Amritsar to Ahmedabad and on to Junagadh

Travelling to Ahmedabad today via Delhi, I had a taxi arranged at the hotel for a 6 o’clock pick up and it was on time dropping me at the Airport for half past, the check in and security went without a hitch and I had plenty of time for a coffee and a sandwich in departures. 

Indigo airways seem to have there act together as an airline  and boarding and the short flight to Delhi went smoothly, I did just check that my bag didn’t appear on the carousel at Delhi ( I know I should probably trust the process more but feel that the one time I don’t check it will come out ! ) before catching the shuttle bus to terminal 1, again it was straight though security and a second breakfast of and decent croissant and a flat white at Starbucks in the departures lounge.

In the end it was 3 short 50 minutes hops to Ahmedabad, from Delhi it was Jodhpur for the next stop and when we landed I wasn’t sure about getting off the plane as it was the same plane going on to Ahmedabad, everyone seemed to be getting off and I didn’t think I could be the only one travelling onwards so asked on the way out and they seemed surprised but checked my boarding pass and said disembark and wait at the bottom of the aircraft steps, I stood in the shade under the wing ( it was hotter now I was further South ) and after a couple of minutes I  was boarded again and took the same seat. Within a few minutes the other passengers started boarding and we were off to Ahmedabad, we were probably only on the ground for thirty minutes in total. Again the flight left and arrived in time and I waited at the baggage carousel thinking it wouldn’t surprise me if it didn’t appear as it had 3 opportunities to disappear today but to my amazement it came out, thank you Indigo.

I decided to use the pre booked taxi booth at the Airport even though they quoted over double the Uber price, then went outside to get the taxi, I could see the driver was not happy with the amount he was getting, I had paid 500 rupees and from what I could pick up from his conversation in Hindi with the controller was he was getting 180 rupees for the trip, I gave him an extra 100 at the end.

I was surprised by the quality of roads into the centre of Ahmedabad, they were nearly on par with Delhi’s and I liked what I saw of Ahmedabad on the way in. Arriving at the hotel was another pleasant surprise as well as it was clean and the room was much better than i’d managed to book for myself recently so it wasn’t hard to decide to extend my stay here by 3 nights as there is a lot to see here (Ahmedabad is India’s first World Heritage site ) and it will give me time to look at my next destination as Gujarat also seems to have a lot to offer.

After going to reception and booking the extra nights I went for a short walk to find a recommended restaurant before it got dark just so I knew where it is for later, the local roads were busy but not as bad as most big cities in India and it felt fairly safe to walk on them. Again Ahmedabad feels different to other cities and has a larger Muslim community than the other Indian cities I’ve been to so far,  and It was the first time I had heard the call to prayer played since I was down in Kochin in December.

I was up for a buffet style Indian breakfast in the hotel before going for a walk around the old part of Ahmedabad town where I am staying, I managed to visit the Sidi Sayyed Mosque which dates back to 1572 and is known for it’s ten intricately carved stone lattice work windows two of which depict the tree of life.

I then walked down to the Sabarmati river which runs though Ahmedabad and under Nehru bridge that separates the old walled part of the city from the newer section and then made my way back to the hotel via Manek  chowk  which is supposed to get busy at night and be good for street food so I may try that out tonight.

It’s good to not feel I have to rush around here to see everything in a couple of days and can relax a bit more and plan a couple of things to do each a day as I’ve now got another 4 days here.

After breakfast this morning I got an Uber over to the railway station to sort out a train ticket to go to Junagadh on Thursday, I decided on this as a destination as i’d like to see some more of Gujarat while im here. I couldn’t get my first choice of train as it was already full so settled for the early morning mail train in second class. I then spent most of the morning booking a hotel in Junagadh were there is a trek up a mountain consisting of 10000 steps that sounds interesting, so I booked two nights there and booked three nights in Gir forest which has a safari park and is around 50 kilometres from Junagadh so will have to work out the best way to get there.

