It's not one of India's most visited regions, but Gujarat was good enough for Krishna and Gandhi to hang out there, and has long been an important centre for Jains. Today, Gujarat is one of India's wealthiest states, supporting modern industrial complexes as well as thriving village handicrafts. The last Asiatic lions are here, and the pleasant beaches are just perfect for plonking down with a scoop of wonderful Gujarati ice cream.
Gujarat has endured the longing gaze of many conquerors: Moghuls, Marathas, the Portuguese and the British have all rubbed their acquisitive hands while peering at the area's enticing perch on the Arabian Sea. Two hundred years of Muslim rule from the 13th century was initially marred by destructive impulses but later led to a fruitful amalgamation of Muslim, Jain and Hindu architecture, giving rise to the unique building styles still apparent in the area today. Surprisingly, the British were the least successful interlopers, the eastern portion of Gujarat surviving British rule as a collection of princely states right up to Independence. In 1960 the current borders of Gujarat were established, creating today's linguistically unified state.
Gujarat is a key state in Western India. It is the home of over 41 million people (to be precise 42,232,000), known as Gujaratis. The state of Gujarat comprises of 19 districts or "Jillas ". It lies to the North east of the Gulf of Cambay. On its western and southwestern boundaries lies the Arabian sea. To the northwest lies the country of Pakistan. Northeast of the state borders with Rajasthan, east of the state borders with the state of Madhya Pradesh. To the southeast is the state of Maharashtra. Gandhinagar is the capital of the state.
Gujarat is an ancient land whose access to the sea has helped develop it into a thriving economic state. The boundaries of the state of gujarat has gone through many changes. Gujarat became an autonomous state in India on May 1, 1960. The present day area of gujarat was ruled by the Gurjars, hence the name Gujarat, who most likely descended from the Shaka tribe which entered India in the fifth Century A.D. Gujarat has been known in the past as Gurjaratra, Gujjaratta and Gjrjar Desha. Travelers and traders from the Arab countries pronounced Gurjar as "Guzra" from which came Guzrat and later turned into Gujarat.
The modern state of Gujarat, was created in 1960 to preserve the Gujarati Culture. It was a part of the erstwhile Bombay State. After 1960 it split into two states namely - Gujarat and Maharashtra. Gujarat is the industrial hub of India. It leads all other states in India in terms of industrial investment. On the other hand, it is also very rich agriculturally. The state's prime agricultural produce include Cotton, Groundnut and tobacco. From the Charotar region, where tobacco grows in abundance hail the DOLLAR PATELS, now an integral part of the USA. The state has prospered throughout the history because of it's proximity with the Indian ocean and neighboring countries.
Ahmedabad, Gujarat's principal city and the main transport hub for the state, is one of the major industrial cities in India. It's noisy and congested, incredibly polluted and unbearably dusty in summer. Nevertheless, this comparatively little-visited city has a number of attractions for travellers. Some of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in India are here, as well as the blend of Hindu and Islamic architectural styles known as the Indo-Sarcenic. The Sidi Bashir Mosque is famed for its shaking minarets which provide protection from earthquakes by employing a sympathetic rocking device. To test the efficacy of this device, simply stand and wait for the earth to vibrate (please let us know how you go).
Also in Ahmedabad is one of the best examples of the step wells unique to northern India. Although neglected and in disrepair, the Dada Hari Wav is a fascinatingly eerie place with galleries above the well and a small portico at ground level. Come here or to one of the city's crowded and colourful bazaars to assuage mosque-fatigue. There are decent hotels near the river, west of the railway station. Trains run north to Delhi via the major towns in Rajasthan, and south to Mumbai (Bombay). There is an international airport in
Bhuj is an old walled city in the Kutch region. Kutch, in western Gujarat, is virtually an island; indeed, during the monsoon period from May onwards, it really is an island. Bhuj resembles the state of much of India before the tourist invasion. People remain largely unaffected by what goes on outside the area, so you're much more likely to come across the disarming hospitality which was once the hallmark of rural India. Where else would someone offer you a lift on their bicycle? You can lose yourself for hours in the maze-like streets and alleyways of this town. There are walls within walls, crenellated gateways, old palaces with intricately carved wooden pavilions, Hindu temples decorated with the gaudy, gay abandon of which only tribal people seem capable, equally colourful tribespeople, and camels pulling huge cartfuls of produce into the various markets. The villages of the Kutch region are also worth exploring as each specialises in a different form of handicraft, from block-printing to nut-cutting. There are pleasant guesthouses in the heart of the bazaar. Trains connect daily to Ahmedabad and a quicker service runs overnight through
Chorwad is a sea resort on the western coast of the state. It has very good and extremely clean beaches. However, the sea is not very shallow near the coast and so one has to be very careful. Also some of the coastline is quite rocky! There is a palace near the beach which has been converted into a hotel/resort by the tourism department.
