Ahmedabad

We had allowed a day in Ahmedabad for acclimatisation, acculturation, rest, and any last minute shopping for wedding gear. That made for an interesting and busy day.

Laura had suggested breakfast at 8:00 am so we did not need to rush after we woke soon after 7:00 am. As we ate breakfast we talked with Laura and the Hazzards about what we might do today.

Majella had been keen for the Calico Museum but others had found it booked out and limited by the impending Trump visit so that was a no go. Laura suggested a 10:00 am (shops open then) trip to the sari market where Chris and Debbie could buy wedding gear and she and Majella could buy bracelets. In the afternoon we could visit the StepWell and be back in time for dance practice at 5:00 pm.

Neither we nor the Hazzards had any local currency so Chris and I decided we should visit an ATM before going back to our rooms to prepare for our day. Laura pointed us out the door with some description of where we would find the ATM and advice to use the second one. Majella and Debbie came with us. We followed Laura’s directions around the corner and found an ATM but were not sure it was the one she recommended. I checked the WhatsApp chat where I recalled seeing photos and noted that the one suggested there was with ICICI Bank. The one we were looking at was not so I searched Google Maps and found an ICICI ATM a few hundred metres away beyond the nearby park.

We set off to the ATM, braving the traffic around a busy major intersection in morning peak hour. It was some distance but we made it and managed to extract the daily limit of cash – 10000 rupees, worth about $200. While we were performing our monetary duties, Majella and Debbie were surprised to see a camel pulling a cart amongst the throng of other vehicles teeming along the road. We managed to walk back safely and had some time in our room to get ready for the day.

Just before 10:00 am we joined Laura and the Hazzards in the lobby. Laura and I had access to Uber so the plan was for us to summon two but Laura insisted we use the auto rickshaw option – cheaper than a car, more manoueverable in traffic, and an experience to be enjoyed. Our vehicles arrived – motorcycles with added body designed to seat 2 or 3 though we later saw them with as many as 6 passengers. The drivers are skilled, alert, and fearless as they weave among cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians that crowd the roads. All we could do as passengers was sit and enjoy the ride. Our 10 minute or so ride cost 50 rupees – about $1. Our rides swapped the lead a couple of times as traffic dictated but we arrived more or less together at the destination Laura had specified.

As we set off down the narrow street used by pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists going in both directions, stores were just beginning to open and set up for the day. The elephant that Laura had photographed in the street yesterday was not there but we did see what we thought was recent evidence of its passing. Laura seemed to be known by a few of the storekeepers. Evidently she had been there more than once and was able to lead us up a side lane to a temple where we took off our shoes and went in for a look around before she led us almost to the end of the street where she knew a shop selling the bracelets and other accessories that the women needed. I watched that process but Chris and Dbbie went into the shop next door where he bought two outfits for himself. While Debbie was buying her outfit across the road, Majella and I walked up the next major side street where we were amazed at the shops selling high class modern electrical products amid the chaos and decaying infrastructure.

Once we had done shopping we walked back to the head of the street where we had entered and ordered Uber rickshaws back to the hotel. By that time we were all ready for coffee so Laura suggested a nearby coffee shop she had found. Her shortcut went wrong and we took the long way round but managed to see the Law Garden and a collection of colourful streetstalls along the way. We were early and they were setting up for their main evening trading period when Laura assured us people have to walk on the road because of the crowds and stalls on the sidewalk.

The coffee shop was airconditioned and comfortable. It was time to eat lunch so Majella had iced mocha with a tomato, basil and cheese sandwich. I had coffee with a pesto pizza. The drinks and food were good.

As we ate we noticed some action in the branches of a large tree outside. It was a monkey which was finding something to eat in the tree and watching the humans below. We had seen another monkey along our walk for coffee and were assured that we might see plenty more.

While we were there we had had messages from some others that they were about to head for the Rudabai Step Well at Adalaj. We had been planning to go with them but messaged to say we would find our own way and rather than walk back to the hotel, booked an Uber car from where we were.

On Laura’s advice we booked premium on the chance it might be airconditioned. It wasn’t but the 30 minute or so ride to Adalaj was pleasant enough despite heavy traffic. Along the way we passed some major elevated railway construction in disconnected sections that are obviously intended to linkup though there is no sign that might be imminent. We also saw several billboards promoting the visit of Prime Minister Modi and President Trump on 24 February. There were also signs of preparation including teams of painters brightening up curbsides and bridges and fresh plantings in the roadside gardens along part of the way.

The Step Well is an amazing structure. The stairway down to the water is quite deep and the surrounding stonework is elaborately carved. There was a crowd visiting, both Indians and tourists, and taking advantage of the stonework to frame portraits. We were approached by a few people who wanted to take selfies with us – curiosity value, I expect. There were new pieces of stone stockpiled above the well with carving so there is evidently some restoration work being done.

We hailed another Uber for the ride back to town. He was nearby so must have just delivered some other visitors. This one was air conditioned so we had a little more pleasant ride back to the hotel where we arrived soon after 3:00 pm and had time to rest before the 5:00 pm dance practice.

At 5:00 pm the whole party, 20+ of us, gathered in the lobby so we could be assisted by staff to access Level 6 where Laura had arranged a room for practice. Nobody claimed to be confident but most had done some practice and were prepared to try. Aimee had the training video with music on her laptop and a bluetooth speaker to boost the sound. We practised with and without video with the Ryan sisters in coaching mode. Without the video we tended to get lost a bit more than halfway through but then picked up for the end. It may not be perfect but with everybody dressed for the occasion there will be colour and movement.

After practice people went their own ways. Majella remembered that she had intended to buy some form of gift wrapping. We walked around the corner to see what we might find in the small shopping mall there. That required us to pass through a security check – separately for men and women. Majella asked at the Marks and Spencer store and the salesman there was able to sell us a gift box with ribbon. Both are branded as ‘Marks and Spencer’ but we can live with that and the gift includes a card about its origins.

Rather than try to find somewhere to eat around the local streets we decided to eat at the hotel restaurant. We had checked it earlier in the day and seen the Times of India award certificate for 2019 and other items attesting to its quality. There was no menu but an expansive buffet with salads, vegetarian dishes, rice, chicken masala and biryani, and other local foods. What we ate was very good and mostly spicy but not too hot. One of the waiters offered naan or roti and I had fresh naan.

Majella expressed interest in what was happening at what was the omelette station this morning. She was invited to try some pastry balls with sauce and a plate of ‘crackers’ with a combination of interesting toppings including yoghurt. By that time she was full but I sampled the desserts on the large table – strawberry cake with white chocolate, coffee custard, and duet of mousse. I did not have the heart to cut one of the impressively decorated cakes.

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