Gujarat and Sicily

Invaders adopting the architecture of the invaded

I have just returned from a trip to Palermo, the capital of the iskland of Sicily. This island has been invaded by different peoples numerous times. Visiting it made me reflect on aspects of my recent visit to Gujarat

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The Zisa Palace built by the Normans near Palermo (Sicily)

In the 9th and 10th centuries (AD), Sicily was ruled by Muslim Arabs. They were displaced by Christian Norman invaders in the 11th century. Little remains of buildings erected during the Arab occupation, but people of Arabic origin remained behind in Sicily when the Normans arrived.

The Normans built castles, churches, and cathedrals in Sicily. Many of these may be viewed today. What interested me about them is that these structures contain many architectural features typical of Arabic architecture. I suspect that the Normans must have employed Arabic craftsmen during the construction of their buildings.

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The Norman church of St Cataldo in Palermo

Moving eastwards to India, let us consider the architecture in Gujarat. Gujarat began to be invaded by Muslim forces (Turks, Mughals, etc) in the 14th century. Some Muslim rulers respected the Hindu religion they found when they arrived there; others did not. Hindu temples, like that at Somnath, were vandalised and destroyed. 

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Recovered remains of an 11th century Hindu temple at Somnath (Gujarat)

Despite a prevailing prejudice against Hinduism, the Muslim invaders were content to borrow the architectural features of Hindu temples when they constructed their new (15th century, mainly) mosques. I have written more about this in an earlier blog article (see: https://gujarat-travels.com/2018/08/04/style-fusion-in-gujarat/ ).

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A 15th century mosque at Pavagadh (Gujarat)

The invaders of both Arabic Sicily and Hindu Gujarat made use of the local architectural features they found when they arrived as conquerors, but they also introduced new architectural styles that they brought with them. The Normans brought northern Gothic, and the Muslim invaders of Gujarat imported Persian architectural ideas. Later, the British, having invaded India, managed to fuse features of gothic, Persian, Mughal, and Hindu architecture to create what is sometimes called “Indo-Saracenic”architecture. Many public buildings in Gujarat are fine examples of this Victorian era fusion.

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Inside a 15th century Muslim mausoleum at Sarkej Rauza (Ahmedabad, Gujarat)

Discover more about Gujarat in the new book by ADAM YAMEY:

Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu

It is available on lulu.com, Amazon, bookdepository.com, and Kindle

 

Happy birthday, Mr Gandhi!

Mohandas K Gandhi, the Mahatma, was born in Porbandar (Gujarat) on the 2nd of October 1869. The house in which he was born still stands, and is now part of the Kirti Mandir memorial complex in the centre of Porbandar. Here are some photos of Gandhi’s birthplace that Adam Yamey took in March 2018:

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Gandhi’s parents

 

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The swastika marks the spot where Gandhi was born

 

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On the bus in Gujarat

Hop on a bus and travel through Gujarat: see the country and enjoy the people

More excerpts from “Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and DIU“, a travelogue by Adam Yamey, available HERE IN PAPERBACK and HERE ON KINDLE

 

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Narendra Modi on the bus

During our eight weeks of travelling through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu, we made much use of public transport. We used mainly buses. As in other parts of India, some buses are run by private companies, and other by the local state, in our case Gujarat, which operates under the name ‘Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation’ (‘GSRTC’). At the outset, we made the assumption that privately-run buses are bound to be better than those run by the state. It was only near the end of our travels that we discovered that we had made an erroneous assumption.

 

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Local bus in Daman

Here are some extracts about buses in Gujarat from my book “Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu”:

On a private bus between Junagadh and Porbandar:

BUS 4 to Porb

Our vehicle stopped frequently. Whenever the conductor saw someone standing by the side of the road, he leaned out of the open passenger door, shouting our destination repeatedly: “Porbandar! Porbandar! Porb…” More and more people boarded our small bus. All the seats became occupied as did the space at the front of the vehicle around the driver. As the bus picked up even more people, even the standing room became used up. People were jammed against each other and their arms and baggage invaded the seated passengers’ space. A lady began resting her bag on Lopa’s head. When she objected, the woman said: “Where else can I put it?” Another person almost sat on Lopa’s lap.

