In London pigeons are regarded as a nuisance, as pests. A previous Lord Mayor of the city once described them as “flying rats”. Now, feeding them is frowned upon. Gone are the days when you could buy corn to feed the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.
During our long journey through Gujarat in western India, we saw many places dedicated to feeding pigeons. In Bhavnagar, for example, I saw a man scattering seeds, which were being avidly consumed by a large crowd of grey pigeons. The grain was strewn over a large area in which there were several large bowls of water to quench the birds’ thirst.
In Ahmedabad, we saw a fenced off area supplied with drinking bowls as already described. This special feeding area was well supplied with grain scattered on the ground. In that same city, we saw a huge pigeon ‘hostel’. This consisted of a matrix of niches or pigeon holes in which the creatures resided. Feeding facilities were adjacent to the niches. This giant pigeon coop was next to a mosque or dargah close to the Nehru Bridge over the River Sabarmati.
In Rajkot, we spotted a cylindrical concrete pigeon coop mounted on a tall concrete pillar. And, in Porbandar a large area close to the beach is used to feed pigeons and other birds at the end of an afternoon.
During our very recent visit to the metropolis of Hyderabad in Telengana State, we have driven past pigeon feeding areas. On one of the bridges crossing the river, one of these feeding places occupied the whole length of one side of the bridge.
When wandering around the many bookshops in the Koti district of Hyderabad, we found a square surrounded by buildings. The centre of the square is a fenced open space where thousands of pigeons collect to feed on the copious amounts of grain on the floor. This area is overlooked by a cylindrical pigeon coop, which is illustrated above. The area is maintained by The Pigeon Welfare Association of Telengana.
The Lalbagh Gardens in Bangalore have at least one fine large cylindrical pigeon coop. I do not know how many other places in India care for pigeons as I the places I have mentioned, but from what I have seen so far, I can say that India is not devoid of popular concern for avian wellbeing.
There are many elegant moderns buildings in Ahmedabad designed by the architect BV Doshi. He worked with Le Corbusier in Paris. I feel that his buildings bear the sculptural influence of the famous French-Swiss architect, but they are far more user-friendly. We visited Doshi’s studio, Sangath Studio, in Ahmedabad in late March 2018…
The air temperature had exceeded 40 degrees Celsius when we arrived at the Sangath Studio, the offices of the architect’s firm led by BV Doshi. It is open for the public to view on guided tours conducted at 1.30 pm during the company’s lunch break. We were guided around the buildings by a young intern, not a trained architect. She explained to us that Doshi was influenced by what sounded to us like: “Lecobu and Lukhan”. What she meant was ‘Le Corbusier’ and ‘Louis Kahn’, whose buildings in Ahmedabad help make the city a ‘Mecca’ for enthusiasts of 20th century modernist architecture.
There were many architecture students and architects from other firms on our tour around Doshi’s studio. The students and architects asked no questions but made copious detailed notes. The architectural offices are set in a lovely luxuriant garden with piped music playing. The offices are beneath long white hemi-cylindrical concrete roofs, covered with irregularly-shaped white mosaic pieces like those on the outer surface of the Gufa, a man-made cave which he designed in Ahmedabad. The offices are below ground but lit from windows in the hemi-circular ends of the roofs. Unlike the Gufa, which is only suitable for artistic enjoyment, Doshi’s subterranean offices and studios are beautifully functional. Like Le Corbusier, Doshi designs using modular systems. This is exemplified by a conference room lined with cupboards and drawers whose dimensions vary according to a strict ratio. Doshi also plays with light and shade. Brightly lit rooms are separated by shady ones. The idea being that those who work and design with Doshi should be constantly aware of the importance of light and shade. Sangath Studios provides a visually intriguing and practical environment in which to work.
The Indian Government has just ‘unveiled’ the world’s largest statue, the Statue of Unity. It is 182 metres high and stands in Gujarat between Baroda and Ahmedabad. It is a memorial to Sardar Vallabhai Patel (1875-1950), who was born in Gujarat.
A close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, Patel was a great fighter for India’s independence. When the British finally relinquished their hold over India on the 15th of August 1947, the territory of India was a complex mix of formerly British territory and the so-called Princely States, which were self-governing.
There were well over 500 Princely States embedded within the boundaries of what is now India. Over 200 of these were within the Saurashtra (Kathiawad) district of Gujarat. India in 1947 was a jigsaw puzzle of independent states each with their own ruler. These states were contained within a matrix that was formerly the part of India under direct British rule. After Independence, the rulers of the Princely States were given the choice of becoming part of India or joining the newly formed Pakistan.
Had the Princely States maintained their autonomy after Independence, the Indian subcontinent would have been as complex, if not more so, than the Balkans, and maybe as troublesome. Some of the states like Hyderabad and Junagadh, both large and far from Pakistan, had leanings towards joining with the new Islamic State of Pakistan. Others like Kashmir were not sure with whom to ally.