Afterwards I decided to go over to the Gandhi Ashram where Gandhi lived from 1917 to 1930 and was his base for much of his fight for India’s independence. It was from here that Gandhi left on his 241 mile salt march to Dandi in 1930 in protest of the British tax on Indian salt, imposed so the British could sell there own salt cheaper. Gandhi vowed not to return to the Ashram until India gained its independence. Gandhi was subsequently imprisoned for breaking the salt law.

The Ashram is definitely worth a visit and gives a very good and detailed history of his life and struggles, and like Mother Theresa is another Indian who has given so much for what they believed in, it was interesting to see quotes by people such as Martin Luther King and Tolstoy about Gandhi and how he inspired them,  ( I took a picture of King’s and will post it online ). I spent a few hours there and could of probably spent more as there is so much information but feel I learnt quite a bit more about his life from my visit.

I got another Uber back to the hotel and made use of the fruit seller in a stall outside the hotel before going back. It’s amazing how good a plate of fresh watermelon, pineapple and papaya tastes when it’s hot outside.

Later in the afternoon I made my way over to Manek Chowk which I failed to find in the dark on the previous evening and opted for the easier option and had dinner in the same place I had just the night before.

This time I took an easier route to follow using the main streets. Manek Chowk is a crazy mix of street stalls, Tuk Tuks, scooters,motorcycles,bicycles and people and if I had only just arrived in India I think I would of froze at the absolute mayhem and constant sound of horns !.Everything seems to come from every direction at once. I had noticed earlier in the afternoon the look of horror on one of the Tuk Tuk driver’s faces as I crossed the road in front of him to get my Uber, I think that westerners confuse the Indian drivers as they can’t predict what we are going to do because we  tend to panic when faced with 4 Tuk Tuks and 5 scooters bearing down on them from different directions all at once with no sign of stopping, I’ve been here long enough now to know how to get across a busy street and it bears no resemblance to the stop, look and listen method we are taught in the west, if you tried to apply that method here you’d be there all day and probably go crazy. I’d love to know how Indian children are taught to cross the street, even dogs and cats cross differently here.

On the way back to the hotel a fire engine passed me with its siren going and I naturally thought there was a fire somewhere, 5 mins down the road a crowd had assembled and were looking up into a tree as the fireman assembled in long pole, I joined the crowd and at first thought it was a cat up in the tree probably around 60 feet up and they were  going to try and knock it out of the tree but it turned out to be a large bird of prey that had somehow trapped its wing in the branches,             ( turned out to be fishing line from kite flying ) and some crows were attacking it, eventually they managed to free it and it flew away to the delight of the crowd below.

On the way back I passed Jama Masjid so decided to go in,the Mosque dates back to 1424 and is another example of the stunning architecture that India has to offer, close up the detail is amazing to see and is a mix of Hindu, Islamic and Jain architecture unlike any other Mosque on the Indian subcontinent. 

The next day after breakfast I got an Uber over to the Dada Harir Stepwell but before going down into it walked over to the back of it where there is a 15 century mosque that was built at the same time as the stepwell I wasn’t going to go in but the Iman that was there encouraged me to go in and  gave me a guided tour around the Mosque and tombs that are there.

 I went down into the Stepwell via a very small sprilal staircase at the far end, at first I could see the steps but as I got deeper it was pitch black until I came out into a small square at each of the five levels, I could here bats squeaking as I decended into the stairwell. At the bottom it is completely dry and has been for sometime but makes for some good pictures, there were a few tourists around but not many.

Afterwards I walked over to Hathee Singh Jain Temple that the Iman  had recommended going to, which was about 1 1\2 miles away. The temple is fairly recent compared to others, being built in 1848 and is designed to be similar to older Jain Temples on Mt Abu, it is constructed of intricately carved marble and also has a victory tower on the site. There is also a good museum next door that gives a good history of the Jain religion. By the time I got back to the hotel around 2 o’clock I felt if done enough of the tourist stuff for today.

I went out for a meal in the  evening to a restaurant that does a set menu Thali and realised that since being in India I have found the first food that I don’t actually like, that being spiced buttermilk, the first time I tried it I had bought it by mistake thinking it was a carton of apple juice and got a shock when I tasted it. This was the third time I had tried it tonight and it hasn’t grown on me, I think it’s a combination of the consistency and taste that I don’t like about it and  I haven’t managed to finish it yet when I’ve tried it.