There was hardly any room for the conductor. He spent most of the journey leaning out of the passenger door. When Lopa asked him whether this was dangerous, he responded cheerfully that it was part of his job. After about an hour, when the bus was already incredibly crowded we stopped in a village where a large group of people were waiting for our arrival. The bus driver told the conductor that there was no room for any more people. The conductor ignored him and squeezed many new passengers on board.

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Our fellow passengers were a varied crowd. They included men with curling handle-bar moustaches wearing turbans and loose-fitting white kurtas with baggy trousers. Their clothes were often stained probably because they were worn whilst doing work on the land. At many rural stops, women wearing colourful garb boarded. Many of them were tattooed on whatever parts of their bodies that could be seen and probably also on parts that were not visible in public…

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Diu bus station

On a GSRTC bus between Diu and Bhavnagar:

We boarded a bus belonging to the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (‘GSRTC’). This and other buses belonging to the state-run bus company are superior to any of the private busses we had travelled on. The GSRTC vehicles: are cleaner and more comfortable than the private ones; only stop at bus stands with good facilities; do not tout for business at random wayside stops; and do not admit more passengers than there are seats to accommodate them. We wished that we had not assumed, wrongly, that privately-run buses would be better than those run by the state.

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Bhavnagar bus station

On a GSRTC bus to Ahmedabad:

We boarded the newest and most comfortable bus of our trip at Baroda bus stand. Part of the GSRTC fleet, it was a Volvo vehicle. These buses are held in high regard by Indians. As far as buses in India are concerned, they are regarded as Maharajahs amongst the myriad of road transport vehicles. The coach driver asked Lopa her relationship to me. She replied that I am her husband. The driver shrugged his shoulder and replied in Gujarati: ‘It happens’.

BUS 5 Veraval

Whether the bus is privately, or state operated, a ‘back-seat driver’ like me cannot avoid being aware of the adventurous driving  of the bus drivers:

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Our driver sped along the good roads leading towards the eastern edge of Saurashtra. He overtook frequently and usually hazardously. Often, he had his head turned towards the conductor sitting left of him, chatting with him, rather than looking ahead along the road in front of him. He also made frequent ‘phone calls to people with whom he was doing business, buying and selling vehicles.

 

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A GSRTC VOLVO bus

Visit the zoo

The Sakkarbaug (meaning ‘sugar garden’) Zoological Garden in Junagadh was opened in 1863. The second oldest zoo in India, it was founded by the Nawab Mohammad Mahabat Khanji II. Admission charges are low. The zoo covers a large area (198 hectares). The animal enclosures are spacious. Wide, sensibly laid-out paths ensure that visitors do not miss anything, and there are many shady trees. 

Here are a few pictures that Adam Yamey, author of “Travels in Gujarat, Daman, and Diu”(available on Amazon and Bookdepository.com),  took when he visited in early 2018:

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Mixed couple mix-ups

These excerpts from my recently published book describe how surprised people, especially in Kutch and Saurashtra, were to discover that a Gujarati had married a European. The reactions described below have never happened to us anywhere else in India.

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“By the end of our third day out of Bombay, our third in Daman and nearby parts of Gujarat, we had become aware of the attention we, as a couple, were attracting. On many occasions, both in Daman and later in Gujarat, Lopa was asked whether she was my tour guide. When she replied that she is my wife, this was met with both surprise and disbelief. It seemed that the locals were not ‘phased’ by the idea of an Indian woman acting as a tourist guide for an unrelated European man, but the idea that we were married was beyond their comprehension …”

And some days later in Bhuj (Kutch):

“After eating toasted vegetarian sandwiches in a tiny café in an alley near a small dargah, we boarded the bus bound for EKTA supermarket near to our hotel. The bus route ends at the Government Engineering College. Lopa and I were chatting, when a young man, an engineering student, turned around and asked Lopa abruptly in English: “Are you Indian?” She replied: “What do you think?” To which the student said: “But, you are speaking English.” Lopa pointed out that English is one of India’s national languages; it appears on every Indian banknote. Then, the youth pointed at me, and asked aggressively: “And, this person?” Lopa said that I am her husband. To which the boy asked incredulously: “You are married to him?” When Lopa confirmed this, his jaw dropped, and his eyes seemed to pop out of his head in surprise and disbelief. This extraordinary behaviour was not an isolated incident. Wherever we went in Kutch and in the rest of western Gujarat, we encountered people who were unable to conceive of anyone of Gujarati background marrying someone not of that background, and certainly not a European.”

