Our West India Highlights tour will take you off the beaten track usually taken by tourists to a journey across Gujarat and Maharashtra, where you will find some of the most beautiful textiles, fabrics, and secret treasures and gems of India. You are assured of an exceptional experience that will be forever etched in your memory. Explore history and civilizations from the beginning of time going back 5000 years, up to modern India’s independence. You see majestic palace hotels and be captivated as you meet and interact with exotic tribes, visit ancient caves & temples, see colorful textiles and natural spectacles such as the Asiatic lions. This trip is sure to enchant and delight you!
Our friendly representative will greet you after you have arrived in Mumbai and transport you safely and in comfort to your hotel centrally located in Mumbai.
Mumbai, formally known as Bombay, is historically and culturally rich, with a population of an estimated 20 million people. Its infrastructure is a combination of ancient caves and colonial-style buildings designed during the period of the British Raj at the time of British rule. This remarkable blend is indicative of the diversity of the people and this astounding city. It’s a bustling place with markets filled with vendors selling almost anything possible.
Mumbai provides highly contrasting tones, from Bollywood’s glitz to the crowded existence in the Dharavi, the world’s largest slums. Despite its sultry and clammy temperatures, which actually add to the adventure, visitors will never be bored in this city of “a million hawkers”. The atmosphere is electrifying with finger-licking foods served straight-from-the-streets; all part of what fascinates and compels many to the country and people of India.
Overnight in Mumbai.
Mumbai’s primary landmark is the Gateway of India, which was envisaged after King George V visited in 1911. This monument, located on the waterfront and overlooking the Arabian Sea, was officially opened in 1924. After its opening Gateway of India was considered to be the city’s most popular attraction and was the first sight for visitors arriving by boat, hence brandishing the power of the British Empire. Ironically, it also was the last exit for the British troops on 28th February 1948 as they left India at the end of British rule. This stunning structure is a mix of architectural concepts with a combination of features from the Roman triumphal arch and Muslim designs of the 16th century Gujarat.
Our next stop is Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya previously known as the Prince of Wales Museum, designed by George Wittet who was also the architect for the classical Gateway of India. It is the home of thousands of exhibits and artifacts revealing the ancient history of India, an astonishing collection of figurines and miniature paintings. These fantastic pieces will take you back in time to the Indus Valley civilization, the Mauryas, the Guptas, the Rashtrakutas, and the Chalukyas. Only a stone’s throw away is the prestigious Elphinstone College, a university campus thought to be one of India’s oldest colleges built in the late 19th century. Its splendid Gothic-Victorian-style architecture abounds with stone turrets, balconies, and gargoyles,
Our tour will take us to the historical railway station Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus or Victoria Terminus Railway Station, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2 July 2004, which operates as the headquarters of the Central Railways. It was designed by Frederick William Stevens and completed sometime between 1887 and 1888. This railway station boasts a High Victorian Gothic design and is an astounding example of a combination of indo-gothic architecture, with a mind-boggling sophisticated structure for a 19th-century railway. There is no doubt, that the next stop will remain etched in your mind forever as we arrive at Dhobi Ghat, popularly named the ‘world’s largest laundromat’. Thousands of laundry washers, known as dhobis, occupy long-stretched rows of concrete wash pens and use flogging stones to launder dirty linens and clothing collected from willing householders and institutions in Mumbai. For the tourist the scene is surreal and the task appears tedious. However, to these specialized washers who converge on this washing area, it is their livelihood and a practice that represents the remnants of old India and shows what is actually the daily life of thousands of Indians.
In the evening the renowned Marine Drive Promenade will set the scene for a relaxing and refreshing evening stroll. This promenade, built in the 1920’s on land that was reclaimed, is also affectionately known as the “Queen’s Necklace,” because when viewed from a raised position, the street lights resemble a pearls necklace. Lined with palm trees, the Drive stretches from Nariman Point by the skyscrapers to the base of the Malabar Hill and Chowpatty Beach. If ever there was a desired place in Mumbai for tourists and locals to cut the pace and take it easy, it is indeed this “C-shaped” 4.3-kilometer-long boulevard, with continuous views along the coast. Marine Drive is a real estate paradise with the most expensive and in-demand apartment blocks in the city.
Overnight in Mumbai.
This excursion is an exciting mixed bag of adventure . After a delicious breakfast you will be taken on the Mumbai Slum tour in Dhavari Slums –known as “Asia’s largest slum” and also famed by its part in the film Slumdog Millionaire, in which several scenes of the slums were shot. This tour will take you beyond the idea that all Dhavari has to offer is poverty and enlighten you about its rich history, its diversity, people and culture. You will be presented with a Dhavari that drives small scale industry to a $600 million dollar annual turnover, with industries such as embroidery, soap manufacturing, making papadum, pottery making, leather tanning, baking, recycling and an extensive range of commercial activity. You will be fascinated by the skills, innovations, and industrious nature of the people of Dhavari and you may also ask yourself how so much can be done in so little space. Experience the community spirit in the areas! Visit the temples, mosques, and churches which stand side by side, reflective of the diversity of the people who come from all over India to live in Dharavi.
Ride on the Ferry across the harbor to Elephanta Island, so named by the Portuguese after finding an enormous carving of an elephant where they first landed. Explore a maze of sixth century underground caves, reachable by ascending a flight of more than 100 steps to the hill top and spread- out over an area of approximately 5000 square meters. A web of courtyards, corridors, shrines and the main temple are all dedicated to Shiva and are overshadowed by a colossal, 20ft central statue, portraying the god in his three-headed form who creates, preserves and destroys.
Return to Mumbai.
The delectable flavors of India’s exotic cuisine will titillate your taste buds at the iconic Khyber Restaurant at Fort Mumbai, frequented by celebrities. Feel welcome from the moment you enter the Urdu couplet decorated wooden door, into the charming interior with its aged oil lanterns and frost weathered woodwork. Dine in an atmosphere imbued with the rich heritage of India and contemporary pleasure. Sit among the images of ancient Mughal royalties on the walls and mammoth urns.
