This weekend, we had both Saturday and Sunday off from work. We visited Ahmedabad on Saturday, which is about an hour and a half from Vadodara. Viral showed us around to a bunch of different historical sites. It was awesome to realize that historical sites in India have been around for several thousand years whereas American historical sites have been around for only a couple hundred years.
The first place we visited was a step well built by a queen. We walked down a ton of stairs in a pit and there was water at the bottom. In the past, the water was much closer to ground level. We saw large groups of bats between the small, dark spaces of the step well support beams. There were intricate designs on the walls consisting of flower work, gods, and goddesses. While we were exiting, we witnessed a huge wedding celebration. Many of the people getting married were young, only 13-14 years old. There were young grooms on horses, dressed in traditional attire, and they did not look particularly happy to be getting married. One groom was slouched over and appeared to be frowning. We were unsure whether the groom was unhappy, or simply trying to be stoic and “manly”. Even during a raucous wedding, people were still intrigued by our presence at the step well. It was an interesting site.
Later, we went to the Swami Narayan Mandir and many of us experienced our first Indian style toilet. The Mandir had a museum that narrated the life of Swami Narayan and his spiritual journey. He is a religious figure in Hindusim and has many followers within Gujarat. Viral explained to us that the Mandir has become more of a tourist site due to the large museum. The statue of Swami Narayan consists of about 1.2 tons of gold, which, in today’s money, is worth between $30-40 million.
Our next stop was at Gandhi Nagar, the Capital of Gujarat, and the city where Mahatma Gandhi resided for 12 years. We went to Gandhi’s Ashram, which consisted of a museum and Gandhi’s home. Erica’s favorite part of the museum was the postcards to Gandhi. Many people wrote letters to Gandhi by writing the address of Gandhi as “wherever he is” because many people did not know where Gandhi resided. Because he often marched through multiple cities, his address was constantly changing. Before leaving the site, two teenagers approached us about making a music video for Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”, Ahmedabad style. Jon and Mike agreed to be in the video, and shot about 10 seconds of footage. Somewhere, in the depths of the internet, their brilliant acting skills can be seen.
After Gandhi Nagar, we were exhausted so we decided to stop by our first Indian McDonalds. McDonalds in India have no beef, but have numerous vegetarian options, including veggie burgers. According to Mike, the McPaneer was “quality fast food.” Jon argues that the Maharaja Chicken Mac was not at all equivalent to the American Big Mac. “Basically, it sucked.” The group was conflicted about whether McDonalds was better here or back home.
Lastly, we went to Sharkej Roza Masjid, which is stunningly beautiful, but sadly decrepit. Brianna was concerned about the lack of renovation and trash around the area. Sharkej Rosa used to be home to a beautiful lake, but was soon neglected. As a result, the lake dried up, and left behind a vast field contained by the ruins of a stadium. Kids, sporting homemade equipment, now play cricket on the field.
As we walked in, we saw a dog bite the jaw of another dead dog, confirming that this is indeed a dog-eat-dog world. Mitch and Erica saw ruins of a metal boat. They found the same boat in one of the old pictures. The masjid (mosque) represented Islamic architecture. We met many Muslim people and learned the correct way to greet them: As-Salam-male-Kum. We heard the call to prayer or shahadah from the speakers located near mosque. The same speakers were all around town. By far, this place everyone’s favorite. As Brianna described it, the Shakej Roza Masjid represented the beauty and poverty of India.
We ended our day with dal and chawal made by Maharaj Ramesh. On Sunday, we made plans for the upcoming week. In addition, we met with Eesha, a student from North Eastern University and a local of Baroda. She may be working with us in the future, and we are excited to work with her.