Exotic and far away, we had set ourselves for our next destination. Our trip to Gujarat started in Ahmedabad. Not only the temperatures between 27 and 30 degrees attracted us but also the fact that this part of India is still quite unknown in tourism. Located southwest of Rajasthan and north of Mumbai it is certainly not one of the priorities among those who choose India for their trip.
The highlight in Gujarat was definitely the sacred mountain of the Jains in Palitana. Also the colonial period Diu is beautiful and definitely worth a stop for 2-3 days. The Rann of Kutch on the border with Pakistan was very special. There are still many original villages in this area, stunning temples and a salt desert.
Day 1 - Ahmedabad
After a short stop in Bombay, here we are in Ahmedabad, the largest city in Gujarat. The arrival at the train station was already shocking. At first glance it is not an attractive city. We went out in search of a rickshaw. I indicated a synagogue on the map that I wanted to see. Above the business center of Ahmedabad, a strong sun broke in the sky.
The city has the highest density of two-wheeled vehicles in South Asia. Cars and colorful trucks also crowd along the streets, along with cows and elephants. We realize that we are in the middle of a completely strange world. It took us a long time to cross the street. Thousands of vehicles pass at full speed and in different directions. So going to the opposite sidewalk becomes an odyssey.
We arrive very early at the hotel. After a little rest I quickly leave to discover the area surrounding the hotel. The hotel is located along the Sabarmati River and I cross the huge bridge. At the end of this bridge is the old city with its markets and mosques.
We got into a beautiful restaurant. It was like an oasis, a place where you can ignore what is happening outside. We ate some Khaman Dhokla with cheese that were actually made of chickpea flour. We could not accompany it with beer because we are in a place, where alcohol is illegal.
After a while we went for a walk in order to get to a market we had seen on the way. There was not a single tourist and the people once again looked at us weird. We walked attentively to our bags, cameras, etc and at a certain moment we tried to cross to go to the street where the market is located. I saw it, it seemed to me that there were no cars and I shot off towards the other side of the street.
We drive on a beautiful flowered highway on both sides, but with a heavy traffic. On the outskirts of the city I was able to take a bus. We are going to the capital Gandhinagar, which is about thirty kilometers from Ahmedabad. We visit the great Akshardham temple. Alas, the photos are forbidden here. This temple is in finely carved pink sandstone!
We return to the city of Ahmedabad! After a delicious lunch, I go back to the old city. In front of us is the entrance to the Swaminarayan Mandir. We pass by a place where the locals coat the ropes for the kites for the festival of Uttarayan. Our steps (too fast for me) bring us to the Great Mosque.
After a tour of the city center, we visited the Jama Masjid. It is one of the most beautiful mosques in India. We enter the large spacious courtyard. It is built on the model of Champaner, but it unfortunately lost its two minarets, during successive earthquakes! The main sanctuary is lined with beautiful colonnades with beautiful calligraphy painted on the interior walls.
We enter the prayer hall. There are four large domes on the roof of this room and about 260 pillars. The narrow streets and the bustle in the old part of the city next to the Mosque is certainly an experience. In a shaded and quiet open-air restaurant, we then have our first impressions with Khandvi and chai. We have nice conversations with the fellow travelers. The majority were not on the road for the first time. So everyone had the most exciting adventure stories in stock.
We made a fresh start with the auto rickshaw. The three-wheeled motor-driven vehicle sounds like a lawnmower. We go to the Sabarmati Ashram, where Mahatma Gandhi lived. Once there, we find ourselves again in a plethora of cheerful uniformed school children. Everyone wanted a photo. The beautiful Gandhi Ashram for a moment is in the background. We enjoy the indispensable life.
The dusk is slow and the wind transports the sounds of drums and trumpets to our overnight place. There was a loud noise and a splendid firework sparks up in the sky. Opposite our hotel is a wedding ceremony. We go over to watch the colorful activity.
Immediately we get pushed in the middle of the procession towards the wedding venue. The women perform dandiya dance in a circle and make adorable oriental hand movements. Towards the back, a splendid horse-drawn carriage brings the bride and groom. In this breathtaking chariot, the two seem almost like King and Queen.
The people of Gujarat have a very curious nature and do not feel shy. They ask us "where are you from?", "what is your name?" to name but a few examples of the hospitable Gujaratis.
We decided to return to the Guest House. We entered the cafeteria and played cards before going to bed.
