Saturday, January 19, 2008

Guanajuato - The Prettiest City

As I write more and more travelogues I run lack of adjectives to describe places, but Guanajuato requires, two simplest adjectives - Colourful and Romantic. Located in the central state that bears the same name, Guanajuato serves as the capital and a major tourist destination in Mexico. The word Guanajuato is derived from "Quanashuato" which would mean "Place of frogs" in native Tarascan language. The city contains very rich silver deposits and historically the highest supplier of silver in the world and also known for the world famous Cervantino festival.

Map of Guanajuato

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We arrived at Guanajuato by bus from Monterrey, an overnight journey traversing Saltillo, Matahuala, San Luis Potosi, Silao and Leon. There are buses and flights (Nearest airport is in the neighbouring city of Leon) from almost all major cities of Mexico. Guanajuato is a mountainous city which is best explored by feet, driving is a serious nightmare for the streets are extremely narrow and parking is forbidden on almost all streets. Buses run frequently and are cheap and convenient, taxis are inexpensive not requiring any price haggling. Due it's mountainous nature, numerous tunnels, lit with faint sodium-vapour lamps, have been cut through for traversing the city.

An epitome of color, intensity and vivacity

The singularity of the city, which strikes almost immediately as you enter, is the colour of the buildings. Like a rainbow, they are painted with rich, profound colors - red, yellow, green, blue, brown and many more. The architecture is magnificently colonial throughout the city and seems that it was primarily designed for the horse carts and not the motored vehicles. The roads are cobblestoned at many places, countless narrow alleys and staircases emanates from the pavements leading to inner roads. Guanajuato has a pleasant climate all through the year, one of the reason for it to be a tourist attraction.

Plaza de la Paz and Basílica Colegiata de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato

Things to see/do...
The best part of visiting Guanajuato is that you don't really have to see or do anything specific, it would be delighting to just get lost and ramble around in the narrow alleyways which would take you back in time to the days of glorious colonial period. You happen to see artists selling their pieces of work on the street, street musicians playing exquisite traditional music which would set the listeners in motion.

An unknown colonial styled building

For the less romantic mortals, Museo de Momies is the right choice. The entrance to this place a place of dreadful mummies cost 50 pesos (Rs. 200). They don't look nice like their embalmed Egyptian counter-parts but are direful with the dry rotten skin cladding the skeleton, holed and torn at some places. The heads are covered with ugly masses of tangled hair with blank hollow eyes giving them a scary outlook. There are sections where such mummified babies are kept, the faces of which are still in good shape and most of them are not naked which makes them look less horrific. It takes less than an hour for traversing this desecrated museum.

University of Guanajuato

The city center has some good things in store for everybody. University of Guanajuato has a grand building and tall stairs which would make everybody pant and perspire by the time you reach the entrance. As we stood at the entrance, we had an immense desire to study in such a university with such brilliant view from a brilliant edifice. The triangular garden "Jardín de la Unión" at the downtown is very well maintained and is surrounded by restaurant's on two sides and a Templo de San Diego, known for La Estudiantina (student minstrel group) music, on the third side. The famous Teatro de Juarez is located just next to Templo de San Diego, though we didn't get time to enter the theater. It's the right place for nocturnal creatures, Guanajuato Grill and El Capitolio are at stones throw away from the garden which are well known night clubs. Located at center are Plaza de la Paz and Basílica Colegiata de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato, two frequently photographed buildings of colorful and old fashioned grandeur. Mercado Hidalgo is an ancient market, estd. 1910, which sells souvenirs, food and other sundries.

Grand statue of El Pípila

A visit to Guanajuato without seeing El Pípila is as worthless as conjurer's gold. El Pípila is a gigantic statue atop the mountain built in memory of Juan Jose de los Reyes Martinez, the local hero of Guanajuato. During the first war of Mexican Independence, Juan Jose, nick named Pípila, set ablaze the door of Alhondiga de Granaditas where the Spaniards were hiding. One can either take funicular cars (costs 12 pesos one way, 24 both) or use the staircase for going uphill. The most beautiful vista of Guanajuato unveils itself as you start ascending; from the summit, the whole city lies naked like an epitome of color, intensity and vivacity. Among the bald yellow mountains at the horizon, lies one of the most beautiful Mexican cities, with colonial cupolas and splendid colorful little houses, turrets and towers, green gardens and blue skies with artistic clouds. A perfectly romantic scene set for lovers, artists and photographers. The entire panorama becomes doubly beautified at twilight once the lights are switched on.

Kids near El Pípila

Presa de la Olla is a dam built during colonial period to satiate the water needs of the town and now is a touristic attraction. There is a reservoir which is now used by romantic or family type of tourists for boating, but I would not recommend this place as a must visit. Though it has many tiny roadside restaurants serving cheap and tasty Gorditas and Quesadillas.

Food is Gunajuato deserves a special mention. I would recommend the travellers to try Enchiladas mineras, the typical food of Guananjuato. It is cheese and chicken rolled inside red tortillas served with potatoes and fried chicken leg, and when eaten with salsa makes you crave for more. Apart from enchiladas, Gorditas and Quessadillas are found almost everywhere are tastes sumptuous. Restaurant Vangogh at centro (on one of the sides of Jardín de la Unión) dishes out tasty food with attractive budget. Most restaurants serve food outside, on the pavements where you can give serenades to your special ones with Mariachis present there or get yourself caricatured by the artists. As we started our dinner, we saw a forlorn old lady came next to us and started dancing to the tunes of Mariachi, she danced with such fervid enthusiasm that the entire crowd started applauding to her pelvic thrusts she belted out every now and then.

Members of La Estudiantina

I certainly feel, though the debate continues, that Guanajuato is THE most beautiful city in Mexico. It's lovely beyond all words. One has to visit the place to know how romantic and beautiful it is, the article and photographs are no good for getting the clear picture. I would highly recommend this place for travelers, you never know, you may become an artist.

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