Overnight in Mumbai
We fly out early this morning headed to Aurangabad near which are the Ellora and Ajanta caves, the UNESCO World Heritage sites that appear to be hidden secrets when compared to India’s other attractions.
After we land and have been transferred to the hotel we will then venture out on a full-day excursion to the Ellora Caves (35 Km). Ellora has 34 ancient caves that were created sometime between the fifth and tenth centuries by Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist monks. Most amazing about these caves are the way they were built. Carved from the top to the bottom – the priests’ first steps were to burrow out the ceiling, then work their way down constructing hefty pillars along the way. The caves at Ellora have followed the changes and extensions of religion over the years in India. From the last part of the 8th century as Buddhism declined up to the rebirth of Hinduism that came after the Gupta dynasty returned and the 9th and 11th-century Jain resurgence.
The first dominant structure we will see is the Kailasa Temple, also referred to as Cave 16. The Kailasa, a model of Shiva’s mountain-dwelling, is thought to be the biggest monument ever carved from a single huge stone on earth. Measuring some 33m deep by 81m long and 47m wide, this structure is a stunning piece of work. It is believed that over three million cubic meters of rock were removed to form it and it is carved all over in the most detailed way. The courtyard is fresh and ventilated, as the outer walls open to it and are enveloped by columned compartments on three sides and fixed into the depth of the cliff. Plumb in the middle, is a temple also intricately carved and standing on its own, hedged in by lines of life-size elephants, who themselves over the centuries have been vandalized, with many of them losing their trunks. A plethora of sculptures representing events from the Ramayana, which is the traditional Hindu epic in the Maharashtra region and can still be read with ease, are also visible. Opposite the Kailasa Temple is a massive spread of rock pervaded with even more caves, that in some instances compete in stature and detail with Kailasa, showing even more legends and extending deep into the mountain. The Jain temple caves of Ellora are distinctly extravagant and flamboyant, being totally covered in decorations of gods, flowers, and animals. The Buddhist versions of Ellora are the ascetic, modest, tunnel curved burrows, with enormous depictions of Buddha that are visited by gold and burgundy clothed monks and lit by the occasional candle. The Hindu caves were carved long ago when the interpretations of the holy texts were less stern and gigantic statues openly display the activities between the erotic gods and goddesses in the obscure retreats of the temple. They are indeed the sassiest of all the caves.
Stay Overnight in Aurangabad
Lost for centuries and rediscovered by accident by a British army officer on a tiger hunt in 1819 are the Ajanta Caves (105km). These caves remain somewhat unspoiled and the shrines which are also carved in detail and the compelling murals, still remain in good condition despite their age. Getting to these hidden contoured caves takes some doing and if you want to find the best ones it will take some stamina. Not to fear though because the resourceful locals will be happy to take you up on their palanquins or put differently, kitchen chairs tied to broom handles. One of the big attractions of the Ajanta caves and their unique selling point are the astonishingly detailed wall paintings.
In contrasts to Ellora, Ajanta’s caves have been well-preserved and scholarly theories abound as to why the paint on Ajanta’s deepest caves are still mind-boggling bright and attractive given its depth and darkness. Many of them cite the presence of candles and mirrors as the reason. Caves one and two exhibit sophisticated wall paintings with images of bare-breasted nobles, handsome princes and princesses with jasmine tiaras suffering because of unrequited love on love-seats and swings, while sensuous girls dressed in bare essentials like their jewels and girdles dance beside ponds. Very contrasting images are close by a monk with an orange robe and shaven head in deep meditation, a recluse in search of salvation, a group of aged followers trying hard to hear the teachings of their leader. Overpowering everything else is paintings of Bodhisattva, someone who can reach nirvana but puts it off out of empathy for suffering people. There are also paintings of otherworldly beauty, grace, and benevolence, half-closed eyes, swinging on the brink of illumination.
Every temple is erotic and emotive; at times even touching and comical, but the last, which is left as bare rock, houses a monumental sculpture of a Buddha at rest, caught eternally forever in the exact time of nirvana. You must see Ajanta’s best caves now! Authorities are worried about the damage being done to them as a result of the thousands of visitors’ breath on the murals and plan to close them off to everyone but scholars. Massive replicas of the best will be placed in the car park before closing them.
After lunch, you will fly back to Ahmedabad via Mumbai. Overnight in Ahmedabad.
This morning we start the guided tour of Ahmedabad, a mini metropolis also known by locals as Amdavad the former capital city of Gujarat . Located on the Sabarmati River it’s a fusion of the old and new worlds; one half charming the other half bustling and rich with culture ready to be explored. Ahmedabad has an outstanding history and is also known for its fantastic bazaars, old-school architecture and exceptional traditions. Ahmedabad is a fascinating maze of cultural discoveries.
Transfer to the Hotel upon Arrival.
Sabarmati Ashram, the suburban sanctuary and home of ‘the Father of the Nation’ Mahatma Gandhi will be a highlight of this tour. Though, a humble dwelling, it played a major and significant role in the history of India, as the starting point of the famous Dandi March in 1930, led by Gandhi to protest against the British levied salt tax. Gandhi’s sentimental yet simple living quarters, have been maintained and a museum with emotional and informative records of his life and teachings have fittingly been established there. Quite the contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city, Sabarmati Ashram exudes a quiet and peaceful atmosphere, reminiscent and comparable to Gandhi himself and his commitment to peace and non-violence. Without the sharpening of swords or the pulling of a trigger, having no wealth, office, or political status, he was able to inspire civil rights movements in India and all over the world.
