Thursday, October 30, 2014

A short and sweet trip to Gujarat

Short, because of the duration of my trip and sweet, because most Gujarati food tastes sweet:) 

Hyderabad - Ahmedabad - Sasan Gir
The ultimate delight is when the journey is as exciting as the destination.  This is about my recent 4-day trip to Gujarat, partly inspired by my niece Shreya's school trip to the same place. The anxietment of solo travel to one of my favorite places was making me even more curious to see how the next four days unfold. It began with the announcement of the 'last and final boarding call' and me rushing to gate number 25, thanks to the early morning rush at the Hyderabad airport.

I was filled with thoughts about my long cherished dream to visit the land of lovely textiles and dresses (sold at Garvi-Gurjari, and some at Fabindia) and and a place full of history - ancient, medieval and modern.In fact; this quick and though-not-so-well-planned trip did me wonders - it gave me the much needed break and helped me learn a lot of new things while recharging my levels of enthusiasm and confidence in everything I do.

Soon after embarking on the long drive from the Ahmedabad airport, I visited the Adalaj step well; this needed a short diversion from the highway. The intricate carvings on the walls and the pillars of the well left me spellbound about the sculptures chiseled on this five-storied step well . In fact,you could spend a whole day admiring the artistic well!

The 7 hour drive from the Ahmedabad airport to Sasan Gir was mostly a smooth one, as we hit the Rajkot-Junagadh highway, enjoying the newness around me, the dusty long stretches dotted with temples with typical architecture, chain of eateries selling farsaan, small villages, the chakda carrying dozens of people and things on the highways.

After a short break for lunch at Rajkot, we proceeded to Gir. After Junagadh the roads get narrow and winding but the change in the landscape is really welcoming and you don’t really mind if you are not able to move fast. The Girnar mountain ranges completely transformed the panoramic view from the dry and dusty roads to a beautifully green hillscape that continues till we enter the Gir forests. The driver narrated interesting stories about the forest and about the 10,000 steps one can climb to visit several Hindu and Jain temples on top of the mountain ranges. After an hour's drive through the forest I reached the Club Mahindra Gir resort which is actually at the end of the forest. Though I had planned to visit the Somnath temple in the evening, I had to change my plan as I was beginning to feel tired after the long drive and of course, the resort and my tent was so inviting that I decided to spend my evening exploring the resort, watching the cultural program (a performance by the Siddi tribals of Gujarat) followed by a sumptuous dinner.

I was back to the tent and had the most peaceful and uninterrupted sleep only to be woken up by the alarm at 6.00 in the morning. It was lovely to wake up to the chirping of different birds and the Sun slowly making his presence felt through the verdant surroundings.

Gir forest - Somnath - Gir-Devaliya Interpretation zone
My next destination was the Somnathtemple, not very far from Sasan Gir. It was about 90 minutes drive and there you are! The history of the temple seemed to have something to say to all of us: that every fall has an implied rise in it just like the temple that was reconstructed several times after
it was invaded, plundered and destroyed.

I guess the magnificent temple would have been more idyllic in the evening, as the morning Sun was harsh and scorching for a walk along the sea wall. The problem with solo travel is that you need to depend on strangers to take your pictures. I couldn't have missed myself being clicked in the background of the ancient and historical temple and the sea, probably signifying the western most point of India. 

Later in the day, I visited the Gir forest at the Devaliya Interpretation zone. It was a short safari that took us around the forest: we got to see the lions, neelgai and deers. The thrill of watching the  asiatic lions at a stone's throw was unique!

Junagadh - Rajkot - Ahmedabad
The next day, on the way back to Ahmedabad, I visited the Uparkot fort at Junagadh. This fort (mostly dilapidated remains of the fort) is believed to be built by Chandragupta Maurya in 312 BC. My guide made the fort experience very memorable by narrating the long history mixed with interesting anecdotes.

However, it was sad to see that the fort was in a state of neglect and it needed immediate attention at least by cleaning the careless litter all around.  It was noon and the Sun was hitting hard; I didn’t mind the heat and went around the fort and enjoyed the picturesque view of the Girnar mountains from the fort.

It look around five hours to reach Ahmedabad from Junagadh. The evening at the hotel was time to relax and prepare myself for another hot day in the city with several things lined before I take my flight back to Hyderabad.

Ahmedabad - local sightseeing
It was the last day of my trip and I felt sad that I couldn’t visit many other places like the Rann of Kutch, Lothal, Modhera and Vadodara. Well, there’s always a next time, I consoled myself.
The Calico textile museum was first on my agenda. My trip wouldn’t have been half as enriching if I hadn’t visited this precious museum. I was lucky to get an appointment at a very short notice and those two hours in the museum took me to an unearthly world where I got to see some exquisitely crafted and embroidered textiles and apparel dating back to almost 200 to 300 years. I cherished every moment of my museum tour, trying to capture as many pictures as my eyes could hold since cameras are not allowed inside the museum. 

The visit to Garvi-Gurjari showroom was like a natural extension of the textile experience. 
This was followed by lunch at Pakwan restaurant , treating myself to an elaborate Gujarati thali.
The visit to Sabarmati Ashram in the afternoon was not a good idea. I wish I had gone there in the morning for a better and less crowded experience. I went around the photo galleries and the museum of Mahatma Gandhi , reading up most of the snippets from historical facts. Of particular interest was the installation depicting the launch of Salt Satyagraha (Dandi march) from the ashram in 1930. 

Gandhiji’s cottage, the Hriday Kunj also displays some of his personal belongings and the room where he received guests and had discussions is maintained very well. 
The ashram also has a book and souvenir store and a library.

The view of Sabarmati river from the ashram adds to the peace and serenity of this place. After spending close to two hours at the ashram, I started for the airport, visting the famous Induben Khakrawala on the way. Looking back, I was thankful to my friends and family who helped me in organizing the trip at a real short notice. 

Four days is too little a time to visit a place filled with varied places of interest like history, culture and eco-tourism. I’m eagerly waiting for my next well-planned sojourn to experience other facets of Gujarat! But, till then I’m re-charged to enjoy my daily chores like cooking and driving before and after my office.

Some impressions and feedback
  • The Ahmedabad international airport needs better housekeeping, especially the soiled seats in the lounges, stinking rest rooms and clogged toilets.
  • Of course, the city of Ahmedabad and the highway are clean and well-maintained, especially the Sabarmati river, but not much seems to have been done in terms of cleaning the badly littered touristic places like the Adalaj step well and the Junagadh fort. (I may be judging on the basis of a very short trip but this may be true of other places as well, in fact, this is a problem with most of the touristic attractions in India)
  • The ''khushboo Gujarat ki'' slogan by none other than Mr. Amitabh Bachchan in the Gujarat tourism campaign  leaves much to be desired especially when one goes around places like the Somnath temple and its environs. I simply could not figure out why there was a peculiar stench (other than the smelly sea water).
  • The Sabarmati ashram could have an audio-visual display like a short movie on the life of Mahatma Gandhi or something of similar kind for a complete experience of the life and times of our national leader. And of course, the toilets need at least some amount of maintenance, offering basic convenience to visitors. Perhaps, it could be improved by making them paid services.