The one fact that never ceases to surprise me is a lot of people who have enough money to travel know more about Amsterdam, London, Bangkok, Dubai, and Singapore than they know about cities in India. So if I ask one of these travel-savvy friends if he knows about the floating market in Bangkok or the windmill cycling circuit in Amsterdam, the probability is that he would sit down and show me a dozen of his favourite pictures and explain to me the intricacies and the little known secrets of these places.

What if I asked, ‘Have you also visited Ahmedabad?’

‘Yes, I was there for a client briefing there and did have time to rush to the Sabarmati Ashram. What else is there? Anyway, we can taste authentic Gujarati food even in Delhi these days, can’t we?’

This is what anyone will expect… but I went a step ahead and asked a local of Ahmedabad to guide me to the Amdavad ni gufa or the Husain-Doshi gufa and realised how little we know about our own city. This is a story that repeats itself in every city here. When I say locals, I don’t mean just any semi-literate rushing to his work… I mean teachers, clerks, students, café owners, and even policemen. My conversations as Specky, my wife and I walked from the ring road towards the university in Ahmedabad. I vaguely remembered having read in a blog about the Husain-Doshi Gufa somewhere within the university.

‘Sir, is this the right way to the Husaini gufa?’

‘What?’

‘The Husain-Doshi gufa.’

‘I don’t think there is any gufa here. Only colleges and students.’

‘I know about that… but you haven’t heard about Amdavad ni gufa, sir?’

‘No.’

Short meaningless conversations happened many times until we reached a café that seemed to have a few students sitting. Even they were unaware. One of them said, ‘Sir, I am studying here for more than three years now and you are probably wanting to go to the Vaishnoo Devi gufa in Ahmedabad.’

‘Well, where I want to go is also a temple, but of art.’

The café owner was curious and even brought his map and pointed out to some area a few kilometres from where we stood, ‘This is probably where you might find it. You can get an auto from the next crossing.’ He even made a few frantic calls to his friends but drew a negative response. No one seemed to be aware of the existence of this gufa. I remember it was the first week of December but Ahmedabad was rather warm… though we had smirked when we noticed the locals thronging in stores selling jackets and pullovers and buying them. There were people going around in mufflers… and only the previous night we found a cute girl wearing a woollen cap. We were in our summer clothes and sweating.

People in the city are more than helpful and they suggested we stop wasting our time searching for this elusive gufa and instead go the Sabarmati river, Sabarmati Ashram, the step wells, Adalaj, IIM, NID, Akshardham, Jami masjid, Jali masjid or the Sidi Saiyyad’s mosque or even the Patel museum. One foodie asked us not to leave the city before we had tasted food in the night food bazaar at Manek chowk, or had Asharfi’s kulfi and pineapple sandwich there. Another recommended the Husaini bakery for the best cream rolls in the city and the Green House for heavenly snacks. Then Chachch, Gujarati thali, and every other food item in Gujarat was repeated one by one… but we stuck to our resolve to find this gufa.

Did we finally get to the gufa?

As we walked from the ring road into the heart of the university, we admired the rather radical tone of the graffiti there, loved the massive open spaces with the colleges on our way, the tree-lined roads, the cleanliness, and the helpful people. Only this morning we had been lucky enough to have stumbled upon a small and unknown tea-shop where the celebrated artist M F Husain often came for his tea. The New Lucky Restaurant, a small tea-shop is right inside a cemetery and the tables and chairs are alla round graves separated with iron grills. The owner, Krishnan Kutti told us that the graves belonged to the followers of some sufi saint. Well, it was sitting there and having tea staring at a painting on the wall done by the legendary artist that we decided to visit the Husain-Doshi Gufa too.

The graffiti on our way to the university seems to tells us the intrinsic relationship between Ahmedabad and Narendra Modi

The graffiti on our way to the university seems to tells us the intrinsic relationship between Ahmedabad and Narendra Modi

Our search finally led us near the CEPT campus and we were now exhausted. I said, ‘Let me ask this books-in-van owner and this is going to be our last attempt before we move on to some other place.’ So I went up and asked, ‘Can you guide us the Doshi gufa please?’

He thought for a while and then said, ‘I have heard there is some art centre inside. They will know.’

We entered the lane that was crowded with students and I could see the tall building ahead to be the Hutheesing Art Centre. As we walked I glanced to my right and stopped.

Specky asked, ‘Anything wrong?’

