Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ahmedabad Impressions

Last month, I had the opportunity to deliver a talk at IIM Ahmedabad, and I was pretty excited for obvious reasons. Not just because of a chance to be speaking at the august institution, but also because this was my first visit to Modiland!

IIMA beckons

Here are my top x observations from the 2 days I spent there...

Ahmedabad is a pretty clean and green city, the drive from the airport takes you through flat, tree-lined neighborhoods and military bases. However, the airport is still a small-city pad, unlike the spanking new Hyderabad, Bangalore or Mumbai airports, and doesn't even have the recently-refurbished feel of Pune or Goa airports. What is worse, though, is the absolutely disgusting spectacle of paan spit covered flower beds right outside. The entire beds are red, and for a second, you almost marvel at these unique plants, until you realize with horror and disgust what it really is! The garbage bins and the pillars are no better. Mercifully, the airport seems to be the glaring example - the rest of the city seemed to have been spared the horror.

Coming from Pune, traffic discipline should be the least of my worries - but Ahmedabad traffic has two clear characteristics. People drive too close, and people have no qualms coming full speed up the wrong side of the road. Traffic circles are meant to be cut through in the opposite direction too, and cops actively seem to encourage it. That said, traffic is very light - again, feels like any of the thousands of small towns in India, not a big city at all.

"Cross roads" are a commonly found way of identifying locations - and you will hear a lot of it. Typically Ahmedabad. It's a pretty flat city too - and you rarely see building more than a couple of floors in height, although some parts of the city, like Ellis Bridge, are now bustling with modern looking glassy corporate buildings and malls.

No description of Ahmedabad can be complete without specifically writing about two of its stars - the BRTS and the Sabarmati river.

The BRTS is well designed, and integrates beautifully with the rest of the road layouts, never seeming to obstruct traffic. And with many beautiful old trees and a quaint village-like atmosphere (including peacefully resting cows) in many parts of the route, it's actually pretty unlike the eye sore the BRTS is in Pune! Stations are well maintained, air conditioned, and easily accessible. And most importantly, in the two days I spent, I saw not a SINGLE violation of the sanctity of the BRTS lane by other vehicles - which was very  surprising indeed! One complaint I heard from locals though, is that a short spell of rain tends to flood the routes because of the "barricades".

A BRTS stop in the heart of the city

The Sabarmati river has been converted into a beautiful water body, so unlike many of the gutters that snake through many of our other cities. Locals hang around happily, enjoying chat and other local delicacies in the beautiful parks lining the river front.

Another very interesting sight, unlike in most South Indian cities, and even in Maharashtra, there is no compulsion to have Gujarati signboards, English is perfectly acceptable.

Local shopping streets are a riot of color

 When it comes to the tourist experience, though, it's sad that most of the city's rich heritage and buildings of historical and archaeological significance are buried behind modern structures and crowded lanes, completely neglected and ignored.

Completely neglected, the Delhi Darwaja is barely recognizable

We set out to see the historic Teen Darwaja, which was inaccessible unless we had the patience to make our way through a crowded, bustling, local market. The wonderful "Shaking Minarets" have apparently been closed down now, damaged beyond hope. We did see a beautiful modern Jain temple, though, where we also met a guy I could have sworn was Modi's long lost brother.

A pretty Jain temple

Next up was Haridada ni vav, a beautiful multi-storied well in dire need of come TLC. It was very sad to see, again, how neglected these really beautiful monuments are. There's another similar, and slightly bigger well, at Adalaj, a few minutes drive outside the city, which thankfully, is slightly better off, and attracts some tourists. We also passed an interesting Vaishnodevi temple, shaped and built like a mountain. Worth a visit.

The stunning multi-storey Haridada ni vav (well)

The religious structure behind the well

And sadly, this is what passes off as the entrance to this historic and beautiful structure

The slightly better off well at Adalaj

And finally, cannot help but make a mention of the Courtyard Marriott, where we stayed. A simple property, with no fuss, but the service and the food - simply phenomenal!

Indigo in-flight experience is colorful! The air hostesses were super too!

Good bye Ahmedabad!

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