Waking up leisurely, we enjoyed the cold morning and hot tea as usual, freshened up quickly and had breakfast, before leaving for Panwapuri, at the big roadside restaurant we saw the previous night. Though I liked and always had alu-paratha for breakfast, I also found it was different at each place – in size, in thickness and in taste too. I liked to soft one served here. After breakfast, we left for the Jain Tirth at Panwapuri. This is an impressive complex of two temples - one for Shree Shankheshwar Parshwanath and one for Shree Sachiya Matha, an art gallery and a Goshala nearby. Though I did not understand the Jain way of worship, the stone/marble architecture of the temples is definitely something to be seen and I was glad they allowed people of other faith too. I was also glad that Panwapuri was so away from the regular tourist routes, and therefore we were relieved to feel the absence of the holiday crowd. Because of the large area of the complex, they offer battery operated (non-polluting) vehicles as well as horse-drawn carts to go around. Once you get the ticket, you can get off at any point and catch another vehicle to the next point.
The Goshala they maintain is impressive. Hundreds of cows are maintained well here. Pilgrims are encouraged to buy quantities of jaggery or a mix of sweetened sesame-fodder mix to feed to the cows. Addicted to the taste, the cows vie one another to come to the fore to take the feed from you, and it is so pleasant to both watch and feed the cows. There is also a separate enclosure where new-born calves and mother cows are kept. We saw people feeding milk to the calves with feeding bottles! In all, it was a good time we spent here. Shreya was thrilled to see so many cows at a go, and was playing all around the vast complex of temples and Goshala. It is a pity photography is restricted in most of the temples.
After visiting the temples, we went back to the hotel at Sirohi for a brief rest, and left for Mount Abu. Since Mt Abu is the only hill resort for the people of Gujarat, Rajasthan and bordering Maharashtra, I cannot complain about the huge crowd I saw here. Moreover, during these days, I had got used to it also! Hence, on reaching Mt Abu, we were concentrating only on finding accommodation and sight-seeing. We found a decent and comfortable family room in Hotel Ranjana, dumped all our luggage and after a quick freshening up, headed straight to the Arbuda restaurant for lunch.
On the way itself we could see every tourist spot jammed with people and vehicles, and our driver happily got back to his favourite routine of denying our instructions, saying ‘rastha bandh hogayna?’. Which was true also, the police had cordoned off many roads. Popular tourist spots like honeymoon point involved parking the vehicle somewhere on the main road and walking about a kilometer to reach the spot. We had to act smart and devise plans to thwart his excuses, and instructed him to go around Mt Abu wherever they allow vehicles to go. Having come at the peak season, we had to compromise by missing a few spots here and there, but were determined to stick to the major attractions and asked the driver to take us to the Delwara temple complex. Though he initially mumbled it would be closed, he took us first to the Brahmakumaris’ Head Office, their museum and then to the Delwara complex, which was open from 12 noon to 6 p.m.
I was simply not prepared for what I was going to see in these 12th century Jain temples. This complex houses one of the most magnificent and intricate marble carvings I have ever seen in my life. I have seen intricate carving of marble in small idols and statues of ornamental use in many places such as temples, museums, exhibitions and emporiums. But the details they have done on the dome of ceilings inside these temples, and the pillars supporting the domes, is unbelievable and really, really breath-taking. I am told there are other Jain temples like the one in Bhilwara with the same or better architectural splendour and intricacy, but since I have not seen them, I was overwhelmed by the work I saw here. I can tell you here, the Taj Mahal is great for its size and grandeur, but if you look at the devotion to design and detail, this place beats the Taj by leaps and bounds. This is one place I really felt sad and angry that they do not allow photography. I am sure people would be willing pay even a thousand rupees as camera-fee to get to capture the wonderful patterns on the pillars, walls and ceilings of this complex. I had to leave the place with a heavy heart for not being able to record the extra-ordinary marble carving I saw here and wanted to share with the world. We left the temple at the closure time, and headed to the lake front to give some breathing time for the ladies (I mean shopping). Guru and Shreya headed to the hotel for the night’s rest, and I gave company to Vasanthi and Suganthi who continued their shopping at the Chacha museum (museum-like shop, as claimed by them!). In view of the late lunch, we skipped dinner but had hot-hot masala badam-milk which was so enjoyable in the cold weather of Mt Abu.