Day 2 - Vadodara
This morning we have a rich breakfast with fruits, eggs and a rich selection of local delicacies. After a day in the city, we are now ready for departure in the bus. As soon as we arrived at Vadodara, we were immersed in noisy traffic. We visit the Laxmi Vilas Palace. The palace is gigantic and you can hardly grasp its dimensions, let alone photograph. We finish the visit in Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum.
After this, our smiling driver took us to a restaurant, perhaps the spiciest in the world. We experience a three-course meal of Bajri no rotlo, Kadhi and Puran Poli. We leave in the direction of the small town of Sankheda, this city is known for its craftsmanship of teak furniture.
After passing the city of Jambughoda throughout our journey we crossed large forests of teak trees. We arrive in this small town of Sankheda. The houses had a resplendent charm with their openwork balconies, painted and carved. For me the streets still have a crazy charm! The city is very clean. Our guide takes us in different streets, each with its specificity.
We drive past an interesting archaeological excavation to our next great destination, Palitana. Palitana was the objective of the trip. For years, a photo published in a magazine had made us dream. All those temples lined up on top of a mountain were, with their spiky towers, like the crest of a large iguana dozing in the pink light of dawn. What would it be like in reality?
The drive to the city of Palitana is long and heavy although the roads here tend to be good and there are even excellent stretches of highway.
We go into the guesthouse. In the middle of the reception, hung a large swing where two people could sit with crossed legs talking in continuous movement, which is common in many Gujarati homes.
Day 3 - Palitana
The morning outing had to be done at late night to be able to start the ascent before dawn and get to the top when the sun still did not heat up too much. It was winter. So it was the best time of year to travel to the hot areas. Beyond the garden rises the Shatrunjaya, one of the four holiest mountains of Jain.
Our arrival by car to the place where the ascent begins provoked an exaggerated stir. Men with sticks pushed each other. With the crowd and darkness, we did not know if they wanted to beat us, because they pushed and shouted at us. These were porters who carried people in exchange for a few hundred rupees.
We arrive with difficulty to the reception office where they give written permission to take photographs. Then we rented the cane or pilgrim's stick that would help us in the climb. It had 3950 steps ahead and we had to climb them before the sun reached its zenith.
I can walk on flat terrain without problems, considerable distances, but the climbs are painful for me. It seemed an impossible trek. I was not well prepared for the trek and my flip flops made me stumble. As I observed that people went barefoot and the terrain was smooth, I took them out. The walk barefoot was better. I have always liked to feel the cool soil directly on the soles of my feet.
Luckily the steps were not high nor regular, some wider than others. In some sections the path was ascending but smooth which caused changes in the rhythm and therefore the ascent was less boring. The ascent is wonderful. After climbing about three hundred steps I could not breathe.
As I had started the road doubting my physical capacity, the fact of not being able to do so more quickly did nothing but confirm that this goal was impossible for me to achieve. But I kept going up with the help of the cane I had rented and the encouragement I received from those who came up to me. As untrained as I am, young, mature and even old, thin and fat, all moved by a faith. I overcame the first 500 steps with difficulty.
While it is clearing down, I see, down below, the plain and the river submerged in evanescent mists. A red-red sun appears on the horizon and goes up with us. There is a cheerful and relaxed atmosphere with stone benches where you can rest and talk with those who sit next to you.
Whole families make the climb. The children run around and the grandparents are brought up by the porters. They come from Bombay or from Ahmedabad or even from much farther places. All practice Jainism and must remain fast until they return to the foot of the mountain where they will be served food in a host temple.
From time to time during the road they offer people fresh water from big earthenware jars or metal jars. It is a free service to the pilgrims. We, obviously drink it. The porters, who climb faster than us, doze in the shade of the trees.
When I passed the 1000 marked on the stone it seemed to me that I would not go much further, but I stepped on the 2000 and surprised I saw that it was still ahead. The change occurred in 2500. Then I went through the stone wall.
From that moment on I climbed easily, without thinking, step by step, at a good pace, without stopping, without accelerating, like a well-oiled machine, until the end. There on the top where a forest of white temples, still empty of the devotees, reserved an extraordinary vision for me. At that moment I had the feeling that I could have kept climbing until God knows where.
