It feels apt that the first Nisaroundtheworld blog post, is of my most recent trip to India.
My husband and I were both born and raised in London, but for us, going to India, feels like ‘going home’. We have both been to India, countless times since childhood, and am sure we will continue to return indefinitely throughout our lives. Our families are from the Charotar Patel community, which is essentially a farming community from the villages between the cities of Ahmedabad and Vadodara, in Gujarat, and this region often becomes a default starting point for more extensive travels for us.
India is vast, and despite my numerous visits, there remain huge swathes of the country I have yet to see. However, the key purposes of our trip this time, was to maintain our daughters’ connection to our ancestral home. On this occasion, we were only able to go for one week during the school February half term break, which is nowhere near long enough to be satisfied in India. Nevertheless, despite the enforced brevity, the girls loved it, and our goal was achieved.
We mainly intended to spend time with family and friends at ‘home’. Gujarat does not normally feature high on most tourists’ itineraries when they visit India, but I happily discovered, that it actually has a lot to offer for all.
These are some of the highlights:
We spent most of our week in the village of Karamsad drinking chai. Karamsad itself, has a special place in the history of India’s Independence struggle, as the the birth place of Sardar Vallabhai Patel (One of the leading freedom fighters, and India’s first Home Minister).
We flew into Ahmedabad International Airport. Despite recent modernisation, the airport is still small, and facilities are basic. The suitcases are scanned before they come out on the conveyor belt, and this can cause a bit of an annoying delay, especially after a lengthy journey. Gujarat is a ‘dry state’, and therefore has no bars, pubs or nightclubs, however, it is permissible for foreign nationals to bring in their own alcohol for personal consumption. There is a small duty free shop in the baggage hall, but it is expensive; (eg Ferrero Rocher – $15, 1L Jonny Walker Double Black – $50). Just outside the baggage hall, there is a small foreign exchange and pre paid taxi company. There is also Gujarat Tourism desk inside the terminal, which has some useful free leaflets, if you don’t already have a preplanned itinerary. Contrary to some reports I have read on the internet, it was not possible to get an Indian mobile phone sim for tourists at this airport terminal.
Tip: It is worth requesting a landing card to fill in on the plane, to save time at customs.
During our stay, we took a day trip to the mouth of the Narmada River, by the city of Bharuch. Our plan was to visit two sites in particular: (1) The Dhyani Dham Mandir Ashram in Nikora, a temple, which has been constructed in the geometric configuration of a 3-dimensional Sri Yantra. This was closed for the few hours we were there so we didn’t actually see it. Our interest in it lies in the spiritual significance of the Sri Yantra pattern. There is also another, more famous Sri Yantra temple near the source of the Narmada, at Amarkantak, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, which we intend to visit in the future. (2) Kabirvad; A grove of a Banyan tree which has grown over time to occupy an area of almost 3 kms. It is located on a small river island in the middle of the Narmada River. It can be reached by boats which operate to and from the Shuklatirth Shiva temple, if there is enough water. The tree and and island are associated with 15th century mystic-poet-saint Kabir, who is said to have lived here for many years. We didn’t actually quite make it onto this island either. Although on the surface, this sounds like a failed excursion, we felt surprisingly satisfied by the end of the day.
Another highlight, was taking the kids to our local Shiva Temple on the night of Mahashivratri. We kept them up late to be able to get there for the midnight Aarti ceremony. They were fascinated to see all the worshippers chant vedic hymns, whilst venerating the holy Shivalinga with Panchamrut and bilva leaves, followed by taking a small amount of the intoxicating Bhang drink, as ‘Prasad’. India is famous for it’s many colourful festivals, and the calendar is full of opportunities for you to take part throughout the year, no matter what part of the country you happen to be visiting.
We spent the last couple of days in Ahmedabad, before flying back to London. This city has recently gone through significant redevelopment, which compliment it’s ancient history. From the grounds of the Indian Space Agency (ISRO), the Gandhi Ashram, the Sabarmati Waterfront in the West, to the Medieval Gateways and market places of the old town in the East, there is plenty to see, and worth a stop.