With smooth roads to drive on, Gujarat offers interesting tourist spots covering historical, religious and wildlife tourism. To get the best out of a long weekend trip to Saurashtra in Gujarat, here’s an itinerary that works for all.
Arrive in Ahmedabad at a convenient hour in the day and proceed to Law Market to scout for the most gorgeous Chania Cholis, mirror work blouses, embroidered bags, and many other goodies. The workmanship is fine and the prices, quite reasonable. Using your bargaining skills, you can strike good deals. For dinner, choose Manek Chowk, a place that teems with the most delicious street food at fair prices. This place is a busy jewellery market during the day, but come night an unbelievable spread of food allures the gourmets in bright lights.
After a sumptuous breakfast of dhoklas, theplas and lots of sweets (no Gujarati breakfast is complete without at least a couple of sweets on the menu), head to Sasan Gir. The long ten-hour road journey doesn’t feel so tedious if you take frequent breaks for masala chai, fafda and jalebi: while in the car you can munch roasted peanuts as well. Check into a resort in the Gir Forest and toss restlessly for the next morning to break. That most awaited adventurous moment is just around the corner: seeing the majestic Asiatic lion in flesh and blood!!
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Gir gives adrenalin rush to the adventurous ones, and, shivers down the spine to the faint-hearted. In some routes of the forest, lions roam nonchalantly like our pet dogs in the back yard. Be prepared to lock eyes with the King of the Forest, but don’t challenge him: never mess with a wild animal, however cute it is! Sighting the lions may not happen to some: it all depends on your luck. If you see the lion and manage to take pictures without getting petrified, no need to tell you what to do next. Post the pics on the social media and bask in the glory.
In the evening visit the famous Somnath Temple, the first of the twelve Jyotirlangas. It is about 67km from Sasan Gir. On the way you will find many other temples with interesting stories to claim.
The many times invaded, destroyed and its wealth looted Somnath Temple stood the test of time, only in spirit. A small portion of it lies helplessly (having seen the worst vandalism) in a corner, shorn of original glory and wealth. Next to this sad remnant is the present temple structure built in 1950-51. Dazzling in the golden rays of the setting sun, this magnificent structure follows Chalukya style of temple architecture. A unique feature of Somnath Temple is that there is no landmass in a straight line (at that particular longitude) between Somnath seashore until Antarctica (South Pole). You can find a Sanskrit inscription to this effect on the ‘Banastanbha’ or Arrow Pillar. Live in the moment, silently enjoy the sunset, and wait till the orange ball dips into the sea. For a change, don’t take out your mobile; instead, record the splendid visual only with your eyes. You can retrieve the image any time you want, with your eyes closed.
The next morning, head to Junagadh: it is full of historical gems. Uparkot Fort’s history goes back to the Maurya and Gupta periods; there are Neelam and Manek guns- cannons left behind by the Ottoman Turks. Adi Kadi Vav has a story that two sisters sacrificed their lives so that water would spring in this well. At the Jumma Masjid in the fort, you may find a couple of pre-wedding shoots happening, the place is a favourite with the couples and their photographers.
At the nearby Buddhist Caves too, visitors can put their photographic skills to test, playing with light and shadow. A bit away, the lesser-known and the oldest Khapra Kodiya Caves are not exactly caves but rooms carved into living rock during the reign of Emperor Ashoka (3rd century BCE): they are plainest of all cave groups and considered the earliest monastic settlement in the area. You can buy right from spices sold on the roadside to ‘wonder oil’ for your aching knees near every tourist spot.
For lunch, head straight to ‘Grand Patel’, a restaurant famous for Kathiawadi food. Depending on the size of your appetite, choose either a normal one or a ‘Bahubali Thaali’ if you want to look heroic or the ‘Kadappa Thaali’, if you feel villainous.
Reserve the best for the last: Mahabat Khan’s Maqbara is simply stunning! It is sheer poetry encapsulated in brick and mortar. Islamic minarets and domes; floor to lintel French windows and the Gothic columns alongside doors and windows; built in 1892 over the grave of Nawab Mahabat Khan II (1851-82), this tomb is a mixture of Islamic, Hindu and European influences typical of late 19th- century royal monuments of Junagadh. Surprisingly, its unique minarets have stairs from the outside. The neighbouring Lal Bakhte Masjid is equally impressive and craves for your attention.
The remaining six hours of the drive back to Ahmedabad you can spend by opening packets of wafer- thin, crisp and crunchy khakras or simply doze and dream of your next destination.