Friday, 5 February 2016

The Great Gujarat Road Odyssey

The Plan
It is about time you did this. You have been prepping yourself for a road trip for some time now. Going to the mountains would need a co-driver. You want to do this by yourself. It will have to be the plains and someplace relatively safe. Rajasthan is a good option but it can wait as the good weather there will last some more time. January would be perfect to cruise the roads of Kutch and coastal Gujarat and visit the places you always wanted to – Dwarka, Somnath, Porbandar, Junagadh, Gir, Diu, Dholavira and places like Lakhpat and Narayan Sarovar that you missed last time in Kutch.


Now it is time for some research. Gujarat, like any part of India, is sure to have more than the more popular places. But it seems just like Maharashtra, Gujarat ASI and Gujarat Tourism too are doing a good job of hiding them. You have already done the big cities to an extent– Ahmedabad and Baroda and Modhera and Patan. If you get another chance you can always do the Ahmedabad to Surat route in future which is easily accessible. Rajkot will have to wait. So the plan is to stay away from the big places. New places are popping up in the research.

The plan is cross Rajasthan in two days visiting the remarkable Viratnagar and walking the alleys of Pushkar. Palanpur would be entry point into Gujarat. The first place to visit will be Vadnagar in North Gujarat which is home to beautiful torans, vavs, gateways and where some excavations are reportedly going on discovering new Buddhist sites. On the way to Kutch from Vadnagar, you plan to make a brief stopover in Siddhpur.  Last time you missed seeing the grand Siddhpur havelis. From Siddhpur then it will be to Kutch starting with Dholavira and a Jurassic Tree Fossil Park and then on to the western most point of Lakhpat and Narayan Sarovar.


The Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary is supposed to be around Naliya. You would want to try your luck spotting the bird. Then it would be a long haul drive into Saurashtra starting with Jamnagar. There is a National Marine Sanctuary beyond the petrochemical factories here which seems exciting. From Jamnagar it will be a dash towards the western coast again starting with Dwarka. Lord Krishna came here from Mathura and your ancestors are from Mathura. The darshan is going to be surreal. You will see if time allows you to go check out Ghumli and Gop with their Sun Temples.

From Dwarka it will be on to Porbandar. You have been following Gandhiji’s footsteps from Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad to Aga Khan Palace in Pune where he was imprisoned along with Kasturba to Tees January Marg in New Delhi where he breathed his last to Rajghat where he was cremated. It is time to visit his birthplace Kirti Mandir. From Porbandar, it will be an inland detour to check out places like Dhoroji, Jetpur, Gondal and Khambhalida Buddhist caves before stopping at Junagadh. Junagadh has lots to see – the fort, some incredibly ornate tombs and Buddhist caves.


From Junagadh, you will drive onwards to Gir. You don’t have any prior permit to enter the sanctuary - you will try your luck when you get there. From Gir, it will be on to another place you always wanted to see – The Somnath Temple. From Somnath, you will go visit yet another place you wanted to see since school days – the island of Diu. The almost three month ‘Festa De Diu’ is ongoing – you would like to check out some of the festivities.


Diu will be the southernmost reach of the trip. From here you plan to make your way back. You have some places in mind to see like the Jain Temples on hill in Palitana and a place called Dholka that has some amazing mosques. You plan to exit Gujarat from a different route possibly Shamlaji to Udaipur.

It could possibly be a fifteen to twenty day trip. You have never undertaken such a long trip ever – official or otherwise. You have a feeling it will be a life-changing trip that will open gates to even bigger and tougher journeys in the future.

Smiling Kids in Lakhpat, Kutch

The People of Gujarat
The trip turned into an amazing ride. You got to see more than you ever wished to. You saw a lot, observed a lot and experienced a lot.
Gujarat is a wonderful state with wonderful people. You are lost as roads turn into forks or crossroads. People will get off their seats, leave the boiling tea kettle, stop and dismount their chakdas, pull over their motorcycles; only to walk to your window. Where the directions could have been a curt right, left or straight, they lay out the entire virtual map before you. Not just this turning but they direct you to your destination fifty kms away. Simple directions turn into conversations and then the directions are repeated second time and third time.

You know Gujaratis like to talk but what you did not know was that they are incredibly helpful and smiling, selfless and happy kind of bunch of people. You got literally pulled into their houses, sometimes fed ladoos in Vadnagar (twice – its Uttarayan!), sometimes full course Gujarati meals with chach in Jetpur and in a village in the middle of Gir Forest. People invited you to their function by the roadside just because you stopped to ask for directions.

What can you say – just stay away from the TV and newspapers and visit the real India and see for yourself how beautiful India is (now only if we stop littering!).