Our next stop is one of India’s best-specialized museums The Calico Museum of Textiles, established in 1949. It is the creation of Ms. Gira Sarabhai who instigated the collection of the finest and most exquisite fabrics from several parts of India. Today it sits in new surroundings with gardens, tranquil walkways, courtyards, fountains, and charming backdrops made with the same textiles, demonstrating how they can be utilized. It presents an elegant exhibition of the textiles of India in exceptionally preserved galleries. The Calico Museum is home to the most extravagant, woven, spun, printed, and painted fabrics from various parts of India, over five centuries and showcases the brilliance and exceptional skills of their makers. A collection of Indian marble, sandstone, bronze icons, and busts can be found in the two segments of the gallery for religious and historical textiles. The “must- sees” in the museum are the double-ikat cloths made from 100,000 threads each of which were separately dyed one by one before weaving and the famed Kashmiri shawls which took no less than three years to create.
Life in the old city of Ahmedabad is vibrant and full of vigor. People are everywhere, sharing, chatting, and trading. It’s a busy bustling city, with many bazaars and the voices of sellers hustling for the best prices or buyers trying to bargain for the lowest deals. The mouthwatering smells emanate from the food carts and fill the atmosphere and in the midst of it all divine blessings are offered by the gods. There’s a lot to take in on this tour and we will do so on foot, walking the narrow lanes of old Ahmedabad, hedged in by walls with many small neighborhoods, ornamental facades, havelis, artisan workspaces and some magnificent Hindu and Jain temples.
On our Guided Heritage Walk, we encounter and learn of the heritage of Pols, generally pronounced as “Poles,” which are small neighborhoods and communities situated in the old section of Ahmedabad. The word ‘pol’ originates from the Sanskrit word pratoli or gate. There are over 360 of them in the old part of the city, with each one having its own bird feeder known locally as “chabutra”, its own entrance, secret walkways known only to those living there and their own entrance. This is indeed a place of interest, occupied by remarkable carvings, buildings, and statues. It is also rich in history, which can be seen as we explore the guards’ cabins, the Pol’s gateway networks, cul-de-sacs and secret passages that were used by the people to keep them safe for almost five centuries in the troublesome times of rioting, social unrest and war.
Eating in Gujarat is different, and your taste buds will savor an abundance of flavors; some sweet, some salty, and others spicy. A thali or meal is normally made up of dal or kadhi, which is a lentil or curd dish containing pakoras, rotli or ‘Chappattis’ or ‘Roti’ which is a form of bread, rice and shaak/sabzi a sweet and spicy vegetable dish. Sweet desserts made of milk, nuts, and sugar as part of a thali are also served. The meals are mostly vegetarian even though there is an abundance of seafood available on the long coastline. But, not totally so as chicken, lamb and goat are sometimes added.
Dinner will be at the grand Mangaldasni Haveli known as The House of MG located in the center of Old Ahmedabad. It is said to be over 200 years old, and its wooden architecture is one of the finest anywhere. Dinner is served at the Agashiye Restaurant, on the terrace of the Haveli. You will be treated to freshly prepared food from a menu that changes every day.
Overnight stay in Ahmedabad
We will say goodbye to the intriguing city of Ahmedabad after breakfast and say hello to the tribal region of Poshina, which is to the north of the state. This humble and charming village that has maintained its traditional lifestyles, was a part of the Darbargadh Poshina Royal Estate and is about 180 Km away, taking about 4 hours to reach.
On the way we will visit Adalaj ki vav or Adalaj Stepwell, an exceptional Hindu ‘water building” built by Muslim King Mohammed Begda for Queen Rani Roopba in 1499. It is a spectacular blend of Indo-Islam architectural work, made up of five distinctively designed columns and walls plastered with stunning carvings. Admire the artistic expressions exhibited on these stone walls, of ordinary men and women performing their daily chores; from menial tasks of stirring buttermilk to the more sensuous acts of lovemaking, Kings positioned on their stools and the devotional inspiration of the gods. Indeed a fusion of styles, with Islamic patterns mixed with Jain and Hindu symbolism. Two attention-grabbing depictions to look out for, are Kalp Vriksha, representing the tree of life, and Ami Khumbor a symbol of a pot that contains the water of life, both creatively carved from a single stone. Also take a look at the Navagrahas, which is a collection of the nine planets forming part of Hindu worship and thought to divinely protect from evil spirits. The outer walls with a beautiful display of flowers and leaves motives, murals of patterned designs and birds and fishes, flaunt the superb talent, creativity, and skills of the ancient artisans.
In the barren and partially barren regions of India, it is customary to find step-wells particularly in states like Gujarat and Rajasthan which are normally dry. In Rajasthan the name given for step-wells is Baoli or Baori whereas in Gujarat they are called Vav. In the earlier days they were very important for pilgrims and caravans seeking a place of rest and rejuvenation and were so intelligently designed that very little sunlight was able to get into the lower levels thereby keeping them cool during the daytime hours. The step-well also facilitated the social life of the villagers and provided a cool place for women from the neighboring villages to relax, pray, interact with each other, engage in a little gossip and return home when the temperature cooled.
Our journey to Poshina continues. On arrival, we check into the 19th-century Darbargadh Palace, the past residence of the former royal family. The palace is both an architectural wonder and of historical significance. We will spend two nights there. Darbargadh Palace stands majestically above the Macchu River with its extravagant and spacious suites, carved sandstone pieces, wallpapers of silk, and marble balconies quite fitting for a royal visitor. Its location in the midst of a village enables us to pay a visit to the tribal villages of the Garasias, Bhils, and Rabaris, which are nearby, tomorrow.
Overnight Stay in Darbargadh Palace.