It was the great skill and statesmanship of Sardar Vallabhai Patel that persuaded the Princely States to join India. Even Junagadh and Hyderabad were eventually incorporated into India. The unification of India was achieved under the leadership of Patel and his colleagues. So, it is fitting that the enormous new statue should be called The Statue of Unity.
Whether Patel would have approved of the enormous expense involved in creating his latest monument, we will never know!
A famous Swiss-French architect, artist, and writer designed several fine buildings in Gujarat. They are worthy of a visit.
Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (1887 1965), better known as ‘Le Corbusier’ is amongst my favourite 20th century architects. Over the years, I have visited many of his buildings in France, my favourite being his organic, sculptural Chapel of Notre-Dame-du-Haut at Ronchamp. Le Corbusier is well-known in India, which he visited regularly (starting in 1951). In India, he is best-known for designing the city of Chandigarh in northern India.
Ahmedabad, the largest city in Gujarat is home to four notable buildings designed by Le Corbusier. They were built at various dates between 1951 and ’56.
During my recent visit to Ahmedabad, I managed to see two of them. The Sanskar Kendra Museum (1951-56) and Mill Owners’Association Building (1951). Sadly, I was only able to see their fine exteriors, but they confirmed my admiration for their famous architect.
Le Corbusier enjoyed India and her architecture. After visiting the extensive 15th century royal complex at Sarkhej Rauza (on the edge of Ahmedabad), wrote: “You don’t need to travel to the Acropolis. You have everything here.”
Lovers of Le Corbusier’s architecture and of other adventurous 20th century architecture would be well-advised to visit Ahmedabad because many notable modern architects, both Indian and foreign, have designed buildings that now help to adorn the city. I will write about some of these in the future.
Travellers visiting Gujarat should be aware that the majority of food served in the state is vegetarian. In bigger places like Ahmedabad and Baroda, finding non-vegetarian food is less of a problem than in smaller places. If you visit Bhavnagar, the Nilambagh Palace Hotel serves very good food – both veg and non-veg. Many people hanker after Gujarati thalis, but I am not one of these people. Those who are not on the Gujarati meals can easily find well-prepared south Indian vegetarian food like dosas, idli, and vada. Pizzas are also widely available, often with excellent tomato sauce made with fresh tomatos.
Another thing to consider when planning your trip to Gujarat is that it is a dry state: alcohol is not served in any public places. It is possible to get a permit (I have no idea how) to be allowed alcohol ‘for medical purposes’ (!) Gujaratis and others desperate for booze can cross the border into either Daman or Diu, both of which were Portuguese colonies until 1961. Now they are administered not by the State of Gujarat, but by the Central Government of India – they are Union Territories. Alcohol is freely available at almost duty-free places in these tiny places, both of which are well-worth visiting.
If you are thirsty, there are plenty of soft drinks available including the refreshing watered down yoghurt drink chhas (also known as ‘buttermilk’). Tea is the prevalent hot drink. We found it hard to get decent coffee, let alone any coffee. Most Gujaratis in Kutch and Saurashtra seem to be keen tea drinkers.
Discover more about journeying through Gujarat in Adam Yamey’s new book:
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
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.
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.
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/).
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.
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
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.
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:
“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.
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…”
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.”
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’.”
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:
“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.”
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.
Cyrus the Great, King of Persia and a Zoroastrian, ended the Jews’ long captivity in Babylon, and commanded them to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem
The places of worship of two of India’s minority religions face each other at one end of a small street in central Ahmedabad, not far from the busy market-place by the Bhadra Fortress. One building is the Magen Abraham Synagogue. Opposite, is a Parsi Fire Temple (‘agiari’). Both the Parsis and the Jewish people settled in India long ago and have lived there peacefully ever since. In proportion to their small numbers compared with the rest of India’s huge population, both communities, especially the Parsis, have made a disproportionately large positive contribution to the success of the country. In view of the great benefits they have provided to the country, some say that the Parsis are the ‘Jews of India’. Is this a fair description?
The Portuguese Jesuit priest Father Anthony Monserrate visited India in the early 1580s. After meeting Parsis in Navsari, he commented that they were: “…in colour they are white but are extremely similar to the Jews in the rest of their physical and mental characteristics, in their dress and in their religion.” This illustrates the priest’s poor understanding of the Parsis’ religion but does hint at his feeling that they had some similarities to Jewish people. Other travellers since the 16th century have remarked on similarities in the ways of life and public spiritedness of Jews and Parsis.
The Parsis, followers of the Zoroastrian religion, fled to India from Persia during the 7th century AD to escape the Arab invaders, who wished to impose Islam on their home land. They began settling in Gujarat, where they have thrived for many years without suffering any more oppression than their Hindu neighbours. During various episodes of Islamic rule in India, both the Parsis and the Hindus suffered at the hands of their rulers.
