The land of Love, Hate and History!
An unknown force compelled me to look back. As I turned, her big beautiful eyes caught my stare. I shouldn’t be doing this, I thought, after all I am on an official visit and should be concentrating on my work. But mostly, in the conflict of mind and heart, mind loses. No pun intended here!
I walked up to her and asked her name. Sejal, she replied with a smile, and I promised to mention her name in my blog. But this is not the main story. Rather it is just one of the incidents that occurred during my three day visit to Vadodara in Gujarat-the land of love, hate and history!
I reached Vadodara at 12.30 in the afternoon after an hour long flight. We were scheduled to cover the opening ceremony of International Buddhist Convention but before that we were going to our hotel.
Here, I met the first Gujarati, Mr Faroque Pathan, our tour operator. It was not exactly a shock, but was quite different from what I was expecting. I had a certain image about Vadodara, after all it was the land of ‘Best Bakery’. And here I was, meeting the first Gujarati who was a Muslim.
The opening of the seminar was interesting. Chief Minister Narendra Modi concentrated mostly on the tourism aspect, so all those journalists hoping to get a fiery and controversial speech were left disappointed.
Then came the highpoint of the whole tour. The Dalai Lama stood up to speak. I have always considered him as one of the most overrated people of the world. But one speech by His Holiness changed it all. His wit, humour, knowledge and humility floored me completely. It was a treat to listen to a great man like him.
So, the opening ceremony ended on a happy note. The next morning, we again visited Maharaja Sayajirao University as I was hoping to get some interviews. Here, at an exhibition of Buddha’s bodily relics, I met this pretty lady.
After lunch, I decided to roam around the city to have a glimpse of the local culture and traditions. The city of Vadodara is amazing. It is called Vadodara because it has a lot of <i>Vat</i> (Banyan) trees and Vadodara means ‘the home of Banyan trees’. It is a very clean city but the most amazing thing is that, in terms of development, it is no less than any satellite town of Delhi.
I had this deep desire since the time it was decided that I will be going to Vadodara, to visit Best Bakery. It was a very small colony with lower middle class Muslim population. People around the area told me that it has always been communally sensitive and media made a mountain out of molehill about the incident. But, I firmly refuse to believe it.
Visit to the Mahakali Temple of Pavagadh was awesome. Located on a mountain, near the Champaner town, Pavagadh is well connected by road from all the main cities of Gujarat. It is only around 30 miles away from Vadodara. Though, the ropeway that we used to climb the hill was a bit scary, once I reached the top, it was very beautiful there, giving a typical <i>mela</i> feel.
After the temple, it was my turn to visit a mosque. I am amazed by the fact that, there is a ‘Jama Masjid’ in virtually every city that I have seen and that includes Gaya, my hometown and Delhi, my place of living. Anyways, the Jama Masjid near Champaner is no longer used for <i>Namaz</i> (Islamic prayer). It was in a dilapidated state with the poor guard being unable to stop people coming in with their footwear on. I am not particularly religious, but this hurt me. After all, in India, we have a tradition of respecting places of worship cutting across religious lines.
The architecture of the 15th century mosque deserves a special mention here. It was arguably one of the finest mosques in India with great artwork on its every single part. It had seven <i>Mehrabs</i> (Prayer niches) and the whole of northern portion of the mosque was dedicated for ladies.
Meanwhile, since it was getting late so I decided to rush back to the city. Next morning, I caught the flight back home, with pleasant memories of the land of love, hate and history and a heart-warming smile!
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