India, part 2: Gujarat
December, 2004
by Norman Koren

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Part 1: Introduction |
Part 2: Gujarat | Part 3: Udaipur
Part 4: Jodhpur fort | Part 5: Jodhpur rooftops
| Part 6: Jaipur: Palaces and Amber fort
Part 7: Jaipur streets | Part 8: Jaipur: Jantar Mantar
| Part 9: Ranakpur temple and sculptures
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  The Mahabat Maqbara mausoleum is a late nineteenth century (1892) Muslim tomb; a dream from tales of a thousand and one nights; hardly old enough to be regarded as historical by Indian standards. This magnificent structure is crumbling and in great need of care. The people of Junagadh apparently take it for granted. Let's hope they wake up and restore of this splendid gem in their midst.
Mosque, Junagadh

Girnar Hill
is a mountain in western Gujarat near Junagadh, sacred to both Hindus and Jains, but little known to Western tourists. Nathan tried to climb it three years ago, but failed because of misinformation in the guidebook: You'd have to be a real athlete to climb 9,999 steps (possibly exaggerated) with about a kilometer elevation gain in the two hours estimated by the book. We're slow. Tortoise power!
Jain temple, Girnar Hill
Jain temple on the way up Girnar Hill. Junagadh in the background.
Girnar Hill
Girnar Hill. There are two peaks. The second is about the same elevation as the first.
You have to descend about 200 meters between them.

Life Positive, India's leading New Age/holistic living publication (English and Hindi editions), used some of my Girnar Hill photographs to illustrate an article about a personal pilgrimage, rather more serious than my comments below. You can view a large PDF version of the article (2.7 MB; high speed Internet recommended) by clicking here.

The image of a spiritual master in a cave or temple atop a sacred mountain is deeply etched in the Western mind, in part because it's a popular subject for jokes and cartoons. My cousin Dan Levin told me the (Jewish flavored) joke about the man who climbs to the top of the sacred mountain and meets the guru, who tells him, "Life is like a pickle." He returns and ponders the meaning, but just doesn't get it, so returns to the mountain. This time the holy man says, "So... Maybe life is not like a pickle."

Well, we climbed the sacred mountain and met the priest in the temple at the summit. And he said something amazing to Nathan. He told Nathan that he resembled a famous New Zealand cricket player (Nathan forgot the name). I think he was disappointed that Nathan was not, in fact, the cricket player. I couldn't invent this.

Adalaj Vav Stepwell, near Ahmedabad was built in 1499.
Stepwell, Ahmedabad
Stepwell, Ahmedabad
Young laborer, Stepwell
Young laborer, Adalaj Vav Stepwell
Nathan's old neighborhood
Nathan's old neighborhood in Ahmedabad, showing an autorickshaw

My friend Ashok sent me the "Indian Rules of the Road," below. While it may seem like a joke, it's about as good a description of Indian traffic as I've seen. It certainly applied to our trip between Ahmedabad and Junagadh, which was absolutely hair-raising, though not as frightening as the trip my son Nathan took three years ago. A new National Highway has been built. It's a well-paved four lane divided highway about three-quarters of the way; the remainder is two lanes. But the traffic is unchanged (see Article II, below). When we finally reached the divided four lane highway on the way back from Junagadh, I offered thanks to Krishna, Ganesh, Allah, Jesus, Buddha, and all the rest. I believe we owe our survival to the entire pantheon, working together in harmony.
Scholarly commentary: The original text may or may not be in Sanscrit (no way to know for sure), but it is unlikely to date from Vedic times. The population of 870 million places it around 1992 or 93. The most likely source I can glean from the Mother Lode of all Knowledge ( is Acharya (now Paramacharya) Palaniswami, editor of Hinduism Today, reprinted here, and well worth reading. He presents a more detailed set of rules, for which he makes a dubious claim of Sanscrit origin.
Now that the Ambassador automobile monopoly has been broken, Indian cars are equipped with reverse gears with safety beepers that play "It's a Small World." So if you didn't get your fill at Disneyland, try India. (In the US, trucks have reverse safety beepers, but autos don't.)