After a two-hour climb, we find ourselves in the middle of the temple city. Thus I reached the top without difficulty and with my feet in perfect condition. We get amazed by the glory of this mystical place, which was of marble. The followers of the Jain religion are very friendly and peaceful people. We get into the conversation who are willing to explain the different customs. Many Jains live today in Mumbai and, if possible, once a month visit the holy mountain Shatrunjaya.
When they reach the top, men and women separate and enter the respective water centers where they bathe and change their clothes. The most surprising thing is to see them prepared to enter the temple and make the offerings. They also have their mouths covered with a handkerchief. I only watched. My goal had already been fulfilled by the fact of having arrived. Satisfaction flooded me. The show fascinated me. The muscles rested and the mind too.
Sitting in the shade of a porch supported by baroque stone columns we see for hours the bustle of the people and the waving of colored pennants attached to the lances that culminate the stylized domes of the temples. The descent was easy, relaxed and cheerful.
We return to our hotel. We have the meal. In the evening the chat with hotel owner was most enjoyable! From Palitana we take another night bus with berths for Diu, a former Portuguese enclave.
Day 4 - Diu
In the early morning, when the valleys are still filled with fog, we set out on the way through the villages. We take advantage of the dawn to avoid the tropical heat. I leave for the other side of the island to Vanakbara. It's a fishing village and early every morning it's a sight to see the boats coming back and the women selling fish right on the docks. There is an explosion of fishy smell, and noise of pelicans and seagulls, who seek to steal fish. There are all kinds of fish including sharks.
I go on a rickshaw at the Nagoa beach. I'm curious to see this beach. I'm not disappointed but this beach is far from heaven. It's just a typical Indian beach! There is a crowd. There is a restaurant that serves alcohol. The beautiful sandy beaches invite us to bathe in the surf of the Arabian Sea. The island is also one of the few places to buy alcohol and drink in public since Gujarat is otherwise a dry state.
We stroll through the town with its small streets and charming colonial buildings. We go to a small restaurant where we feasted on fish and seafood in a pleasant garden. It feels good after several weeks of vegetarianism in Gujarat.
We head to the Sasan Gir National Park, which is the last retreat of the extinct Asian Lions. In fact, three times we have the chance of watching lions in this very scenic park.
Day 5 - Junagadh
Before dawn, we continue to the picturesque Shiva temple at Somnath. We have breakfast in a small restaurant. We continue to a short city visit with leisure time to stroll around the small town of Junagadh. This place surprises us, as we do not imagine much of it.
There is exceptional architecture, such as in the Mahabat Maqbara Mausoleum and Uperkot Fort. Life in the streets is much more authentic here than in other cities. It's mostly a city that serves as a base for going to Girnar Hill, a Jain pilgrimage site on a hill.
There are 10,000 steps to climb. Some people too old or too weak or lazy are carried on chairs, dholis. The higher I climb, the more beautiful is the view. My companions stop there and pray. Thanks to them I get to know some fascinating priests, who tell me, among other things, that they hear roaring lions from time to time. I no longer look at the wooded hills around me the same way I would like to see them! At the top of Girnar Hill, there is just a small temple!
The descent is more painful than the climb. It is hot in full sun and the stairs hurt knees. In the evening we go to a restaurant.
We leave Junagadh on a night bus. We pass by Porbandar, where I would have liked to stop but we must make choices when we have lots of travel ahead.
Day 6 - Dwarka
In the early morning we arrive at Dwarka still asleep. We reach Dwarka, one of the largest pilgrimage sites. We see the magnificent Dwarkanath temple dedicated to Krishna. We tour the temple and sacred places of the area. It's beautiful and exciting but it's hot. Here too there is an old town with winding streets, for our greatest pleasure. The ghats overlook a river that flows into the sea.
In the evening we stroll on the waterfront with the locals. We are often the only strangers. People smile at us, and talk to us. We take a picture and our chai wallah regularly fills our cup. We enjoy it while watching the sunset.
We are in the midst of Navratri festival. At night, next to our hotel, women perform garba dance in honor of the goddesses Durga. They are in festive attire. The music is captivating. It's a beautiful show. From Dwarka we went to go to Mandvi in one go. So we take a night bus with berths!
Day 7 - Bhuj
After a few hours of bus we are in Mandvi, a port city. Outside the city we take a rickshaw to visit the Vijay Vilas palace. On the way we stop at the beach of Mandvi, a long beach beautiful. Here we see large wooden ships, the dhows, as can be found in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. These ships are impressive and beautiful. This small town has an old town with winding streets where it is good to get lost. Here too the reception is warm and cheery.
