Iron workers & rural roads

My love affair with South Gujarat continues. Having ridden back and forth here so much, I’ll miss the roads that go through it. They’re special. Different to many other roads of India that I mostly associate with hell.

Here, the strong smell of coriander can hit your nostrils as likely as the fumes from an oversized truck. The tunnels of banyan trees provide respite in the shade during the middle of the day. And... there's almost always something fascinating to be seen along any point of the road.

The end of the Diu-Somnath highway is busy with life from early morning to late at night. I was trying to take a photo of some of the beautiful trees that line the road and it was hard to get an image without a person appearing in the frame. I decided that the man above added an element to the story of these roads. 

His gesture is so typical of much of India and definitely of this region. The man is telling a friend to come over from across the road "Aw, aw - Come, come!"

Above is a glimpse at life along the road and one of the banyan tree tunnels that I was talking about. I really wish I could do it all more justice. Here, people drink tea, pile up into motor-rickshas, deliver milk, walk to school and do a myriad other activities along the road. I'd need to stay for at least a week focusing purely on a small stretch of road to tell all that I want about it.

I love Indians as a people in general, but I have a special love for Gujaratis. The folks in this region were particularly welcoming. One morning we stopped at a road-side settlement of once nomadic iron workers. Not only were these guys ok with me photographing them in an uncensored manner – no prettying themselves up, sometimes still in bed, they offered us tea shortly after making a fire.

Imagine that. It's absurd. Someone comes into your house uninvited and instead of kicking them out, you invite them for tea. It's actually something that's really hard to rationalise for most of us, particularly those of us from much less friendly parts of the world. But, understanding of private space is very different when you sleep under the stars. It's different in India in general. 

I will note that it was extremely important to have the right person with me (my friend Hardik). He knows the culture around these parts inside out and he was able to make me seem like much less of a weirdo for coming up to people with a camera at such an unexpected hour.

As I mentioned, the people at this settlement are iron workers. They were once nomadic, traveling from town to town, offering their services. They don't move around any more. The demand for their skills is not as high as it used to be, so, they settled in a village where people still do require a bit of work every now and then. 

Nomadic or in this case formerly nomadic people in India are very often adorned with jewellery. The jewellery serves a practical purpose. Since the nomads generally have no bank accounts, the gold/silver that they wear might represent a family's lifetime of savings. The jewellery can be sold off in times of need.

One of the pluses of settling in a single place is the fact that you know where your water will come from. For the iron workers the water comes from a communal tap, just around the corner. Morning is the time when women fill up the pots for the family's daily needs. 

I'm finally leaving this wonderful region for Dwarka. Once again, rather than say - been there done that at the end of my stay, I feel more like saying - I have to come back

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