When an old friend calls after a long time, we are engulfed by a rush of mixed emotions. Remembering the time spent together and wanting to share the events that happened after that, jostle with each other for preference. Nostalgia and current events mixed with a sprinkling of anticipation, making a heady cocktail.
Planning to meet up, was the good news. The bad news, we only had a day. Anyway, we decided to do the best of what we had. The time passed faster after that call and the day was upon us. I reached the platform and bought some tea and hot Dal-Vadas, a Vadodara railway station delicacy, as the train arrived.
My friend had told me that he would take a cab and check-in into a hotel. I had other plans though. In a ‘biglilcity’ like Vadodara, it is easy to reach the station and receive a guest. He jumped with joy, as he saw me waving. I could see, he was happily surprised.
As soon as he saw hot Dal-Vadas and tea, with even more hot green chillies, he dropped the bags. I decided to tease him by delaying the munch. Kept the snacks on the side and opened my arms for a hug and then didn’t let go. His initial irritation of a delayed bite melted with the prolonged hug.
For some time, we both were speechless. Probably, we had too much to share and didn’t know where to begin, or was it the eating. One thing about a good friendship is, that you have the same intensity, whatever the amount of time that has elapsed, since you last met.
As we moved out, we had a glimpse of the new Rail museum built on one side of the railway station. We both appreciated the fact that Vadodara has preserved its past, as it moves towards the future (how true of just about everything here). We thought to enjoy more places in the city, as we catch up on our old times.
As I steered my car out of the station, I had two choices – could have turned right to a hotel, as my friend had suggested or left, towards my house. I knew, what I was going to do. In this biglilcity, it is not a hassle to take your guests home. Moreover, he was a dear friend.
On the way, I stopped at Dairy Den outlet. At the counter, I looked at him. He smiled and it was understood – two dark chocolate ice creams. We came out from our ‘choco-heaven’ and the second largest dome in India was staring at us. The MS University stood tall, literally and figuratively, as I turned towards home.
After he got fresh and a cuppa coffee, we were back on the road. Again, we had two alternatives – we could visit the new malls, multiplexes and shopping centres or the old palaces, museums and art galleries. My friend said, “Malls and multiplexes are the same everywhere, lets go to places which are unique here.”
So, the first stop was the art gallery near the Laxmi Vilas Palace. After viewing some beautiful frames including a few by renowned Raja Ravi Varma, we walked towards the Palace. The lawn was watered by automatic sprinklers, on the undulating layers of the magnificent golf course. Mammoth was written large over the architecture of the palace from the outside and the intricate detail of everything inside was just majestic.
A stone’s throw away from the palace was Aurobindo Ashram, where we spent some meditative moments (food-for-soul). Nearby to it, was some actual food, Mahakali Sev Usal (a Vadodara bread-hot curry snack). After the little refill, some walking was in order. Hence, the next halt was Kamatibaug with beautiful greenery in the midst of the city and a museum to boot. After a small dose of history, it was time to take a leap to the present (time as well as gift).
We bought a couple of books and CD’s at Crossword and a few gifts from shopping centres in Alkapuri. With so many food opportunities in the vicinity, we started selecting and short listing. Again, we had to decide out of two preferences for our late lunch – a world cuisine at Azure (Surya Palace Hotel) or a traditional affair at Rajdhani (Centre Square Mall). My friend opted for the local flavour and relished it completely. It was followed by an early evening long drive towards Sindhrot. We passed the go-kart tracks on our left and stopped over near the serene Mahi river to see the beautiful sunset and chat, in general.
While coming back, I turned left from Kala Ghoda Circle. Took my friend to the all-religion-encompassing EME temple. As expected, he felt it was one-of-a-kind. Home bound, we passed and marvelled at the old architectural spectacles and important places like Mandvi Gate, Nyay Mandir, a big Shiva Murti in Sursagar Lake, Music College, Khanderao Market, Nanakwadi Gurudwara and Hazira Maqbara en route to my home in Manjalpur. It was a pity, that we could not stop at any of these places (less time). We had also missed Ajwa-Nimeta gardens, Champaner heritage site and other places (well, next visit).
Reached home and got fresh, as mom asked about food. We indicated our plan of eating out. As we got ready, she handed a pack of Bhakharwadi and Dhuliram Penda (Vadodara specials) to my friend. We went to grill-haven Barbeque Nation for dinner before turning for the airport. My friend was amazed to see the architecture of Vadodara airport, which he found very distinctive from other Indian and international airports.
At the airport, waiting for his flight, my friend said, “It was a wonderful trip. Not only did I meet you after a long time, I got introduced to this awesome place.” Yeah, I said, “It was a pleasure hosting you here. I always had two kind of options; traditional-modern, big-small etc. Somehow, Vadodara has a beautiful way to amalgamate them all – heritage monuments, contemporary malls, great opportunities and small distances. It is truly a biglilcity.”