Gujarat, the ‘glorious land’ of India has a very rich historical and cultural legacy. The region came under the reigns of various dynasties but witnessed great progress under the rule of Chalukyas (Solankis). During this time Gujarat was attacked and plundered by the rampaging forces of Mahmud of Ghazni, but the Chalukyan kings were able to maintain general prosperity and well being. After this glorious respite, the region faced troubled times under the Muslims, Marathas and the British. Gujarat also played a very important role in India’s struggle for freedom. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the most illustrious son of the Stae gave a new direction to the movement of freedom struggle. Some of the other stalwarts of the freedom movement from Gujarat are Dadabhai Neoroji, Pherozshah Mehta, Badruddin Tayabji, Vithalbhai Patel and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel etc.
Gujarat is also regarded as a bastion of Jainism. Janis, a thriving mercantile society well known for their business acumen and enterprise has contributed a lot in the progress of the State. Gujarat has witnessed a spectacular growth in every sector and is one of the leading industrialised States of India, with industrial giants like Tata, Reliance etc hailing from this land. It has also emerged as a leading tourist destination in the country. The rich history and culture as well as the immense natural beauty and charm provide a fabulous off-beat holiday. Its numerous archaeological and historical sites, majestic monuments, sacred sites, beautiful beaches, hill and health resorts, wildlife sanctuaries, handicrafts, cuisine and a tradition of hospitality combined with excellent transport network and other modern amenities will compel any traveller to pack the bags and reach for this amazing destination.
Gujaratis, known for their business acumen, have made their state one of the fastestgrowing in India. Home to Hindus, Jains, Paris, and Muslims as well as the seminomadic tribes who inhabit the immense salt flats of Kutch, the state of Gujarat has seen its image tarnished by recent spates of politically fueled communal violence, and as a consequence its popularity as a travel destination has dropped off. But unlike the more volatile Kashmir, Gujarat’s atmosphere remains essentially peaceful, and traveling through the state will expose you to a vast, varied, and dramatic Indian landscape, with some of the country’s top architectural highlights. The experience is all the more pleasurable because it is so wonderfully free of the hucksters and beggars who plague the more popular tourist trails. Scattered around the state are modest palaces that have been converted into heritage hotels. Off the southern coast is the former Portuguese enclave of Diu, where you can laze on the beach and grab a beer far from the teeming crowds of Goa. Gujarat also has a number of excellent wildlife sanctuaries, including Gir National Park, last refuge of the Asiatic lion. You can cover the state’s top attractions in 5 days, but given the distances, we recommend you set aside at least a week. Either catch a train or plane to Ahmedabad from Mumbai, or combine the state with a driving tour of Rajasthan.
A DRIVING TOUR OF GUJARAT
You can drive to Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s major city hub, from popular destinations in Rajasthan, including Mount Abu (215km/133 miles; 7 hr.) and Udaipur (251km/155 miles; 8 hr.). Should you choose to travel by road, two fine Solanki monuments await you in the remote region north of Ahmedabad: the millennium-old Sun Temple at Modhera is 100km (62 miles) short of Ahmedabad and close to beautiful Rani-ni- Vav , a baoli (step well) at Patan. Representing the pinnacle of Solanki architecture, the magnificent Sun Temple predates the great Orissan Sun Temple in Konark. It is positioned in such a way that at dawn and during the equinoxes, the sun would have cast its rays on the deity within the inner sanctum. Built in 1026, it has survived Muslim iconoclasm and numerous natural disasters, but it lost many of its statues to the devastating earthquake of 2001. Considered the most impressive baoli in Gujarat, Rani-ka-Vav was built by a queen in the 11th century and is adorned with 800-odd sculptures that can be admired as you traverse the monumental carved steps leading down to the water’s edge. You can make both of these stops en route from Rajasthan to Ahmedabad, after first overnighting at Balaram Palace (& 02742/28-4278 or 079/ 2657-8412; Rs 2,200–Rs 3,200/$51–$73 double), a pleasant heritage hotel close to the Rajasthani border. Completed in 1935, the palace overlooks a vast wildlife reserve and features Mughal domes, deep balconies, columned porticoes, and a vast rooftop where moonlit dinners can be arranged. Established by the Muslim leader Ahmad Shah in 1411 on the banks of the Sabarmati River, the capital, Ahmedabad, has long been the center of a flourishing textile industry, earning it the nickname “Manchester of