Quite a contrasts to our visits to the exquisite restaurants and our stay in the royal palace, our trip today takes us through Poshina on a personally guided tour to a place where you will interact with the tribes of the region and get a better understanding of their way of life. Poshina is home to communities such as the pastoral Rabaris, the Bhils, and the Garasias, The unique crafts, and traditions of each tribe have been preserved, are clearly distinguishable, and easily identifiable. The Rabari tribe is known for its ornaments of silver, the Bills for their skills in arrow making, and the Garasias for their vibrant and multicolored clothing. There are no fancy and extravagant houses or buildings in these communities. What you will see are the humble and modest dwellings of the tribal people, with two or three rooms separated by mud walls and a small, attached hut used for keeping the cattle. On entering the communities, you may feel that you have been set back in time into the stone age, but you will be greeted with warmth.
In Poshina, we will visit some small shrines of terracotta ritual horses that are positioned under the banyan trees in bunches. From the gathering of clay until it completely crumbles, the terracotta horses of Poshina give an idea of the beat and pulse of Indian life which focuses on birth and re-birth creating a cycle that connects to nature for thousands of years. The people of Garasia are staunch believers in ancestral worship. Based on tradition, the spirit of Bhavesingh, a mighty warrior who represented the tribe, lives in Bakhar hill. Garasias consider him a God and present as an offering to him terracotta horses, which according to them he uses as his mount in troublesome times. Upon praying and making their offering, they believe that the spirit inside the horse is taken in by the deity and anything left will crumble. Simple methods are used to make the Rathwa terracotta horses. Cylinders normally created for tiles become legs, the bigger pots are used as torsos and a small pot becomes the mouth.
Shopping in these communities is simple: no flair and no frills! What you will get though is authentic craft and jewelry coming directly from their creators. In this small village of Poshina, you will experience the potters skillfully crafting terracotta horses, the jewelers creating their own thickset tribal adornments and one- of- a- kind tribal bazaars, with a display of local craftsmen shaping their daggers and swords in the heat of the fire. There are not many shops in these communities and few if any cater for tourists. But there are a few silver shops with uniquely designed silver earrings, anklets and tribal rings. You can purchase your jewelry directly from the jeweler at the cost of only the silver and no added tourist price. In the local markets, you can take your pick from an extensive variety of traditional glass bangles often worn by the Indian women or choose from a selection of crop tops also known as ‘cholies’ that are worn under women’s’ saris.
From Poshina to Dasada, The Great Rann of Kutch. Enroute visit Rani-Ki-Vav Stepwell, Discover the art of Patan Patolas Sari Weavers, Sun Temple at Modhera
Rani-Ki-Vav is where we are headed today as we drive west after breakfast. Also known as the Queen’s Stepwell, Rani-Ki-Vav is astounding and one of the oldest and best-preserved landmarks in India. This ancient step-well was ordered by Rani (queen) Udayamati in 1063 AD as a memorial to her late her husband King Bhimdev I of the Solanki dynasty. It has had its share of disasters and though it overcame the Muslim devastation, it could not counter the floods and went under the Saraswati river. The carvings were maintained in immaculate condition after centuries of silt work. Further to that, the Archaeological Survey of India carried out a welcomed renovation in the 1980’ restoring it to its former glory.
The Rani-Ki-Vav Step Well was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Monument in 2014, as a result of its popular water harvesting architectural design. An important lesson about Rani-Ki-Vav is that it is not only a step-well, but it is also perceived to be an underground temple for the worship of water. An exploration of its distinctive sculptures of Apsrasas, a celestial nymph, the Hindu gods, and part- celestial creatures, express the excellence of the architecture and art of Gujarati in medieval times. As we travel along, we make a stop at Patan. Here, we will see the one-of-a-kind fine art of Patola weaving of Double Ikat by the award-winning Salvi family, who are the sole creators of such work in the whole of India. The ancient heritage of India’s textiles is adored in Patola otherwise known as Double Ikat. These fantastic creations are so ingenious, that both sides have the same strength of color and design; in other words there is no wrong or right side. That makes this art supreme above others. It’s vibrant and dazzling colors, the glitz of precious gems, longevity and excellent designs always appeal to the heart of textile enthusiasts.
The legendary thought is that at some point in the 12th Century AD, King Kumarpal of the Solanki empire requested that as much as 700 families of Patola weavers from Jalna (South Maharashtra) come to Patan in North Gujarat and make it their home. The Salvi family was part of the group who settled their and has continued and preserved the artistic tradition to this day. The art of Double Ikat or Patola weaving can be found way back to the earliest centuries and you will find a similarity between these paintings and the ones in Ajanta caves, in terms of the tie-dye technique.
Patola art, however, is facing possible elimination as this 750-year-old art form is only done by a mere four families in India, all of them living in Patan. It is an exciting spectacle watching the master weavers doing their work right before your very eyes, with amazingly huge looms and with such sophistication. After falling in love with the saris you can have your own creation woven on request but remember that completing these exquisitely weaved garments could take up to one year.
Further at Modhera we will visit a monument of unsurpassed beauty, the age-old Sun Temple. This ancient temple built in 1026 AD was devoted to the Hindu sun god Lord Surya. and was built in accordance to shilpasastra, which is “the Science of Śilpa (arts and crafts)”. The architecture in this building takes into consideration not only its visual artistic beauty but also its purpose. Designed so that the first rays of the sun would reflect on the image, the equinoxes stream in an inflection through the doorways to the walkways onto the image on the inside compartments as the temple is positioned towards the east. The rays of the sun glimmer in the corridors on its pillars and arches and give life to the graven image creating a bright and glorious appearance.
Similar to the other temples in India, the Sun Temple has also had its share of desolation from a fundamentalist. But not even the effects of time and
Mahmud of Ghazni has been able to remove its brilliance. This impressive architectural monument still stands with grace as a testimony to the sacredness of the site. On the resplendent exterior, there are forms of deities and demons, so too on the 52 pillars that line the inner hall, remaking the famous stories from the classics Mahabharata and Ramayana on carved panels. Jewelry, costumes, performing arts, medicinal plants, and even love-making are all carved out here. The sabha mandap or hall is totally given up to the Sun God, with 12 sculpted Adityas marking out his journey through the 12 months in as many places. We finally journey to the Little Rann of Kutch where our last point will be Rann Riders, a comfy lodge at Dasada, on the border of the Little Rann of Kutch!
