Spotlight on: Gujarat

Gujarat is a region of contrasts blessed with a rich cultural heritage, stunning wildlife and the continued practice of traditional arts and crafts. Not many venture to this forgotten corner of India, but those who do return with fond memories of its unique experiences and wonderfully hospitable people.

Gujarat’s history as an area of competing princely states has left it with a collection of historical monuments to rival those of neighbouring Rajasthan. Beyond history, Gujarat is the last remaining refuge for the Asiatic Lion in the wild and its textiles are renowned for their quality. These are just some of the reasons why Gujarat should be on your radar when considering a return trip to India.

In this travel guide we give you all the information you need to know on why Gujarat should be included on your next trip to India.

When to visit Gujarat?

Like the rest of India, the best time to visit Gujarat is between November and March when the weather is pleasant with little rainfall. There are several notable festivals which take place on an annual basis which any culture seeker would find interesting.

Navaratri is a Hindu festival lasting nine days usually falling in September or October. One of the state’s most important festivals, it is a time for Hindu communities to gather and celebrate through performance arts. The most visible celebrations are group dances called garba often accompanied by a live orchestra and sometimes reaching sizes of hundreds or thousands of people.

On the 14th January the state of Gujarat holds the annual International Kite Festival with the largest event taking place in Ahmedabad. In the lead up to the big day many families sell handmade kites from their own homes and Ahmedabad’s markets are flooded with kite buyers and sellers. Participants come from all over the world and for one day the sky above the city is filled with thousands of kites making for an unforgettable experience.

How to get to Gujarat?

The easiest way to travel to Gujarat is to fly into the state’s largest city, Ahmedabad. Several middle eastern airlines offer flights to the city with connections from London, Manchester, Birmingham and other major UK cities. Ahmedabad is also well connected to many of India’s gateway cities such as Mumbai and Delhi.

Eschewing flights and travelling into the state overland is also an option. Ahmedabad is a six-hour drive from Udaipur providing the opportunity for a combined Rajasthan and Gujarat itinerary. The journey can be done in one shot or via an overnight stay at Mount Abu, a scenic hill resort at the highest point of the Aravalli Range. Ahmedabad can be reached in around eight hours from both Indore or Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh.

Where to stay in Gujarat?

The variety of hotels is limited in Gujarat when compared with India’s more tourism focused states. But overall, there is a good mixture of accommodation available – ranging from charming heritage hotels to small lodges. Its history of princely states has left Gujarat with a collection of former royal palaces and forts. Like Rajasthan, many of these royal properties have been converted into charming heritage hotels.  These heritage stays are a highlight of any trip to Gujarat, but with fewer international visitors they lack the polish of their rivals in Rajasthan.

A couple of our favourite heritage stays are:

  • The House of MG in Ahmedabad is a stately heritage property with plenty of old-world charm and a rich history: the property proudly hosted Mahatma Gandhi on his return to India from South Africa in 1915.

  • Nilambag Palace is the home of the erstwhile royal family of Bhavnagar and is now run as a 27-room heritage hotel.

What is there to do in Gujarat?

From ancient traditions, amazing wildlife and warm, welcoming people, there’s plenty on offer for the intrepid visitor to Gujarat. The state’s rich history has been recognized by UNESCO with the granting of four world heritage sites including the impressive Rani-Ki-Vav step-well in Patan.

It’s impossible to mention all the fantastic experiences in Gujarat, but this is what we consider to be the state’s top cultural and wildlife experiences.

Best history and culture experiences:

  • Ahmedabad: While Ahmedabad is Gujarat’s largest city and commercial hub, the city retains strong links to its past. The historic old city has several beautiful mausoleums and mosques and is home to a textiles industry which has been thriving for centuries. So steeped in history is the city, it was the first in India to be declared a UNESCO Heritage City. Walking amongst the bustling bazaars and traditional havelis of the old town is one of the best ways to experience India of old.

  • Palitana temples: This mishmash of temples atop Shatrunjaya Hill has been a work in progress for 900 years. The hill is one of the most sacred sites of the Svetambara tradition within Jainism and is still a site of pilgrimage. Successive generations of Jains have added their own temples since the first was constructed in the 11th century. The collection of temples and shrines are exquisitely carved in marble justifying the hill’s status as an abode for the Gods.

  • The craftwork of Bhuj: The former capital of the princely state of Kutch, Bhuj is a hotchpotch of narrow, noisy streets, Hindu temples, and royal palaces. The town continues to be a centre for producing world class textiles and silverwork. The fantastic Shrujan Museum showcases the diversity of style of the local ethnic groups and is a must visit for textile aficionados.

Best wildlife experiences:

  • Sasan Gir: The thick, forested landscape of Sasan Gir is home to the world’s last remaining population of wild Asiatic lions. Far fewer visitors come here compared to the parks in Rajasthan and central India making for outstanding wildlife viewing. While there’s no denying the lions are the star attraction, the park is home to a plethora of other wildlife including hyenas and sloth bears.

  • Velavadar National Park: Just off the main route linking Bhavnagar with Ahmedabad, the Velavadar National Park encompasses a large area of protected grassland. The area was formerly the private hunting reserve of the Maharaja of Bhavnagar but is now home to the highest concentration of blackbuck in the world. As well as blackbuck the park is home to numerous species of bird and not to be missed by enthusiastic birdwatchers. The blackbuck can be spotted year-round but the rutting period in early March is one of the best times to visit on a safari.

  • Little Rann of Kutch: This area of desert is inundated during the monsoon but once the rainwater evaporates it is transformed into possibly the most startling landscape in India. You may think that miles of salt marsh would be a barren and desolate place, but it’s one of the most biologically diverse corners of India. The Indian wild ass is undoubtedly the star of the show, but a game drive here is an opportunity to explore an area teeming with wildlife.

The unique experiences and amazing wildlife are just some of the reasons this often-forgotten corner of India deserves more attention. Our Highlights of Gujarat tour has been designed to showcase the main highlights of the state. But a bespoke itinerary can be tailored should you wish to focus on the wildlife or the arts and crafts of Gujarat.

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