In Porbandar, the city where Mahatma Gandhi was born, we found a small tea-stall.
As we drank our tiny cups of milky, spiced tea, we watched the chaiwallah filling narrow, cylindrical plastic tubes with hot tea. When these thin-walled short cylinders are almost filled, they are tied closed and handed to customers to drink elsewhere. Later, we learned that these popular thin plastic containers of ‘take-away’ tea pose a potential health hazard because the hot drink leaches toxic chemicals from the plastic.
The picture above, which was taken in Ahmedabad, shows a portion of take-away tea in a bag rather than a tube.
Just as in the UK, take-away and home delivery foods and drinks are becoming popular in India. There are many mobile ‘phone ‘apps’ that allow the customer to order the food or drinks in advance. Often, motorcyclists deliver what is ordered. In India, the Swiggy company does the same kind of work as Deliveroo does in the UK. However, hot tea in a plastic bag is a product yet to arrive on the British ‘scene’.
Salt is an essential part of the human diet. In Africa, salt produced by the Moors was transported across the Sahara Desert to salt-free Central Africa, where it was exchanged for gold. This shows how much salt is valued as a commodity.
On a recent bus trip between the two Gujarati cities of Baroda and Bhavnagar, we passed through a flat low-lying district not far from the sea (the Gulf of Khambat). Along the way, we passed numerous white piles of salt recently extracted from the sea. These piles stand amongst pools of salty water that is evaporating in the hot sun. Although flat, the landscape is varied and fascinating.
Gujarat is the largest salt producer in India and the third largest in the world. Sadly, the salt workers, whose life is tough and dangerous, are poorly treated by their employers. According to the Indian Express dated April 26, 2016, the Government of the State of Gujarat is looking into ways of improving the lives of salt workers and their families.
Sadly, India and Pakistan are fighting again. Some parts of Gujarat, such as Kutch, are perilously close to Pakistan.
“We boarded a smallish propeller aeroplane, a Bombardier, which serves the daily flight from Bombay in Maharashtra to Kandla in Kutch.
Our one and a half hour Spicejet flight headed north west from Bombay. After traversing Saurashtra, the southern peninsula of western Gujarat (also known as ‘Kathiawad’), we flew over an area of rivers and marshes, and begun descending towards the airport of Kandla in Kutch.
Many centuries ago, Kutch was an island between Gujarat and Sindh. It was separated from the mainland by rivers along its northern and eastern edges, and the sea along its southern edge. The rivers disappeared after a series of seismic disturbances, only to be replaced by arid rocky deserts, the Ranns of Kutch. Until the 1940s, Kutch was fiercely independent of the rest of the Indian subcontinent. Despite frequent attacks by its neighbour Sindh (now part of Pakistan) and the Mughals, the Kutchis retained their autonomy. One of the reasons we were visiting this outlying part of India, now incorporated within the State of Gujarat, was to visit the area from which my wife’s mother’s ancestors originated. Another reason was that we had heard that it is beautiful.
Kandla airport is small. As we descended from the ‘plane onto the tarmac, I noticed that our aircraft was surrounded by army men holding loaded machine guns, their muzzles pointing downwards. There were numerous signs forbidding photography because this airport is primarily a military base only 133 kilometres from the Indian border with Pakistan. There was no baggage conveyor belt system. The luggage from the ‘plane was brought to the tiny terminal in wagons from which we had to help ourselves to our bags.”
This is an excerpt from “TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIU” by Adam Yamey. It is avalable on Kindle and as a paperback from lulu.com, bookdepository.com, and Amazon.
When we visited the beaches at Daman, Kutch Mandvi, and the temple town of Somnath, we saw camels on the beach. Their owners offer rides to holidaymakers, who have come to enjoy the sun, sea, and sand.
However, camels are not only kept for pleasure. All over Gujarat, we spotted camels drawing carts and wagons in towns, villages, and in the open countryside. Apart from being picturesque to my western eyes, they are much valued beasts of burden.
Gujarat and Kutch are areas with a semi-desert terrain and almost desert weather conditions. The camel is ideaaly suited to this environment. Most of the camels used in Gujarat State are bred in Kutch and are highly priced.
Read much more about this fascinating part of western India in “TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIU” by Adam Yamey. The paperback is available from lulu.com, bookdepository.com, and Amazon, which also supplies the Kindle version.