 

Join Adam and his wife on their interesting travels through Gujarat, Daman and Diu.

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A wonderful book about Ahmedabad

This beautifully written short book about Ahmedabad uses sensitively composed vignettes to express the author’s reactions to the inter-communal violence that affected the city in 2002. The author was born and lives in Ahmedabad, about which she has written poetically in her several published books.

Boat building in western India

 

Get to know Gujarat better: boat-building in Kutch Mandvi

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Gujarat has long been an important maritime interface between India and the rest of the world, especially Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Many of its folk have been, and continue to be, involved in mercantile activities, sailing, and boat-building.

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Mandvi in Kutch, which until 1947 was an independent princely state and is now part of Gujarat, used to be an important sea port. It is famed for its boat-building, which continues briskly even today. The wooden dhows constructed in Mandvi are now mostly built for customers in Dubai. They are built alongside the River Rukmavati that runs through Mandvi.

The timber used is ‘sal’ wood (Shorea robusta) that grows in Malaysia. This wood is both extremely durable and water-resistant.

With the exception of electrical saws, much of the construction employs age old techniques as can be seen in these pictures taken by Adam Yamey in early 2018.

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Discover much more about Kutch and the rest of Gujarat in “Travels Through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu” by Adam Yamey, available in paperback by clicking HERE

The same book is available on Kindle by searching Amazon for “Travelling through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu

 

Don’t let it go viral

Snap a photo

in the sorting office:

make sure it don’t go viral

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While we were visiting the city of BARODA (Vadodara):

“…we visited the main railway station because it has a post office. Visiting the station is like visiting an art gallery. The façade and staircases of the large relatively modern station (1954) are decorated with colourful modern paintings and bas-reliefs, including a trompe l’oeil fresco depicting a steam engine with a large ‘cowcatcher’ emerging from a tunnel. There are also several interesting sculptures on the raised pavement in front of the station entrances. One of them, which I liked most, shows a model train on railway tracks. The tracks with the carriages on them have been bent into a spiral with the old-fashioned engine in the centre of the spiral.

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We drank tea in a café located along one of the station’s long platforms. Platforms in many Indian stations are lengthy to accommodate the great number of carriages in long-distance express trains. Shorter local trains appear dwarfed by these platforms. We entered the post office through a door on the platform, which was partially blocked by bags of mail and parcels. This door was, we realised later, for the use of postal personnel. We found ourselves in a sorting office. Ladies dressed in colourful salwar kameez with dupattas draped over their shoulders were manually sorting mail, placing it into small square wooden pigeon-holes labelled with the names of towns all over India.

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We were directed to the customers’ desk. We wanted to send a birthday card to our daughter in London and were concerned that it would arrive in time. When we asked the assistant serving us how long the card would take to reach London, she said it would be a week or two, and then added ominously: “…if it reaches at all.”

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When we asked her whether I could take a picture of the postal sorters working, she referred us to her supervisor, who said: “Go ahead and take the picture, but make sure that it does not go viral

 

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Cutting chai

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Drinking cutting chai in Gondal

… all over Gujarat, tea is served in tiny cups, that can be finished in two or three swallows. It is invariably sweet. Our daughter describes these minute drinks as ‘sugar bombs’. They provide energy, rather than quenching thirst. Often, two men will share a tiny cup of tea. Half of the tea is poured into a tiny saucer, and one of the men slurps from it noisily. The other man drinks the rest from the cup. Tea shared this way is known as ‘cutting chai’. A reason for this practice is, apparently, to reduce sugar intake.

 

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Boiling tea with milk and spices in Bhavnagar

DISCOVER MUCH MORE ABOUT GUJARAT BY CLICKING HERE

AND HERE

Bye, bye, Mumbai

Before setting out on our two months of travelling through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu, we spent a fortnight in busy Bombay. Here are a few of the many photographs that I took in this bustling, vibrant city – the ‘Manhattan’ of India. How many of these places can you identify?

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We left Bombay for Gujarat by train, embarking at Mumbai Central Station:

 

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ENJOY ADAM YAMEY’s TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, & DIU

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