The Sockeyed Blog

Ben Johnson's Blog

Rajkot

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It has been very enjoyable being back in Gujarat after more than a decade due in large part to how friendly everyone is to us. We are a novelty, and people aren’t afraid to stare at the two of us (which doesn’t really bother me), but Derek’s Gujarati in an invaluable asset. Everywhere we go, people want to chat with us. Some have a bit of English and ask where were from, but as soon as Derek speaks a few words, the conversations get going and the crowds gather.

We arrived in Rajkot around 8:30 last night. The flight was a bit magical, as people in every little town and city below us were lighting off fireworks. I’ve never seen anything like it. From altitude, they were bright flashes, but as we climbed, then descended, you could make out colours and shapes. It felt as if everyone in India was celebrating, which they pretty much were.

Our hotel is the Rajdoot, not far from Racecourse Road. It’s basic, and it’s quite possible that we are the only ones staying here. The fellow at the desk had the best Prince Valliant haircut that I’ve seen in many years. It was as solid as a helmet or the shell of a watermelon.

After a masala dosa not far from the hotel we went to bed with what sounded like a war raging outside with many a firecracker/bomb being lit a short distance away. Despite that, I slept quite solidly as did Derek.

We had a tasty small breakfast on Racecourse Road: fried savoury dough twists (ghatiya), shredded veggies, whole chillies, sweet spirals (gelabi) and piping-hot chai. From there we wandered the streets and had a series of amazing encounters.

Fine fellows in our breakfast establishment

First, a policeman bought us refreshing and very delicious coconut sap drinks from a streetside stall. Of course, drinking such drinks is generally recommended, but it’s hard to say no. So far, so good.

Next, we were invited to a small neighbourhood temple to Shiva, about 10 by 10 feet, where the young Rajasthani temple keeper invited us in and had us kneel by the lingam. We poured holy water onto it while he chanted, then he dotted us on the forehead. Outside, a dozen locals gathered around us to chat, and the fellow led us a short distance to a similarly-small Hanuman temple.

A short rickshaw ride took us into the old town where we wandered narrow streets stuffed with shops selling bangles, shoes, saris, drinks, and more. Many of the shops were built into classic century-old buildings with filigree and balconies. Alley shot off in every directions, and we walking among young sadhus, herders, tribal people, women in vibrant saris, and cows. Many people called out greetings, and we were offered ‘mouth freshener’ sweets and other goodies.

Rajkot old city street life

An offer of "mouth freshener"

Close to the river is the old wall, and against that wall was a courtyard with a small blue house at the far end. An older woman invited us into the house, and inside we were shown a Mother Goddess shrine, in a room brightly painted blue. Images of gods hung on the wall among flowers and coloured lights. From what I understood, it served people in the community. Her son, a holy man, was there, seated on a bed. He had a long beard, intricately tattooed hands with long fingernails, and gold rings. Three generations of the family were there, and they welcomed us warmly. I was delighted to be asked to take photos of the space, the holy fellow, the mother and the grandchildren. Out back of the house, they showed us their garden, which was a collection of trees that are considered sacred or holy.

The house built against the old city wall

The hands of a holy man

Friendly folks by the river

The holy fellow directed us along the river to the temple area where cremations are held. It was a tranquil place with trees, flowing water, and images of the gods. In an open-sided structure, pyres were piled high with burning wood, and next to them were shrouded and garlanded bodies, waiting to be cremated. Many men with scarves representing mourning were there. When asked why there were no women, a fellow responded that women were too ‘smooth’ inside to witness the cremations; they would find it too upsetting.

We delved back into the old city and I bought a pair of sandals for 650Rs, or around $15, as I was getting very tired of taking my laced shoes and socks off. Derek bought some traditional shoes with up-turned pointy toes. Not far away is a 100 year-old ice cream shop where we enjoyed almond (me) and custard apple (Derek) ice cream.

A detail in the ice cream parlour

Walking further, we can across a chai wallah (tea fellow) whom I photographed. He loved the image so much that he gave us both free tea.

Chai Wallah

A late lunch next, at the Adingo Temple of Taste. It was a delicious bottomless Gujarati thali, with multiple veg curries (each with a tiny hint of sweetness in the savoury), dahl, roti, sweet yogurt and fruit dessert, and chass (very refreshing cold watery yogurt to drink). With a bottle of water, it came to 200 Rs, or $5, for both of us.

The afternoon and evening were a time to visit with Derek’s contacts, first Dr. Kakar, his old local academic advisory, then out on the edge of the city with Dr. Dave (Dah-vay), a senior fisheries official who shared news and ideas with Derek for almost two hours.

On board an auto rickshaw

A Rajkot street scene at dusk

Back in town we had a simple supper (idly and salt lassi for me), we packed up, and I finished up this entry. Tomorrow: Veraval by train.

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Written by sockeyed

October 18, 2009 at 04:05

Posted in Travel

Tagged with , ,

One Response

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  1. I am from Rajkot and I can not express my feeling of satisfaction after reading this post ! Thank you ! Visit again !

    Siddharth Bhatt (@sidbhatt11)

    September 30, 2014 at 14:37


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