Our first day in Ahmedabad (Am-na-vad–also known by three other names), we took a city tour in a took-took (remember, an auto-rickshaw–a three-wheeled Tasmanian devil with a lawn mower engine–google it!). This was a trip in itself, as we were literally one inch within our lives from other took-tooks, cars, buses, bicycles, motorcycles, mopeds and pedestrians. We drove over the bridge to the main river going through the city, stopped, and looked over to see people swimming, fishing, and selling fourth-hand used wares from the beach. From the banks, it looks as if the river has receded 20 yards, and our first thought was how long will this river be here for these people who depend on it?
Our took-took wandered into a market, where we bought MORE Indian spices that will last our friends and us 20 years. Trying to describe to the shopkeeper just four of the curries we wanted to buy was like talking to a very kind, considerate wall who smiles often.
The second day here, we went into our first-ever Muslim mosque, where only one worshiper was cleansing himself at the center pool (filled with bacteria-cleaning carp). This particular mosque has 136 columns. It is one of the few mosques in the world where women may also worship with the men albeit in a tiny room, curtained in decorative brick, ten feet above the men so they cannot be seen. The Muslims here face west to Mecca (wherein the U.S., Muslims would face the east). This mosque was roughly the size of a football field and the flooring of the open area was all marble. In the center of a city of 12 million people, it was a peaceful and meditative experience.
We then went to a textile museum that hosted examples of cloth, embroidery and silk from all states in India. Most of the examples were ONLY 300 years old. Again, this museum was tucked away in the middle of the city, and yet when we were in it, it felt like a sanctuary. There is no advertising to tour this museum; one must schedule an appointment in advance, and only 20 people are allowed on one tour, which is given once per day. On that tour with 20 tourists, there were 5 “guard ladies”, one national congressman, and one military guard along with the guide. Very secure! The artifacts are valued at more than 400 million Rupees (1 US dollar equals 58 rupees–do the math!)
We went to yet another Hindi temple where a guru was blessing followers. We learned about the special symbol of the “holy cow” and sauntered across the marble square to a shaded area where 20 women were sorting grain. As soon as they saw Gloria, one woman jumped up, ran to her, embraced her shoulders and gave her mega-loves–kisses and hugs all over. These women rarely get their picture taken and we were so captivated by their beautiful energy that we asked if we could take their picture. They seriously took their roles of sorting grain as we snapped photo after photo and showed them the pictures. They were elated and intimated for us to take close up pictures of their faces, which we did repeatedly. The bags in the background of the picture are all donated grains and their responsibility is to sort the chaff from the grain and prepare for the daily community meal. Most of these women were our age or slightly older.
We visited an Ashram of Gandhi’s rarely visited by foreigners (although American scholars convene here once a year to study Gandhi’s philosophy and theory). We were the only ones there and had a private tour by the caretaker and our guide who said “In ten years, no tourist has asked to see this ashram”. We absorbed the experience and it was wonderful. An ashram is a secluded place for followers and their guru. It was here that Gandhi held visits with his followers, continuously spun his cloth, and fed anyone in the community who needed daily meals. Gandhi was forced to move to another ashram (which we visit next on our travels) because of the plague that entered the Ahmedabad community in the early 1900’s. Gandhi’s fear was that the children and untouchables cared for in the Ashram would fall ill.
After such a spiritual day, we became heathens and wanted to buy one beer and split it. This was an experience in itself. First of all, it took 38 minutes to purchase beer. Gloria offered up her first-born (passport) which was then photocopied while three accountants entered our information into three separate accounting books. Gloria was then issued a license to purchase 20 beers over the course of the next five days of our remaining stay in Gujarat; a DRY state in India. If we attempt to purchase more than allotted, we will go to jail. Tea sounds very good right now! Regardless, we purchased 6 warm beers(King Fishers–an Indian brew) for our little refrigerator in our room.
Yesterday, we purchased material in Rajkot for “dresses” (pants, long coat-top and scarf). Here, we found a woman’s tailor who will sew the dresses for us by tomorrow night for 3 U.S. dollars each. That man is very honorable to uphold his promise–he seemed very proud and we were humbled.