- 9 nights
- Patel Residence, Vadodara
After spending a couple of weeks in the states of Bengal and Sikkim, we flew to Vadodara, which is located in the state of Gujarat, located in western India. Formerly known as Baroda, Vadodara boasts a population over a million and is the third most populated city in the Indian State of Gujarat.
People & Family:
Gujarat is also the origin of our ancestry and we both still have family scattered throughout the state (me more than Jyoti). I was born in Gujarat in a small farming village by the name of Lacharras, moved to Vadodara after birth, and lived there until the age of four before relocating to the States. My grandmother still lives in the same house that my grandfather built over 40 years ago.
My father’s best friend, Vijay Gohil, is our main contact in the city. “Vijay Uncle”, as we fondly call him, is a unusually tall, gentle and loyal man who coordinates and plans anything and everything we could need, from a chauffeured vehicle, to breakfast waiting for us at our doorstep, to more important things like taking care of Baa (Grandma) and Dada (Grandpa -we miss you!) when they fall ill. Vijay Uncle is quite possibly the world’s nicest gentleman.
Ba and “daddy mummy guns”
Besides a desire to see the world, another big reason for our trip was to visit my Grandmother, “Chanchar” Baa. Those who have met her, and spent less than five minutes with her, know of her immense power. Chanchar-Baa is notorious for speaking her mind and although she can come off terse, she can also be hilarious. If she doesn’t like you, she won’t hide it from anyone. In fact, she says this phrase quite often if someone bothers her or asks her too many questions, “thaari maa ni gaand”. We will leave it up to you readers to translate and figure out because translated into English, it is quite offensive! We shared this story with our friend Joyce who lives in China and she interpreted the phrase as “daddy mummy guns”, which we still laugh about to this day.
The culture is still very family focused and old world, with a slight hint of modern. The primary religion is Hinduism but there is also a strong Islamic community. Although there are over a million people living there, Vadodara still provides a village-like feel, and there’s plenty of urban sprawl and concrete jungles. Neighbors and family chat on front porches, and randomly show up to visit one another on a daily basis -there is a communal and laid back vibe. People frequently walk and ride bicycles, although mopeds, rickshaws and cars now dominate the roads. Seeing a family of four riding on a moped is quite common and once in a while you’ll even see five. For locals in the State of Gujarat, drinking is illegal which contributes to the homey feel of the place. You will see a motorcycle gang hanging out on the evening drinking Thumbs-Up (Indian version of Cola). Foreign passport holders are allowed to legally purchase alcohol from government shops but selection is limited and a can of beer will run you about 80Rs (about $2).
Food, Mangoes & fruit:
Gujarat is a predominantly vegetarian state and the food there is amazing. Its especially good because my parents have cooks for Chanchar Baa so they will cook anything we ask them to – this ends up in us both being spoiled rotten and gaining some pounds with a variety of delicious food including fresh fruit and sweets being constantly served to us! Restaurant food is relatively cheap, tasty, and of high quality, using fresh ingredients.
Summer is also mango season in India and is nothing short of amazing –this is the heavenly counter to the intense summer heat. There are countless varieties of mangoes, and the locals know the best ones to pick, like the Kesar mango which is one of the sweetest and juiciest in the world!
We became pretty close with our driver, Surendra-bhai, who was with us most of the time helping us get around without melting in his little AC car. Usually twice a day, we would go to Chancharba’s house to go visit and spend some time with her. Well one day, Chancharba convinced our driver to climb the huge mango tree in the back yard. Surrendra-bhai climbed up a stool, a ladder, and fence post, in order to successfully climb up the tree where he eventually knocked down 40 mangoes!
My mom and dad purchased a house in Racecourse Circle (center of town), seven years ago when we last took a family trip to India in 2004. The house is massive, especially by Indian standards, and within walking distance to theaters and malls. My parents have almost fully restored the 3 story, 5 bedroom and 6-bathroom house, which is where Jyoti and I stayed the entire time we were in Vadodara. Our parents were gracious enough to furnish and outfit our room with an A/C unit, which we could not have lived without (thanks mom and dad!). Our house had a family of two kittens and a mother living in our garden. They meowed in the mornings and we fed them milk. Cute!! We also enjoyed the birds that tweeted while they washed themselves in the pools of water after we irrigated the trees in the garden.
