Even though I slept at 10:00 pm last night, getting up at 4:00 am is a torture. It doesn’t feel like I’ve had 6 hours of sleep; feels like just 15 minutes. I sleep walk into the bathroom, manage to get ready and we set off after waking up the sleeping driver. I am scared that he hasn’t had enough sleep and will doze off while driving. This time, M’s friends don’t join us; so it is just three of us. We set off on the narrow lonely road through sleepy villages towards Thol village. We are not the only ones who have decided to start the day watching a beautiful sunrise at lake side. There are several cars and bikes, mostly college kids, moving in the same direction.
From what I know about Thol, it is a bird sanctuary based around a lake. We had originally decided to go there to get some peace but it doesn’t look like we are going to get peace there what with so many Amdavadis flocking towards the lake. The road till Thol village, though narrow, is smooth. Thereafter, you are required to take a right turn into a kuccha road leading towards the lake. The road is not only full of pits and pebbles, but is also very narrow. We lead a queue of unknown cars to the gate of the sanctuary. The man at the gate surprises by asking for Rs. 250 entry free. He refuses to give a receipt in return when we demand. When we argue, he lamely lets us go. What is disturbing is there is a board mentioning the entry fee, which happens to be Rs. 20. Not only does he try and charge us something higher than the authorized rate, he forgoes the authorized fee totally! He ought to have charged Rs. 20 from us, atleast. The sanctuary deserves it.
I am still left pondering over this while E & M struggle to get out of the car and brrrrr, it is cold! We fish out our sweaters and stoles and work our way up towards the lake. The air is foggy and misty. I am dying to have a look at the peaceful waters. But what do I hear? Not birds. Not water. But college kids hooting and teasing each other. Darn. I want serenity! I want to hear the sounds of birds’ wings flapping against the water!
Like us, several college student groups and families have come to watch the birds and sun rise. The recommendation of this place must have been so strong such that so many people managed to come here at 6:00 am on a Sunday morning!
We walk along the lake and move down towards the woods on banks of the lake. The woods are filled with dried trees whose branches are bent and twisted in weird angles. Somewhere towards the sunset the place is likely to look eerie but now it looks plain heavenly. We may all be in a pensive mood looking at the surroundings but the college kids are far from being pensive. They are having fun posing and getting themselves clicked.
I am happy the natural state of the lake is still preserved. Though there are spots where polythene packets and plastic bottles are dumped (can’t help that in India), the surroundings are generally clean and odourless. Here is one place where the air is actually pollution and dust free.
After spending sufficient time there, we realize that the sun has risen and will soon be in its full glory. We are beginning to feel the heat. We decide to head next to Sarkhej Roza and have breakfast on the way. Our driver seems to be unhappy with us and doesn’t like us giving him conflicting, sudden directions. Though most places are closed because it is still quite early in the morning, we manage to fine a small open restaurant and thela that serves breakfast dishes like poha, dabeli, tea, etc. We have some heavenly poha and push off towards the old dargah.
After losing our way, we reach via dusty narrow roads into the interiors of the place called Sarkhej (which is located off S G Highway). We pay the entrance fee and go in where we are asked to remove our shoes (and my friend who is wearing knee length capris is asked to cover herself a bit more).
The architecture is very similar to what we saw in Champaner and Adalaj Step Well. The same meshed walls, arches and doors. It is still a photographer’s delight. I still can’t have enough of it. The entire area is very huge and contains some havelis, step wells and mosques. These structures are placed away from each other (around a huge ground that used to be a pond sometime) and it is unthinkable of to walk around in the sun. E still decides to take us to the huge water pipes and stepwell located behind the mosque area.
We go through the neighbourhood village, down the dirty stairs dodging garbage and cow dung and walk across the ground towards the huge water pipes. There is a step well too beside it but the area is so stinky that we rush out from there. I do not understand why it is so difficult to maintain basic cleanliness in India. Does every free space have to be filled with rubbish? Do people have to dirty around compulsorily? Had it become their compulsive habit?
On our way back, because we cannot go back the same way we came in by because of the heat, we try another way and end up trespassing people’s residence compounds! It is quite embarrassing. The ladies of the house (luckily, the men are mostly not in sight) are too surprised to say anything. They probably do not know whether to stare at us or shout at us. We pass through narrow lanes where clothes are getting washed, children are having their baths, water is flowing from the washing areas onto the road and goats roam around lazily.
It is hardly 10:30 am when we touch back S G Highway. We decide to go to Iscon Mall which is hardly 10 minutes away. Now, I know how dangerous mall can be to my bank balance. I still agree because I feel sticky and feel like I’m covered in dust and desperately want to splash water on myself. E & M rush to Accessorize like ants rush towards chocolate. I try to keep away but end up trying glares and bags and keeping them back on the racks with a heavy heart.
I come across these sweethearts at the store. The moment they see the camera pointing towards them, they rush to the glass door and stand with their back towards me. The boy is especially cute with his floor length ‘shorts’. It takes a lot of patience and perseverance on my part to get some decent snaps of theirs. Not only do I leave Accessorize with lot of remorse, not having bought the Rs. 3,500 messenger sling bag and Rs. 1,500 floral glares, I also get shooed out of 2 washrooms by grumpy, aged cleaners for trying to come in when cleaning is in progress. Not a good welcome at the mall, isn’t it?
We make a few purchases, have milkshakes and juice and leave for the city. Our next stop is lunch. No doubt, I am starving by now. But what makes the prospect of lunch more alluring is the place at which we are going to have it. We have chosen the heritage hotel, House of MG for this. Ever since we first decided this trip, a couple of months ago, and E told us about this hotel and I visited the website, I have been waiting for thismoment. House of MG has been the highlight of this trip.
The hotel exceeds my expectations. The interiors are beautiful. Old memoirs and collections of the family home are preserved and displayed proudly to visitors. I am delighted to have come to this place. We hurry towards their rooftop restaurant, Agaashaye, which serves authentic gujarati food. I am a big fan of gujju food (Mandap at Baroda being my favourite restaurant) and I cannot wait to try this one. The open area is decorated with colourful folk puppets and low diwans with gujarati print & mirrored bed sheets. However we cannot sit there during day time. So we head towards the air-conditioned restaurant which is made of wood and stained glass. Waiters in white kurta-pyjamas and bandhini aprons welcome us warmly. And my expectations are met again. The food is simply wonderful. I manage to finish off everything on my plate and have 2 bowls full of basundi (have been wanting to have it since I shifted to Baroda 4 months ago).
I am stuffed to the maximum by the time we leave. We spend some time in their garden restaurant, which is called The Green House, and shop for organic soaps and other skin care products at the Bodyline stall (the in-house brand of House of MG). And whom do we bump into? Abhishek Kapoor (director of Rock On!) with what looks like a film unit.
A sad realization comes that the end of our mini vacation is approaching. We pass Law Garden area, which is famous for Gujarati traditional costume and metal jewellery) but we dare not step out to shop as it is too hot. We stop briefly at a second hand book stall at a roadside near IIM and buy some books. We conclude our trip with cold coffee at a small (and not so clean) cafe which is a popular hangout place for youngsters. I must say that the coffee is amazing. E & M take 2 glasses each while I resist the second one. We do not hang out there for long not only because we are totally out of place there because of our age but also because of the cigarette smoke.
We drop off E & head towards Baroda. I feel refreshed and serene. I go back home thinking that I must research and explore the treasures of Gujarat,