Vishala Hotel in Gujarat

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Vishala, evolved out of a passionate desire toll live away from urban centres, is a little haven outside Ahmedabad. The rustic surroundings of this complex house an ethnic restaurant, a utensils museum and a few handicrafts shops. An evening here is a memorable experience.

The ethnic boom of the 80s spawned a crop of furniture, clothing, even restaurants. In the process, ‘ethnic’ became a travesty of sorts where antique carved doors opened into fully air conditioned living spaces and crepe and jersey were replaced by khadi hi-fashion garments. Ethnicity was seen as a fashionable, amusing plaything which had to be diluted by high-tech accompaniments if it were not to be downright uncomfortable.

Eight kilometres from the centre of Ahmedabad is Vishala, a restaurant which sets out to recreate rural Gujarat in all its aspects. Here is the first commercial proposition in the country which makes no concession to modern living, not even providing electricity. Far from being uncomfortable, however, Vishala provides a grand evening out and compels visitors to return over and over again.

On the outskirts of Ahmedabad, on the way to Sarkhej Roza, Vishala has the sort of silence that is hard to find The main counter of the restaurant in a city. Growing out of the sandy soi I are a profusion of plants that have been cleverly used to separate quiet nooks from courtyards and service areas. Hundreds of kerosene lanterns cast a soft glow around and after pre Inside the museum Live entertainment to accompany the meal paying for a meal at a counter near the entrance, the visitor is free to shop at the tiny crafts shop, visit the Utensils Museum, or just recline on one of the string cots in the courtyard till dinner is served.

he shop stocks many of Gujarat’s colourful handicrafts—shawls, quilts, chests embroideries. Further on, the Utensils Museum is a clear reflection of Patel’s involvement with yet another aspect or rural Gujarat. Several years ago, Surendrabhai chanced to visit Ahmedabad’s wholesale brass market and saw beautifully crafted brass utensils being smelted to make more utilitarian designs for the modern market. Reacting instinctively, Patel bought the lot and so saved it from a fiery fate. Realising that he could not possibly save every traditional brass utensil in Gujarat from the same fate, he nevertheless wanted to keep some kind of record of utensils of olden times, and thus the museum came into existence.

Today hundreds of exhibits, mainly of brass and copper are the collection of one man. Not all of them are equally rare or valuable, but then, that is not the point of the museum. Not generally realised is the fact that utensils are specific to one or another community of this remarkable state. Thus, maldharis or cattle owners used wide mouthed brass pots whose design facilitated the milking of cows!

As unique as the subject of the collection is the design of the museum itself. Built on an open plan around a large grassy quadrangle, the single storeyed, mud walled structure sets off to perfection the exhibits and blends perfectly with the rest of Vishala.

Those visitors who just want to soak in the silence and the rustic atmosphere head for the central courtyard to relax on string cots under the stars, or in one or the other of the quiet nooks around the area. Puppeteers, singers, even magicians, have regular performances, but the area is so large that at the other end of the courtyard only faint strains of music or voices can be heard. On chilly winter nights when a series of fires The meal is served by lantern light. A massive vessel weighing 3000 pounds displayed at the entrance of the museum are lit in shallow pits, the fragrance of wood smoke combined with lilting folk melodies instantly transport guests into a world far removed from the snarl of city life.

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