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Published: November 9th 2018
Sadly we have to leave the idyllic pleasure of the Taj Mahal Palace. As usual hotels worry about traffic and we arrive at Mumbai airport ludicrously early at 930am. The queues look horrendous with the hordes returning from their Diwali holiday, but Indigo have an enormously efficient queuing system for bag drop and we are through security by 10am. The security check ignores three bottles of water they find in our hand luggage, but confiscate one bottle – “Water not allowed sir”. “Can I keep these bottles though?” “Yes sir”. Hmmm....maybe he was thirsty.
The new Mumbai domestic terminal is a huge improvement on the old one, efficient, light, and spacious. Indigo are also a revelation, a seemingly brand new A320 neo, with more cabin luggage space than BA business and plenty of leg room. We leave on time and land early “We are pleased to inform you that we are the third most punctual airline in the world”. The luggage is already on the carousel when we get there. Our driver Mr Singh is outside waiting with his name board, though we are the only non-Indians to be seen so we are easy to spot. We drive into the
noisy chaos of downtown old Ahmedabad, where we find our hotel, the House of MG. It is a “heritage property”, very pleasant, with lots of photos on the walls of modern day maharajahs and maharanis visiting the hotel owners, all of them looking very patrician, dressed in their finery and clearly all photographed while involved in deliberations of matters of the gravest importance.
We venture out for a walk. A very short walk in fact. It's hot and dusty outside, the traffic is swirling around, there is nothing to see in the immediate environs, and the lure of the hotel swimming pool is too great. Time to retreat.
We decide to try the Gujarati thali for dinner, served on the roof terrace and offering a great value price of 700 rupees (£7.50) if you arrive before 7.00. Never hard for the Thomases! We start with a glass of guava and beetroot sherbet, which sounds awful but looks and tastes wonderful. Poppadoms and pickle are quickly followed by a succession of starters before the main course of a range of vegetable dishes and Indian breads. We’re offered more of everything but eventually have to say no. At that point,
as we wonder how we will possibly manage the sweet course, they bring round rice and khichri. We decline, and somehow find space for jalebi (deep fried sugar, basically) and a semolina type pudding. The table is cleared. And then they bring a pot of delicious homemade ice cream. We eventually waddle back downstairs and decide we really need to walk the meal off. The traffic is every bit as congested, loud and filthy as before, the pavements are almost non existent and the hotel, which bills itself as the gateway to the old city, seems to be in the middle of a very run down area. Once again, we give up.
Next day, Sara is not feeling her best. Only to be expected at some point during an Indian trip but this bout has come a bit early in the trip. She can get up but declines breakfast, which is full Indian so not one for the faint stomach anyway. David is also not at his best after a poor night’s sleep. Light poured in through the windows, which had either no curtains or very thin ones, and the traffic noise was intense, as our room is on
the ground floor at the front of the hotel. We’re also next to the dining room, resulting in more noise as the staff set the tables for breakfast.
We abandon the idea of the 2.5 hour heritage walk, and settle for being driven around by Mr Singh. We venture out of town to the Akshardham temple, supposedly the finest temple in the city. However we have arrived 30 minutes before it opens, it is about 600 yards walk to the temple itself in the blazing sun, it is already hot, it's a newish temple......nope, we won't be visiting today. So turning tail we set off to the Adalaj stepwell. The stepwell was built in 1499 by Queen Rudabai, the wife of the local chieftain. It was built not only for the use of the local villagers but also for traders and pilgrims passing this way, and she seems also to have intended it as a spiritual place for contemplation. The well goes down 5 storeys and what should we find when we arrive? No other tourists, except for a busload of men from the PRC. Why?? They are all disgustingly loud, selfie-obsessed oafs who stomp around and get in
the way generally. The Chinese don’t generally come to India, it's not their sort of destination. Just our luck to meet this lot!
We then visit the Gandhi ashram back in town. Ahmedabad was Gandhi's home town and in 1917 he founded this ashram, initially funded by Mr Mangaldas who founded our hotel. It is very peaceful and spotlessly clean. Gandhi's dwelling, as one might expect, is a very modest 4 room bungalow. There is also a very extensive exhibition about Gandhi, his life and his beliefs.
Some documentary makers are making a film about Gandhi. There is a young chap playing him in his early life who we watch for a few minutes. Then David is accosted by the film director. “Can you play a small part in our film sir?” Clearly they wanted a white face and there are none others around. I am asked to say a few lines to camera declaiming what a great man Gandhi was and how his ideas have influenced the world. I think I delivered the lines magnificently, but Sara says I was completely wooden. What does she know about great acting though?
Next up is the Hutheesing Jain
temple. Jain temples are generally more richly and intricately carved than Hindu ones. You don’t see a plain Jain temple. They are often carved from the finest white marble, as this one was. It was built in 1848 by a local merchant and is dedicated to the 15th
Jain Tirthankar. There is a pillared arcade enclosing the temple itself and then main shrine at the eastern end. In the inner sanctum there are several images of the deity that are being dressed and decorated by devotees and priests.The backdrop is a magnificent tooled gold and silver screen. The devotees within the sanctum are all masked; Jains often do this as they believe it is wrong to kill even tiny creatures you may inhale. Outside the inner sanctum there is much burning of fragrant incense and the wafting and inhalation of the smoke and low chanting of presumably Jain prayers.
Our last stop is the Jhulta Minar, also known as the shaking minarets. These are two three storey high minarets with carved balconies. Apparently these minarets exhibit the strange condition that when one minaret is shaken, the other minaret vibrates. No one knows why.....
Back at the hotel, Sara just wants to go to bed but feels she should eat and drink something. A lime soda is always excellent rehydration, but her request for cheese on toast is declined – none of the ‘international’ food is available. The room has not been made up either. David enquires if there is a quieter room available, and we’re relocated in a much nicer room set deep within the hotel, opening onto an inner courtyard. Sara retires to bed for a long sleep. Meanwhile, as we leave our former room, the imam preaching at the Friday prayers is getting very cross indeed about something, ranting and raving about something. At least we will be further from his rantings in our new room.
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