|Arriving in Ahmedabad|
Pete asks if I reckon Mumbai Airport will have a McDonald’s, and I respond with a very disapproving look, lips pursed (we haven’t caved and had Western takeaway food yet). He reminds me he’s one up on me after he had a masala dosai and sambar for breakfast the other morning when I opted for jam and toast. Defeated, I finally agree he can give Maccas a go, provided he has a Chicken Maharaja-Mac, a BigSpicy Paneer wrap or something strictly Indian. His hopes are dashed, though, when the airhostess announces (first in Hindi, then in Tamil, and lastly in English) that we’re to stay put.
As I flick a text to my sister, I glance over and see Pete googling “McDonald’s Ahmedabad” on his iPhone. Snapped. Apparently there are three McDonald’s restaurants in the city, but Ahmedabad has a huge range of well-regarded eateries (actually, more than half of the top 20 things to do in Ahmedabad are cafes or restaurants), so I think we’ll try and steer clear of the golden arches. We arrive at a much more glamorous airport than Chennai, and read up on Ahmedabad in our taxi into the city – the highlight of which is yet another jaw-dropping red sunset. Apparently Ahmedabad is the fifth largest city in India, and has a metropolitan population of 6.4 million. According to Wikipedia, Forbes magazine rated Ahmedabad as the fastest-growing city in India and the third-fastest in the world, in 2010.
On the way to our hotel, we spot some kites in the air, and work out our plan of action for the kite festival, known here as Utturayan. In light of the day being a national holiday, and with many of the city’s attractions being closed, Barn sets us a challenge for how we’re to spend Utturayan. “We need to do some serious friending,” he declares. “Imagine how much more amazing it would be if we’re invited up onto a roof to fly kites with an Indian family!” I tell Barn I’m quite good at befriending people, and get slated for it by some of my workmates – one in particular, who I think is mildly envious of my superior BFFing skills (just kidding, Gemma). The challenge Barn sets is quite specific; his preference is for an Indian family with the following: “At least one elderly, just for character, a couple of small children, and someone our age – or late teens.
|Rooftop dining at House of MG|
We’d made a dinner booking at the city’s “House of MG” (officially called The House of Mangaldas Girdhardas), a beautiful heritage mansion converted into a hotel and famed for its three-course Gujurati Thali meals. Upon arrival, we’re greeted by the assistant manager of guest relations, who had responded to my earlier email with “Dear Mr Rebecca Kennedy” (I think I almost prefer Rrrrooopka to Mr Rebecca) and we confirm that yes, we’ll go for the deluxe dining experience over the regular one. We’re going all out, splashing 600 rupees each ($15).
|Agashiye - Ahmedabad's best dining experience|
|Patang (Kite) Markets|
The next morning, I pass up Barn’s offer to join him for a 6am sunrise walk – even though I really should after last night’s dinner – and have a much-needed sleep in. In my defence, it is a Saturday, and travelling really does take its toll. In preparation for tackling Utturayan, we have a late breakfast at a more casual café, The Green House, at the front of the House of MG, and go over the befriending strategy.
We look up and see crowds of people gathered on the rooftop of an apartment block. They smile and we smile back. They wave; we wave back. They motion for us to come upstairs. We look at each other and nod – our strategy is going perfectly to plan – “Textbook friending,” Barn says.
|The wave that got us invited up to the rooftop|
The women crowd around me, the men around Barn. We watch them fly kites, we fly kites. We chat to them, meet their cousins, wives, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters and neighbours. I’m handed a child to hold for a photograph, then another. Suddenly there are many little Indian children hanging off me and I’m posing for photograph after photograph on their mothers’ mobile phones. We’re fed traditional Utturayan sweets of peanut brittle, caramel-flavoured sesame seed treats and something made with rice bubbles.
|Kite Festival-goers handing me their children for photos|
Exhausted from all the activity, we bid the family farewell (which takes longer than saying goodbye to all the cousins at a Hallagan/Kennedy family do back home – no mean feat, as anyone who’s experienced a Waipukapalooza or Chinese Banquet at Box Hill would know).
|Ahmedabad family and their new 'best friends'|
|Our rooftop home for Utturayan|