Saturday, February 19, 2011


7 days left in India. 7 days! Genuinely no idea where that’s gone but it’s February and much of my time these days is consumed as much by thoughts of West Africa as it is wondering where I’ll spend tomorrow night in India. For now though I’ve made it to Gujarat, the 7th state of my time here. Though no Rajasthan, Gujarat boasts enough attractions of its own to while away a few days before I move on to Maharashtra and Mumbai from where I fly out from on the 27th. First stop in Gujarat after a 20 hour train ride was Ahmedabad; big, busy, dirty, polluted - yes, just your typical Indian city then. And not much to recommend it either. I genuinely don’t have much to write about Ahmedabad other than the fact that my guide book recommended that you don’t spend too long there because of the high levels of carbon monoxide in the old city and that probably sums the place up better than I ever could. Oh and they put fairy lights on the mosques there which managed to be both amusing and disturbing at the same time.

I abandoned my large pack in A’bad and took the train to the city of Bhuj, way out west on the Kutch peninsula and hemmed in by the wonderfully titled Rann of Kutch to the north and Little Rann of Kutch to the east (both are basically treeless marshes - bleak). Bhuj, and Kutch in general, is famous in India for its long tradition of craftsmanship particularly jewellery and clothing design. And Bhuj turns out to be a charming little city and an ideal base from where to explore Kutch. I stay in the City Guest House and everyone staying seems to be there for the textiles and as passionate for them and talking about them as an Indian about the cricket World Cup. It’s absolutely everywhere now and impossible to wander around without seeing Sachin Tendulkar’s face in every nook and cranny and there isn‘t a product on telly that he or his team mates are not endorsing. What they’ll do if they don’t win the World Cup I have no idea and this is a possibility that the Indians I’ve spoken to have not even remotely considered.

I take a day trip south to Mandvi which faces the Arabian Sea and is most famous for its dhow-building industry. The dhows are hand built ships which usually take about two years to build. The shipyard as you pull in on the bus to Mandvi is a stunning sight and you’re free to stroll around and watch the building in progress. The yard is like a Blue Peter studio with boats lying side by side in various advanced states of construction. On completion the dhows are usually purchased by Gulf Arabs for pleasure use for about half a million dollars. Another day trip takes me to Anjar and it turns into one of those ‘Why the fuck am I here?’ days. But Kutch is unique and well worth the week I spent there. Meanwhile back in A’bad, life goes on. The men seem to spend most of their time here drinking chai and dunking bread buns smothered with butter into their chai. And probably discussing how they’ll celebrate when India win the World Cup.

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