Ahmedabad to suit all pockets

Zac O' Yeah | Updated on May 18, 2018

Buy the people The flea market near Ellis Bridge on the Sabarmati riverfront stretches all the way to the next bridge downriver. Photo: Zac O'Yeah


Try being Gujarati for a day by slow-hogging a laden silver thali at a pricey resort and round it off with dirt-cheap bargains at a super-sprawling flea market

Under the Ellis Bridge, a man is selling half a vacuum cleaner. I’d heard that Gujaratis are shrewd businessmen and this one ought to have an interesting marketing strategy if he comes here every Sunday to sell pieces that lack either hose or engine or both.

Despite Ahmedabad’s persistent dustiness, because of which vacuum cleaners may be treasured possessions, the city has plenty that might appeal to the semi-professional tourist: museums for textiles and antiques, assorted Islamic monuments, and not one, but two of Mahatma Gandhi’s abodes. The more popular one is the Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya by the Sabarmati riverfront, from where the Salt March started in 1930. The older one, at Kochrab, is a surprisingly neat and quiet edifice, where I’m the only visitor at the time.

I make a day-trip away from town to check out Lothal, where archaeologists found a Harappan port — though, with the exception of a huge rectangular, roughly 4,360-year-old dock, the oldest in the world, what I see above surface are mostly neatly stacked bricks. On another day, I scoot off to the ancient Hindu capital Patan, which has meandering lanes lined with quaint crumbling wooden homes, and find an impressive 1,000-year-old stepwell, into which I climb down to admire its remarkable sculptural art. Restored to glory in the 1980s, this baoli is like an inverted temple dug deep into the ground.

After I’ve covered the sights, I still have a Sunday left and decide to spend some time hanging out in my hotel — House of MG —which counts among the city’s finest sights: a 1924 mansion converted into a luxury hotel with labyrinthine corridors, museum-like halls and terraces worth a meander.

The initials ‘MG’ do not stand for Mahatma Gandhi, but for the erstwhile owner, a textile baron and Gandhi’s contemporary by the name of Mangaldas Girdhardas. At its world-famous terrace veg restaurant, I sample Gujarat’s priciest thali: at ₹1,265 plus taxes, it gives visitors the State on a platter, including snacky starters or farsan such as dhoklas, kachoris, chaats and salads, and unlimited helpings of mains or shaaks that change daily. That day they included bateka (a potato curry), kadhi (besan and yoghurt curry), fansi (beans preparation), turiya patra (gourd with colocasia leaves), mag ni mogar dal (a kind of dry lentil preparation), plus a couple of different rustic breads, ghee-laced khichdi and Gujarati-style curried dal, accompanied by freshly churned buttermilk and papads, as well as sweetmeats and home-made ice cream topped off with a cappuccino. The lightly spiced and jaggery-sweetened dal can be a bit of a culture-shocker for someone sampling Gujarati food for the first time. But it is said that Gujaratis love eating, so I polish off everything served on my silver platter.


If a tourist wants to try out being Gujarati for a day, then this restaurant is where to spend hours on slow hogging, but then again, unlike the city’s other fancy hotels, the House of MG sits bang in the middle of the old town and it would seem a pity not to explore the Lal Darwaja area with its shops that spill out merchandise onto the roads and snack stalls that offer potentially unhealthy street food. While I’ve heard plenty of scary tales of Delhi-belly, nobody I know has complained of ‘Ahmedabad abdomen’, so in the junk food gali adjacent to the Teen Darwaja gate, I stuff myself silly with juicy kebabs — a plate is merely ₹25, so I take three to counterbalance the veg fare.

It was after licking clean the plates of kebabs that I discovered the delights of the weekly flea market — by following the trail of Sunday shoppers drifting towards the Sabarmati riverfront by the Ellis Bridge. They all knew something that isn’t mentioned in the tourist guidebooks.

Although there are many flea markets in India — such as Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar and Goa’s Anjuna beach — the one in Ahmedabad is probably the largest of its kind. In fact, it’s bigger than the flea markets I’ve seen in New York, Shanghai, Copenhagen, Harare and Reykjavik put together. On the eastern riverbank, traders set up makeshift counters or lay out tarpaulins almost all the way to the next bridge downriver.

It’s the ultimate place to procure a second-hand treadmill or vintage radio set, a broken laptop or rusty nail, padlocks without keys or keys missing locks, live animals like goats and tiny chicks, a handmade kebab grill, cheap crockery and pottery, empty liquor bottles (remember, Gujarat is a dry State), books for kids and adults, ultra-low-cost garments or machine parts, all in a brutal jumble that gives the refuse of a megacity one last chance to reincarnate as the property of new owners. It’s an interesting contrast to the tasteful selection of period knick-knacks that decorate my hotel.

The customers too are an intriguing mix of teenagers and geriatrics on weekend outings, peasants and townspeople, and some jhola-carrying arts students foraging for stuff to incorporate into installations or display as ‘found art’. Once I’m done browsing, I ask the broken-vacuum-cleaner-seller who buys them.


Then why sell?

“Why not?”

Well, ain’t that true? But instead of the vacuum cleaner, I buy myself a ₹60 remote control — there are different models on sale at this stall, tiny control units that have been long separated from whatever they were meant to steer. I’m not exactly sure what I can do with it — maybe recycle it and hijack a drone? — except that it’s definitely lighter to carry home than half a vacuum cleaner.

Zac O'Yeah


Zac O’Yeah is a part-time travel writer and part-time detective novelist

Published on May 18, 2018

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