After a rock’n’roll overnight train trip from Bhuj I emerged into the early morning chorus of chaos as Ahmedabad rubbed its eyes and blinked awake into a new day. Taxi and auto hustlers vied for my money and I simply took the nearest green and yellow tin can and set off in what I hoped was the right direction. Relief Road, the main transport thoroughfare was already pumping. On one side of the open vehicle I was blasted by the cacophony of temple bells as they rang in the dawn and on the other the call to prayer lured white frocked men pedalling furiously on old fashioned high seated bicycles.
My auto rickshaw squeezed narrowly between painted trucks staggering under great bales of cotton, veered between buses already full at 5 am with workers off to a factory, roadside stall or residence to begin 15 hour days for as little as 100 rupees ($AU2) and scraped alongside large cars with small children being chaffeuredto an elite school. Chai stalls steamed into the crisp air and the overnight sleeping buses variously and incongruously named Shiv Shakti, Ramdev, The Pink City Sleeper and just plain Patel discharged bleary eyed passengers into the dusty air. As we neared Ellis Bridge camels began unfolding ready for the day's haul and vegetable venders were already trading briskly. It was not yet anywhere near daylight.
Several phone calls to Asif later (nothing changes in the world of auto rickshaws) I was landed at his home and instead of hitting bed I sat and talked until breakfast time and then we headed off to his studio. It is warm here in this desert city and as the locals always say it will remain so until the festival of light in a few days time. Ahmedabad is gripped by Diwali fever; the roads regularly gridlock; I can’t get near the old city to shop for a few essentials and fireworks drive me crazy at night!
Ahmedabad is also gripped by election fever as Chief Minister Narendra Modi woos its citizens with promises that he mostly seems to keep. He did make the Sarbamati flow again, he has built large scale industries in previously pristine environments and which in turn provide employment not to locals but to outsiders willing to work for lower returns and he may just manage to ruin the White Rann of Kutch with a few more bromine plants. Myopia is indeed a political disease. We do not mention the fact that Muslims are still not allowed to integrate outside their clearly defined urban boundaries. The city is also hosting fever of another kind due to the late rains and heat – Dengue. The insecticide vans regularly ‘smoke’ the streets at dawn and dusk and we all cover up. If you are heading this way do pack tropical strength Deet laden repellent.
Tonight Mumbai seems an age rather then a week ago and Kutch a month rather than a day! Both were busy times in the life of this traveler. The tour group arrives on Sunday and I’ll decamp to the Cama tomorrow; set the mind to another mode and prepare for the next adventure.
On a final note the Tata Photon dongle that Jabbar bought for me in Bhuj is working a treat and I am now connected! Watch this space. In the meantime Aavjo and Happy Diwali - may your flame burn brightly for another year.