We will spend two days here at Rann of Kutch, Dasada, where we will have a heck of a time in the open-topped jeeps for our daytime safari, adventuring in the Little Rann and returning to Rann Riders near Dasada for the night.
Your first impression may be that Little Rann is just a desolate, vast desert area that is glaringly white and known for its illusions. But, further watching will show you that there really is a lot more to be had here. And the two days will give us ample time to experience it. India’s regal-looking Asiatic Wild Ass is a must-see and you are almost certain to do so. There is also a wealth of birdlife in Little Rann and during the summer, tidal surges before the coming summer monsoon swamp the Rann with enormous amounts of saltwater, which even after heavy rainfall are not diluted. As a result, the whole place is one expansive mud bath for the whole summer. After the rains end, this mud swamp is then quickly transformed into a vast collection of dry mud bakes and flat hard earth, with areas of saline pools that attract a large number of birds, including the bigger pink feathered greater flamingo and the smaller lesser flamingos, as well as the millions of waterfowls, pelicans, and flotillas. What a sight to behold!
The scenery in the Rann is one that is mainly desolate with sporadic areas of prickly grass and xerophites, plants that can easily grow in the dry desert areas with little water. Desert species birds, like the Asian Desert Warbler, Macqueen’s Bustard, Hoopoe Lark and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse can be found there and from time to time several Common Cranes and larks also arrive.
Overnight stay in Dasada.
After spending our last morning in Dasada we will retake our route north and then west, again journeying through the mighty Gulf of Kutch and then to Bhuj.
Bhuj is the center of “Kachchh” Kutch which is the seat of textiles in India. It is occupied by some of the most gifted and brilliant artisans and craftsmen. Here, you will find an abundance of exceptional creations such as intricate embroidery, Ajrakh block printing, Bandhani which is tie-dye printing, mirror work and Persian rogan painting, which uses a castor oil base and natural pigments and weaving. No wonder Kutch is the haven for textile enthusiasts all over the world. Other interesting features of Kutch are the Rabari men, sporting their large gold earrings and white trapeze tops (kadiyas) that buff around the waist and the attractive Ahir women in their jewel-colored clothing who belong to the 18 diverse semi-nomadic tribes living there. Each December The Rann Utsav festival is held in honor of these desert villages, people and lifestyles under the shiny light of the full moon on a silvery saltpan.
Kutch Region: Kutch was separated from the mainland of India for centuries. On one side its terrain is hedged in by the sea, whilst on the other side, it is trapped in by gruesome, treeless and obscure Rann mountains. Given that, the only way out was the sea and so the Kutchies became excellent mariners and conducted business with countries like Africa and Arabia, with some of them gradually making these countries their home. In earlier centuries, the Kutches (people of Kutch) endured a lifestyle and system that many today would find interesting. In the walled capital of Bhuj, there were five gates and throughout the reign of Rao Khengarji III from1876-1947, they were locked every night and the keys were taken to him until morning when the gates were reopened. It was only in 1948 that this system ended, when, Maharao Madan Sinhji, inherited the throne to the Indian Union upon the death of his father. Eventually in 1956 Kutch became a district in the state of Bombay, which absorbed all of Gujarat.
Kutch has been by tradition a shelter for the tribes, clans and caste escaping oppression and persecution, perhaps because of its remoteness and inaccessibility. No wonder that over the centuries Kutch has undergone a cultural evolution under the oversight of the region’s more accepting Hindu rulers the Maharaos, united by kutchi the common language of kutch, the Kori their currency (the kori) and a time measuring system. Never mind these commonalities, these communities still managed to preserve their distinctive cultures and customs, particularly in the areas of attire and DIY. Kutch’s status as a handicraft and textile mecca was enhanced by the presence of these tribes. The villages and towns around Bhuj were inhabited by nomadic tribes, who all had their own distinguished heritage and tradition that were inherited from their ancestors. The local women even in the midst of dry and unfruitful land had an intrinsic ability to create vibrant embroidery, which made their lives more colorful. Jewelry, turbans and costumes easily identify a particular community or caste.
For block printing, we make a stop at places like the Dhamadka and Dhaneti villages. We will visit the home of Muslim Ajrakh block printers at Ajrakhpur, where vegetable dyes are mainly used. Having naturally dyed fingernails is normal for Sufiyan Khatri, as he makes the most amazing and creative block prints in his workshop in Ajrakhpur. Khatri and his family are like legends in Kutch for those who are lovers of Ajrak block prints that are naturally dyed.
Over the centuries Gujarat ruled the seaborne cotton trade and to this day is still a key manufacturer of block prints. This form of textile printing is believed to have existed from around 3000 BC and some historians think that its origins were in India. Archaeological proof from Mohenjo-Daro, confirms that mordant dyeing with its complicated method was on in the subcontinent starting around the second millennium BC.
Transfer to Hotel after arriving in Bhuj.
