Tina’s Little Indian miracle
Standing on a street corner of Ahmedabad, fending off small children, I reflected on the heavy burden of my first world problems…. I’m tired and I can’t get what I want– (which in this very moment in time was a tuk tuk back to my hotel).
Finally a valiant (and/or desperate) driver gave it a crack, and with a combo of my google maps, tapping and gesturing, and my driver stopping four times to ask other drivers for directions, we eventually ended up nearish my hotel, albeit on the wrong side of the tracks (some railway tracks that is).
I got out to walk the rest of the way, and after a few moments, I heard someone call out to me. It was the rickshaw driver from the morning who’d offered me a private tour for an exorbitant sum! What were the odds? A city of 7 million, a random street, driver available- right place, right time. Nice work, me.
My first world dramas melted away as my driver (who we shall call Haani) produced tourist brochure- one he’d obviously had for 10 years or so, but hey I guess old sh*t doesn’t change much. Haani kept suggesting I go to the Ghandi Ashram, which was very close. Now I did say in part one a reason this driver hit the desirable criteria was his ability to speak some English, but it should give you an idea of how much we were actually able to communicate, that I responded four or five different ways that I had already been to the Ashram, but he didn’t understand. I am pretty sure he concluded I was a shallow westerner not interested in his county’s spiritual leader in the great struggle for independence (and thus felt justified in charging me double what the day’s work was really worth).
Instead I chose the Adalaj Vav Stepwell- (a stepwell is another name for well, a well) that I had been excited about visiting since I first started reading up on Ahmedabad. Oh dear. It was definitely another “breakfast with the American’s” moment, where a couple more questions would have resulted in a lot less anxiety and significantly more enjoyment, because before I knew it, we were leaving the city and were out on the highway, and I realised had no idea where we were going, or how long it would take to get there. Oh Tina.*
After about 20 minutes (and may I say that is a long time to be in a tiny rickshaw on a highway especially as all rickshaws are not created equal), to my relief I saw signs to the monument. Sure, I was keen to see the Stepwell, but even more so to discover my guy was not driving me somewhere to have my kidneys harvested.
The Stepwell was very beautiful- constructed in 1499 to ensure clean cool water supply, it was also a place for ambience and social interaction and to escape in to the cool. As the name suggests, there are many steps that take you down to a supply of water. This Stepwell had a number of viewing platforms, intricate carvings and arches and places for the well-to-do to sit.
As I stood reading the plaque at the entrance, two men said hello. Does it sound VERY western and inauthentically untravel-cool to say, it was such a relief to be able to talk freely to someone in English even after only two (admittedly very trying) days on my own? Both men were from Israel, and keen to adopt me for the duration of the visit. Let’s call them Michael and Nachman, to protect their identity (and to cleverly cover the fact I don’t recall what their names actually were.)
I also ran into the guide from the Breakfast Heritage walk. D’oh! If only I had known he did other tours too, my visit could have been a lot different- he spoke perfect English and was very nice.
When we emerged in to the bright sun from the Stepwell, my driver was nowhere to be seen. I was confident that he had not taken off without me (and not just because he hadn’t been paid, but because Indian people are generally very kind and concerned for your well being). Accordingly, I resisted multiple offers for a ride, including to join Michael and Nachman who nonetheless stayed with me until my driver returned (having had a spot of lunch).
Back on the highway (which I enjoyed significantly more this time) and in to the old City to see the Shaking Minarets. These are tremendously famous in Ahmedabad, amazing for both their delicate and intricate design, as well as when one is shaken, the other also shakes. The mystery of this design has never been solved, though many have tried. Notwithstanding the international acclaim of the minarets, and the tourist brochure, my driver took me to some other minarets in a construction site near a train station. It wasnt actually possible to even get close to them, and clearly Hanii realised he’d missed the mark, but in the usual way of Indians, they help each other out and he asked around and got some better directions.
After this we went to a fort in the middle of a local market, which was my first experience with throngs of people moving on mass that one associates with India. What I found interesting was that unlike several places in Europe, I felt both personally safe, and also that it was very unlikely I would be pickpocketed. The people are so genuine, and generally so helpful, that you can’t help but love the country because of them. Many a time, I would see people staring at me, and if I smiled, I would be rewarded with faces bursting in to big grins and excitement (men women and children).
Even though it was only 4pm after we visited the Fort, I was done in. Rickshaws, as their names suggest, require you to be constantly balancing, they are rough and bumpy, and as you will have seen from my India Rickshaw movie, one is constantly closing one’s eyes expecting a crash. This driver took me deep in to the heart of the old town, although I felt safe with him, he was the craziest driver in intense traffic I experienced in my entire visit. I think he felt he had to be quick because he was driving me round and it was equal parts terrifying and a huge rush! Despite denying to Palak’s family that I was Christian, I don’t think I have said so many combinations of “Christ!” “Jesus” “Jeeeesus Christ!!” “Mother of God!” “Mary and Joseph!!”and “Gaaawdd Almighty!!!” in all my life.
Since I had Hanii all day, and I needed to take care of some life admin I asked him to return to the hotel, so I could get the dresses I had purchased and post them back to Oz. With the beauty of hindsight, I realise I should have used India Post…. but at the time the easiest option seemed like DHL. I’d seen their store, it was close to the hotel, and I knew them to be reliable.
We got there easily, but after I walked up the four flights of stairs, they advised that this location was only the freight-forwarding centre, and I would need to go to another place to send a parcel. To be fair, they were extremely helpful and nice about it, except for saying I could walk there in 10 minutes, it was actually a 10 minute rickshaw ride.
With a number of stops to ask for directions we eventually found the parcel ‘centre.’ In what is typically Indian, although the building was impressively called Piazza Towers, it was in an area that looked almost derelict, and the building was pretty shabby. To get in to the offices, I had to climb across wads of mail bags that were in the entrance. It had just been painted and was heavily toxically fumy.
Everything seems to take a long time in India, and many things are done manually, like writing your details on a carbon pad, which didn’t entirely fill me with confidence. I am not sure why it took so long- I was the only customer, but I sat for over 20 minutes trying not to breathe in paint fumes. Eventually, the girl who served me (who was very nice and spoke excellent English) advised it would be 8,900 rupees- approximately AUD$180 for four day express delivery, and that was the only option! Crazy! And of COURSE their credit machine was down, and not having that kind of cash lying around, we went in search of a compatible ATM.
Once I’d got the wads of cash, my driver assumed I was going back to the hotel and we had hit a major road before I realised we were going the wrong way. And speaking of the wrong way, to get back to the courier, he drove the wrong way up a one way street, stoically ignoring the beeps and gestures of other motorists.
All my admin taken care of, I took one last divinity inspiring rickshaw ride in peak hour traffic, and I was back in the calm serenity of my hotel.
Tomorrow, I fly to New Dehli to meet my Intrepid travel tour group. I am excited and relieved to be going where someone else will make most of my decisions, and to meet my fellow travellers, and future friends.
Hotel Suncourt Yatri, here I come!
*Aaaah Tina. Dont be so hard on yourself, it was probably the effects of post-durchfall-istis!