the East.” An important commercial and industrial center, with trading houses and huge textile mills owned by some of India’s wealthiest families, the city offers medieval mosques, colorful bazaars, and great modernist buildings designed by Le Corbusier. Full of combustible energy, the city is a fantastic jumble of old and new, where you’ll regularly witness camel-drawn carts queuing up at traffic intersections alongside spluttering auto-rickshaws and Tata four-wheeldrives. While you’re here, make time to visit the Calico Museum (& 079/2286- 8172; Thurs–Tues 10am–12:30pm and 2:30–5pm). Housed in a beautiful 200-yearold haveli made from carved Burma teak, this is possibly India’s best-managed museum. Certainly it’s the only one in which a knowledgeable and eloquent guide takes you through sumptuous textile galleries explaining each of the exhibits in detail. Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram (& 079/2755-7277; daily 8:30am–7pm) is another supremely peaceful diversion. Time allowing, the Jain Hatheesing Temple , a beautiful edifice in gleaming marble with 52 cloistered shrines, each with its own marble tirthankara idol, is also worth exploring. Built in the 1420s by Ahmed Shah, Jama Masjid is the city’s biggest mosque and in close proximity to many beautiful Muslim architectural highlights. Outside the east entrance is the Tomb of Ahmed Shah, always adorned with flowers and chadars (sacred cloths). While you’re in the city center, visit the 16th-century Siddi Saiyad Mosque . Note the two wonderful yellow stone latticework screens (jalis) high on the western wall; the twirling Tree of Life designs have been carved with such intricate detail that you’ll have trouble believing they’re made from stone.
Gir Sanctuary (400km/248 miles southwest of Ahmedabad), the only place outside Africa where you can spot lions in the wild. Although Asiatic lions were once found as far away as Bihar, only 300 remain today, and all live in this verdant region of Gujarat, also good for spotting king vultures, paradise flycatchers, pygmy woodpeckers, and crested serpent eagles. Along with around 200 panthers, you may also sight leopard, jungle cat, chital, rusty spotted cat, nilgai, hyena, chinkara, and chowsingha. Members of the Maldhari community, who rear cattle and live within the sanctuary, frequently lose livestock to the lions. The sanctuary is part of 1,412-sq.-km (545-sq.-mile) Gir National Park, which visitors can enter upon purchase of a permit; Sasan Gir, a onestreet village, is the entry point. Note that in May temperatures can climb to a blistering 120°F (50°C), but this is also the best time to spot animals as they congregate at waterholes.
Great Rann of Kutch
Great Rann of Kutch is one of the most photogenic areas in India. Its strange, stark terrain conjures up a wonderfully haunting atmosphere, proving that deserts are not always wastelands of sand. Kutch, which was at the heart of the 2001 earthquake that shook Gujarat, is an 18,000-sq.-km (7,000-sq.-mile) salt flat that was once a navigable lake. For part of the year, the Great Rann becomes submerged in water; but when the floods recede and the clouds disappear, the sky turns a perfect blue and the earth is baked by the relentless sun, converting the vast expanse to a shimmering, hard crust of snow-white salt. This harsh, arid landscape is where the semi-nomadic Rabaris herd their sheep, goats, and camels, wending their way through Rajasthan and Gujarat on seasonal crossings. Kutch’s pastoral communities live in mud-packed toadstool-shaped huts called bhoongas—featuring thick walls embellished with molded designs, whitewashed patterns, and brass appliqué (more settled communities will also use pieces of reflective metal or mirrors, making the surfaces sparkle like jewels). Excursions to view these strikingly decorated mud-hut villages inhabited by equally beautifully adorned people, known for their wonderful arts and crafts, are highly recommended. Bhuj, Kutch’s principal town, is an ideal base from which to explore the region. Bhuj itself was virtually flattened during the earthquake in January 2001, so wherever you travel in this region, expect to see extensive construction and rebuilding taking place. When villages, handicrafts, and the urge to buy no longer excite you, visit the remote and serene Shaivite monastery at Than, where bidi-smoking sadhus (men who have renounced their worldly possessions) gather to drink chai and relax. During the winter the Rann hosts the largest colony of migratory flamingoes in the world as they arrive near Khavda; this is also one of the last habitats of the Asiatic wild ass.
Little Rann where—coupled with experiencing the natural drama of a stark landscape powdered with salt crystals—you may encounter herds of Indian wild ass, or onager, India’s last wild horses. Only around 1,000 survive, most in herds in Little Rann of Kutch Wildlife Sanctuary. You can also spot wolves, caracal, and nilgai, as well as migratory birds during the winter.