Kala Raksha Vidyalaya is where we stop over after lunch, First established after proposals by artisans in 1993 in Kutch, this public organization teaches over 200 artisans to make modern-day creations influenced by their own ancient traditions and is committed to the traditional craftsmen and textile producers near Bhuj. On this visit, we get to interact with the artist about the styles and techniques used to print, weave, and embroider. The Trust is meticulous about its documentation of current traditions and preserves an heirloom textile collection that is part of a local museum. Face-to-face we get the opportunity to talk with and watch the craftsmen as they work and share their joys and challenges with us, in the midst of several blocks, looms, colorful yarns and threads. Kala Raksha Vidyalaya is now run by the American author of “Threads of Identity”, Judy Frate
A full day’s excursion will be had, as we venture to the various Banni Tribal Villages. Here, there is a scenery of several humble homes, “bhungas” or circular mud huts with thatched or tiled roofs, with a pole for central support and enveloped by a large community courtyard. On the inside they are beautifully decorated with textures, paintings, mirror work, small earthen shelves for utensils, storage hollows in the wall, colorful doors and tiny windows, Extravagant embroidered garments and quilts make up their personal collections. Walls, grain containers, shelves and cupboards are all ornamentally designed and molded with mud, then rinsed with lime paste and implanted with mirrors bouncing off hundreds of reflective rays.
In this village you will also see an extensive selection of handicrafts and textiles that take on a look similar to tie-dye printing, leatherwork, woolen shawls, glass beadwork, and much more. As we continue our excursion, we will encounter the people of the Harijan Community in Sumarsar village which gets its fame for its scoof embroidery and are also creators of lace. Then we move on to Mundra Village, to see how sheep wool is made. The women of this community are quite hospitable and though somewhat shy around the male visitors, you will still feel welcomed in their homes.
Rabari’s are a tribe who migrated from Jaisalmer and Sindh and they are rich in culture and particularly distinctive. We will meet them in our excursion to Mosuna village, which is inhabited only by the Rabari tribe. To this day this tribe leads a semi-nomadic lifestyle and lives in small settlements around Kutch. While the men who are normally attired in a white dress and a turban focus on rearing cattle, the women in their colorful handmade garments and traditional jewelry, occupy themselves with house decoration, embroidery, weaving and blanket making.
Overnight stay in Bhuj
Nirona and Hodko’s craft centers are where we will visit today as we journey deep into the area north of Bhuj.
VISIT NIRONA VILLAGE: This village is where “Rogan Art,’ the 300-year-old Persian art, has been performed up to today by Mr. Gaffoor Khatri, a National Award winner. He will demonstrate the science and art of making Rogan Art, created by using castor oil and natural colors with a classic variety of techniques and themes. The Khatri’s are the only family in India who carry out this age-old art form. There is more to see in Nirona, as we visit the Lohar tribe to see copper bell making and the Vadhas tribe who are very skillful at changing simple pieces of wood into brightly colored household items.
EXPLORE HODKA and Dhordo Villages: Hodka village is a fantastic representation of the beauty of Kutch’s Banni region. It’s heritage and traditions and the creativity exhibited in their artistic work such as textiles, mirror work, weaving and a variety of local craft, makes this region especially attractive. Watch as the local women magically create the finest embroidery with their fingers. You will be welcomed by the local schools and villagers and meet NGO groups that work hand in hand with the locals. The cutest pictures of all will be the ones taken with the eager and exciting kids quite willing to pose for a snapshot. This colorful village will charm you!
As we continue in the afternoon we will head to Ludia Village and have a look at the Wood carving, Meghwal Embroidery, and Mud Bhungas (houses) with their colorfully painted walls.
We will enjoy lunch at a relatively new business the Sham e Sarhad, Village Resort (Sunset at the Border) Hodka. It is a local community project, with its style and brilliantly colored interior designs magnificently showcasing the beauty of the local culture, history and people. It has proven to be quite successful and has infused life and new skills into this region.
Overnight in Bhuj
Bhuj, the old town, offers a diverse blend of historic buildings and bazaars with architectural designs dating as far back as the 17th century. Unfortunately, an earthquake in 2001 caused enormous destruction to some of these buildings. We will stop at Aina Mahal Palace which is now a museum popular for its Hall of Mirrors (Aina in Hindi means mirror). Here you will get to view the private collection of paintings belonging to the Maharaja; royal furniture, ivory work, textiles, arms, manuscripts and several other items worth seeing.
Next, we visit the Kutch Museum, which is the home to miniature paintings of the Kutchi lifestyle from the 17th century, a 7th-century statue of Buddha, a 17th-century cannon with an inscription by Tipu Sultan and an amazing 18th-century wooden master work-of-art, of the god Indra’s mount- Airawat from Mandvi. Along with this stunning showcase you will also view vintage jewelry, coins, textiles and artillery. Visit the Chhatris which are the Royal Cenotaphs, a string of stone tombs wonderfully sculpted in 1761, depicting honor and pride and where one of Kutch’s most celebrated rulers, Maharao Lakho’s ashes are buried, along with the ashes of 15 dancing girls, who then grief-stricken, threw themselves into his burning furnace.
When our exploration of Bhuj ends, we will head off to Mandvi’s coast of the Arabian Sea. Mandvi previously boasted a port that was flourishing, when seafarers sailed to the distant Zanzibar, the Red Sea, China and Southern Africa. Today it’s not the same but you can enjoy adventurous camel rides or consider the more affluent times of this area as you view its architectural remnants.
Check-in after a late morning arrival. Rest and relax on this day at your leisure. It’s all up to you! Perhaps you’ll relax and put your feet up in the lavish tents off the Palace’s private beach or spend some time in the clear cool waters at the beach.
Maybe, you prefer to bird or windmill watch, or enjoy a stroll or camel ride.
Visit the Vijay Vilas Palace an astounding portrayal of architectural merging by the sea that has been an inspiration to the creation of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Lagan, the legendary Bollywood Movies. The palace is a stunning mixture of Indo-Islamic and Gothic architecture and was constructed by artisans from, Saurashtra, Rajasthan, Jaipur Bengal and the local Kutchi artisan society.
Another must-see, is the exceptional shipyard in Mandvi which really is the main attraction. You will be fascinated by what you will encounter; huge, hand-made, ocean bound Indian hardwood ships just like those of old, that traversed the Arabian Sea loaded with horses, Hajj pilgrims and spices. You will think about how these ships once transported early East India Company adventurers, Dutch and Portuguese immigrants.