Safety awareness is growing in India, albeit slowly. Seat belts are universally available. Motorcycle helmet laws vary from state to state. They're strictly enforced in Jaipur, where all drivers, but few passengers, wear helmets. There is no helmet law in Ahmedabad. Not more than one in twenty biker wears one.

Rules Of The Road, Indian Style

Traveling on Indian Roads is an almost hallucinatory potion of sound, spectacle and experience. It is frequently heart-rending, sometimes hilarious, mostly exhilarating, always unforgettable -- and, when you are on  the roads, extremely dangerous. Most Indian road users observe a version of the Highway Code based on a Sanskrit text. These 12 rules of the Indian road are published for the first time in English:


The assumption of immortality is required of all road users.
Indian traffic, like Indian society, is structured on a strict caste system. The following precedence must be accorded at all times. In descending order, give way to:Cows, elephants, heavy trucks, buses, official cars, camels, light trucks, buffalo, jeeps, ox-carts, private cars, motorcycles, scooters, auto-rickshaws, pigs, pedal rickshaws, goats, bicycles (goods-carrying), handcarts, bicycles (passenger-carrying), dogs, pedestrians.

All wheeled vehicles shall be driven in accordance with the maxim: to slow is to falter, to brake is to fail, to stop is defeat. This is the Indian drivers' mantra.

ARTICLE IV:  Use of horn (also known as the sonic fender or aural amulet):

Cars (IV,1,a-c):

1.  Short blasts (urgent) indicate supremacy, i.e., in clearing dogs, rickshaws and pedestrians from path.

2.  Long blasts (desperate) denote supplication, i.e., to oncoming truck: "I am going too fast to stop, so unless you slow down we shall both die". In extreme cases this may be accompanied by flashing of headlights (frantic).

3.  Single blast (casual) means: "I have seen someone out of India's 870 million whom I recognise," "There is a bird in the road (which at this speed could go through my windscreen)," or "I have not blown my horn for several minutes."

Trucks and buses (IV,2,a):

A.  All horn signals have the same meaning, viz: "I have an all-up weight of approximately 12.5 tons and have no intention of stopping, even if I could." This signal may be emphasised by the use of headlamps.

ARTICLE V  remains subject to the provision of Order of Precedence in Article II, above.
ARTICLE VI:  All manoeuvres, use of horn and evasive action shall be left until the last possible moment.
ARTICLE VII:  In the absence of seat belts (which there is), car occupants shall wear garlands of marigolds. These should be kept fastened at all times.

1.  Rights of way: Traffic entering a road from  the left has priority. So has traffic from the right, and also traffic in the middle.
2.  Lane discipline (VII,1): All Indian traffic at all times and irrespective of direction of travel shall occupy the centre of the road.

ARTICLE IX:  Roundabouts: India has no roundabouts. Apparent traffic islands in the middle of crossroads have no traffic management function. Any other impression should be ignored.

ARTICLE X:  Overtaking is mandatory. Every moving vehicle is required to overtake every other moving vehicle, irrespective of whether it has just overtaken you. Overtaking should only be undertaken in suitable conditions, such as in the face of oncoming traffic, on blind bends, at junctions and in the middle of villages/city centres. No more than two inches should be allowed between your vehicle and the one you are passing -- and one inch in the case of bicycles or pedestrians.
ARTICLE XI:  Nirvana may be obtained through the head-on crash.

ARTICLE XII:  Reversing: no longer applicable since no vehicle in India has reverse gear.

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Images and text copyright (C) 2000-2013 by Norman Koren. Norman Koren lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he worked in developing magnetic recording technology for high capacity data storage systems until 2001. Since 2003 most of his time has been devoted to the development of Imatest. He has been involved with photography since 1964.