One of India's undiscovered gems, Diu was a Portuguese colony until 1961 and the European influence is apparent in the wooden balconies, meandering and leafy lanes, and a couple of lonely churches. The tiny island of Diu is separated from the mainland by a narrow channel. Its crowning glory is the huge fort, a sight which justifies the long trip here. The northern side of the island is tidal marsh and saltpans, while the southern coast alternates between limestone cliffs, rocky coves and swimmable beaches. The somewhat windswept and arid island is riddled with quarries from which the Portuguese removed vast quantities of limestone to construct their huge fort, city walls, monuments and buildings. Cheap and clean hotels are at a premium in Diu, but you might find a decent(ish) room around the town square. Buses run directly to the island from Veraval and Bhavnagar; otherwise, there are slow steam trains from Sasan Gir and Junagadh to Una, 10 km from Diu, from where you can get a bus or auto-rickshaw.
Garba- the traditional dance form - of Gujarat is immensely popular, so much so that now every year there is an international festival held in the city of Baroda during the festivities time known as Navratri or nine nights! (Americans will be able to relate to some part of this by remembering Kim Bassinger). This dance is concoction of thumping and romping and has a very mesmerizing beat to it.
Gulf of Kutch Marine Sanctuary and Marine National Park
Two core areas, of 7000 hectares off Okha in the west and 4000 hectares off Jamnagar in the east, form much of the Marine National Park. There are between 30 and 40 islands on the Jamnagar coast in the Marine National Park, surrounded by reefs, the main islands being Pirotan of 6 sq. km (16 km north of Bedi Port) and Karumbhar.Pirotan Island has been used by WWF-India since 1978 as a site for nature education camps for school children, subsidised by the State Wildlife Department. Some 5000 mangrove seedlings were planted by participants at the 1981-82 camp. Okha and Pirotan Islands have also been used for many years by students of marine biology.
The area includes the best mangrove forests of the west coast and the only mangrove forests in Gujarat. They support large breeding colonies of storks, herons, egrets, ibises, spoonbills, darters and cormorants. The Gulf is a wintering ground for vast numbers of waders and for Flamingoes. Green Turtles (the most common) and Olive Ridleys breed on Gulf beaches, and the Leatherback turtle is occasionally sighted.
The coral communities or patchy coral growths are found on eroded shallow banks. They are found around many of the islands and in patches between them, and are generally restricted to areas exposed to the strongest tidal currents. Living corals are confined to northern and western sides of the islands, where currents are strongest. They are restricted to the edges or undersides of boulders. The most northerly coral patches are found at Mundra Reef and Pirotan Island, where they occur about 3 km off shore.
Gir Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park
It was established on the 18th September 1965 as a Forest Reserve, primarily to conserve the Asiatic lion. The total area under national park status is about 2,450 hectares. It is located in the Junagadh District of the State, about 65 km south-east of Junagadh city and 90 km east of Keshod Airport in the Kathiawar (Saurashtra) Peninsula. It is well connected by road and rail.
It is the only remaining habitat of the Asiatic lion which has been confined to this forest since 1884 (about 205 individuals in 1979). Also panther, sambar, spotted dee, nilgai, four-horned antelope, chinkara, wild boar, striped hyaena, jackal, common langur, porcupine, hare, black buck are the other animals that can be found in this sanctuary. However, it is the King of the Jungle which everyone comes to see. There are guided trips available to watch these magnificient animals from a very close range (especially near the water holes). There are over 200 bird species including peafowl, grey partridge, jungle bush quail, painted sandgrouse, common green pigeon, several species of doves and others. There are also at least 14 species of reptiles, including marsh crocodiles.
Visitor facilities include two forest rest houses and restaurant facilities at Sasangir. An airstrip has been constructed 16 km from the sanctuary. About 10-11,000 visitors every year come here to see the lion.
Few travellers make the trip out to Junagadh, but it's an interesting town right at the base of the temple-studded Girnar Hill. The city dates from 250 BC and is full of exotic old buildings, most in a state of disrepair. As well as the gargantuan fort, the temples, mosques and the intricate mausoleum, the soft rock on which Junagadh is built encouraged the construction of caves and wells. Some ancient Buddhist caves cut in the hillside to the east of the city are thought to be at least 1500 years old.