Stay overnight in Mandvi. Indulge in the sweet thalis, the tasty vegetarian meals seasoned with a mix of local spices and the deliciously prepared fresh fish from the coast. Gujarat offers up a delightful culinary cuisine!
We travel to Dholavira today, early in the morning (225 Km)
Beyond the thousands of acres of dry and barren land which seem never-ending, there is a wealth of history to be uncovered. Stories about the rise and fall of civilizations will be unearthed and you will be part of a thrilling adventure both here and at Lothal. Prepare yourself for a five-hour journey. It will be well worth it!
Dholavira is one of the two largest Harappan sites in India and also the fifth biggest on the subcontinent of India. Quite similar to Lothal, Dholavira experienced all the phases of the Harappan culture from approximately 2900 BC to 1500 BC. This town has several characteristics that suggest it was thoroughly planned. The Citadel in the center is joined by well laid- out lanes to the lower and middle towns and there is enhanced sanitation by the inclusion of an underground drainage system. Interestingly, one of the first water conservation systems in the world, can be found in Dholavira and this has allowed it to prosper although the land is dry. The relics give an understanding of the downfall and obliteration of these civilizations before such systems. Among the remains of a lost society of Dholavira you will find terracotta pottery, seals, animal figurines beads, gold and copper, jewelry and tools. Also well worth mentioning are 10 huge stone inscriptions in the Indus Valley, with a script that continues to be baffling. It is also thought to be possibly the world’s first signboard.
Spend the night in a modest guest house in Dholavira.
After breakfast, we will journey 320 km on to Gondal. It will take some 6 hours as we stop for lunch and take a few pictures of the scenery around us. In the late 19th and early 20th century Sir Bhagwatsinhiji, the famous visionary leader was instrumental in implementing social changes, developing and planning the town of Gondal and his initiatives made Saurashtra the model state that it is.
Transfer to the Heritage Hotel Orchard Palace upon arrival!
In Gondal there are three impressive palaces Riverside Palace, Orchard Palace and Naulakha Palace, all now transformed to heritage hotels. After lunch we move on to Naulakha Palace which dates way back to the 17th century and is the oldest existing palace in Gondal. A classic & vintage car collection belonging to the owner is displayed. We will then go to the Huzoor Palace the present home of the royal family.
Overnight we will stay at the Orchard Palace or Riverside Palace and will travel there for an evening of relaxation and a fill of Gujurati’s delicious food.
The 19th century Orchard Palace is fittingly named from the mango, lime and chikoo groves in its back. It is a wonderful place to stay with a serene and peaceful retreat and an enduring Chekhovian atmosphere. “A pair of owlets are nesting in a tamarind tree near your room.” There are peacocks parading on the lawns and delicious servings of food on lengthy dining tables. This seven-room heritage hotel is fitted with art deco furniture of the 1930s and ‘40s, handicrafts and antiques. Riverside Palace is a structure of grandeur built-in 1875 by Bhojrasingh ji. The descendants of the Jadeja Family, the present ruling family of Gondal preserve the palace.
After a morning here, we will travel to the well-known Gir Lion
Sanctuary and National Park, the lone residence of the Asiatic Lions in the world. A visit to the beautiful Gir Forest provides you with an opportunity of a lifetime to experience a face to face encounter with this huge beast, as it lives like a king in in its natural environment.
Transfer to your comfy, blissful camp on the exterior of the sanctuary.
In the afternoon we will explore the Gir Forest as we go on a Game Safari. Gir is the only refuge for the Asiatic Lions, which were almost extinct after overhunting reduced their numbers to a measly 12 animals. This was a significant contrast in number from the earlier years when these lions could be found from Gir all the way across to Bihar in Northern India. Fortunately, the Maharaja established the sanctuary, which resulted in an increase in the lion population moving from twelve to 423 lions. So much so, that calls have been made for a larger area to house this rising amount of lions, as the 1452 square kilometers of rugged country hill allotted to them is too small. These lions are different from the African species in both appearance and sociability, with the Asiatic lions having shorter manes and an obvious skin fold on the underside, and less sociable. An encounter with these glorious animals is almost inevitable and one to look forward to. In the Gir we are also sure to see other animals like the Chinkara (Indian Gazelle), Chital (Spotted Deer), Wild Boar, Sambar Deer (native to Indian subcontinent), and Nilgai (Blue Bull Antilope). We will also see the spectacular leopard and a range of new species, like the Indian Black Ibis, Crested Hawk-eagle, Spotted Sandgrouse, Rock Bush-quail, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, White-bellied Minivet and the Tawny-bellied Babbler.
Go back to your accommodation, have dinner and stay overnight. Enjoy the post dinner Sidi Dance by dancers of tribes from African origin!
Head to the the Gir National Park for a morning Game Safari, then return for breakfast at the resort!
After you have enjoyed your breakfast, our drive takes us to the town of Palitana, where we find the holy hill of Shatrunjaya, India’s main Jain pilgrimage site, that draws worshipers from everywhere in the world. Here there are 900 Jain temples. It is the aspiration of every sincere Jain to climb the mountain at least once in their lifetime because of sacredness and to achieve nirvana which signifies a state of awareness, purity and liberation. The climb is about 2,000 steps, cut out of the rocks in the 13th century to explore the marble-carved temples. If you think you can’t make it there are bearers who are ready and willing to take you to the top for a small fee. No need to be daunted. Inspired by the sharp ringing bells and the murmuring of rites from the citadel above, you can make it to the summit via the short route in less than an hour.
Once you have made it to the top, you will see that it was worth the climb.
