Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Tips for Tourists







Namaste!! Welcome to Rajasthan! To make your visit more memorable we have tried to answer the most frequently asked questions. We are sure this would help in enhancing your experience of Rajasthan.

What to carry

  • Rajasthan is a traditionally and culturally rich state with a modern outlook. But some places here still have a conservative approach towards dressing. Hence it is advisable to carry full sleeved shirts and full pants for both men and women.

  • The temperature here varies from as high as 49 degrees celsius in summers to as low as -4 degrees celsius in winters in some places. Hence depending on the season that you are likely to visit in, Kindly carry the following clothing along:

  1. For a dry and hot summer season : Soft breathable cotton clothes in lighter colours, sunscreen, shades, umbrellas, flip flops and breathable closed shoes, full sleeved cotton shirts and full pants in breathable fabric to avoid over exposure to the sun, hats and caps, sippers.
  2. For dry and very cold winters : Thick woollen sweaters and jackets, woollen socks, thick shoes or boots, full woollen pants, monkey caps or beanies, mufflers, ear muffs, gloves and shades.

  • Some religious places have a certain set of code of conduct and may require you to cover your head, go barefoot inside the complex or leave any leather articles you might be carrying outside the premises (belts, bags, wallets). There might be a deposit box facility in such places or you might have to take turns to visit. We suggest that you read about the place before visiting and carry a small cloth wallet on that visit.

Food and Beverages

  • People is Rajasthan prefer a little spicy food and relish their desserts with the same gusto. You need to keep in mind to ask about the use of red chillies in the local cuisine, as the food is quite spicy here. The use of oil and ghee also is very liberal. Among the non-vegetarian foods, you will find chicken and lamb very easily but fish and other seafood is available only at a few hotels and restaurants. Please ask for bottled water or check with the restaurant you eat in if they have a proper functioning water filter installed. 

  • Tipping at the restaurants is entirely your prerogative, as service charge is included in bills in most of the places. You may want to check your bill first before deciding on tipping. 

Mementoes and souvenirs

  • The Govt certified shops and emporia have a fixed price structure and you would not require to bargain there. Additionally, the goods purchased from these stores would be of good quality.

  • Always insist on obtaining a proper invoice for your purchases and ensure your cards are swiped in your presence. 

Sightseeing

  • Please have a proper itinerary made from your travel service provider as different monuments have different days as their weekly maintenance days and are shut on such days. To utilise your time optimally it always helps to check the “closed days” and “visiting hours” of the temples / monuments / museums you are interested in visiting.

  • Smoking and drinking of alcohol is strictly prohibited in public places in India. In restaurants, you may ask for a smoking zone if it is provided as not all the restaurants have a smoking zone. Likewise, drinks will be served in the designated bar / restaurant only.

  • Govt trained and authorised guides can be hired at most of the tourist places. English speaking guides are easy to find but you may also find guides speaking other international languages too. Do remember to check their Identity Card before engaging them for your sight seeing.

  • Some monuments and tourist sites have facility of audio-guides as well.

Important

  • Some border area of Gujarat and Rajasthan require special Govt permissions to visit, please ask your travel service provider to advise and assist on obtaining these permissions.

  • In cities you can easily change most foreign currencies and brands of traveller cheques. ATMs are available in all big cities and most of the towns and villages.

Be Safe

  • Buy your tickets from authorised ticketing agents only. Always ask for an invoice.

  • Most of the cities have prepaid auto rickshaw and taxi booths, hire a taxi from these booths only.

  • Take a photo of the number plate of the taxi and share it with your near ones.

  • Tipping of taxi drivers is totally your decision, it is not customary or obligatory.

  • Do not accept food / drinks / lifts from strangers.

  • Avoid isolated places and going out late at night.

  • In case of emergency please dial 100 for the Police.

India is a tourists’ paradise and Indians are among the most hospitable people in the world but it is always good to be a bit cautious and careful while you travel.

Happy Travelling!!

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Heritage Walk - Ahmedabad


A brief History

The First World Heritage City of India, Ahmedabad was founded in the year 1411.

Solanki rulers founded a city named Karnavati in the eleventh century on the banks of Sabarmati river after establishing their vistory over the Bhils. Many subsequent battles gave Karnavati many different rulers in different times. At the end of the thirteenth century an independent Sultanate ruled by the Muslim Mazaffarid dynasty was established. The fourteenth Sultan Ahmed Shah renamed Karnavati as Ahmedabad and established it as his capital. Ahmedabad was the capital of the Sultanate for 162 years (1411 - 1573). The city has presence of all the architectural wonders created during those years.