Excerpt from “TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIU” by Adam YAMEY. Available as a Kindle from Amazon and as a paperback from lulu.com, amazon.com, and bookdepository.com
The Watson Museum in Rajkot has a good collection of exhibits that encompass the history of the area around Rajkot. Given its age, it is in good condition, and well-worth visiting as is its neighbour in another part of the same building, the Lang Library. It was founded in 1856 by Colonel William Lang, who was a British Political Agent in the Kathiawar region of India, which included Rajkot, from 1846 to ’59. Today, it is named the Arvindbhai Maniyar Library in honour of a former Mayor of Rajkot.
Before entering the spacious reading room, we saw a glass case containing a model depicting the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, and wisdom, Saraswati, holding a stringed musical instrument in her raised left hand. She was draped with flower garlands. The reading room, surrounded by bookcases and busts of famous people, has many tables and chairs. Almost every chair was occupied by men reading newspapers. Part of the ceiling is made in shiny wood (like a parquet floor) patterned with lozenges containing centrally placed carved wooden rosettes. An elegant staircase with curved wooden bannisters leads to an upper floor. A side room on the ground floor serves a children’s library equipped with miniature desks whose seatbacks are carved to resemble squirrels in profile.
On our way out of the library, we noticed a small table with only enough room for two chairs. It bore a notice in Gujarati saying that it was “reserved for female readers”. One of the chairs was occupied by a young lady, who confirmed that this table is the only place allotted to female readers. When asked what happened when there were more than two female readers, she shrugged her shoulders, and said: “There never are.” The segregation of library users by gender is one of many indications we had that people in Saurashtra retain very conservative views of how life should be lived.
Shyamji Krishna Varma (1857-1930) was born in Mandvi in Kutch (now part of Gujarat State). A Sanskrit scholar of world reknown and a barrister, he was also an important, but now not so well-known, activist in the fight for India’s Independence from the British.
He settled in London in the late 1890s and lived there in the northern suburb of Highgate until he moved to France before 1910. This house, number 60 Muswell Hill Road, was his home between 1900 and 1907. A circular plaque commemorates his short stay here.
While visiting the former Portuguese colony of Diu, an enclave on the south coast of the Saurashtrian peninsula of Gujarat, I came across an open space that provides great views of the fortresses.
It contains a tall, bulky, four-sided column with longitudinal striations. Wire hoops serving as simple steps provide a means of reaching the column’s flat square summit. This is a monument built by the Portuguese to honour of the Gujarati General Khadjar Safar (known by the Portuguese as ‘Coge Cofar’). The Gujaratis and the Portuguese were enemies and a siege occurred in 1546. This siege of Diu was won by the Portuguese, but Safar was remembered for his bravery. I have seen a picture of this column taken in the 1950s, when it bore a plaque in Portuguese that read in translation: “The tomb of Coge Cofar, instigator of the second siege of Diu. Commander-in-chief of the Turkish and Janissary troops from the kingdom of Cambaya, imposers of the siege of this Fort. In May of the year of 1546, he was killed by a stray bullet that came out from the Fort, penetrated the Turkish forces, and blew off his head. He was brave and courageous.”
Kuzhippalli S Mathew writing in his Portuguese and the Sultanate of Gujarat, 1500-1573 relates that Khwajar (or Khadjar) Safar was born in Italy of Catholic parents, probably Albanians. A successful trader, Safar, with his three boats loaded with valuable spices and drugs, was captured by a general of the Sultan of Cairo, who encountered him in the Straits of Mecca. The captive so impressed the Sultan that together they began planning ways to oust the Portuguese from the Indian Ocean trading arena. Portugal’s activities were wrecking the import of spices to Europe via Egypt. The Sultan gave Safar command of vessels to attack the Portuguese in India. By 1508, he had already fought with the Portuguese near both Chaul and Diu. After many adventures amongst which he fled from Egypt, converted to Islam, and even served the Portuguese briefly, he became an important person in the Sultanate of Gujarat. Both Khadjar Safar and his son Muharram Rumi Khan were killed during the siege of 1546.
This is an excerpt from Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu by Adam Yamey.
Available from Lulu.com, and on Amazon Kindle