The hotel restaurant was really busy in the morning for breakfast and ran out of space while I was there, so it must be a fairly popular hotel with Indian tourists. Afterwards as I had seen most of what I wanted to see in Ahmedabad but hadn’t really had a proper look around the Bhadra Fort made my way over there,  the fort which is partly hidden by market stalls. dates back to 1411 and served as the main entrance to the old part of the city, inside there wasn’t many people around and I took the stairs to the right thinking I may be able to get to the top but as you turn the corner on the first level your faced with an entrance that has been concreted up so only got a few photos from the ground level.

When I came to India back in October I had a rough idea about where I wanted to visit starting in Goa and working in an anti clockwise direction, most of the places had a colonial past and I’ve managed to get to them all apart from Mumbai so far, and added a few other places such as Munnar, Hampi and the Andaman islands  along the way.

 Ahmedabad wasn’t really on my radar until I was in the North and didn’t want to miss a big chunk of the country by jumping from Amritsar to Mumbai, I’m glad I did make it here as it has a lot to offer someone exploring India and is a gateway to the rest of Gujarat which again seems to contain so much worth seeing and I.will head into for around a week tomorrow before finding my way eventually to Mumbai  from there and probably then back to Goa.

This mornings trip started off well enough, I dropped the key at reception at around 4.40 and made my way to the Uber pick up point, it arrived bang on schedule and we had a relatively clear road to the train station. The mail train was already in and unloading stuff onto the platform, I found my berth in 2nd class and settled for the top bunk as there were already 2 people in my lower bunk.

We left Ahmedabad on time but then soon started to fall behind schedule. It was a couple hours into the journey that I realised I had been an idiot and was heading for Jamnagar instead of Junagadh where I had booked the hotel, after a brief moment of panic I realised it didn’t matter that much and could stay overnight in Jamnagar if I needed to.

I was fortunate enough to have a network connection on my phone and saw that I could get from Jamnagar to Junagadh by bus which would take around 4 hours so booked a bus online from the train.

On further investigation I saw that if I got off the train at Rajkot it was closer to Junagadh as the train doubles back on itself and Rajkot looked to be halfway between the two, that’s the option I decided on and booked another bus from Rajkot to Junagadh online, luckily the buses are very cheap and had paid less than a £1 for the first ticket. On arrival in Rajkot I got a Tuk Tuk to the bus pickup point and checked at the travel company that I was in the right place and they said wait there as I had about an hour before the bus left, but after about 15 mins I was directed onto a local bus and being the trusting soul that I am did as I was told without question but I  did pickup that I would need to change buses somewhere in the conversation though. 

We made our way though traffic for around 3 miles to the outskirts of Rajkot and I followed everyone else off the bus to another bus that was just loading but it turned out that it wasn’t my bus, and was directed to the office and after much confusion during which a guy on a motorcycle pulled up and waved me over ( I think he was going to take me back to the stop i’d just come from along with my bags ! ) but in the end just after 2 o’clock the bus arrived and along with others who had gathered while I was waiting boarded.

At this point because of my lack of the Hindu language I still wasn’t certain if I was going to end up in Junagadh or Jamanager but thought if I do end up in Jamanager that was my fate today and it was meant to be. As it turned out I could see on my maps app that we were headed in the right direction and arrived in Junagadh about 4.30 and eventually at the hotel by Tuk Tuk during which my communication skills were found to be sadly lacking again. I was pleased to find a very nice hotel at the end of it with a kettle, coffee and hot shower waiting.

