|Mahabat ka Maqbara, Junagarh. Photo courtesy|
Literally meaning the “Old Fort”, Junagad is a fortified city steeped in history. Sprinkled with Mosques, temples both Hindu and Buddhist and other historical structures, Junagad was ruled by the Babi Nawabs till India’s independence. Interestingly, the Nawab of Junagad wanted to side with Pakistan after partition but since majority of populace was Hindu, Nawab had to leave his princedom and flee to Pakistan.
Junagad is mostly overlooked by tourist and serves mainly as the base to visit Gir National Park. But this city is home to some marvelous historical monuments. Mahabat ka Maqbara is one such example of exquisite architecture. You can also find a Ashokan Rock Eddict here. Several Jain Temples are also located close to the city build on the tops of Girnar Mountain which could be reached by the flights up stairs.
|Akshardham Temple in Gandhinagar is close to Ahmedabad|
Ahmedabad, the fifth largest city in India, is the commercial hub of Gujarat and also one of the best places to be in Gujarat. The city is renowned for its deep rooted culture, exquisite architecture and exuberant people. Ahmedabad was founded by the King Karnadev in 11th Century and was named after him as Karnawati untill Sultan Ahmed Shah invaded the kingdom in 1411 and renamed the city after himself.
The tourist attractions in Ahmedabad include Bhadra Fort, well laid out historical buildings, mosques and lakes. Mahatma Gandi's ashram, known as Sabarmati Ashram is one of the major draws of the city along with the nearby modern marvel Akshardham Temple in Gandhinagar.
|Jhoolta Minar or the Shaking Minarets in Ahmadabad|
Bhadra Fort, Jhoolta (shaking) Minarets and Teen Darwaza are the historical wonders in the city. Natural beauties include the emerald Kankaria Lake and Vastrapur Lake.
For cultural immersion, visit Ahmedabad during the major festivals that are celebrated in this city. Uttarayan (Makar Sakranti) and Navratri are two most famous festivals here that are celebrated with great zeal and gusto. The International Kite Festival is celebrated here with great gusto and kite flyers from around the world gather and showcasing their kite flying skills.
Other specialty of Ahmedabad is the sumptuous cuisines. The city is renowned for its ice-creams thanks to the white revolution and abundance of dairy products in the state. The local penchant for sweets is renowned as well. Gujarati specialties include Dhokla, Khandvi, Srikhand, Haandvo and Bhajiya amongst others. For food lovers Khau Galli in Law Garden area and Khan Pan Bazaar in Manekchawk is the place to be for the authentic taste of Gujarati cuisine.
Splurge: Stay in Ginger Hotel or Lemon Tree for a luxurious stay. Hotels to suit the pocket of everyone are available in plenty in Ahmedabad.
Off the Beaten Path Excursion Adalaj ka Vav
Adalaj ka Vav a 5 storey step well located just 18 kilometers from the heart of the city is a must visit place even if you are not into architecture. Adalaj Vav was constructed in 1499 by Muslim king Mehmud Begda for Queen Rani Roopba, widow of Veer Singh, the Vaghela chieftain.
|Adalaj ka Vav or the Adlaj Step well|
The step well or 'Vav', as it is called in Gujarati, is a spectacular specimen of fusion of Indian and Islamic elements of architecture. This five storey step well is renowned for its intricately carved interiors.
Steeped in history, Adalaj Vav has an interesting legend associated with it. As per the legends the Muslim King Mohammad Begda invaded, defeated and killed Veer Sing who ruled here. It is said that Begda after seeing the beautiful queen was enamored and longed to marry her. The queen promised to oblige him once he constructed the step well.
Begda ordered the construction of the step well which was finished in record time. Open completion Begda pressed the queen to fulfill her promise to marry him. But the queen, who was still devoted to her slain husband decided to end her life by jumping in the same step well. The entire episode is depicted in the walls of the Vav.
|Laxmi Vilas Palace is the prime attraction in Vadodara|
Vododara, referred to as the cultural capital of the state is one of the most visited tourist places in Gujarat. After the waning Mughals were expelled by Marathas the Gaekwads, the local generals of Marathas established Vadodara as their capital. The city offers a seamless fusion of the past and present. The city flourished and modernized under the aegis of Maharaja Sayajirao II and enjoyed great autonomy even during British Rule in India.
When it comes to things to do in Vadodara, you may visit Kadia Dungar Caves, the Lakshmi Vilas Palace, Nazarbaugh Palace, Makarpura Palace, Sursagar Talav and the amazing Sayaji Baug.