I said, ‘No, but I think this is the place that we are looking for.’ There were the tell-tale inter-connected low-lying domes and we entered the artistically designed gate, went past a rather unconventional looking Zen Café, climbed a few stairs and came face-to-face the Husain-Doshi gufa!

My first sighting of the elusive Husaini gufa.  Look at the characteristic domes with their tile-work and the mythological inspiration of the giant snake...

My first sighting of the elusive Husaini gufa. Look at the characteristic domes with their tile-work and the mythological inspiration of the giant snake…

The Husain-Doshi ni gufa is also known as Amdavad ni gufa and is an underground art gallery. The domes look like the shells of tortoises and are covered by mosaic. We were lucky to bump into Raunaq Supariwala, an artist, and he explained that the mosaic artwork is similar to the mosaic tiles found on the roofs of the jain temples at Girnar. There is also a massive black-tiled snake that can be discerned and is probably inspired from Hindu mythology. Doshi took clues from the Ajanta and Ellora caves to give the interior a look of multiple inter-connected caves and Husain’s paintings on the walls and the ceiling have a paleolithic link. The columns that divide the cave are said to have a similarity to those found at stonehenge in UK. The snouts on the domes let in enough light and its movement infuses the interior with intriguing mysticism.

The Husain-Doshi gufa is designed as a set of inter-connected caves with the walls and the roof painted by Husain. Even the metal figures are Husain's works.

The Husain-Doshi gufa is designed as a set of inter-connected caves with the walls and the roof painted by Husain. Even the metal figures are Husain’s works.

What appears as snout on the domes are actually openings to send light inside... and this light infuses the cave with a rather intriguing mysticism!

What appears as snout on the domes are actually openings to send light inside… and this light infuses the cave with a rather intriguing mysticism!

The photographs that I clicked will give you all the reason not to miss this gufa when you visit Ahmedabad next… and I do hope the locals there read this article and go to this gufa for the sake of art and not the attraction of Zen café.

Zen Café

The highlight of our Mission Gufa was Raunaq telling us that people in Ahmedabad would probably have guided me here had I only asked for Zen Café. ‘What?’ I asked incredulously.

‘Yes, we are a city of foodies and any good place where one can sit and have tea and some snacks is known by all,’ said Raunaq, ‘though I wish art could make a similar impact.’

Watch this video and smile at our city awareness:

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Some more photographs connected to this post:

Another interesting graffiti on the wall. Ahmedabad gives me a feeling that art is encouraged in every form...

Another interesting graffiti on the wall. Ahmedabad gives me a feeling that art is encouraged in every form…

The books-in-a-van is enough proof that the students here read text-books... and the fact that none of them knew where the gufa was is proof that art is still the responsibility of a few.

The books-in-a-van is enough proof that the students here read text-books… and the fact that none of them knew where the gufa was is proof that art is still the responsibility of a few.

The Amdavad ni gufa and the way light plays with shadows... the gufa is also used for art exhibitions once a year.

The Amdavad ni gufa and the way light plays with shadows… the gufa is also used for art exhibitions once a year.

These openings work as door or entrances... though only one remains open during a normal day.

These openings work as door or entrances… though only one remains open during a normal day.

Our entrance as well as the exit... going underground to be with art that breathes was a great experience...

Our entrance as well as the exit… going underground to be with art that breathes was a great experience…

The gufa and the mythological snake in a photographic interpretation by me

The gufa and the mythological snake in a photographic interpretation by me

people not knowing where the gufa is pained us... but the hurt was sharper to see the official apathy towards its maintenance

people not knowing where the gufa is pained us… but the hurt was sharper to see the official apathy towards its maintenance

Raunaq Supariwala, an artist, who told us of his relationship with art and who wondered why Zen Cafe was more known than the gufa. here he is showing us the photo-book that Raghu Rai has published on this gufa

Raunaq Supariwala, an artist, who told us of his relationship with art and who wondered why Zen Cafe was more known than the gufa. here he is showing us the photo-book that Raghu Rai has published on this gufa

Zen Cafe within the gufa precincts...

Zen Cafe within the gufa precincts…

Visiting the gufa had the mind overflowing with art... and here I pick up a dry leaf and Specky clicks to capture the moment when my hand itched to write about this experience

Visiting the gufa had the mind overflowing with art… and here I pick up a dry leaf and Specky clicks to capture the moment when my hand itched to write about this experience

The simply art-inspired gate leading to the most elusive gufa or cave in the world!

The simply art-inspired gate leading to the most elusive gufa or cave in the world!

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Note: All pictures are clicked by me except one that is clicked by my wife

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Arvind Passey
20 June 2015