Indian people always complain about the summer heat in India, and we intimately connected with this truth during this visit. It was blazing HOT- a high of 47.7C which is nearly 118F! The summer heat builds up, getting more humid and even hotter, until just before the monsoons hit in June.
We were on top of the terrace of our house one day taking pictures when we noticed big thick dark clouds rolling in. The winds picked up, creating a sand storm effect, covering the entire city in dry dirt, leaves, and brush.. The sky turned black and opened up to sheer blankets of rain water falling from the sky as if the sky had a floor and the entire floor gave way at once sending water gushing down to earth. These early monsoon rains and associated winds destroyed signs & toppled billboards, snapping trees in half, while mangos and fruit trees shed much of their yield. The inclement weather causes short and long-term power failures that leave residents caught in the heat of summer, with monsoon humidity, and without electricity to run fans or portable air conditioners. We had our AC unit shut down due to power failures a couple of times, and trying to sleep at that time was like lying in a sauna.
Located in Gandhinagar, the town of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth, Swapna Shrushti boasts it is the world’s number 1 water park. This place (by our standards) is not professionally fit to service the public. We only went because it was a trip with close family friends so we decided to just go with the flow. Unfortunately, the water park was not flowing with much water at all. Half of the rides were shut down and the other half that were open must only have operated on 20%-30% water as per the ride design requirements.
For example, you couldn’t actually swim in the swimming pool or even float in the water. There were inches of water when there should have been feet of water. The water was murky and filled with debris, not to mention its ethereal (yeah right!) glow– Ewwww! Every single water slide trickled water, enough so that even gravity combined with water could not pull us down the slide, people were getting stuck, standing up and walking down the slide to the “pool”.
Being at the water park with our friends brought an important matter in to the limelight for us. Life as a female is still quite different in India, and depending on your family or husband’s preference, level of comfort and independence can drastically vary too. Our friend’s husband required his wife to wear a sweater on top of her shirt the entire time we were at the water park to maintain a particular level of coverage. She was clearly uncomfortable wearing a heavy wet sweater and shirt, but he demanded she wear it. Men, however, can wear whatever they want, bikini briefs in many cases – YICK! Jyoti slightly perturbed by this tipping of the scales in the boys’ favor, took out her anger on a slide attendant who tried to refuse her entry for wearing a cotton t-shirt (apparently it was the wrong type of material). She yelled at him and then dipped under the entry barrier, ignoring his commands to stop. It was pretty funny, especially when she ended up shimmying her way down the slide, working harder to make her way down than the effort to climb up!
The best thing about this place was “Snowfall”. They shut down all of the rides at the same time every day and create a big ruckus about how everyone needs to make their way to “Snowfall”. So naturally, ALL of the patrons make their way to ONE attraction to witness ice-shavings and hail-sized ice pellets being projected at the entire crowd. The crowd reacted to the chilling ice and painful cold ice pellets being projected at their heads and everyone ran around trying to get out of the way of fire (or ice in this case) colliding with any poor soul who came in their way. It was like a chaotic fury of freezing ice and hot sun creating mass panic, and the subsequent cooling relief from the blazing heat.
Overall, we had an amazing time in Vadodara and we were fortunate to be able to visit and spend time with family and friends. It is very important for us to preserve and maintain our culture by experiencing immersion with people that share our language and heritage, and all that comes along with that. This was a battle at times, given the Western standards we have come to know (and love), but overall it is liberating to forget about them and fully integrate into a completely different type of society.
On our way to Istanbul, we were forced to spend 15 hours at Mumbai airport, waiting for our early morning departure. We celebrated my birthday at the Blackberry restaurant and then spent about 13 torturous hours in a “waiting room” at the Mumbai international airport witnessing rambunctious farewells occur through a thick glass wall with phones. It was not the ideal way to spend a birthday, but we would end up more than making up for it the next night in Istanbul.