A walk to remember

The uniqueness of this walk is that it starts from a temple and ends at a mosque. "Mandir se Masjid Tak" as it is popularly referred to as. The walk commences at the Swaminarayan Mandir in the heart of the old city of Ahmedabad in Kalupur at 07:30 am. Dedicated to the Twin Hindu Gods Nara and Narayana, this temple is an architectural marvel to behold. The beautiful carvings and the use of bright colours to decorate the temple stand out. The temple complex has a multi storeyed air-conditioned guest house and a medical centre. The darshans open as 08:30 am onwards.

From the temple the guided walk moves towards the inside of the old city transporting one to the era gone by where everyone knew everyone, homes welcomed with open arms and doors and roads were treaded barefoot. Next stop is the Kavi Dalpatram Chowk, Lambeshwar Ni Pol. Kavi Dalpatram was a scholar and poet who strongly advocated the cause of women's empowerment. A highly revered gentleman he was lovingly referred to as Dada by one and all. His house has been modelled into a museum cum amphitheatre and is a memorial to this great poet and reformer. The museum is termed a "live-museum". The memorial, a platform with the map of the original house etched on it and a wall depicting the facade of the house as the backdrop, is actually a stage where Kavi Dalpatram's plays are staged on his birth anniversary. The locals from the area sit around and children play here every evening. There is a bronze statue of Kavi Dalpatram gracing the entrance to the memorial and to sit in the statue's lap is considered a blessing.

Traversing the narrow lanes of the old city towards the Calico Dome, the next stop, one can not help but notice the ornate towers that dot the town. These are bird feeding towers or Kabootarkhanas. The compassionate people of Gujarat from across all faiths make these towers next to their places of worship. The base of the tower is a storage for grains and bird feed and at the top near the dome hang trays filled with feed and water for the birds. Some towers even have pigeon holes built in them for the birds to get shelter and rest.

Next on the walk comes the relief road, which also now needs a relief road looking at the heavy traffic flow! Across the relief road is the place where the historical Calico Dome once saw the hustle and bustle of the Fashion Industry. Many a models and fashion designers started their successful careers here. Unfortunately, the dome was lost to the massive earthquake of 2001. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation later took over the place and restored the remains keeping the heritage of Calico Dome alive.

More pictures of the interesting Heritage Walk can be found on our Facebook and Instagram pages.

Just as the kabootarkhanas are an important feature of Gujarat, so are the Pols. Pols are gated societies where people belonging to one particular community lived together. The segregation was done to have a harmonious co-habitation with people from same background and food habits living together. However all these Pols were interconnected through secret passages to provide a safe escape route to the residents in case of any invasion / attack. 

The Pol that is included in the walk is the Khara Kuva Ni Pol or the Pol of the saline water well. This Pol houses a unique and famous Kala Ram Ji Temple (Temple of Black Ram Ji). Some interesting uniquenesses of this temple :
1. It is a home temple with no dome or flag but three stories of a house with 80 rooms where many families reside.
2. Lord Rama is shown in a black avatar.
3. Lord Rama is in a sitting meditative posture.
4. One of the handful of temples where Lord Rama is seen without his confidante Lord Hanuman. Mythology says that Lord Rama met Hanuman in Kishkindha after Devi Sita's abduction by Ravana, but in this temple Lord Rama is seen in meditation in Panchvati much before the abduction of Devi Sita.

As one wonders and is busy processing all of this invaluable information, the walk crosses over to another street which has a very tall metal pipe sticking out of the ground with a wind vane on top. This isn't a wind vane though, it is an exhaust for the toxic fumes and gases from the sewage tank below the ground. See, how well the sanitation was planned in the World Heritage City of Karnavati or Ahmedabad as we now know it.


Pol hopping brings the walk to another Pol, Shantinathji Pol, where the highlight is another bird feeding tower and three Derasars or Jain Temples within a distance of a few hundred meters from each other. 

A striking feature of the homes of old city of Ahmedabad is the construction of walls where wooden blocks are interspersed with concrete bricks. This unique architectural intelligence served as a natural shock absorber that resulted in zero damages to the heritage homes during the devastating earthquake of 2001.

