Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Old Ahmedabad

I’m going to keep this pretty short since we depart tomorrow for our next destination, the Tribal Arts Academy in Tejgadh. This morning many of us took the city’s “Heritage Tour,” which covers sites in the old walled city of Ahmedabad (please click here to look at a selection of the photographs I took there). As usual, half the fun was in getting there, for we finally had a chance to ride in India’s auto rickshaws, those little, three-wheeled green and yellow vehicles you’ve seen in a lot of the photos. They whiz through traffic (harrowing), zigzagging in and out of larger cars, scooters, bikes, and assorted carts. When the aim right at you, they mean business and you’d better get out of the way. But they get you where you want to go, and quickly.

The tour starts at the largest Hindu temple in the city, which was full of worshipers. These temples are colorful affairs, painted in bright colors and with lots of statuary (compared, for example, to the mosques and the Jain temples, which are built of natural, unpainted stone). The old city itself is a maze of narrow streets, alleys, and corridors divided up into discrete sections (the name of which I forget). The architecture is an eclectic mix of architectural styles (Muslim, Indian, Persian, etc.). The areas we saw were mostly residential. The entrances to homes are right on the street and you can see people preparing food, eating, or just milling around looking out at you as you walk by. Take a look at the pictures I posted to get a feel for the facades, which I thought were a wonderful play of structural styles and colors. The streets were filled with people living in the area. We never saw any other tourists, which has been the case at many of the places we visited (its off-season for tourists given the heat, and besides, we’re visiting a lot of places most tourists don’t get to), and we elicited a lot of curiosity, with some people following us for a block or two just to look. We ended the tour at the mosque in the old town, a smaller version of the one we had seen in Delhi, a beautiful place with just a few men lounging by the wash basin or sitting or sleeping among the pillars in the portico. From there we want on by auto rickshaw to a Jain Temple, beautiful again but in its own way, distinct in style from either the mosque or the Hindu temple. You’ll have to check it out online because they don’t allow pictures.

We ended our tour with another harrowing auto rickshaw ride to an elaborate 15th century well that is five floors deep and is an architectural structure unto itself, as long as a building with an elaborate array of pillars and stairways that descend to the well at the bottom, which is now dry due to a low water table. You won’t be able to imagine what this place looks like without the pictures I posted. I wish I had time to write in detail about the really illuminating talk we had later in the afternoon from a woman named Suchitra Sheth, who works at the Center for Social Knowledge and Action here in Ahmedabad. She helped clarify for us the various political debates current in India regarding Gandhi and his legacy, and reported on the important work she and her organization are doing in a state, Gujarat, currently dominated by a rigid and pretty intolerant party of Hindu nationalists (one of our speakers got arrested for saying this, so I hope they’re not reading this blog).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful photographs, Paul. And I've been enjoying the commentary as well. Deb is in Italy at the moment. I'm the only one of us still here trying vainly to keep the U.S. economy going. Keep those posts coming -