Apologies to Ahmedabad

Nearly 18 months ago South Africa was based in Ahmedabad for nine days during the ICC Champions Trophy, a very long wait indeed for a single one-day match.

It may have felt even longer than nine days because it was a ‘must-win’ encounter and everybody just wanted the game against Sri Lanka to happen as soon as possible. And it may have felt longer because there wasn’t much to do. And it may felt longer than nine days because the city felt unhealthy.

Things have changed considerably.

We were aware that a severe flood had ravaged the city 18 months ago but, only now that the damage and devastation has been significantly repaired are we able to see just how much it affected the place.

Vital infrastructure, like running water and sewerage systems were badly damaged with the result that parts of the inner city bore an dreadful smell and its many street inhabitants had all but given up attempting to keep their patch of pavement clean. Designated defecation areas were ignored with the result that much of downtown was a pants-down free-for-all.

While cleaner streets and a marginally healthier population is the most obvious and important change from a year-and-a-half ago, a happy one for us tourists was the ‘discovery’ of the Agashiye restaurant in the House of MG Hotel. Wow!

MG stands for Mangaldas Girdhaldas, a one-time industrialist and business tycoon who built himself a mansion back in 1924, a fabulous building which has subsequently been turned into a boutique hotel. Twelve different suites boast all the necessary mod cons and several which aren’t, like a DVD player and library for those who fancy lounging about watching movies all day.

But the most popular attraction, for locals as well as visitors, is the Agashiye terrace restaurant on the roof. Sign in on the ground floor and make your way to the restaurant where, after several platters of starters, a silver tray is placed in front of you with three smaller, silver bowls upon it.

White-gloved waiters then circle the table piling the tray and filling the bowls with an extraordinary mixture of…stuff. The restaurant’s reputation is based upon its ability to produce the very finest examples of Gujarati cuisine, and it is all vegetarian.

As unsophisticated and apologetic as it may sound, one way of measuring the success of vegetarian food is its ability to satisfy lifetime carnivores, and my three colleagues were all given biltong as teething babies and have never looked back.

“I could be a vegetarian if I could eat this every day,” said veteran photographer, Duif du Toit. (Yes, Duif, you are a veteran. It’s different from vegetarian!)

“Me too,” concurred Jaco van der Merwe of Beeld, “except maybe for some pork chops once or twice. And maybe some bacon for breakfast…”

“I haven’t got a clue what anything is – not one thing – but it’s lekker. Is this potato? What’s this – it looks like pap!” enthused Rapport’s Eduan Roos.

Two further things to thank Ahmedabad for: the ability to buy an alcohol license (everything was closed 18 months ago) and the fact that the authorities thoughtfully limit our seven day stay in town to ten bottles of beer. Not for us the carefree, thoughtless downing of a few beers at the end of a hard day’s work. No – this is the State of Mahatma Ganghi and all things must be appreciated and taken in moderation. I’m still working out which will be my ‘one beer’ days and which will be my ‘two beer’ days.

Finally, thanks to Dhiraj Parsana, the grounds curator at the Sardar Patel Stadium for refusing to back down on what he believed to be a good, ‘sporty’ Test wicket. Cheers. I’d offer him a beer but I’m afraid the first day is a one-beer day and I’ve got some celebrating to do.

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