I woke up refreshed and started my first day in Gujarat with a morning Heritage Walk around the walled city of Old Ahmedabad, pronounced as “Amdavad” [‘əmdɑːvɑːd] in Gujarati.
The three-hour guided tour by the Ahmedabad Heritage Foundation starts at 8am from the elaborate Swaminarayan Hindu temple, traverses through a maze of streets, and ends at Jama Masjid, a beautifully calm mosque (well, when it’s empty I suppose). I highly recommend this walk if you’re in Ahmedabad (direct flights from Singapore)! This ancient town is a labyrinth of narrow lanes in pleasant pastels, with self-contained neighbourhoods called pols. Clustered around courtyards and community wells, they’re almost like mini villages within the town.
It’s almost reminiscent of a medieval Italian town, but with meandering cows everywhere.
Which means we all went camera crazy. After editing the 900 lakh photos I took, I still had 115 pictures I wanted to put on this blog post. So I’ve separated them into different posts because my friend told me that nobody has the attention span to scroll down for pictures on a blog nowadays. I should just post it all on Instagram and call it a day.
Drying laundry Ahmedabad-style.
Gujarat’s strong cultural identity within India is especially evident when you see their own script everywhere, a cute and squiggly abugida without the top line that defines Devanagari. I think the font is great for design, and apparently the state is home to India’s top design schools.
We won’t judge their level of English comprehension…
Look at the ceiling of this small neighbourhood Hindu temple. So intricate.
And secular trash is always so inspiring as well in India.
Gothic in Gujarat.
The juxtaposition between Hindu and Islamic aesthetics is evident when the colourful, winding alleyways suddenly open up to this vast, sweeping space of a mosque. After experiencing the cute claustrophobia of the pols and the chaotic clutter of Hindu temples with its sounds, statues, colored powder, ghee lamps and candles, the calm unadorned space of Jama Masjid, devoid of idols and people (not during call to prayer!) was a sight for sore eyes. I also realized that it was the first time in my life that I had been inside a Muslim place of worship.
My fellow pilgrim and friend Shivina from Hong Kong posing by this Arabic character. She said she was drawn to this one’s particular design. Any Muslims can tell me what it represents?
The Tree of Life.
This young Muslim man sat in pious prayer the whole time we walked along the colonnade. I was very impressed by his display of faith. Of course it wasn’t for show for us tourists. I wonder what his personal dialog with God was about on that day? His future? Stressed out at university? A shitty boss at work? Family drama? A Hindu girlfriend? A Hindu boyfriend..?
Religious belief, like all cultural expression, boils down to environment: how two different geographic areas view “God.” One culture sees the Divine as the harsh singularity of the desert. The other, inspired by the variety of the forests, its foliage, flora and fauna (parrots, peacocks, tigers, elephants) sees God in diversity. In the desert, life—and God by extension—was tough. In India, Mother Nature was bountiful and gave fruit and grain generously. The cow gave her milk for sustenance and her dung for fuel freely.
As a modern urban jungle dweller, I see God as expedient, electrifying, and abundant in form.