The incredible stretch on way to Dholavira

The Homecoming
It is really hard to put finger on what you are feeling as you make your way back home. Of course you miss the familiarity and belongingness when on road. But then that is what travellers yearn for – new places to see and to create new belongingness. Travel is about leaving behind the routine and to be a little uncomfortable. It is about interaction with the road and other travellers. Travel gives you the opportunity to see how you react among people who don’t share a common language and do not look like you. Travellers want to be in the unknown. Yes sometimes the rigmarole of continuously packing, unpacking, driving, photographing, looking for places to eat and stay does get exhausting. Times like these you wish the comfort of your home and do feel a little homesick. But such feelings are fleeting and go away as soon another new sight blows you away.

You soon become comfortable in the newness and the unknown. But then just as you are getting into the groove it is time to head back home. So it is always with mixed bittersweet feelings and sometimes with heavy heart that you make your way back. Of course, it is time to take stock of the achievement but at the same time there is this empty dull feeling of a brief but beautiful relationship coming to an end. Many travellers have documented these low feelings when they come back home. It is kind of natural. But the thought of exploring more unknown places next always cheers you up. Is this travel addiction? Is all this travelling a fix? Answers are not easy as long the fuel tank is full and another distant destination beckons. 

Riding into the sunset on Jaipur-Ajmer Highway

Some Statistics of the Trip
  • Total Trippingg Days – 19 days
  • Total distance travelled – 4803 kms
  • Total fuel burnt – 195 litres of diesel – that is a pretty good mileage of 24 kms/litre
  • Average distance travelled per day – 253 kms
  • Lowest distance covered in a day – 18 kms on Day 12 going around Junagadh
  • Longest distance covered in a day – final day when you decided that you had enough of searching for hotels and went bust driving straight to Delhi from Udaipur  – 705 kms
  • Total Toll paid – oh yes, one painful side-effect of road tripping these days – Rs. 2540 (about one fourths of fuel cost!)
  • Total States / UTs covered – 5 - Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Diu
  • Total change of hotel rooms – 16 hotels in 16 cities – stayed 2 nights each at two hotels. You had planned to sleep in the vehicle for couple of days but luckily or unluckily that never happened!
  • Total times vehicle searched by police – 3 (and you thought Delhi registered vehicles stay unmolested!) No idea what the cops were looking for!
  • Total districts covered in Gujarat – Banaskantha, Patan, Sabarkantha, Mehsana, Aravalli, Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad, Anand, Kheda, Kutch, Morbi, Jamnagar, Devbhoomi Dwarka, Porbandar, Junagadh, Rajkot, Gir Somnath, Amreli, Bhavnagar – 19 out of total 33 districts
  • Total no. of islands seen – 3 – Khadir Bet housing Dholavira, Bet Dwarka perhaps having submerged ruins of Lord Krishna’s palace and the prettiest of all Diu
  • Places seen that were never heard of before – Jurassic Fossil Park and National Marine Sanctuary
  • Total photographs taken – 9771 photos (57GB). You were clicking on vapours of memory on the last few days!
  • Best Sunsets – Dholavira, Rukmini Temple at Dwarka, Diu
  • Most Interesting Anecdote – you come down from Koteshwar Mahadeo Temple after the Evening Arti to find your floaters missing. You can’t believe it and you thought Gujarat was a safe place free of footwear thieves. You walk barefoot to the car and slip on your flip-flops. Yes this time around you are carrying three pairs of shoes! You come back in the morning and voila you find your floaters! You can swear you looked everywhere last night. They say getting your shoes stolen at a temple means big money is coming your way. Ohhh so close -well let me not buy that lottery ticket just yet!
  • Breakdowns or Punctures – Nil – the vehicle ran like a dream despite some bad high speed potholes and some dirt-kicking tyre slippage on a rocky stream bed in Gir forest
  • Hotel Room Tariff Range – Rs. 150 in a Dharamshala in Narayan Sarovar along with free meal to Rs 1700 in Veraval (Gujarat CM was coming to Somnath and everything was packed). Most hotels searched on the go – through Justdial or driving and asking around


Whats’s Next
The plan next is to write breezy travelogues for each of the nineteen days of this road trip. You do not plan to write a lot. It will be brief accounts of observations with lots of photos and little history. If warranteed you can always come back later to write more detailed pieces of places that catch your fancy.

Travel Tips
  • There are almost zero signs for attractions in Gujarat unlike MP where you will find five extra places because of the excellent signage across the state. In Gujarat you will only get to see the places that you have planned to see unless you are plain lucky to find something in plain sight. Good research is must before undertaking a road trip. Gujarat Tourism sorely lacks here and needs to put some efforts and learn from MP, CG and Karnataka.
  • The toll roads, like across the country, are good. Other roads, again like the rest of the country, are average. In Kutch, all roads are pretty good.
  • You will never get lost in Gujarat, no not even in the Rann of Kutch. There are helpful people everywhere who will show you the way.
  • Make sure fuel tank is full in Kutch and Gir areas. Some parts do not have filling stations.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent trip and meticulous details that fill up the text as it flows with lively memoirs......No one would be tripping while reading, I am sure.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Sir! Yes I did do some research but then this is India and even despite the best research you are bound to miss out on some locations. But then that gives a reason to come back.

      Regards

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