|Last leg on the Royal Orient|
Vaishala:After Palitana it was back to the train for lunch and rest till we reached Vaishala in the evening. Vaishala is located at the outskirts of Ahmedabad, in the village of ‘Sarkhej’. There is an excellent ethnic Gujarati restaurant that serves authentic Gujarati cuisine. The seating arrangement is on traditional charpais, the four-post ‘rural bed’ woven in cord. Food is served in Indian metal plates and cups made of brass, etc. The restaurant serves everything, from dokla to khandvi to khakhdas.It also boasts of a rare museum of utensils and household objects, housed in authentically constructed rural buildings that house the collection from different parts of India. The articles are made from varied materials like terracotta, wood, iron, copper, bronze and brass. A part of the museum has been decorated as an ethnic hut in the style of a village household with traditional mud stove, grinding stone and a woman churning the butter. Vaishala also has a small shopping arcade, which sells rural handicrafts, fabrics, shawls, beads, jewelry, chappals and dresses. It is a pleasure to shop here for genuine quality products. We spent a memorable evening in Vaishala eating and shopping to our hearts content.
The next morning when we woke up we were already in Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat. After breakfast we departed for sight seeing. We had a very emotional encounter with the memory of Mahatma Gandhi at Sabarmati Ashram. Ashram houses all the important objects, photographs and letters connected with Gandhiji and his life and gives a unique opportunity to understand the man he was.
We also visited ‘ the Textile Museum’ set up by the Calico mills and the Sarabai foundation. It is the only textile museum in India and has in its collection fabrics from all parts of India. One can see the rare prints of Chintz & Bandini and the fabrics woven in Kancheepuram, Banaras, Patola, Pachampolly, Chenderi, etc. It houses a good collection of Jamdhani and Baluchery sarees, Pashimana shawls, embroidered tapesteries, Jamvars and Jardozi, for all to see. There is also a good collection of costumes used by royalty and others. The building is constructed very artistically and appropriately to suit the purpose. It has carved wooden doors and the indows with figurative work. It is a museum to celebrate the weaving and textile heritage of India. One really feels proud to see what the Indians could produce. Inspired by the collection in this museum, a lot of old designs are being revived.
The other places to visit in Ahmedabad are the shaking minerets in the old town and a step-well called ‘Bawadi’ at the outskirts of Ahmedabad which depicts traditional Indian method of water conservation in the water scarcity areas. A pilgrim centre for artists and dancers is the Darpana Academy, set up by Mrinalini Sarabhai, the famous dancer and the wife of renowned Indian scientist, Dr. Vikram Sarabai. When my brother Shiv Garyali was a young architect in India, working with the firm Kanvinde and Rai, he worked on the design of the academy. It is a unique dance school where all the elements of traditional Gujarati architecture have been used while constructing a modern building. In the evening we went shopping in the bazaars of Ahmedabad where fabrics and artificial jewelry are sold at fabulously low prices. That night we dined in the Holiday Inn in Ahmedabad. Compared to the food on the train, one was not very much impressed with this. In the night the train left Ahmedabad to go to our final destination, ‘The Pink City of Jaipur’.
By noon, we arrived in Jaipur. We were first driven for lunch to the Rajputana Sheraton, the latest addition to the list of top hotels of the city. I should say (according to me) that this hotel serves the best buffet-lunch in the country. There was a vast range of dishes to choose from and each dish looked better than the other. We had a long drawn leisurely lunch after which we were entertained by the folk dancers, puppeteers and snake charmers. We had a photography session with the snakes and took photographs, like Lord Shiva with snakes around our necks, hands and so on. Our western companions were thrilled because this is the India of their dreams. They feel their trip is wasted if they do not see at least a snake and a tiger in India.
Our next halt was the fort of Amer. We rode on the back of the elephants to go to the top. We also saw the city palace and Jantar Mantar, the traditional observatory about which much has already been written. From here we went to the fabled bazaar of Pink City right below Hawa Mahal. We shopped for Paintings, Woodwork, Rajasthani Skirts and blouses, Sanganeri prints, Blue pottery, Jewelry studded with precious and semi precious stones in gold and silver. The shops were homely and the shopkeepers were friendly. They entertained us with hot cups of ‘cardamom tea’ and samosas (Indian patties) which was indeed most welcome in the cold weather. In addition to being warm and hospitable they are trustworthy and you can depend on their advice.
Everyone looked very satisfied after spending the last penny in Jaipur. It was to be our last night and the last supper in the train. In the bar lounge, people had their farewell drinks. There was much hugging and kissing and saying good-byes. Professor Orleyeg was seen giving his parting advice to many a young lover. The toasts were drunk to the train and why not; every moment spent on the Royal Orient was worth its while. This was a memorable journey to be remembered and cherished forever.