Dotted with walled cities and small characterful villages, Gujarat is a corner of western India well worth exploring. Amongst unique experiences in the region, this trip visits Gir National Park in search of the rear Aisatic lion and travels to the salt pan scenery in of the Rann of Kutch. Gir National Park -Search for Asiatic lions and other wildlife amongst the forests and valleys of the park Ahmedabad - Take a heritage walk around the city's main sites and visit Gandhi's ashram Mumbai - Sightseeing tour including visit to Dharavi, the 'Slumdog Millionaire' quarter
Arrive in Mumbai; traditionally known as Bombay, the city is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra. An exciting place to start our journey, it is the most populated, richest and one of the most vibrant cities in India. For those arriving on time today our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 1.30pm for the welcome meeting and to give us our first taste of the colour and chaos of the Mumbai with a visit to the area where the film 'Slumdog Millionaire' was set; a thriving and industrious quarter called Dharavi which is home to more than a million people. We'll wander through the narrow lanes and alleys learning how the people live and the incredible ingenuity that sees them thrive. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (BOM), which is 1.5 hours/20 km from the airport. Please note that if you wish to join the Dharavi tour today, you must arrive at the hotel by 1.30pm. If you are booking your own flights, we recommend giving yourself at least 1 hour to clear the airport. From the airport to the hotel is around 1.5 hour's drive, so therefore the latest your flight can arrive is 11am. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
After breakfast we continue our exploration of Mumbai. On Malabar Hill we drive past the Towers of Silence which were constructed by Parsis fleeing persecution in Persia during the 17th century. As Zoroastrians, their dead were deposited in these towers to allow nature to dispose of their bodies. We also visit the Mahatma Gandhi Museum where we'll learn a little about the great man's life and ideas through an impressive collection of books, photographs and letters. Finally we take a walk around the Colaba heritage area, visiting the honey-coloured Gateway of India which was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary and was the place where the last British troops left India. In the afternoon we board our train to Vadodara. The journey is around five hours and is a great opportunity to mix with the locals as we leave Mumbai behind and pass through countryside, towns and villages. Please note that alcohol is prohibited in Gujarat and can be difficult to acquire.
This morning we explore what was once the largest private residence in the world. The Laxmi Villas are a sprawling palace complex four times the size of Buckingham Palace and a stunning example of Indo-European architecture. Exploring the ornate palace and attractive gardens, we'll gain an insight in to the privileged lives of the Maharajas. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Champaner - Pavagadh is an hour's drive away and is our next port of call. Consisting of numerous temples, palaces and fortifications, the oldest parts date from the 8th century, while many of the most complete buildings are from the period that the site became the capital of the region in the 1500s. After a couple of hours at the site we drive to the largest city in Gujarat, Ahmedabad, a journey of around 3 hours.
The UNESCO World Heritage City of Ahmedabad is home to impressive Indian-Islamic monuments, exquisite Hindu and Jain temples, and old carved wooden houses that are unique to the city. Wandering through the streets before it gets too hot is a great way to see the all the sights while soaking up the atmosphere and starting to acquaint ourselves with Gujarat and its people. Highlights of the walk include the 19th century Swaminarayan Temple Kalupur, the famous Jama Masjid Mosque which dates from 1423, and a stop for a traditional Guajarati breakfast of Fafda - a type of cracker made of chickpea flour, Gathiya - a savoury snack made from spiced besan paste, and Jalebi - an Indian sweet made of coiled batter that is fried and steeped in syrup. In the afternoon we'll learn more about the 'Father of India' as we visit Gandhi's ashram. Although close to the centre of the city, the location on the banks of the Sabarmati River is surprisingly peaceful. We'll see the small room in which he slept, his famous spinning wheel and round glasses, and learn about his spiritual teachings and non-violent opposition movement which was largely orchestrated from here.
We have a five to six hour drive to Bajana today with a couple of very interesting stops along the way. The first is at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Rani Ki Vav, or the 'Queen's Step Well', which dates from the 11th century and is one of the largest and grandest step wells in India. The next stop will be at Modhera where we will visit the well-preserved Sun Temple. Built in 1026, it is dedicated to the Hindu sun god known as Surya. It has a huge, perfectly designed water tank, an ornate 'hall of gatherings' with carvings from the Hindu epics, and a main temple with more carvings depicting daily life.
An early start this morning as we board jeeps to search for wild asses in the 'Little Rann of Kutch'. This large salt marsh is a protected area and the last refuge of the Indian wild ass, a majestic animal with a reddish-brown coat and white underbelly that is more reminiscent of horses than of other species of ass. We return to our hotel for breakfast before leaving for Bhuj, a drive of around five hours. There are a couple of interesting stops along the way including the weaving village of Bhujodi and Aina Mahal in Bhuj. Known as the 'hall of mirrors', a beautiful palace that's almost 300 years old and which contains an impressive 15 metre scroll depicting a Kutch state procession.
