A Little Exploring… Gandhi’s Ashram and an Endless Stream of Photos

I like to think that I have both a great sense of humor, and a fair amount of tolerance. India is testing those two qualities at every opportunity. My cousin and I arrived in Ahmedabad exhausted from the constant jostling of nine hours in the commuter section of the train — big whoops on booking that seat through a middleman! We were told foreigners usually spring for a different section, but we got had by a ticket agent in Mumbai. The train ride assaulted our senses and gave us a crash course on getting to know India. We were stared at heaps throughout the ride, and even touched by other commuters.not inappropriately, just more in our personal space and some of the women would reach out and stroke our skin or hair.

To be fair, the train ride was really not as bad as I am making it sound. Immersion is the whole point — I want to understand the cultural nuances and facets. It’s more that it wasn’t our choice, we had paid for different seats on a different train. I had left that morning unprepared for such a long train ride — it took many hours longer than the direct one — and we were squished face-to-butt in the cabin. This is a daily reality for Indians, and it was interesting to spend hours watching locals also pass the time with newspapers, kids, and snacks.

Ahmedabad

But basically, what I’m saying is that the day, the country, and the entire “India”-ness of it all tested us. It’s not a stretch to say that we were the only Westerners on the train that day — probably the only ones taking it on any given day. We caught a tuk-tuk from the train station to Hotel Alka, which did the job as far as accommodation is concerned.

The guy booking our tickets in Mumbai couldn’t fathom why we wanted to go to Ahmedabad, but it was our next planned stop. Plus, my ever-present Lonely Planet described Ahmedabad as having “old-world charm… fabulous night markets… and a pulsating Indian city.”

What a crock. I am not even sure the guidebook writers visited the city. Or perhaps they simply feel that they can’t say anything negative about any location, even when it is totally deserved? It’s not charming, and having seen a good number of charming places these past weeks in India, I don’t think it’s mean to say so.

I’ll be frank, there was little charming to recommend about the city itself — and I’m usually a glass half-full kinda gal!  I tried really hard to like Ahmedabad. I swear, I did. But it’s not a tourist city, it’s more a hub of locals getting on living life. Hilariously, our hotel, while quite nice with hot showers and clean sheets, was right across the street from the Indian equivalent of a waste-management system. By day, the garbage from the immediately surrounding area is brought to this dump and then sorted for plastic bottles by a team of Indian women. The plastic is then removed and presumably traded for money is how I understand the system. As evening settles each day, all cows in the vicinity migrate to our trash heap and clean up the scraps of food and paper (yes, cows here frequently munch on loose cardboard and newspaper).

While I thought that, perhaps, this cow-paper-food thing as a means of sanitation was an isolated incident, my subsequent weeks here have indicated that this is, in fact, the way it’s done in many cities and towns. I have yet to see any actual garbage trucks or other landfills, so add this to the growing list of “you learn something new every day” experiences.

ahmedabad dump

The view of our dump out of our hotel window where we got to watch the comings and goings of the trash.

Sightseeing in Ahmedabad

Gandhiji on a sign at his ashram in AhmedabadThere were two parts I enjoyed about visiting Ahmedabad — Satyagraha Ashram (Gandhi’s ashram), and FabIndia.

My cousin and I stopped here mostly so that we could visit Gandhi’s ashram. There are few Indian figures as internationally known and recognizable as Gandhi. Once I learned that this was his home for many years, I wanted to visit.

The Ashram was built in 1915 and Gandhi lived here with his wife for much of his life. This ashram allowed Gandhi and his followers to live by his principles and live away from the hustle and bustle and politics of some Indian cities.

To honor Gandhi, the ashram has a wonderful museum with photos from his life, and posters with some of his philosophy and quotes. One of my favorites comes as a part of the core Ashram policies, XI: Equality of Religions:

The Ashram believes that the principle faiths of the world constitute a revelation of truth but as they have all been outlined by imperfect men they have been affected by the imperfections and alloyed with untruth.  One must therefore entertain the same respect for the religious faiths of others as one accords to one’s own.

