5 December 2010

India 2010: part 5 - the road to Ahmedabad

At the end of my trip, my uncle booked us a car to take us from Rajkot to Ahmedabad, the state capital. It was a four-hour journey by car on one of the new state highways, and while the road was new, the characters on it were not.


The highway passes through rural areas. Aside from the intrusion of the road, life here seems largely like it has been for hundreds of years previously - manual labour to plant and gather crops (especially cotton). The road itself provides a convenient path for transport even by foot, and we saw quite a few people walking along the highway from one town to the next.






Although the road is improved, the old hazards of Indian roads are omnipresent. Anticlockwise from top-left: Herds of cattle wander where they like - if they block the road, they are to be driven around. You're expected to sound the horn when you pass a truck so that they know you're there (mirrors - who needs 'em anyway?). There also isn't any such thing as unsafely loading a truck :P Not shown - oncoming traffic in the same lane as you, dust clouds and the many, many crashed trucks and buses by the side of the road.

Waiting for a ride.

At frequent intervals along the road there are these collections of shacks that roughly resemble a truck stop. Enormous crowds of travelers stop here to refuel and eat. In the foreground we have two individuals - one making thepla (flat bread, delicious) and the other one making sev (sort of a deep-fried snack made from chickpea flour).

As mentioned before, this is a dealer in paan, a slightly carcinogenic but nevertheless delicious mix of spices and chewy bits wrapped up in betel nut leaves.

Even more frequently seen than the roadside walkers were these three-wheeled tricycle arrangements. They'd have a motorcycle front-end with some sort of tray and axle arrangement at the back, and there didn't seem to be any upper limit on what they could carry.

I think there are sixteen people on this one.



Vibrant colour :)

I'd shoot out of the window of the van as we overtook vehicles; the best moments came when I'd get what can be best termed a 'look' from the occupants when they realised what I was up to.

The bloke in blue, however, didn't mind having his picture taken at all - he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself.

Livestock? Tricycle? Transport? No problem.

As we got towards Ahmedabad we also saw many camels transporting stuff on the road. Note the patterns painted on to its flank and its face.

Massively overloaded rickshaws were also pretty frequently seen. I'm not sure what the lady in the back was frowning at - probably me :P

Open air transport. There were 6-7 people in the tractor cab as well; all together, I think there were about 28-30 people on this arrangement.

4 December 2010

India 2010: part 4 - on the go


Rickshaws in Gujarat have been largely upgraded since I last visited - the engines run quietly and cleanly on compressed natural gas. However, a few of the old-style rickshaws remain - they scoot along making a distressing smell (it's like they run on kerosene) and an odd putt-putt noise as they move along.



If it has wheels, it's used to move goods. This old rickshaw has been converted for use as a truck to deliver bread.


Bicycles are also a common mode of transporting goods - I saw quite a few of these bicycles with a large tray and axle on the back. Note the complete lack of gears - I saw quite a few riders sweating and pedaling with difficult strokes on uneven, bumpy roads with a huge load of cargo on the back.


Complex, beautiful modes of dress were no obstacle for determined bicycle riders in Rajkot.


Scooters and motorbikes seemed to be, by far, the most common mode of transport on Rajkot. You'd see as many scooters with two or more riders as you did with one rider; again, they seemed to be yet another way of getting people and goods around. The sheer volume of them and their sooty exhausts let me to wonder if they were a big part of the pollution problem in the area.

Honda Heroes were the most common type of motorbike that I saw over there. The roads were chaotic (traffic driving in both directions on a one-way road, general multi-way chaos when it came to roundabouts) but, in the end, accidents were few and there was a bizarre sort of logic to it. The driving algorithm went like this:

1. Start the vehicle, honk your horn.
2. Head in the direction of where you want to go (doesn't matter if you're moving against the direction of traffic). If there is someone where you want to be, honk your horn.
3. If there is someone bigger than you, give way.

It's completely insane, but it seemed to work even with the insane combination of pedestrians, bicycles, rickshaws, cars, trucks and cows on the road.



There are plenty of family-carrying motorbikes out on the highways.


Family transport.

3 December 2010

India 2010: part 3 - architecture and Ahmedabad



As I mentioned previously, cows are an extremely common sight in Rajkot. They're an ancient part of the system here, and aside from blocking traffic they really are used to produce milk. Secondarily they also consume refuse, which frequently seems to be liberally thrown out into the street.

The brightly coloured house opposite my grandmothers place.




There are occasions where, wandering around, you can almost imagine that you've stepped back a hundred years in time.



I'd occasionally stumble across temples - some stood on their own, some nestled in laneways. Of these, some were lavishly decorated - sparkling clean and strewn with flowers amongst the surrounding grime. I'm not sure, however, how to feel about this - overseas, many of organisations will ask for donations to build temples, and while they are beautiful I'm reliably informed that they don't really give back to the surrounding community. I could chalk it down to just another example of the gap between rich and poor in India but there's something insipid about using religion as a front for accumulating wealth.

This is the interior of my grandmothers place - it's a small, square courtyard that's open to the air that's surrounded on three sides by rooms. It has three levels; the top one is the roof and the water tank. The middle floor became unsafe for living in after the earthquake in 2003; you might also note the yellow stripes painted on the step edges - my uncle, who visits often, is a safety engineer in New York.

This is the exterior of my uncles place in Ahmedabad, the state capital of Gujarat, which we visited in the couple of days of the trip. The small houses like my grandmothers place are long gone, replaced by high rises and tall apartment blocks.


There are parts of Ahmedabad that are quite wealthy - investment and just general economic development means that it's a fast-growing part of the world. There are shopping malls there that, when inside, are indistinguishable from malls in the rest of the world. The only giveaway to indicate that you're not in the western world are the shop assistants that constantly hover inches away from wherever you are. While the wealth is great for those who have it, there's also a certain blandness to it - local flavour is gradually being replaced by what seems to me to be a generic sameness.