This morning we visit several villages of the Kutch area meeting the tribal communities where the locals have distinct cultures and customs, unique to their tribal ethnic group. They often pass down skills from generation to generation and have a particular craft that they are well-known for. The Lohar community of Nirona village, our first stop, are traditionally blacksmiths and are the only people in the world that still practice Rogan art where designs are painted on to cloth to create colourful saris. Then we will enjoy tea and fresh Mawa (milk cheese) with the Meghwal people of Bhirandiyara village. The women of the tribe are renowned for their exuberantly detailed costumes and jewellery, and their circular homes are decorated with elaborate mud brick and mirror artwork known as Lippan Kaam. At Ludiya Village we'll meet more Megwhal people and the Samma tribe, Muslims that consider themselves to be descendants of the Rajputs that once dominated north and central India. Finally, a pretty hamlet called Dhordo is our entry point to the salt-pan desert. We'll spend a couple of hours here exploring the vast landscape, and enjoying the surreal scenery.
A five to six hour drive will take us to Jamnagar. On the way we visit Ajrakhpur village, which is famous for a block printed cloth worn by local tribes and Maringana Village of the Rabari Tribe. Traditionally nomadic cattle and camel herders, they are known for their distinctive dress of their womenfolk and the tattoos of magical symbols that adorn their necks and arms. On arrival in Jamnagar we will visit the Bala Hanuman Temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Rama and famous for its continuous chanting which has been going on since 1964. We can witness this incredible act of devotion and even join in if we like, which will make us part of a Guinness World Record!
This morning we will take a walk around the Lakhota lake, home to different migratory birds in season. We will also visit the local market in Jamnagar, famous for brass objects and textiles. Afterwards we will drive for approximately three hours to Dwarka, a coastal town that has the unique status of being one of the four principal holy pilgrimage places of Hinduism, as well as one of the seven ancient towns where the gods descended to the mortal world - Krishna in this case, an incarnation of Vishnu who is said to have made the city his capital in 3000 BC. In the evening, we will visit the Dwarkadhish Hindu temple in time for the aarti ceremony. The intricately carved seven-story temple towers above the town and the main shrine has been dated to 100 - 200 BC and legend says the temple was built by Krishna on a piece of land that was reclaimed from the sea. The small lanes around the temple are dotted with tea stalls and seashell jewellery sellers and the nearby Ghats lead down to the Gomti river close to where it meets the sea.
Early this morning we have the option to visit the Mangla aarti ceremony at the Dwarkadhish Hindu temple before a four to five hour drive to Gir National Park. The national park is the only place in the world where Asiatic lions can be seen in the wild.The park has varied terrain of rugged hills, high ridges, densely forested valleys and wide grassland plateaus. It is relatively small which gives us a good chance of spotting the lions and there is plenty of other wildlife to look out for as well, including several species of deer and antelope, leopards, langur monkeys, striped hyenas, honey badgers, ruddy mongoose and a huge variety of birds. We begin our exploration of the park with a late afternoon jeep safari accompanied by an expert park guide.
We'll head out early this morning for a dawn safari in the national park, returning to the camp for breakfast before driving to Bhavnagar, a journey of five to six hours. On arrival in Bhavnagar we take a drive through the town before checking in to our hotel. There will be the option to visit the small Barton museum which houses archaeological remains from the region and has a floor dedicated to Gandhi.
Leaving very early with a packed breakfast, we drive for around an hour and a half to Shatrunjaya Hill. The name means 'place of victory against inner enemies' and is sacred to followers of the Jain religion, who consider it to be the location of the first sermon delivered by the 'teaching god' of the present period of time. There are almost 900 Jain temples clustered on top of the hill's two peaks, and many more on the hills nearby. The oldest dates from the fifth century but most are from the 19th century when the hill saw an intense period of temple building. There are over 3000 steps to the top and it generally takes around two hours to make the climb. We aim to be there before the heat of the day to make the walk to the top as comfortable as possible, and palanquins (a litter carried by porters) can be hired. For those that don't want to make the climb, there are walking routes through pleasant countryside around the bottom of the hill. Leaving Shatrunjaya, we head for Ahmedabad via Lothal, a journey of around five hours. An incredibly old site, Lothal was a small village from 3700 BC and became one of the most important cities of the Harappan culture from 2300 BC. There is evidence that the people of the city worshipped a fire god and may have followed Vedic religious practices.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Ahmedabad. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Ahmedabad at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to depart from Ahmedabad's Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport (AMD), which is 30 minutes from the hotel.
12 Break Fast(s) 2 Lunch(es) 4 Dinner(s)
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