The ashram was filled with pieces of wisdom. Other quotes I liked include:

Gandhi quote about democracy Gandhiji's Ashram

The only drawback to the ashram was the fact that a group of men began to follow us within minutes of entering. They covertly snapped my pictures of their cameras, documenting each moment as my cousin and I looked at the pictures and read the facts. This had happened in Mumbai some too, if we were walking in a certain area of the city we were sure to be stopped, but because it was the city we could just move on once we took a photo with the people.

This was more difficult in the ashram, where we were walking through a set route in the museum and we were trying to focus on the information and experience. The photographers my cousin a lot though, so we confronted the picture-takers. They begged for “just one picture.”

At this point, I wasn’t wise to the fact that “one picture” really means as many as they can talk you into. But we wanted to nicely appease their request and also gain our freedom from the entourage. We agreed, took some pictures, and then thought it would be the end of it all. But the ashram attracts all sorts of visitors, not just foreigners, but Indians from all over the country too. These men were intrigued enough to continue following us. What had started as a small group of four guys morphed into as many as a dozen men slowly following us as we attempted to look through the museum.

Gandhi's ashram in Ahmedabad, India Kids at the Ashram in India

The following became so intense that we fled the museum and headed out to the Ashram’s manicured lawns for space. India’s women and children are just as fascinated by our Western-ness, and that’s who we found also having down-time in the green open spaces. My cousin and I took great shots with a large family of women and children out on the lawn — they were all so very sweet. They women are more easily handled and we were less bothered with their requests.

Within a few minutes though, the same group of men hunted us down and continued what I can now only call the slow stalking. Moments later a school group of 60 children joined in with the gawking. We called it a day and took that as our cue to leave. We had already planned to go check out a recommended store, so we grabbed a rickshaw again and headed the driver straight to FabIndia.

Our Fabulous New Kurtas Wearing my kurta at a McDonalds in India

Our hopes for FabIndia? That wearing Indian-style dress would be our “incognito clothes” and would hopefully help us blend in more — we were failing the blending test so far. Considering my cousin and I both tower over all of the men and women in the country, and considering that my cousin rocks gorgeous-but-not-inconspicuous red hair, we knew that blending in was a tall order. But we had hopes would help.

We found awesome deals at FabIndia and had a blast searching through the vast colors and styles of kurtas and saris. What fun. With these purchases, we considered our time in Ahmedabad well spent and we both couldn’t wait to go back to the hotel and try them on.

Oh! And on our hunt for a grocery store, we found a vegetarian McDonald’s — cool! We snapped our picture with Ronald and ordered up a Paneer Tikka Pita — kinda awesome, kinda disgusting, but it was an experience nonetheless. Ahmedabad wasn’t the most spectacular spot on the trip, but it did have its own kind of adventure. :)

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8 Responses to A Little Exploring… Gandhi’s Ashram and an Endless Stream of Photos

  1. anisha May 16, 2009 at 3:07 am #

    dwarika, an overnight train journey from ahmedabad is has the old world charm that lonely planet may be thinking about. ahmedabad, even the old parts are completely urbane.
    sorry to read about the stalking. ac coaches in indian trains are a bit expensive but keep unwanted attention away.

  2. swati sharma May 15, 2009 at 10:26 pm #

    very nice writing style. would you like to share your travel experience at http://www.anandway.com?

  3. Niki April 1, 2009 at 6:03 pm #

    “I like to think that I have both a great sense of humor and a fair amount of tolerance”…c’mon Shannon…fair amount of tolerance? Who are we kidding :)

  4. Robyn March 25, 2009 at 5:51 pm #

    hey shannon!
    sorry to hear you both were stalked and being photographed (weird)…sounds like you experienced what it would be like to have paparazi following you!! scary, I would NOT like to be in that situation.
    It’s funny about the vegetarian mcdonalds though! :) I love how mcdonalds has special ‘local’ items on their menus everywhere you go…it’s pretty cool!

    take care!

    • Shannon March 26, 2009 at 8:04 am #

      Hey! Yeah – it happened a whole lot here – the good thing is that there is no malice in the photo stalking but it does get creepy when they follow down the roads and such for several minutes at a time!

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