The city of temples is an incredible sight, with spires and towers hedged in by solid protecting walls. It is still a serene and beautiful place even in the midst of the crowds and positive energy seems to flow as you view the scenes of the smooth pastureland below. There is no overnighting, not even for the priests as this temple city was constructed as a habitat for the gods. There are stringent climbing rules in place in keeping with the Jain faith. Visitors are not to carry any food, must get back to the bottom of the hill before sundown and leather items are not permitted.
Overnight in Palitana.
After a delicious breakfast, we will drive to Vadodra (formerly Baroda). Vadodra which sits on the banks of the Vishwamitri River has a long, rich history of culture and trade for over two thousand years. After the expulsion of the Mughals from Gujarat in the 18th century by the Marathas, the Gaekwad clan who were their local lieutenants claimed Vadodara as their capital. Even up until independence in 1947 and during the British rule Vadodara kept a high level of self-government.
As we go, we will make a stop at Lothal, a lost city hidden on this archaeological site, which some 4500 years ago was one of the most significant parts of the Indus Valley Civilization having cities like Mohenjodaro and Harappa, that stretched to what we now call Pakistan.
The meaning of Lothal in Gujarati is ‘mound of the dead’ as does Mohenjodaro in Sindhi. The amazing facts about Lothal’s trade, architecture and urban planning are that it was a civilization well ahead of its time, as the other places in the world were struggling throughout the dark ages.
Archaeological diggings have unearthed what is considered to be the world’s oldest known artificial dock, that was joined to the Sabarmati River and linked the dock to the Gulf of Cambay. The possibility that there was trading at the port between other people from Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia, was enhanced with the finding of seals that suggested such activity. Its capacity appeared to have been a holding of 30 ships of 60 tons or 60 ships of 30 tons which is similar to the modern-day port of Vishakhapatnam. The idea that the inhabitants were quite sophisticated and advanced is confirmed in the findings of the remnants of their collapsed homes, detailed drainage systems and the layouts of the streets. It is hard to believe that such a civilization once prospered in the Indus Valley.
Remnants of this lost society are maintained in the site museum and give a clearer picture of the history of the people. There, you will see showcased seals, jewelry, bead, exact weights and measures, earthenware, games and toys, ceramic jars, figurines of both animals and humans, and an artistic picturing as to how Lothal might have looked in the times of success. A stop at the museum will enlighten you about Lothal’s civilization as you explore and excavate its ruins. This site is most appreciated as an archaeological landmark.
On arrival Vadodra
we will transfer to a hotel!
Laxmi Vilas Palace is the most remarkable Raj-era palace in Gujarat donning an Indo-Saracenic style. That’s where we will visit in the afternoon. Laxmi Vilas built in the 19th-century was designed by architect Major Charles Mant and finished after he died by Robert Fellowes Chisholm. The story goes that Major Charles Mant was a perfectionist and after concluding in his own mind that he had made an error and that the palace would not stand for a long time, he hung himself. Ironically even after 125 years the palace remains sturdy and strong and is still home to the Gaekwads, Laxmi Vadodara’s royal family. It is beautifully made up of extravagant interiors, brandishing mosaic floors that are well-maintained, stained glass windows, sculptures of Felici, artworks and chandeliers.
The Jain, Rajput, Moghul, Marathi, Gujarati along with Venetian and Gothic designs are fused creating a universal architectural style. This fusion is also representative of the resources used in its construction, as both foreign and local materials and labor were involved. From Agra, there was red sandstone, from Pune blue trap stone and Rajasthan and Italy provided the marbles. Additionally, twelve of the workmen who laid the gorgeous mosaic floor of the Durbar Hall in the palace were from Venice. With Italian styled courtyards, fountains, meticulous woodwork on the balcony, modern facilities like electric bells, internal telephone systems, elevators, and western plumbing it is considered to be one of the most expensive palaces built.
This amazing palace was built only for the Maharaja and the Maharani, the king and the queen on a massive 700 acres of property, with 170 rooms and a golf course. The king also built a small railway line to transport his children to the school and palace.
Food in Vadodara is a delicious blend of Gujarati and Marathi cuisine and a “must-try” dish for the taste buds is the peoples’ favorite Mahakali Sev Usal.
Overnight in Vadodra
It’s back to Ahmedabad today (196 Km).
As we return we will visit The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park.
Find solitude and serenity, not in a Hindu ashram, but in the 16th Century ancient city at the Champaner- Pavagadh Archeological Park.
Muhammad Begada chose to set up Gujarat’s new capital at Champaner an age-old city compound situated at the foothills of Pavagadh. He changed the name of the town to Muhammadabad in 1484 AD. The town was built in 23 years and became quite famous as a great town of India and a key center for trading products like dyed and woven textiles, also the making of silk, and sword manufacturing. During these 23 years several structures were erected; town squares, Royal Gardens, bazaars and water structures and not forgetting mosques.
The walled Citadel of Champaner, which was previously desolate now accommodates the Islamic pre-Mughal city. From miles around there can be seen sandstone monuments, monumental mosques and palaces, fort walls, ruined tombs, arches, gardens and wells going as far back as the 8th to the 14th century and is a distinct reminder of other abandoned towns of India such as Hampi, Fatehpur Sikri, Mandu, and Orchha.
During your travels throughout the world, a love for Islamic art and architecture may have evolved. Perhaps in Morocco, Turkey, Malaysia or Spain you may have visited and adored the structural and landscape designs and their fusion to create modest yet elegant mosques. Accentuation with a hint of Hindu style similar to that of Champaner presents a magnificent sight. The prized feature at Champagne is the mammoth Jami Masjid, a fantastic combination of Islamic and Hindu ornamental styles, with an entrance through a porch, onto a grassy courtyard protected by tall minarets. The interior is even more fascinating with columns speckled by the sun, huge rosettes on the ceilings, and even a partitioned area from a woman.
When you arrive in Ahmedabad, you can choose to stay in Ahmedabad or Transfer to the airport for the onward flight.
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