Sayaji Baug was built by Maharaja Sayajirao III in 1879 and is named after him. The Sayaji Baug also called Kamati Baug includes 45 hectares of garden grounds, a flower clock, two museums, a planetarium, a zoo and a toy train.
07. Champaner-Pavagarh Archaeological Park
|Top of the Pavagarh Hill, a UNESCO World Heritage Site|
Located 50 kilometers East of Baroda City is the Champaner Pavagarh Archaeological Park. This ancient site with its religious structures and ruins dating back to 8th century was inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
It is a must visit place for history buffs and those interested in culture and architecture. Complete with its military, religious and agricultural structures, the site was built and expanded between over the period of 600 hundred years. Abandoned soon after briefly becoming capital of Gujarat under the independent Sultan Mehmud Begda, it is the only unchanged pre-Mughal site in existence.
|Dargah of Sakar Khan at Champaner-Pavagarh Archaeological Park|
The Jama Masjid constructed here during Begda reign is a great example of the Indo-Islamic fusion architecture and later served as a model to build other Friday mosque across India. The ruins of this archaeological site also include residential buildings, military precincts, palaces, agricultural buildings and water-retention installations.
|Kalika Mata Temple atop Pavagarh Hill draws a large number of devotees|
An important Hindu shrine named Kalika Mata Temple is also located on the top of Pavagarh Hill draws large number of devotees throughout the year.
06. Sasan Gir National Park
|A young lion at Sasan Gir National Park in Gujarat|
The only place in Asia where you could spot the king of jungle prowling in the open wild, Sasan Gir National Park is located in the Junagad District is one of the most visited tourist places in India. The main draw is Asiatic Lions but there is more to this protected area.
|Lions of Gir|
The park is home to hyenas, leopard, marsh crocodiles, antelopes, sambar and huge number of bird species which makes it an ideal candidate for one of the top wildlife sanctuaries in India. Although people come here for lions, birding enthusiasts head to Gir to have one of the finest bird watching experiences in India.
Best time to visit Gir National Park is from November till March but for the best chances to spot lions visit the park in hotter months of April and May.
|Dwarkadheesh Temple in Gujarat is the most sacred Hindu Temple and a part of Char Dham Yatra|
Situated on the Gomti Creek, Dwarkadheesh Temple is one of the finest temples in India believed to have been built by the grandson of Lord Krishna himself. Appearing to be rising from the waters of Arabian Sea, the temple is renowned for its exquisitely carved architecture. It is considered the holiest Hindu Temples and part of the Char Dham Yatra, the most sacred of the all Hindu pilgrimages.
According to the legend, Lord Krishna settled down in Dwarka with his Yadava Clan. Upon his death as Krishna avatar, the entire Dwarka Island was submerged in the sea. The recent archaeological excavations have supported these theories that present day Dwarka is one of the 6 ancient cities that existed here.
04. Rani ka Vav, Patan
|Rani ka Vav or Queen's Step well in Patan, Gujarat|
One of the rare monuments erected by a queen for her beloved king, Rani Ka Vav is a spectacular step well in very well preserved condition. It was commissioned by Rani Udayamati in memory of her deceased husband King Bhimdev I in the year 1063.
Soon after completion, the step well got flooded by water and silt from the nearby Saraswati River. It was only in 1980s that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) excavated this Vav and desilting was undertaken.
The structure that was uncovered was a majestic specimen of carved sculptures, niches and compartmented pavilions with pillars. Rani ka Vav is one of the largest and finest and unique step wells and is currently in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
|The sculptures of Apsaras representing 'solah shringar', the different form of make ups|
This subterranean step well leads down through stepped corridors which are marked by pillared pavilions. The central motif of the intricately carved sculptures is the Dasavataras, or the 10 incarnations of Hindu god Vishnu. The avatars are accompanied by sadhus, brahmins, and apsaras.