We leave for Bhuj. We take a time travel into the 18th century during a visit of the Aina Mahal ruins in Bhuj. The showpiece was the snow-white temple of Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. A very impressive place. Our favorite thing about this tour is the night in a temple on top of Dhinodhar Hill. As it's night, we arrive at our guesthouse in rickshaw.
Day 8 - Rann of Kutch
We leave our lovely hotel very early. This morning we drive into the depths of the white salt desert of the Rann of Kutch. A tributary of the Indus once crossed the Great Rann. We went to some villages in the desert to get to know the rare and unique craftsmanship. For the ladies, there was finally the opportunity for shopping high-quality, handmade souvenirs.
In the white salt desert, we can only drive with decorated camel wagons. Every other vehicle would sink immediately. It is an impressive view in the middle of this very special natural phenomenon. If the sun would not burn from the sky, you might think you are in the midst of a glittering snow landscape.
During a second safari in the Little Rann of Kutch, we experienced a special encounter. Endemic wild ass live here. But not only these rare animals are waiting for us. Flamingos, pelicans and other birds also wait. We leave for another part of the small rann to discover the last wild donkeys called Khur.
We arrive in a bright plain, flat without an ounce of shade. In the distance some huts in mud and straw seem unreal. We are in the heart of the salt desert. We return to our beautiful hotel. Shortly before arriving I took pictures of nomads in the main square of the village. In the evening we had at the hotel a dance show by the Banjara women.
Day 9 - Patan
After a good night of well-deserved rest, we leave in the direction of the city of Patan through a highway that is nice. There is not too much trucks. We do not drive too fast too so I can look at the landscape at my ease.
We make a stop along the way, as the side roads are invaded by huge herds of cows. We are lucky to be able to photograph Gujarati shepherds dressed in traditional costumes, all white from head to toe, with the bonus of beautiful mustaches. Later we see others with extra curls and beautiful gold earrings.
In all these stops, I take the opportunity to drink a chaas (thin buttermilk). They are always excellent and it feels good! We make a stop along the highway where the Tropic of Cancer passes.
Arriving at Patan, we see the Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen's Stepwell). Earlier the Sarasvati river flowed here. Then we visit the Panchasara Parshwanath Jain Temple. Under the blue sky, its whiteness is of an unforgettable beauty.
We have a visit to one of the most beautiful centers of silk weaving famous for the Patola, a double ikat woven sari. In Patan we have a good vegetarian Gujarati lunch before leaving for the city of Modhera to see the Sun Temple!
I go around the temple and see the various close-ups of the Guda Mandapa. I did not see the statue of Indra and the erotic friezes. At the edge of the garden, I discovered a small altar with the bull Nandi. As the time is short I soon go out. I take the opportunity to hang out a little around the minibus. Local peasant girls come out and get off a truck heading to the sun temple.
We arrive at the end of the day at about 6 pm at Dasada!
Day 10 - Ahmedabad
We stop to visit the splendid Adalaj Vav, a stepwell, also called Baoli built by Rani Rudabai. The Gujarat region was part of the Indus valley civilization. There were more than 700 wells of 15 meters deep in the Mohenjo-Daro region. Three majestic stairs allow us to go down to the lowest water level. It is cool and fresh!
We leave in the direction of the Sidi Saiyyed Mosque. We arrive in front of the beautiful Teen Darwaza. It is what remains of an old bridge built around 1415 that was part of the old fort. After arriving at the tiny mosque we discover a small pond full of water where the birds come to drink. In front of us the sun and the light show us the superb jalis. There is a text mentioning that a wooden copy was made and is located at the New York and Kensington Museum.
We leave this area for our hotel. The guide has finished his work. After a good vegetarian lunch as was the case every day, I walk away alone towards the modern part of the city. I leave quietly to the right bank of the city. I had a map of the city of Amdavad, which is the other name given to this city!
We cross the bridge over the river Sabarmati and take on the right. We are very quickly in the heart of the old town. Then I go strolling in the adjacent neighborhoods. I discover the beautiful villas, with guards at every street corner. I finish in the craft market.
After an extensive tour of the city on the last day, we packed our bags. We got invited once again to a splendid wedding, which is right next to our hotel.