This is the story of how I met some nice folks, took a cab ride to nobody knows where or why, had an unscheduled temple visit, went to the house of a stranger, had lunch with a bride to be (not mine), got invited to her wedding and helped my new friends purchase outfits ….welcome to the Tina Sparkles Experience. And to all of you reading who met me in pretty much the same way- well a special HELLO and I am so glad we did!
The last few days have been all about wedding shopping (more on that later) and the roller coaster that is riding in rickshaws so it was definitely time to hit some history. I found a breakfast walking tour with the House of MG (no actual breakfast included) which was a five minute rickshaw ride from my hotel.
With the sun just rising, and the air still cool and fresh, I took my first solo rickshaw and crossed to the other side (of the river that is) and into the old part of Ahmedabad. I wandered around the courtyard of the House of MG and found some ingenuous recycling (well, really reusing). There were plastic water bottles turned in to plant hangers, and coins and buttons used to jazz up poles and man covers.
Eventually, five Australians appeared (of course they did, we run around this planet like the Rats of Nihm), and then a party of five Americans. (Party of Five Mel- I put that in there for you!!)
The tour itself was a whole new world. In classic India style, the most poverty ridden run down streets were a facade for temples and mosques, coffee houses and homes with 60 rooms. Wandering the streets we saw goats in sweaters, a restaurant for cows, stray dogs and markets selling everything imaginable.
Ahmedabad was a walled city, built 600 years ago, and while the walls have gone, all but one of the 13 gates have survived. Within the old city are neighborhoods, known as poles. Each pole has its own entrance and in times gone by (she said non-specifically) drums would beat each morning at 7am to let the inhabitants know the gate was open, and again at 11pm to signal the gates were closing, which incidentally is where the 7Eleven got it’s name.*
I had some lovely chats with the Americans, several of whom were from Maine where I worked at Summer Camp, one of whom we named “The Cow Whisperer” after he saved us from a very aggressive young heifer with proper big horns. It was less “Running with the Bulls” and more “Running from the Dairy Cows.” Personally, I was more concerned about the abundance of stray dogs on the streets, the majority of which look a LOT like dingos (and I was worried my sister Ni would say with a sad face and a strong Australian accent “The Dingo ate me sistah.” I guess getting $360 rabies shots was worth it!
At the end of the tour, I had no particular plans and was officially starving so I asked the lovely Carolyn from Massachusetts whether the Americans would like to have breakfast together. They had a driver, so without really thinking it through I GOT IN A CAR WITH STRANGERS!!
Haha I’m kidding, the part I didn’t think through was where they/we were going. Within 10 minutes I’d left the limits of the Ahmedabad I knew, and we were driving through some rather insalubrious backstreets. We made one stop while the driver jumped out and did…something, and another when he happened to see his mother and sister on the street.
At this point, I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable. It was one thing to be safely ensconced in a car with a famous cow whisperer…another altogether to be a woman alone in a rickshaw travelling in streets unknown to get home. I started to silently berate myself for my stupidity… but suddenly, after we had been travelling about 30 minutes, streets started to get wider, and unexpectedly, I saw a sign to the hospital near my hotel…we had done a complete loop and were crossing the bridge back to the House of MG!!
Frankly, I didn’t know WHAT was going on (neither did anyone else) but I didn’t care because I was so relieved to be close to home. It turns out we were being taken to a temple in the old city, where the bride’s mother prayed daily. It was very beautiful, and the Cow Whisperer staved off my starvation (still no breakfast) with a fig newton (don’t worry no one knows what that is).
Just as I was starting to feel like I was really imposing on these nice people, they invited me to join them at their bride’s place. I felt a bit awkward about it, but having not heard from Palak, eventually I accepted their invite, and found myself in the home of a lovely family, who hugged me and made me feel very welcome and invited me to the wedding!
Soon we went out to lunch, and were joined by the groom, and another friend and her mum. We ate as strange a banquet as you will ever get- a mix of Indian and western foods, which was finished off with mac n cheese with pineapple in it- surprisingly good! The bride picked up the tab for the whole table, by which time it was decided that several people still needed wedding outfits, and off we went again to AsoPalav, a huge parlour of mens and women’s event gear.
I am not a fan of shopping generally, but these outfits are something else altogether. It’s a level of beauty and colour and fabulousness that the western world knows nothing of. The women got beautifully decked out and finally, just 10 hours after I left my hotel, I returned to it.
So, to Todd (the Cow whisperer) and Cheryl, Carolyn, John, Martha, Lauren, Kyle and of course the bride and groom- thanks for an awesome unexpected and random day! Hope to see you all around the world someday in the future!
*Haha, not really where the 7 Eleven got its name! Thank you, come again!