The wonders of … Gujarat
The state of Gujarat on the west coast of India is extremely diverse, from expansive barren salt plains to the bustling cities. India expert Agomoni Ghosh recently explored the region and tells us her top five Gujarat experiences.
Little Rann of Kutch
At first, it may be difficult to see the attraction of the Little Rann of Kutch – a rather barren, remote plain – but, when you look a little closer, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Home to various nomadic tribes, the women wear silver jewellery from head to toe and beautifully coloured clothing that has intricate thread work and tiny mirrors and beads sewn on. Their culture is fascinating.
During the months after the monsoon season, the area is transformed into a wetland, attracting a hoard of exotic wildlife and birdlife. Jeep safaris are a must, offering the chance to see wild ass, jackals, chinkara – Indian gazelles – and flamingos. What’s more, a reason alone to visit the Little Rann of Kutch is the star gazing. The night sky really is phenomenal; I lost count of how many shooting stars I saw.
Little Rann of Kutch
Rani-ki-Vav, Modhera Sun Temple and Sidhpur
Approximately 2 hours’ north of Ahmedabad in rural Gujarat, this trio of sites offer a fantastic morning or afternoon’s sightseeing. I have seen many stepwells in India but the Rani-ki-Vav is my new favourite: built in the 11th century, its intricate design has been immaculately preserved. It is mind-blowing how the craftsmen managed to carve the countless elaborate sculptures across different levels of galleries. If you are like me, you will not be able to stop taking photographs!
The Modhera Sun Temple was built in the same Jain era that Rani-ki-Vav was built – and the stone detail is just as well preserved as the stepwell. It is incredible that these buildings are 1,000 years old and still so intact. The temple has been designed so that the sun rays illuminate the sanctum at dawn.
Modhera Sun Temple
The sacred town of Siddhpur was once the capital of Gujarat, before Ahmedabad took over at the beginning of the 15th century. Today, the majority of the temples and structures are still in immaculate condition, with brightly coloured exteriors. One of the most surprising things is that there are barely any tourists and you can usually get uninterrupted photographs of the amazing buildings.
Ahmedabad is a wonderful city to walk around and to wander through the maze of busy streets and alleyways. The city is full of old havelis – Indian town houses – and ornate temples, but for me, the most interesting thing was catching a glimpse of daily life. It is custom here for locals to go out for tea every single morning, which then becomes a large social gathering that provides excellent people watching opportunities. Similarly, you will often find large groups clustering around street food vendors, purchasing breakfast lentils or fresh sugar cane juice.
Fresh sugar cane juice
Ahmedabad was once an important city for trade, and I enjoyed spotting remnants from the past ingrained into the old mansions that once belonged to wealthy traders: if a trader did business with China, his house would be covered with beautiful designs of elephants and dragons. This has resulted in a wide variety of different architectural styles. What you must not miss in Ahmedabad is the shopping, especially at the colourful Law Garden night market where you can find gorgeous cholis (sari blouses) and chaniyas (traditional skirts) as well as embellished wall hangings, jewellery and local crafts.
Law Garden night market
It would be impossible for me to write a blog about Gujarat without mentioning the food. Gujarati street food is genuinely more delicious than the food in hotels and restaurants. My guide and driver told me they never ate in the hotels, so I joined them on the second evening and was not disappointed. The most popular breakfast dish is kachori – a deep-fried dough ball filled with lentil paste and various spices – with a spicy and sour potato curry. Then, soothe the heat of the chilli with a rabri, made by boiling milk with sugar on a low heat for hours. The sweet’s texture is deliciously creamy.
Gondal and Junagarh
On my last full day in Gujarat, there was time to experience two truly hidden gems. Located on the banks of the river Gondali, is the Naulakha Palace in Gondal. Dating back to the 18th century, the beautiful palace is adorned in exquisite carvings and has great views overlooking the river. Be sure to see the interesting collections of horse-drawn carriages, dolls and artefacts.
On the same day as visiting Gondal, it’s possible to visit the fortified city of Junagadh, a deeply spiritual town where the surrounding hills are said to be sacred to the Jains. You absolutely must visit the beautifully obscure Mahabat Maqbara Palace. Words cannot do this place justice but this really was one of the most striking palaces I have ever seen.
Mahabat Maqbara Palace
Wildlife, Tribes & Temples of Gujarat is one of Cox & Kings’ private tours to Gujarat. Please speak to Agomoni or one of the India team for more information.
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