The sculpture of apsaras painting their lips and adorning themselves in different style represents the ‘solah shringar' or the 16 ways to make up to look more attractive. In total there are four hundred niches on the walls displaying carvings in this vav.
|The intricately carved pillared pavilions are unique feature of Rani ka Vav making it distinct from the other baolis (step wells in India)|
Bonus Tips: If you are looking for cultural immersion whilst in Patan don’t miss the opportunity to visit Patola sari workshop. The gracious people working here take great pains to explain the ancient process of textile weaving.
|One of the top attractions in Bhuj is the Aina Mahal or the Mirror Palace|
Perhaps the phrase “steeped in history” was coined to refer exactly to Bhuj. With connection to a range of civilization beginning from prehistoric times, Mahabharata, Indus Valley and the times of Alexander the Great to the regional sultans, British and then modern India, Bhuj with over 4000 years of inhabitation is a cultural potpourri and one of the best places to visit in Gujarat for cultural immersion.
|Parag Mahal is yet another things to do in Bhuj|
The major draw in Bhuj is the Aina Mahal (Mirror Palace), Parag Mahal, Kutch Museum with rare artifacts, ramakunf Stepwell and Hamirsar Lake. But Bhuj is more than just sightseeing, it’s the cultural interactions be it traditional handmade textiles and crafts, enameled jewelries and cultural excursions to surrounding villages which draws bulk of the international tourists.
One such cultural side trip is Bhujodi. Located 7 kilometers away from Bhuj, Bhujodi is a village of weavers. Yet another village trip is Ajrakhpur, located 15 kilometers from the city, a village of block printers. These trips give you the opportunity to meet artisans, see demonstrations, and buy handicrafts.
|Somnath Temple in Gujarat is the most sacred jyotirlinga of Lord Shiva|
Somnath is the first and most sacred of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. According to the legend the Hindu moon god known as Soma built a temple entirely of gold to pay reverence to the lord’s glory and compassion and the temple came to be known as the Somnath Temple. As per the legends the same temple was reconstructed by Ravana in Silver, Krishna in wood, and by King Bhimdev from stone.
Lying on the shores of the Arabian Sea, this temple has been destroyed then reconstructed on number of occasion and finally after India got Independence.Each year millions of devotees seek the blessing of Lord Shiva at Somnath, rated one of the top temples in India when it comes to religious significance.
01. Rann of Kutch
|The White Salt desert of the Great Rann of Kutch|
There’s a saying that goes in Gujarat. “Kutch Nahin dekha to kuchh nahin dekha” which translates to “you haven’t seen anything if you haven’t seen Kutch.” Kutch is the deserving top desination to visit in Gujarat especially when the Rann Mahotsav is in full swing.
Wedged between the Arabian Sea and the boundless Thar Desert, Rann of Kutch is mesmerizing symphony of salt and sand. This white symphony reaches its crescendo on a full moon night. What makes Kutch even more surreal is that during the monsoon, it gets submerged in the water.
For the remaining eight months of the year, it's a gigantic stretch of white salt lending it the look of white desert. During full moon nights cultural programs celebrating Gujarat’s rich culture and traditions are usually held at Dhordo. A moon light camel safari is the Rann of a Kutch is one of the must to do things.
|A spellbinding vista of the Rann of Kutch during full moon night|
When winter arrives, the Great Flamingoes arrive at the Great Rann of Kutch all the way from Siberia for breeding lending the white desert a pinkish hue. Many other migratory bird species such as the Busturds, Blue Tailed Bee Eater, Ceraneous Vulture and Demoiselle Cranes also arrive here in large number.
|Great Flamingoes at Rann of Kutch add mesmerizing pinkish hue to the barren white landscape|
Yet another thing to do in Kutch is to visit the Wild Ass Sanctuary. Located in Little Rann of Kutch, Wild Ass Sanctuary in Gujarat is the only place in the world where the endangered Indian Wild Ass could be found.
|The endangered Indian Wild Ass at the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary in Little Rann of Kutch|
For History buffs Dholvira is yet another must visit archaeological site in Gujarat. It is considered to be one of the modern cities dating back to the period of Indus Valley Civilization. It is situated near Bhachau Taluka of Kutch.
Important Travel Tips: Rann of Kutch is located close to the Indo - Pak border therefore all tourists require prior written permission from the DSP’s office in Bhuj before traveling there. On Saturdays and Sundays DSP office is closed so plan accordingly.
To experience the Kutch at its most colorful and vibrant, Rann Mahotsav is the time to visit this destination in Gujarat. It is a cornucopia of music, dance and myriad colors & culture of the state. A three day annual razzmatazz, the white desert comes alive with music, dance, live tents, camel safari, arts & crafts on display and cultural performances during the Rann Utsav.
Some of you might be wondering where the other names are that should have been featured in this list. But considering we could list only 10, we could only talk about these. With some notable omission like Jamnagar, Balasinor with its Jurassic Park and Saputara, the only hill station in Gujarat; some hackles might rise, but we would appreciate your feedback and more names so that we could have a Part II of the Top 10 Places to visit in Gujarat.