The taxi dropped me off at the Mumbai train station for my early morning trip to Ahmedabad. I took in the beautiful transit hall and the colorful scene of people sprawled out on the ornate floors before easily (thankfully) finding my train car and seat. I knew I had found the right place but it was fun to see my name confirmed on an actual typed roster, taped to the train car’s entrance. With my feet rested upon my backpack in front of me, I leaned my head against the window to enjoy the passing scenes and the chilled mineral water and newspaper delivered to me as part of my “catered” train ride. Fascinated by the characters around me (a man with a golden headdress and shiny white hair to his waist, women carrying multiple children, and some businessmen) I tried to not to stare obviously (a common phenomena we tourists experience here.)
As the train doors opened in Ahmedebad, I took a deep breath and readied myself for adventure. I was a bit pampered in Mumbai and now I was on my own. The long lines of yellow and green rickshaws (tuk-tuks) and their drivers who called out to me, beckoning for my business, daunted me. I was prepared to put my fine negotiating skills to work and pay less than half of what they would ask. Not entirely sure we understood each other; I hopped in one of the cartoon-like open-air vehicles and began my first exposure to the CRAZY streets of this bustling city. Loud rumbling motors, constant honking and steady flows of traffic coming and going in ALL directions - cars, buses, motorbikes, camels, cows, goats, rickshaws, women, men and children - all firmly establishing their right to the road. I loved it!
We crossed the gate into the old city of Ahemedebad, working our way through the tight, windy roads, finally making it past the cows and goats before stopping in front of the French Haveli, my home (a private mansion) for the next two nights. The beautiful, 150 year old, artistically restored Gujarati heritage home offered me a very fine welcome to this action-packed city.
Sabarmati Ashram / Manav Sadhna / Toilet Cafe
Our next stop was the Sabarmati Ashram, Gandhi’s headquarters from 1917-1930. He is said to have chosen the site because of it's location between a jail and cemetery, knowing the likelihood of non-violent resisters ending up in one of the two. I enjoyed seeing where he lived and meandering the grounds. As I peaked into the adjacent property and scoped around a bit, I was warmly greeted by Tim, a volunteer at Manav Sadhna who lives in Bhutan, working for the King and his GNH – Gross National Happiness efforts.
Tim showed me around Manav Sadhna and told me about the NGO’s impressive work in Ahmedabad’s 'underprivileged' communities. It was founded in 1990 by volunteers inspired by Gandhi’s practice of serving the “antyodays” (the most neglected and marginalized) with love and compassion. It now serves more than 9000 children and women in local slum communities. The core value is Love All. Serve All.
I was elated to meet Tim and to learn more about living conditions here in India and the important work taking place. He introduced me to the volunteer coordinator – and before I knew it, I was invited to a community celebration taking place in one of the slum communities Manav Sadhna has programs. "Just show up at 11am tomorrow morning" I was told (see my next blog post!)
Tim also toured me around the adjacent Toilet Garden and Toilet Café, a showcase of 21 different types of lavatories and urinals as part of Safai Vidyalaya’s and the Environmental Sanitation Institute’s efforts to provide a better quality of life to rural peoples and the urban poor of India by improving their sanitation situation. Unfortunately the café was closed but apparently you can get paid to poop there!
Inspired and grateful, I hopped back into Mohamed’s tuk-tuk, taking in the endless honking, cows, camels, motorbikes, trucks and pretty much anything else you can imagine.
Eager to try more street food, I ventured out to the bustling Manek Chowk market and into the food bizarre area. With the awesome assistance of Mohan of the French Haveli, I was finally able to find something that looked hot enough (temperature wise) and had a big enough crowd consuming it that I decided to give it a try. Apparently Pav Bhaji is a popular Maharashtra fast food dish – a vegetable curry served with a deliciously buttered soft bread roll. A perfect choice……and I’m still not sick!
Just another fascinating day in India.
Thank you India Someday. Thank you You Wander We Pay!
A social worker…..working socially, around the globe.