It was an early start in the morning and a Tuk Tuk that I had arranged the night before picked me up at 3 in the morning to take me to the base of Girnar mountain, Girnar mountain is considered sacred in the Hindu and Jain faiths. I had heard on the the bus coming here that there was a festival here this weekend and from what I can make out it is the Bhavnath festival where pilgrims gather at Bvavnath temple at the foot of the mountain and ascend the steps visiting other temples along the way and it was just coincidence that I picked this weekend to be here. I quickly realised as I followed thousands of others at 3 in the morning towards the 10000 steps that led up the mountain that this was not going to be a solitary walk up the mountain. Once we got to the steps and started going up it seemed to thin out a bit after the first couple of thousand steps, they are stone steps and probably about 4 feet wide interspersed with a stone path part of the way, just wide enough for a single line up one side and down the other.

After around 4000 steps you start to see the temples built on the mountain with the first one being a large elaborate Jain Temple. It was at this point I met Namesh from Mumbai and 3 other various male relations that do this pilgrimage every year, we introduced ourselves and I had my first break at the 5000 step point where they bought me a lemon water at one of the many stalls along the way, Namesh spoke about his religion and India and offered to show me around when I get to Mumbai.Not long after the short break they stopped to go into one of the main Hindu Temples just after half way and I decided to carry on saying we would meet up at the top. Not long after at around 6000 steps the line to the top stopped, it was 5.30 and still dark and after 1\2 an hour we still hadn’t moved, people to the left hand side were in a line trying to go up the mountain avoiding the steps to beat the queue. Those coming down were struggling to get past. 

I don’t know how much space there is on top of Girnar mountain but as I stood there not moving anywhere and no sign of movement further up I envisaged the top full up and no room left to get anyone else up until they came down. As it wasn’t a pilgrimage for me as it was for the people around me and I didn’t want to be trying all day to get to the top of a crowded mountain top I decided to join the queue going back down which was at least moving for the moment, it was still slow progress with people trying to go up as well but eventually I could see the bottom, but as it narrowed at the entrance everything stopped again and no one was moving up or down.

Now I’ve never minded what I consider to be a crowd before, and that is perhaps a concert where it becomes a bit of a crush at the front from people pushing or the emptying out from an arena after a baseball or hockey game where everyone just politely shuffles along but this was on a level I hadn’t experienced before, eventually the pressure from behind started moving us forward whether we liked it or not, I was almost starting to panic myself and I felt I had an advantage as I was taller than most of the people around me, we were packed so tightly you couldn’t see the steps or stop yourself going forward, if anyone did manage to fall in the crowd I couldn’t see them being able to get back up again, at one point I could even feel it starting to effect my breathing as we were  packed so tightly, I did notice though that a lot of the Indian people around me  didn’t seem to think it was too usual and seemed like just another crowd to them.

We eventually got squeezed though the entrance at the bottom of the steps and at least the pressure eased off although it was probably at least a mile before you could walk normally as there  were that many people still trying to go up. It was at this point that sirens started and I saw two ambulances trying to get though the crowd, I walked most of the 4 miles back to the hotel as any Tuk Tuks couldn’t get close or were full, I did get a lift for about a mile with about 10 others in a Tuk Tuk until he turned off and went the opposite way to my hotel. I arrived back at the hotel around 9.30 and was so hungry I went straight into the restaurant for breakfast. My legs were starting to feel it by the time I got back and I had only gone just over halfway up.

I think I just picked the wrong weekend to be here as normally you could probably go up and down Girnar at your own pace and the views from the top must be amazing, I started at 3 o’clock thinking i’d be at the top for the Sunrise but didn’t account for the crowds this weekend.

In the afternoon I decided to take it easy and look into my options of getting to Sasan Gir safari park tomorrow and from there to Mumbai next week. I saw that I could get a State bus tomorrow and probably a Tuk Tuk once there but after checking at reception decided to book a taxi instead. The onward trip to Mumbai is proving a little more difficult as there’s no direct route and if I wanted to fly would have to go back to Ahmedabad anyway, train options I’ve probably left too late now, but I could go with a short bus ride back to Junagadh then around 17 hours overnight to Mumbai by bus but I think I’ll wait till I arrive tomorrow in Sasan Gir to decide.

Travelling to Sasan Gir forest today and looking forward to a few days there, so I’m going to finish up this week’s blog now and get it online.

Hope you all are well and have a great week. Speak to you again soon.

Take Care  

Regards Chris

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