Sunday, 12 February 2017

Wonderful Gujarat

My mood had somewhat improved by this morning, so much so that we left the hotel an hour before we were due to leave to take a walk down to the Gomti Ghat on the Gomti river. There were two reasons for this, first we had kind of run out of time the previous night, and secondly I had some misguided idea that the ghat would be quiet at 7 o'clock in the morning. It wasn't. There was a throng of people already on the steps of the ghat and down by the water. Groups were lighting lanterns to launch on the river, others just taking photos, and of course there were more photo requests for Michael.

Just a shortish drive today to Jamnagar, stopping just outside the city to visit the Swaminarayan Mandir. The grounds of the temple were beautifully kept; manicured lawns, symmetrical flowers beds, and not a scrap of litter. The temple was really nice too -- and just as immaculate -- the carvings were pristine and I particularly liked the inlayed floor, a subtle flower design.

In Jamnagar we took a walk round the Lakhota Lake. There is a gated walkway around the lake which offers some protection from the noise, traffic and endless cows outside. I was also pleased to see that the cows here had lots of greens to eat instead of just rubbish. The lake was pretty peaceful. Lots of birds, and some sculptures and information boards. The museum at the centre of the lake was covered in scaffolding and closed for construction work, as things so often are in India. We found a small exhibition at the far side of the lake holding the strangest collection of things I have every scene in one place. An aquarium containing mainly goldfish, an emu, various other birds kept in bare dark cages, some paintings, some photographs, and few textiles and some brass locks. You never know what to expect in India. Back round the lake and past the crumbling old fort as well as the Balihanuman Temple where there has been continuous chanting since the 1960s

Back to the hotel for a rest, this week of constant travel is starting to catch up with us. Some confusion over plans with the driver but ultimately he went back to napping in his car. Then we set out just before sunset to the lake once more; we pay our 10 rupees each to get into the inner pathway and this time the park is buzzing, this is obviously the place to be on a Sunday night. Hundreds of families walking together and children playing in the little playgrounds, there are pools where the fountains have long since stopped working and a huge stand that must hosts events at some point in the year. Michael spots a tree full of sleeping fruit-bats and by the time we reach it they are waking up for the night. Stretching their wings as they hang before taking off into the darkening sky. There are groups of swallows swooping past too and it feels like quite a magical place.

There have been requests for photographs  as we walk but once we reach the far side of the lake again an excited boy runs over to meet us calling me aunty and Michael uncle. He shakes our hands and uses his best English to ask us what country we are from, then a group of boys runs over, all excited to talk to Michael and have selfies. A group of girls forms around me and before I know it I am smiling for photo after photo with different groups of people. A small crowd has formed and it is the most bizarre feeling ever, and I can't stop laughing at the absurdity; I mean it is wonderful that we are being made to feel so welcome, but we are are just normal people on holiday. Nothing special. Then the babies start to arrive, one is thrust into Michael's hands and he sort of holds it out in front of him like it was a football, then it is handed over to me for a second photo. This starts a procession of babies being handed to me, some willing, some confused, and others downright fearful of me. We must have been there for half an hour, and eventually I make our excuses to leave, as I fear that we are being eaten alive by the mosquitos from the lake. I end up having to pull Michael away from the group of boys that are hanging off his arm shouting for one more selfie. We are almost giddy from the silliness of the situation and from how lovely everyone is being to us.

Dinner was two types of street food that I hadn't tasted before; a broken samosa covered in a sweet tomato sauce and peanuts, and a little further down the street a plate of slices of bread roll covered in all sorts of sweet and savoury sauces. We think these are local dishes to Jamnagar, but don't know for sure. Back to the hotel, still high from the wonderful evening.