The 600-metre climb up 10,000 stone steps to the Jain temples on the summit of Girnar is best made at dawn. (That way you have the rest of the day to recover.) You'll see monkeys by the path and eagles soaring overhead, and you'll wonder why the monkeys are laughing at your red face and why the eagles got all the wings. If you really can't face the walk, doolies (rope chairs) carried by porters can be hired; for these you pay by weight, so you have to suffer being weighed on a huge beam scale, just like a sack of grain. However, given that taking your belly to India is now a recognised supermodel diet strategy the indignity may not be too great. There are regular bus and train connections to Ahmedabad and Mumbai (Bombay), as well as the Sasan Gir Lion Sanctuary, 50 km south. There are a few good hotels near the bus station.
Jamnagar is a sizeable city way off the tourist trail. It's best known today for the Bala Hanuman Temple where, since 1964, there's been 24-hour continuous chanting of the invocation `Shri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram'. At sunset the area around the temple becomes lively and animated when people come to promenade, and chai and kulfi stalls set up and ply their trade. There are heaps of cheap hotels in Jamnagar, with the dosshouses near the railway station winning our prize for most disgusting in India. The hotels in the centre of town are a better bet. There are direct trains from Jamnagar to Ahmedabad, Mumbai (Bombay) and Dwarka. Private buses run to Rajkot and
Lothal is one of the towns from the ancient Indus Valley civilizations.Excavations have uncovered a planned city of Harappan civilisation of the 2nd millennium B.C. with an intricate underground drainage system. Its importance was considerable in those days alongwith Mohenjodaro and Harappa because it was a port. Though located a bit inland from the Gulf of Cambay it still had excellent facilities for the docking of ships and other vessels. It also had port locks the first of its kind in human civilization and can been seen clearly even today. An on site museum displays beads, bangles, painted bowls, goblets, jars, terra-cotta toys and ivory and shell objects which were unearthed during the excavations. Lothal is very near from Ahmedabad, and the drive takes about an hour and a half.
Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary
It is located Surendranagar and Ahmedanad Districts of Gujarat State. Established on 8th April 1969 it covers an area of approximately 11,500 hectares. The lake however almost dries up during the very hot summers. But in winter months it hosts many water birds, mostly migratory such as flamingos, pelicans, storks, ducks, egrets, herons and others.It is also quite near to Ahmedabad and takes about 2 hours to reach by car. The best sights can be seen in the months of December-January in the early hours of the day. But I tell you even if you have to drag yourself out of the bed very early you will not be disappointed by the variety of birds you will be able to see.
Just over 50 km south-west of Bhavnagar, Palitana is the gateway to one of Jainism's holiest pilgrimage places. Over a period of 900 years, 863 temples have been built on the hilltop overlooking the town, and even after large-scale Muslim campaigns of destruction in the 14th and 15th centuries, the crest looks like a giant, glistening marble wedding cake. The most notable of the temples is dedicated to Shri Adishwara, the first tirthankar (Jain prophet or `Finder of the Path'). Adjacent is the Muslim shrine of Angar Pir. Women who want to have children make offerings of miniature cradles at this shrine. Buses connect daily with Diu and Ahmedabad, and there are some good hostels in the centre of town.
Along the coast to the west of Diu, Somnath is most famous for the long history and holiness of its temple, said to have been originally built out of gold by Somraj, the Moon God, later to be rebuilt by Rawana in silver, by Krishna in wood and then by Bhimdev in stone. None of this fazed Mahmud of Ghazni, an 11th-century Afghan king, drawn to this temple so wealthy that it had 300 musicians, 500 dancing girls and even 300 barbers to shave the heads of visiting pilgrims. Mahmud took the town, moved on to the temple, looted it, then destroyed it just to show he really meant business. So began a pattern of Muslim destruction and Hindu rebuilding which continued for centuries. The builders gave up for a couple of hundred years until 1950 when the current monstrosity spewed forth from the ruins. To the east of the town is the confluence of three rivers where Lord Krishna was mistaken for a deer (easy to do). There are plenty of buses running from Junagadh and Veraval and there is a vast guesthouse near the temple.
Sasan Gir Lion Sanctuary
The last home of the Asiatic lion is 100 km north-west of Diu. The sanctuary, which covers 1400 sq km, has proved a haven for the growlers who are breeding keenly: there are now about 300 lions roaming around, up from under 200 in 1980. Apart from the lions there are also bears, hyenas, foxes, deer and antelope, including the graceful chinkara gazelle and the canine-oriented barking deer. Peacocks preening and monkeys doing the monkey thang can also be seen on safaris. The best time to visit the sanctuary is from December to April, and it is closed completely from mid-May to mid-October. There are a couple of lodges at Sasan Gir village (where you can pick up a safari permit and a guide), and buses travel frequently between the sanctuary and Junagadh, 50 km to the north.
