Monday, 18 February 2013

Sunday 17th - Gastronomic Experience + Other Stuff

The alarm goes at 6 a.m. - again.  Davendra is ready with the car and we are soon on the way to the Khijadiya Bird sanctuary. he found good lodgings last night and says that he slept very well. It is still dark when we get to the Forest Office aand there are no signs of life. After a few minutes a yound man arrives on a bike. Apparently he is to be our guide. He hammers on a door and a sleepy looking chap appears, takes our money and issues a "permit" from a duplicate book whose paper is so old it is beginning to crumble.

We head out onto the causeway which splits the reserve into a marine section and a wetland section. As the sun rises groups of common cranes fly overhead. Because the rains were so poor last year the wetland section is mainly baked mud and thorn bushes. On the marine side there is quite a lot to see including a painted stork, spoonbills, flamingos, pelicans and a variety of waders including pied avocets.

A trip along a second causeway takes us further inland where there are fields full of cranes as well as nilgai. The bushes on the side of the track are alive with bulbuls, babblers, francolins and we get a couple of purple sunbird sightings. By 9 a.m. the Sanctuary is filling up with families who seem to be unaware that a lot of noise will scare away most birds and it is time for us to go. We drop the guide at the office and start our 300km trip back to Ahmedabad.

You have to hand it to the veterans on India Mike who hire a car and driver for their visit and who wouldn't dream of getting a train. They must be made of sterner stuff than we are because we are shattered after four dasys on the road and keep falling asleep. Even with the aircon going it is hot in the glare of the sun and not being able to walk about is very restricting. If we come back to Jamnagar it will be by train. The road is not too bad although the queueing behaviour at the toll booths is appalling. We see one really bad smash where it looks as if  a car has clipped the central reservation and flipped over.

At the halfway point Davendra pulls into a restaurant car park. It is one of a chain called "Honest". We order a late brunch.- Davendra has a Punjabi thali, D has a dhosa and R gets her uttapam eventually.  When we arrive the place has a few customers  but by the time we leave there is a queue and people sit at our table before we have even paid our bill.

There are a couple more delays for a level crossing and some kind of festival that we never actually saw but we make decent time and check back into our hotel at about 3 p.m.  We are made very welcome and given a room a floor higher up and with windows that close properly. The traffic noise is significantly reduced much to R's relief. Last night she had to use earplugs. We have a cup of tea and a sluice before heading off to check out the Law Garden night market which specialises in colourful and glittering ladies outfits.

R has a great time although it is D who actually buys something - a scarf for train trips. we also treat ourselves to a green coconut with the top chopped off and a straw fitted so the milk can be drunk. By now it is dark so we hail an auto. There is some difficulty explaining where we want to go (the most famous hotel in the city) and D has to resort to the guide book. In the meantime a crowd gathers of other auto drivers, general idlers and a chap with excellent English who interprets for us. Eventually we are understood and he agrees to take us. The assembled committee then all have their say on what the fare should be before we agree on a very reasonable 30 rupees.

The House of MG hotel is not named in honour of Mahatma Gandhi or even after the sports cars but commemorates Mangaldas Girdhardas whose descendents own and run the place. Their roof terrace restaurant is famous for its authentic Gujarati thalis which we are going to try tonight. As usual we are the first people to arrive and we are shown up to a lounge area where starters are served.  The chairs are apparently designed to be sat on cross-legged but we slouch a little self consciously. More customers arrive including a British tour group but also several Indian families. Our starters arrive in vast quantity and very tasty. We think that they are farsan and deep fried okra served with chutneys.

Before long we are summoned to the terrace and shown to our table. A waiter appeared with a bowl and a thing like a small watering can full of hot water so we can wash our hands. Then prodigious quantities of vegetarian food start to arrive along with a sour lassi (yuck). The food is fabulous even if we don't know what a lot of it is. We try everything except the green chillies - even R chickens out of those. And the food keeps coming unless you say stop. If we had known we would have skipped brunch.

We call a halt and the hand wash walla reappears before kulfi, a type of ice cream,  and paan leaves are delivered tonour table. We pass on the paan leaves which we tried once before at a wedding. We thoroughly recommend this gastronomic experience to anybody who visits the city.

We walk home to our hotel over the Nehru Bridge which crosses the Sabarmati River.  Half of the city is on the bridge enjoying the breeze and most of them want to say hello to us.  What friendly people they are.

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