Day 7 (Nov 10)
Being the early bird that I am (at least in my family), I was ready well before others. The chirping birds were inviting me to join them and I and used the free time to go for a walk around the large ground in front of the hotel. This was the first time I ever saw the barbet, so camouflaged he was in the bushes. I also saw a few other birds which I have seen earlier but have not had the opportunity to photograph – such as the yellow chested bulbul and the black-and-brown bird sitting high on the branch of the tall tree. Parrots are to be found aplenty here, and I was also impressed to see the local people’s gesture of hanging trays or pots of birdseed in their garden, expressing their love of nature in a most effective manner.
Once the family was ready, we took a walk to the nearby Rajasthani exhibition. Shreya was long asking for a horse-ride and opportunity knocked on her door this morning. Though initially afraid, she enjoyed a pretty long ride on the horseback. Guru and I enjoyed the pudina-lemon-soda mix, a new concoction I tasted for the first time. We had breakfast, a slightly heavy one, at the Sankalp restaurant, a favourite jaunt of Guru and Suganthi in Mumbai.
Post-breakfast, we asked the driver to take us to Achalgarh fort. When we reached there, we found tourists around a Jain temple and a Shiva temple, and the popular three-buffalos statues. The fort was up atop a hillock and so others were not willing to make the climb. We had to content with these three spots and a little shopping. The fresh guava and cucumber quenched our thirst. By now, we had almost had a full week of sight-seeing, pilgrimage and travelling, and were ready to head home. With no more energy to muster to instruct the driver anything against his plans, we asked him to drive straight to Ahmedabad, with only the popular Ambaji temple to visit en route. This again was a very scenic route, and I did miss a few beautiful spots of nature photography because we were driving too fast and by the time I realised it was a spot worth clicking, we had already crossed it.
The few hours of quiet travelling in the car gave some energy back and we were ready to instruct the driver again, and this time we asked him to just take us around the Satellite Road, at least to see if any shop was open because we could not see any open shop the first two days we were in Ahmedabad. We were hungry and looked for pure Gujarati food, and looked even in newly opened shopping malls. The locals directed us to a place called ‘Pakvan’ and when we reached the place it suddenly dawned on the driver that he knew this place! We all had a good go at the authentic Gujarati food that was offered – Moong halwa, Basundi, sweetish Khadi, variety of side dishes for roti, all were good. The trip more or less completed, we retired to sleep at Krios.
Day 8 (Nov 11)
How can the trip get completed without shopping at the famous cloth market in Ahmedabad? Guru and Suganthi had to visit their relative on that morning and so it was left to Vasanthi and me to find out if anything good was available in the cloth market. We went to the new cloth market and found that they had nothing but bales and bales of raw cloth to buy at wholesale rates. Only one or two shops had what we wanted – sarees, churidhars, etc. However, the shopkeepers were polite and kind enough to direct us to the Panchkuva retail market. Vasanthi did elaborate shopping here, and remarked that the market was really good. Suganthi soon joined and together they made some more purchases, putting a happy full stop to the trip. From the market we went straight to the station for them to board the train to Mumbai, and I left for the airport to take the flight to Chennai.
Summing up, I would say this was a very good trip, because we have not been here before and got to see interesting places. The company of Guru’s family gave us more pleasure and fun, and with Shreya around, killing boredom, if there was any, was so easy. Our stay was comfortable at all the hotels through the trip, the food was good all through, we did not have any major setback in the trip or stay or health, and everything went more or less according to the plan. All we wanted was a good time together and plenty of sight-seeing, which was more than achieved. The itinerary given by Krios helped us to see some places not normally covered by tourists. Barring his attitude, the driver was excellent in his driving skills and we did not feel tired of travel. We might have missed a few places en route, but the point is we were not bent on covering those places either, so it is not a loss. Like Lao Tzu said, a good traveller has no fixed plan and is not intent on arriving. I might add that Tzu’s definition of traveller makes him (the traveller, not Tzu) more of a wanderer, and what differentiates us from wanderers is that our responsibilities require us to get back to our duties and fixed routine, until the next break.