Rajasthan and Gujarat
Trip Code: AITBRG
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This is a unique itinerary, linking several rural gems of Rajasthan with the fascinating and amazingly diverse state of Gujarat. Ideal for second time Rajasthan visitors.
The charms of Rajasthan and its heritage hotels are well known. Less well know is Gujarat and its amazing mix of people, culture, religion and history – one of the most diverse states in the whole of India (that’s really saying something!).
This itinerary focuses on some of Rajasthan’s less visited rural areas before continuing on into Gujarat, which is a natural extension for travellers who may have visited Rajasthan previously and are now ready to delve in deeper, and/or travellers who enjoy exploring off-beat places.
Day 1 Delhi
You will be met on arrival at Delhi, India’s capital with a population of over 22 million, and transferred to your hotel. Remainder of the day free to explore the city, or to relax before your departure tomorrow for the Shekhawati region.
Day 2 Nawalgarh
Depart Delhi for the 5-hour drive to Nawalgarh in the Shekhawati region (it’s also possible to take a train). Popularly referred to as an ‘open art gallery’, Shekhawati is famous for its beautifully painted and decorated havelis (stone mansions with a central courtyard).
One of the options for accommodation in Nawalgarh is Roop Niwas Kothi, which was constructed in 1737 by the warrior statesman, Thakur Nawal Singhji. It was originally built as a country house, which was mainly used for stabling and grazing the family’s horses. However, with its beautiful and lush surroundings the country house soon became the permanent residence (Kothi) of the royal family. It was given a makeover in 1928 and opened as an heritage hotel in 1981, without altering much of the original setting. Its serene atmosphere, old world charm and slow pace of life evoke times long past.
Day 3 Nawalgarh
Nawalgarh boasts a particularly large number of havelis. Some of them are more than 300 years old and with their facades adorned with colourful frescos depicting the whole gamut of social and religious life, they are a well worth visiting. After breakfast begin a tour of some of these havelis with a local guide, who will also take you to visit the nearby towns of Mukundgarh and Mandawa (these too are famous for their havelis).
Afternoon free. The hotel offers a number of activities such as jeep safaris, cycling, trekking, horse riding and camel rides if you are interested. Otherwise just relax, perhaps by the pool, and enjoy your accommodation here. [Image: Dhirad].
Day 4 Kishangarh
Depart for the 4-hour drive to Kishangarh with a stop en route at Sambar Lake; India’s largest inland salt lake, this wetland is a key wintering area for tens of thousands of flamingos, pelicans, waterfowls and other birds that migrate from northern Asia.
On arrival in Kishangarh, check in to your superbly sited heritage hotel, Phool Mahal Palace; the majestic Kishangarh Fort is its backdrop and it faces the vast rain fed Gundalao Lake. Afternoon at leisure. You may like to while away the time enjoying the lake view from an armchair in the marble-tiled sitting room. Otherwise, go for a wander through the town with its interesting old buildings and vibrant market.
Day 5 Kishangarh
Explore Kishangarh Fort today; built in 1649, it is an excellent example of Rajput and Mughal styles of architecture. Its turreted fortifications encompass battlements, jails, granaries, armouries and foundries. Surrounded by a deep moat, this formidable fort is one of the few unconquered forts in Rajput history.
Kishangarh Fort also played a role in enriching the arts and culture of Rajasthan. The exquisite miniature paintings of this ancient cultural state are renowned; many are on display in the fort.
Afternoon free. (This is a great place for bird watching; other activities on offer here include yoga, picnics, cycling and trekking). [Image: Deepak].
Day 6 Bera
Transfer to the railway station to board the train to Jawai Bandh (a 5-hour journey). You will be met on arrival and transferred to Bera, a small village situated in the Aravalli hills, surrounded by lakes and dams.
Your accommodation here, Castle Bera, is very special, as only four of its tastefully designed rooms have been opened to guests. Thus, you can have the place to yourselves and enjoy a homely atmosphere and the hospitality of the host himself.
Day 7 Bera
Take an early morning jeep safari, during which you are almost guaranteed to see leopards, plus many different bird species and occasionally crocodiles. Stop for morning tea at Jawai Dam. Afterwards return to Castle Bera for a leisurely breakfast.
Remainder of the day free until late afternoon when you set out on a village tour, including a visit to the local temple. Return to Castle Bera early evening for dinner.
Day 8 Palanpur
Depart Bera for the 3-hour drive to Palanpur. Your accommodation here, Balarama Palace, is situated amidst the Aravalli mountain range, in the 542 sq kms of Balaram Ambaji Reserve Forest, at the tip of North Gujarat bordering Rajasthan. Once the hunting retreat of the Lohani Nawab of Palanpur, this heritage hotel is set amongst 5 hectares of terraced lush green gardens and flowerbeds. Check in on arrival and afternoon free to relax and enjoy your peaceful surroundings.