Saputara is sadly enough the only hill station of the state. Located in the Dangs district, it is small in comparison to the other immensely popular hill station of Mount Abu in the adjoining state of Rajasthan. However, it offers a ropeway ride and some good views. Also you can go boating in a lake which is in the center of the town. The surroundings look breathtakingly beautiful after the monsoon around August/September. The most beautiful scenes however can be seen while driving to it from the nearest big city of Surat.
Wild Ass Sanctuary
Wild asses or "Gudkhar" as they are known in Gujarat are found in in the wilds of the Little Rann (desert) of Kutch in the north-western most district of the state. The area was established to protected the Indian wild ass, which is only found in this region. The ass depends on the higher ground and transition areas which cover some 33,000 ha of the sanctuary. There are also chinkara, nilgai, wolf, blackbuck, striped hyaena, desert fox, jackal, desert cat (ancestor of the domestic cat) and caracal.
If you expect the gudkhar to be somewhat of a bore, you will be sorely mistaken. Its stamina is incredible and it can reputedly run consistently at speeds of about 40 miles an hour without getting tired very soon! It is indeed a thrilling experience to see this animal in the wild.
The area is also well known for its birds and mammals. The most notable being the flamingoes from Siberia. During winter thousands of this magnificient pink birds can be found here. An excursion of the Rann of Kutch, if you are lucky enough can enable you to see many species of birds and other fantastic looks. At the Little Rann you can see numerous birds ranging from the incredibly beautifully colored Indian Roller to the majestic stature of the Demoiselle Cranes, numerous falcons, a Bustard, and Sarus Cranes. Of equal joy is a chance to ride a camel decked out in it finest riding apparel.
Velavadar Black Buck sanctuary
This sanctuary was established on 8 April 1969 to protect the blackbuck ,also known as "Kaliyar" in gujarati. Blackbucks in India are reputedly only found here.It is situated in the eastern part of Bhavnagar District, off the Ahmedabad-Bhavnagar National Highway about 180km from Ahmedabad and 75km north of Bhavnagar.It covers an area of about 3,408 hectares. The vegetation comprises the best savanna of the relict Bhal grasslands. You might want to visit this place
along with Lothal as they are nearby.
Getting There & Getting Around
Ahmedabad is the hub of Gujarat's transport network. There is an international airport here with direct flights to the UK and the USA, as well as frequent flights to Delhi, Goa, Madras and Mumbai (Bombay). Plenty of buses operate around Gujarat and to neighbouring states, ranging from standard-issue battered meat wagons to luxury air-con private fleets. Ahmedabad is not on the main broad-gauge railway line between Delhi and Mumbai, but there are frequent connections to both of these cities as well as to Palitana, Kutch and Jamnagar, and elsewhere within Gujarat.
In the ancient times "Gurjars" a caste of people came to this part of India and settled down and hence the land was called "Gurjari". Later in modern times this changed to Gujarat by which it is currently known. Gujarat is the birth place of many who played an important role is shaping modern India. The list of illuminaries is endless. Dayanand Saraswati the founder of the Arya Samaj belongs to this state and so does the Ironman of India - Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. But in modern times no Indian so completely captured the Indian masses and had such a deep effect on so many throughout the world as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948). The state will always be remembered as the birthplace of the FATHER OF THE NATION - Mahatma Gandhi.
The people of Gujarat are found in almost every nook and corner of the globe. In general "Gujaratis " are very courageous and enterprising entrepreneaurs. Mainly involved in trade and professional services, Gujaratis are very peaceful and hard working.Gujaratis are found in almost any country from Fiji to Finalnd! Gujaratis' are mainly vegetarians and also by law no alcohol can be sold in the state in order to revere the Father of the Nation - however sadly enough this is not so true and enforcement of the law is very weak.
People of Gujarat speak Gujarati, which like many Indian languages is derived from Sanskrit, the mother of almost all languages in India. The literature of Gujarat is rich in poetry. Narsinh Mehta is considered to be the pioneer of Gujarati poetry. The great poet is believed to have lived in the town of Junagadh on the west coast of Gujarat in the earlier part of the 15th century. Even today in Gujarat his poems are in integral part of the curriculum in Gujarati. Much work in the Gujarati literature has its origins mainly in 15th through 19th century. Zaverchand Meghani a great patriotic poet once said "the literature of any language reflects the culture of its people." The words are as true today as they were then.
Even in the modern times, after independence, the quality of literature has not dwindled even though the contexts in which literature is written have changed. While being very contemporary it has been able to blend the traditional in it remarkably well. It has also benefitted from a new breed of people I term as thinkers - the most noteworthy being none other than Chandrakant Bakshi. Although my favorite author till date is the well known humorist Tarak
Information has been compiled using a variety of sources including:
- Lonely Planet Guides Travellers' Reports on India
- Pujan Publishing