As I mentioned in the previous post, we ( by which I mean I ) decided to splurge and stay in a really nice hotel, at the start of our trip in Ahmedabad – The House of M.G. This is a heritage boutique hotel, which will burn a considerable hole in your pocket, but makes up for it in beauty.
The building was the home of Mangaldas Girilal, and was built atleast a 100 years ago. It is a massive building which also served as the first hospital and first departmental store in Ahmedabad and has had a lot of esteemed visitors including Mahatma Gandhi. It is currently owned by the landscape architect Kamal Mangaldas, who has also restored it. It might not adhere to all the conservation principles and has new furniture in the old style (all of which is exquisite and for sale on their website). Regardless it makes for a very pleasant stay. Our room was a good 800 sq ft with an additional dressing area and a gigantic bathroom and we had our very own swing.
Apart from the room, the hotel is filled with well-designed nooks and corners, pleasant sitting areas to lounge in at every turn, with gurgling fountains and pretty bougainvillea. It is easy to get lost there and spend a day without stepping out, they also do some cute things like sending you a bowl with flowers, leaves, chocolates and a quote of the day in the evenings. Despite being in the heart of the old city, you enter and its tranquil, a beautiful other world, which is however walking distance from manek chowk.:)
Despite being boutique in every sense, there are still a few irks, mine is that they had no Gujrati food on the breakfast menu (complimentary and a la carte). I did not come all the way to Gujrat to eat idlis and omelettes. The Other’s grievance is that the service staff fawn over the foreigners (who are the target audience, I think) and treat the Indians as second class, the watchman stared at us on two wheels (buttecup) in utter disbelief when we told him we were staying there and demanded a parking spot.
I could really write a book about the things to do in Ahmedabad, but I shall keep it brief to keep your interest.
Things you must do
- Cycle on the Sabarmati Riverfront ( amazing project, designed by amazing people, hint hint ). The cycle share is open in the mornings and evenings. We went in the morning between 6 am and 9 am. The cycles for rent are available below Sardar Bridge, opposite NID, and will cost 40 rs for two of you. Try and cycle till Gandhi Ashram and beyond in the north
- A heritage walk in the old city – there are many versions, but my favourite is the one by the AMC, it costs 20rs and then you can spend the rest of the day shopping and eating in the old city ( Chandra Vilas , Lucky tea Stall, Moti Mahal etc.)
- The Gandhi Ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati – designed by Charles Correa is an amazingly peaceful place. Apart from the museum which is designed around courtyards you can see Gandhi’s house, his spectacles, Vinobha’s house and a few other gems. They have built a new building since the last time I visited with a gift shop which sells a lot of Gandhi publications and has borrowed a leaf from the western world and has souveniours such as Gandhi mugs and key chains. The other found it frivolous but I couldn’t help buying a mug. One of my favourite things to do at the ashram was to listen to the evening prayer. From the time Gandhi lived here they have had a morning and evening prayer at 6. The ashram folk would sing various bhajans, including gandhi’s favourite – Raghpathy ragava raja ram and often you could hear it on the other river bank. Unfortunately I think it is a dying lifestyle. There just aren’t enough people who follow the Gandhian lifestyle anymore . We were there at 6, two old men – in their early 80s hobbled in at 6:10 and listlessly beat a drum – we thought they were getting ready for a show, we didn’t realise it was the show !!! There was no one else. The few interested tourists had left long ago. At 6.20 a young boy sauntered in and started beating the jin chak ( the brass bells which cling together, I don’t know what they are really called) and the three of them sang so softly, that no one could hear. The other and I left disappointed… I hope it isn’t the end of an era, but I guess it is not fair to expect others to live a certain lifestyle for my gratification whenever I visit.
- Shop shop shop in the old city, Sanskruthe and Anurag on C.G. Road ( if you have a good tailor back home – they have the best material) and Gramshree, also shop for food to take home – go to the real Indu Ben Khakrawala at mithakali. ( There is a fake one off Commerce 6 rastha, don’t go there. In truth there is a lot of debate on which is the original Indu Ben, but the one in Mithakali has the better food) We stocked up on Dosa Khakra, soya sticks, fudina rings, cheese balls as well as the usual pani puri khakra, masala khakra etc. Indu Ben is sustaining us through our trip.
- Book a prior appointment and visit the textile museum. It is a private collection owned by the Sarabai’s and the guide is extremely well informed and articulate. Your mind will be blown. Trust me. The campus and building are as breathtaking as the collection of textiles- bandhini so tiny that it made the artisan blind, fine tapestries which allow light in through their patterns, silks and cottons of unimaginable beauty. If you are lucky you will also get to meet the resident tortoise.
- Vishala a little away from the city is a open air village themed restaurant, with a great gujju thali and other activities like puppet shows etc, but my favourite part of the place is the vessels museum. It has a great collection and is very well laid out. I was lucky enough to take my grandmother here when she visited, they gave us a wheel chair and my cousins and I had a ball pushing her around, and she had a whale of a time, as there as a museum dedicated to one of her biggest loves – vessels.
- Lastly there is a great vintage car museum a little away from the city, you need to get a car to go here – the public transport is dicey on this route, but it is well maintained and informative. It will take you half a day, they have a restaurant too which I have not tried.
- I know I said lastly, but if you still have more time, check out the natrani calendar, it is a café and open air theatre owened by Malika Sarabai, and they have both national and international artists performing plays, dances, and music at the venue through the week – I was lucky enough to work next to Natrani and would often finish work and go for a dose of culture. A lot of the performances are free and the café is great too…
That’s the last post on Ahmedabad. Will be back soon with updates on the next leg of our journey.