Day 9 Dasada
Depart Palanpur for Dasada (a 3-hour drive), with a stop en route at Patan, a lovely old town of Jain temples, carved wooden houses and the elaborate Rani ki Vav step well; it is also home of the famous patola silk saris.
Continue on to visit the magnificent Sun Temple at Modhera before arriving at Dasada and your accommodation here, Rann Riders, an eco-resort built with local materials. Remainder of the afternoon at leisure.
Day 10 Dasada
Take early morning and late afternoon safaris to the Little Rann of Kutch. Though a bleak landscape, it is rich in biodiversity and is an ecologically important area for wildlife and many local and migratory water birds such as cranes, pelicans, flamingos, ducks (in flocks of several thousand during winter) and land birds such as sand grouse and Indian bustards. It is also home to various unique mammals such as the Indian wolf, Indian desert fox, black buck antelope, chinkara gazelle, jackals, and Nilgai. However, it is most well known as the world’s last refuge of the Indian Wild Ass (khur).
Day 11 Bhuj
Set out for Bhuj this morning – about a 6-hour drive. Bhuj is a very relaxed city – you can just wander around without being hassled and there is plenty to see. You may like to shop for locally produced crafts or explore some of the many local bazars with their various items on display including embroidered quilts and garments, wall hangings, glass bead work, leather articles, handicrafts, textiles, ‘Rogan’ art, etc.
Day 12 Bhuj
Spend today exploring Bhuj. Visit Aina Mahal, an 18th century palace, designed in a mixed Indo-European style, and Prag Mahal, a 19th century palace in Italian Gothic style, located next to it (a climb up the stairs of the 45 metre bell tower offers an exhilarating view of the city).
You may also like to call in to the Kutch Museum, the oldest in Gujarat, founded in 1877. A section of the museum is devoted to tribal cultures, with many examples of ancient artefacts, folk arts and crafts and information about tribal peoples. It includes exhibits of embroidery, paintings, arms, musical instruments, sculpture, precious metalwork – and much more.
Day 13 Bhuj
Take an excursion to the Banni region today (Banni means ‘a cluster of villages’). Visit small villages in the middle of the desert, close to the India-Pakistan border, where you will come across master crafts people engaged in their traditional work – from ornaments, clothes and utensils, to minute mirror designed embroidery. In fact, everything they use is hand crafted – you may well feel as if you have stepped into a lifestyle museum!
Visit Hodka where you will meet artisan families, learn about their livelihoods and customs and admire their fine embroideries (Pakko, Neran, Kambhiro, and Applique to name a few) and leatherwork. Harijans and Muslims are the main communities of the village of Ludiya. Here the main occupations are monsoon farming, cattle rearing, woodcarving, embroidery work, mud-work and wall painting for decorating homes. The village of Dhordo has beautiful traditional mud houses (bhungas) with mirror work and fine Mutwa (Community) embroidery with tiny mirrors.
Day 14 Morvi
After breakfast begin the 3.5-hour drive to Morvi, stopping to visit Rabari villages around Mandvi, some of the most picturesque in Gujarat. Mandvi is known for its 400-year-old shipbuilding centre; ships constructed here roamed the Indian Ocean and made Kutch a maritime power. Local carpenters still make ocean-going dhows in much the same way that their ancestors did centuries ago.
Continue on to the small town of Morvi, situated on the banks of the Machhu River. Your accommodation here, the 19th century Darbargadh Palace, romantically reflected in the waters of the river, encapsulates all the glory and magnificence of a century of patronage by Maharajas. One of the most unique heritage hotels in Gujarat, it has seven suites, named after members of the Morvi ruling family, each with a bedroom with a view, and a sitting area with access to a veranda or terrace. Wooden stairways lead to marble galleries that skirt the palace, while spacious public areas lead out to a palm-fringed garden.
If you opt for the 14-day itinerary you will fly from Bhuj to Mumbai for departure on an international flight or to connect with a domestic flight to continue travelling in India.
Day 15 Gondal
Depart today for Gondal – a 2-hour drive – with a stop en route at the Watson Museum in Rajkot. Built in 1893, it is one of the largest and most comprehensive museums in Gujarat and it provides an excellent introduction to the cultural heritage of the region (Saurashtra).
After a short visit, continue on to your heritage accommodation in Gondal – either Orchard Palace or Riverside Palace. Both are lavishly decorated with textiles from the former Maharanis’ collections, period furniture, antiques and artefacts, and are reminiscent of the days of the Raj. Afternoon at leisure.
Day 16 Gondal
Spend today enjoying your accommodation and exploring Gondal. A highlight for some of a stay at the Gondal Palace hotels is the opportunity to see the royal garages, housing vintage and classic cars; they house 32 cars from the world’s most reputed brands, such as Ford and Mercedes, dating from 1915 to the 1970s.