Nobody is sure when Jewish people first settled in India. Likewise, no one is certain why they did. It might have been, like the Parsis, to escape oppression or, maybe, for commercial reasons. There were Jewish people in Kerala when St Thomas first landed there soon after the death of Jesus Christ. Other Jews arrived on the Malabar and Coromandel coasts later. They were refugees from the persecution of Jews on the Iberian Peninsula following the expulsion of the Moors. Later, others arrived from Iraq. The Jews of Kerala, who have had a largely successful history, and have now mostly emigrated, are different from the Jews, the more indigenous Bene Israel, who settled the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
The small congregation of the Magen Abraham Synagogue in Ahmedabad is Bene Israeli. Their origins are quite unknown. In my new book about Gujarat, I wrote: “Ahmedabad’s small Jewish congregation are Bene Israel Jews, whose origin is totally obscure, but the subject of much speculation. One of these is that the ancestors of Bene Israel Jews were originally sailors in King Solomon’s fleet, who got wrecked at Navgaon near Alibag. However, Benjamin Israel, author of ‘The Bene Israel of India’, wrote that there is no evidence for this. Nor is there any good evidence about when the Bene Israel began living in India.”
The numbers of both Parsis and Jews in India are declining. Like many other Indians with economic and other ambitions, both Parsis and Jews have emigrated to ‘improve’ their lives. Parsi numbers in India and beyond its borders are decreasing because of lowered birth-rate. Sayeed Unisa, RB Bhagat, and TK Roy wrote in their paper “Demographic Predicament of Parsis in India” (see: http://iussp2009.princeton.edu/papers/91429) : “Parsis are a small but prosperous religious community of India, which reached a peak of population of about 114 thousand in 1941. The recent census enumerated Parsi population about 69 thousand in 2001.” They concluded that based on available statistics, the population will continue to decline by between 0.6% and 1% per year.
In contrast, the decline in India’s Jewish population is far less to do with birth rates than with emigration. Jewish people have not left India because of persecution. It is safe to say that Jews in India have never been persecuted by Indians or their Islamic invaders. The Portuguese, who began occupying seaports on the coast of India in the 15th century, were almost the only people to persecute the Jews they encountered. Many of them were victims of the Inquisition in Goa. The main reasons for Jewish migration from India are to do with the establishment of the State of Israel and seeking economic betterment.
Many centuries have passed since both the Parsis and the various Jewish communities first settled in India. None of them have encountered as much persecution as the Parsis in 7th century Persia and the Jews in most of Europe. India provided these minorities with a safe haven. In return, both Jews and Parsis have given much to India.
Is it reasonable to consider the Parsis as the ‘Jews of India’?
In terms of religious beliefs and customs, apart from monotheism, there are many differences. Like many of the Jews, the Parsis arrived in India as refugees, fleeing from persecution. Considered from the vantage point of what they have done for the greater good of India, the charitable Parsi communities have contributed to the well-being of India in a magnitude that is infinitely greater than their tiny population is in comparison with that of the country. In this respect, the Parsis resemble the successful Jewish communities of, say, Germany (formerly!), Great Britain, and the USA.
Adam Yamey’s new book about Gujarat, Daman, and Diu
Before and after our 8 week journey through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu, many people asked us why we chose to visit the region.
Here is my answer.
Compared with other places in India (for example: Agra, Rajasthan, Kerala, Kashmir, the Himalayas, and Goa), Gujarat is relatively unvisited by Indian and foreign tourists. We saw no more than about twelve foreigners during our eight weeks in Gujarat and its two former Portuguese enclaves. Most of those whom we saw were in Diu. As I enjoy exploring places less-visited, Gujarat appealed to me.
Another reason for visiting Gujarat is my wife’s heritage. Her father’s family originated in Gujarat, and her mother’s in formerly independent Kutch, now a part of the State of Gujarat. Lopa and I had never visited either of these places.
Yet another reason for our trip was to see the two former colonies of Portugal: Daman and Diu. India is dotted around with territories that remained in foreign hands long after Independence in 1947. We had already been to Pondicherry and Mahé, both formerly French Colonies, and Goa, which was capital of Portugal’s Indian Ocean empire. Each of these places retain a colonial European charm of their own despite having been part of India for several decades. We wanted to discover what is left of the Portuguese influence in Daman and Diu, and we were not disappointed.
Would I recommend others to visit Gujarat, Daman, and Diu?
My answer is an unqualified YES!
The region is rich in historic sights and history, handiwork, folk traditions. There are unspoilt beaches. The people are friendly and welcoming. Places are well-connected by public transport and accomodation is good. What more could you want?