The next turn brings this heritage walk through one of those secret passages we mentioned earlier, to the Kuvawala Khancha. This quiet corner is an art gallery in itself with four different architectural styles showcased in one little street corner! There are homes made in Mughal, Maratha, British and Persian styles.

Yet another noticable feature in the walls of the heritage buildings are Popat Ni Gokh. These are tiny insulated apertures left in the outer walls of buildings at heights of more than ten feet from the ground for Parrots to build their nests in them and thus aptly named Popat Ni Gokh the translation of which is Homes of Parrots.

This marks the half way mark in the walk when the walk reaches the magnificently wood-carved Dodhia Haveli - a homestay in the old city of Ahmedabad. Many businessmen who now live abroad and have ancestral homes in Gujarat, have converted their homes / havelis into home stays. There are multi-talented attendants who keep the charm of these heritage homes intact and are skilled to dish out most lip smacking Gujarati delicacies.

Next is a Derasar known as Astapadji Derasar, a very uniquely carved Jain Temple with a perfectly functioning rain water harvesting system. Photography is strictly prohibited in the temple complex. 

The heritage walk is a great way to get a glimpse into the architecture of yore as well as the stories from the past. The guide regales the participants with many interesting anecdotes from the chapters of history. One, that is particularly mentionable is of a noble lady by the name of Shethani Harkuvar whose Haveli is an important landmark near Fernandez Bridge. The beautifully carved haveli was once among the largest and tallest buildings of Ahmedabad. Shethani Harkuvar was very progressive in her thinking and supported the cause of women's education. She in collaboration with Kavi Dalpatram built a school for the local girls. 

Next is the Fernandez Bridge and Chandla Ol. The first flyover of the city, Fernandez Bridge was built during the British Era. The largest text-book market is set up under the bridge every day. Students in all age groups flock this market where one can get lucky to get one's hands on a as-good-as-new second-hand book too. The many shops around here have their owners living on the floors above the shops. Another smart feature - no travel time to and from work!



Next few shops are sweetmeat shops and these lanes then converge into the popular Manek Chowk. Manek Chowk is abuzz with life 24 hours a day - a well thought out plan to keep the business district of the city safe from any possibilities of theft or robberies. A vegetable market during early hours of the day, makes way for the bustling jewellery market which in the evening shuts down to let many street food hawkers set shop. The riot of a food bonanza keeps the place alive till wee hours in the morning. The popularity of this place is such that one has to wait for a while to get served. Manek Chowk is flanked by Rani No Hazeero and Badshah Ka Hazeera. A little information here : The final resting place of persons from royal lineage is called a Hazeera, that of a saint is called a Mazaar and the one for common people is referred to as a Kabristan. Men are allowed inside the main mausoleum at the Hazeera while women are not. This is the final resting place of Sultan Ahmed Shah, founder of Ahmedabad.

Just in front of the Hazeera are homes of locals with many graves interspersed with the living quarters, some inside rooms and many in the open spaces between houses. Clearly sending out a message that life forms a complete circle! What has arrived must someday leave too.

The final destination in this 2 kms long heritage walk is the Jama Masjid / Jami Masjid which gets its name from Jumma which means Friday in Arabic. The Jama Masjid of any city is the largest mosque of that city.

The heritage walk brings the participants to the second gate of the mosque, where they need to remove and carry their shoes to be kept outside the main gate of the mosque as the walk culminates outside the main gate of The Jama Masjid. A strict dress code is observed at the mosque -
Women : Cover your arms and legs
Men : Cover your legs



This mosque was built by Badshah Ahmed Shah and has some very uniqie and striking features ; The architecture is a mix of Jain, Hindu and Mughal Architectural styles. The main mosque does not have a dome. A separate elevated prayer room is made for women. A huge Houd - e - Vazu (the pond for cleansing) graces the centre of the expansive courtyard. At a time around 5000 pilgrims can pray here. The corridors around the courtyard have holy inscriptions painted on the walls. Marvel at this wondrous place of worship and leave with memories for a lifetime.

Now some authentic Gujarati snack

All that walking is sure to make one hungry, the participants can head to the nearby Chandravilas - a century old restaurant which boasts of patrons like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Raj Kapoor and many famous personalities. A scrunchy bite into a juicy jalebi and a mouthful of flavourful Khaman will leave you wanting more. Then there is the local speciality Fafda with kadhi and raw papaya chutney. 
 









To book your exclusive heritage walk, write to us at pooja@gujarattrails.com.