Visit Naulakha Palace, the oldest extant palace in Gondal, dating back to the 17th century. It has legendary stone carvings with exquisite jharokhas (balconies), a fabulous pillared courtyard, delicately carved arches, and a unique spiral staircase. The large chandelier-lit Durbar Hall contains stuffed panthers, gilt wooden furniture, and antique mirrors. The private palace museum houses an impressive collection of royal memorabilia such as hand-painted toys of the late 19th and early 20th century, silver caskets that carried messages and gifts for the Maharajah, elephant howdahs and royal portraits.
Continue on to view some of the city’s historic buildings and visit the centre promoting weaving at Gondal, Khadi Plaza, one of Gujarat’s major handloom weaving units.
Day 17 Palitana
Depart this morning for the 3 hour drive to the hilltop Jain temple town of Palitana; a city of gleaming marble monuments, it is an essential holy pilgrimage destination for Jains. On arrival, check in to your hotel – a palace nestled in 450 acres of lush greenery; remainder of the afternoon at leisure.
Day 18 Palitana
Visit the Jain Temples of Palitana this morning. This extraordinary temple complex – comprising about 863 temples crowning the two ridges of Shatrunyaja Hill – was built by generations of Jains over a period of 900 years, from the 11th century onwards.
The temples, exquisitely carved in marble by master craftsmen, are veritable prayers in stone. The most important temple, covered in ornate architectural motifs, is that of the first teerthankara, Shri Adishwara. Other notable temples are those of Kumarpal, Vimalshah and Sampriti Raja.
The top is reached by climbing (or by being carried up) more than 3,000 steps – a stiff 2-hour ascent. Amid the massive warren of white marble shrines and temples, you’ll encounter many devotees dressed in white, some wearing gauze masks to filter microbes from the air that they breathe (to prevent the unintended killing of the microbes). Some of the devotees attain ecstatic heights, practising their faith with devotional singing, clapping, and humming. Others create devotional patterns on the ground using rice and nuts, or are seen gently waving flywhisks over idols as a gesture of respect.
Day 19 Ahmedabad
Depart for Ahmedabad today – a 5.5-hour drive. You have the option of a stop en route at Lothal. Dating from 2400 BC, Lothal is one of the most prominent cities of the ancient Indus Valley civilization. Discovered in 1954, it was excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India. Its large dockyard – spaning an area of 37 metres by 22 metres – is the earliest known in the world. It connected the city to an ancient course of the Sabarmati River on the trade route between Harappan cities in Sindh and the peninsula of Saurashtra when the surrounding Kutch desert of today was a part of the Arabian Sea. It was a vital and thriving trade centre in ancient times, with its trade of beads, gems and valuable ornaments reaching the far corners of West Asia and Africa. Adjacent to the excavated areas stands the Archaeological Museum, where some of the most prominent collections of Indus-era antiquities in India are displayed.
Continue on to Ahmedabad. Located on the banks of the river Sabarmati, Ahmedabad was founded in 1411 by Sultan Ahmad Shah, who attracted traders and skilled artisans, and in the process established a formidable merchant class. Today it is Gujarat’s largest city (with a population of around six million) and is an immense repository of tradition, history and culture.
An intriguing mix of the ancient and the modern, Ahmedabad is home to some of the finest Indo-Saracenic mosques and Jain temples in Gujarat and the elaborate havelis of the wealthy Guajarati Sethia class are part of the city’s living heritage. The old city with its narrow, meandering streets is one of the finest examples of community living with its conglomeration of 600 pols (small neighbourhoods), divided according to caste and occupation. After independence international architects Louis Kahn and Le Corbusier were commissioned to build modern architectural marvels in the city.
Day 20 Ahmedabad
This morning take a sightseeing tour of the city. Begin at Siddi Saiyed Mosque. Erected in 1572, a part of the wall in the old citadel of this mosque is renowned for its exquisite stone window tracery – a superb and peerless example of delicate carving that transforms stone into filigree.
Continue on to Gandhi Ashram. In 1915, on a quiet peaceful stretch of the Sabarmati River, Mahatma Gandhi set up a simple retreat, Satyagrah Ashram. For many years it was the nerve centre of India’s freedom movement. The ashram now contains a memorial centre and a library. Hridaya Kunj, the simple cottage where Gandhi lived, is now a national monument and preserved as it was during his lifetime.
End your tour with a drive to the village of Adalaj, 17 kilometres north of Ahmedabad, to visit its step well. A fine example of this magnificent architectural form, Adalaj Vav is richly carved, every pillar and wall surface covered with leaves and flowers, birds and fishes and friezes of ornamental designs.
Transfer to the airport this evening for departure to Goa or Kerala for some R&R or international flight home.
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