhood. Lazing in bed, I trace my journey on the road map of the state. The good thing about Gujarat is that the road infrastructure is great, a boon for travellers as it reduces the time taken to travel around the state. As you can see, I have done quite a lot of travelling through Saurashtra and Kutch.
Map of Gujarat with my road trail…
Hitherto, I didn’t know that Gujarat had a rich and colourful history which included Greeks, among other foreign cultures. Following the arrival of Muslim invaders, there were numerous migrations from the state. Some from the weaving communities settled in places like Madurai and Thanjavur in South India, where their skills were patronized by the ruling kings. Others went to neighbouring states like Maharashtra, where most of them settled in the financial capital city of Mumbai. Coming to the present, Brand Gujarat has received immense recognition following the advertisement campaigns featuring Bollywood megastar, Amitabh Bachchan. Take a look at one of them:
Gujaratis are die-hard foodies, who grow on a diet that includes a wide variety of snacks made of Besan (Gram flour) like Gathiya, Khaman (or Dhokla), Ras Patra, Khandvi, etc. I have had only a few of them during my trip, because like Fafda-Jalebi (the typical breakfast fare of Gujarat) and Kutchi Dabeli (the popular evening snack), they are popular snacks available at all sweet & savoury shops in Mumbai. However, there’s one thing that I’m unable to understand: Why do most people call Khaman, (made from split chickpea) as Dhokla (made from rice and split chickpea)?
This is homemade Khaman…
The room TV has nothing interesting to offer but for a few Hindi news and entertainment channels. So I go off to sleep early at 10:00 pm.
Friday, 6 February, 2015
At 9:00 am, I leave for breakfast. The small food court below the lodge is about to open for business. A look at the bunch of scruffy, bedraggled cooks hanging around the place makes me change my mind. All the nearest eating joints are quite a distance away and I don’t have the energy to walk it out. Instead, I settle for a fresh coconut at a nearby fruit stall. I decide to grab a bite at the airport, and call up the autorickshaw driver. He proved to be an honest man yesterday when he charged me only 20 rupees for the considerable distance to the lodge. When I see his sly son waiting downstairs, I’m disappointed. He’s going to charge me more… And he does. Sigh.
At the airport, after security clearance, I make a dash for the Subway outlet. Hungry as I am, I gobble up my chicken sandwich in no time. Thankfully, the IndiGo flight is on time. So I’m soon able to say goodbye to Gujarat…Adios!