Gujarat had been an omission from our travel resume, in fact it was missing from that of my parents as well, and they have been travelling for 40 years.
Somehow, it was too far from Kolkata in those days and somehow remained off our radar. However, we decided that it was time to correct this anomaly and I planned a trip last Christmas where all 5 of us (myself, wife, son as well as both parents) would take a dekko around this western most part of India.
While planning the trip I quickly realized that we will need a car to go around and I was keen to try the self-drive experience.
Thanks to Spicejet cancelling our Bangalore-Ahmedabad flight this was not entirely a smooth affair but after some hectic re-bookings we arrived in Ahmedabad just before Christmas.
Picking up the car (an Innova – though personally I’m really pretty unenthusiastic by minivans – that was the best option available) was a breeze, and I’ll definitely recommend carzonrent as a rental agency.
I did make it a point to understand how to change the tire because that’s one thing I feel one should know before going on a long drive.
The first day was one of the longest of the trip. We started from Ahmedabad after breakfast and drove to Modhera to see the sun temple there – one of the two sun temples in India – the other being in Konarak.
The temple at Modhera is smaller than the Konarak one, but no less impressive as the quality of the carvings is simply outstanding. It is set in extensive grounds and as you can see is definitely a great place to visit.
It set a good tone for the trip and edified by the sights we drove to our next stop – Patan.
The primary attraction here is the amazing step well called Rani ki Vav. Calling it a well is pretty much an understatement – it is effectively an underground palace with a facility for water storage at the bottom.
Friezes and carved pillars adorn the sides and even today, after seeing we could imagine the splendour of the kings of old. After all, if the bath is like this – how would the rest of the lifestyle be like?
One word about Gujarat. For all the ads and Amitabh Bachchhan’s exhortations – it is not really a very tourist friendly state in terms of facilities like hotels and restaurants.
After a pretty long search we found a decent place in Patan where we had some overcooked Punjabi food. So either stock up yourself or plan your distances carefully – otherwise folks will suffer hunger pangs and think unkind thoughts about the tour planner.
Anyway, back to the trip. From Patan we went for to Gandhidham, primarily because this was relatively close to Dholavira.
One of my primary points of interest in Gujarat was this ancient city of the Indus Valley civilization that has survived to modern times, and after a bit of research I zeroed in on Gandhidham as a base to visit it.
Though the drive is not a short one, the highways in Gujarat are in pretty good shape with little traffic and we checked into the Radisson at Kandla a little after 5pm.
The hotel is an oasis in the bleak industrial landscape and is highly recommended for anyone contemplating a trip here.
After a lavish breakfast we set out for Dholavira. This drive was the highlight of the whole trip. It goes through the great salt plains of the Rann of Kutch and these are unlike anything in the world.
Dholavira is actually situated on an ‘island’ in the Kutch and is surrounded by the blinding white salt expanse of the Rann. As we drove through the gleaming salt flats it was as if we were transported to a different planet.
We crossed into the ‘island’ and after a little while reached Dholavira. There is a small but interesting museum there which should not be missed as it hosts some of the famous Indus valley seals and inscriptions including the ‘unicorn’ seal.
Dholavira is the oldest site (around 4000 years old) we can see in India (excepting the caves at Bhimbhetka) – though they have excavated only the upper layers.
It is actually pretty well preserved – with huge reservoirs lined with brick, passages to walk in and even a ‘citadel’ where probably important people lived.
It always gives me goosebumps to walk around ancient cities, and to walk in the footprints of our ancient ancestors was a thrill. There’s no sculptures or artwork to admire here – but if you are into ancient India this is a must see site.
On the way back we got down and walked on the salt plains, the salt crunching beneath our feet. It was a weird feeling and we wondered how thick the salt layers was.
We tasted a bit and it was pretty good! It must look like a wonderland on a moonlit night – maybe next time.
From Gandhidham we had planned to visit the two famous temple towns on the coast, Dwarka and Somnath. We drove through Jamnagar past the Reliance refinery which proclaimed itself as the biggest in the world.
Again the roads were good in general and we reach Dwarka in early afternoon. As I had mentioned before lodging options are not plentiful in Dwarka and we settled in the local tourist lodge which is pretty good.
The Dwarkadhish temple is quite pretty – elegant spires rising upwards with intricate carvings all over. As it is with most North Indian temples it is set in a congested town and has to be reached via a small walk through narrow lanes.
It was a bit crowded but we made our way in and did the standard visit. Dwarka has also a pretty decent seafront, and the local municipal corporation has beautified a stretch with some nice stone structures.
Unfortunately Krishna’s beloved cows have a free run everywhere in Dwarka and this place is also no exception – still it is a nice place to sit and enjoy the sunset.
We went to Bet Dwarka the next day – which is on a small island near Okha a short drive from Dwarka. There are regular boats to the island – the only issue seemed to be that they are overloaded to the limit.
However, we had a nice journey on the sea and fed the seagulls on the way back which catch the nuts in the air with great expertise.
An unexpected bonus were flamengos in a lake during the drive!
Next stop – Somnath – which is of course a storied place. All of us know about the legendary temple of yore that was situated here – apparently with a floating shiva linga.
Mahmud of Ghazni came 17 times in 26 years to loot India and his primary target was Somnath. The temple that stands there was built in the 50’s by Sardar Patel and still exudes a sense of calm and peace.
It’s setting next to the ocean also makes it a visual delight. There’s a point where if you sail south you’ll apparently hit the South Pole! We stayed at the temple guest house (Sagar Darshan named after Kokilaben) – and this is definitely the place to stay.
Right on the ocean front and next to the temple, it has huge rooms with wonderful balconies and all the modern conveniences and was one of our more memorable stays.
We did a quick day trip to Junagadh to see the fort – though probably a better place to visit would have been Girnar with its temple hill. Anyway we didn’t have time for this and the next day went off to Gir.
Unfortunately we couldn’t get the slot for the regular safari, and had to settle for a trip in the Gir interpretation centre area.
We thought it would be somewhat like Bannerghatta, but it was a surprisingly good experience and we saw a few lions including a frisky cub, as well as some deer with magnificent antlers and a fox as well as a mongoose!
Well that was our trip mostly done and dusted. We had a long drive back to Ahmedabad from Gir which was pretty uneventful.
The Innova performed pretty well as a comfortable people carrier and in general drives were comfortable and well within estimated times.
Couple of caveats – Gujarat is mostly vegetarian and of course ‘dry’ and facilities have still to catch up w.r.t to other states like Rajasthan. All in all, it was an extensive but satisfying trip and that gap in our travelling resume is now no longer there.