Gujarat, like most of India, is something of a place of contradictions. On the one hand, it is perhaps India’s most modern and affluent state and yet its rural areas are known for the simple, semi-nomadic peoples of the pastoral groups who roam the desert and semi-desert region of Kutch in the northwest. There are also many tribal groups in the hills in the north of the state near the border with Rajasthan. In this itinerary you can also see examples of architectural styles and cultural influences from throughout the history of Gujarat.
Day 1: On arrival in Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. Depending on your arrival schedule you may have free time in the afternoon and evenng for exploration of the ‘old city’ on foot and a visit to the famous night markets. Your accommodation in Ahmedabad is at a wonderful heritage hotel which is owned by the family of former textile industrialist, Mangaldas Girdhardas. Overnight in Ahmedabad at House of MG.
Day 2: In the morning you will be able to join the guided walk through the old city of Ahmedabad, visiting temples and mosques and exploring the labyrinthine alleys of this historic precinct. Later tour the Textile Museum which houses one of the finest collections of ‘art on cloth’ anywhere in the world. After lunch, drive 250km/4 hours to Gondal and check into Orchard Palace, another family owned heritage hotel in delightful surroundings in this small town. Overnight Orchard Palace, Gondal.
Day 3: Today’s first stop is a tour of the Navlakha Palace, built in the mid-18th century and which houses the erstwhile ruling family’s private collection of beadwork, textiles, brassware, hand-painted toys and silver crafts. Later in the day visit the weaving centre and historic buildings of Gondal. In the grounds of the Orchard Palace is a quite remarkable display of vintage motor vehicles which belong to the maharaja- a guided tour is a must during your stay. In the evening visit Bharwad and Rabari villages around Gondal, return for overnight stay at Orchard Palace, Gondal.
Day 4: The small and enchanting town of Junagadh has a variety of interesting sights- Indo-Islamic architecture, ancient rock-cut Buddhist cave temples, a series of stupendous step-wells and hill top temples and a fascinating museum- spend a full day exploring the town and return to Gondal for overnight stay at Orchard Palace.
Day 5: Depart Gondal after breakfast and drive 260km to Bhuj, stopping along the way in Rajkot to see the Watson Museum which has some excellent examples of Gujarati craftsmanship and at Rashtriya Shala, a co-operative where local people are working to revive hand-weaving styles indigenous to this area.
On arrival in Bhuj, check into your hotel with the remainder of the day at leisure.Bhuj is an ancient centre of trade and commerce with some interesting historical sites, but tragically the city was very close to the epicenter of the January 2001 earthquake which cost thousands of lives around the Kutch area. As a result there was a tremendous amount of devastation so many of the monuments are in a rather poor state. However the resilience of people who live in such an inhospitable environment shouldn’t be underestimated and they have bounced back with a wonderful hardiness of spirit and Bhuj is once more a bustling market town. The area around your hotel is excellent for exploration on foot during the evening. Overnight at Hotel Ilark, Bhuj.
Day 6 & 7: First thing in the morning you will need to obtain the special permit which is required in order to travel to tribal villages and border areas deep in the Rann of Kutch. Heading out of Bhuj the landscape changes rapidly to semi-desert with pockets of scrub and thorn bush cover- not surprisingly this area is mainly populated by camel and goat herders. However there are many villages scattered around the region, each with a specialty which enables them to eke out a living from this harsh region.Many of the villages specialize in the creation of beautiful traditional arts and crafts- you will be able to visit a number of these and see leatherwork, embroidery, painting, wood carving, fabric dying and mud-work.You may see traditional charcoal production, sweet making and more besides. At the end of each day of exploration in the Kutch region, you will have the opportunity to stay at a resort in the desert- Shaam-E –Sarhad. This is an unforgettable place with accommodation in deluxe tents and traditional style Bhungas- mud-walled huts which are similar to those in the villages you will be visiting (but with important extras like attached bathrooms!) To spend a couple of nights here, dine under the stars and be entertained by local musicians and dancers, is one of the most rewarding experiences on offer anywhere in India. Overnight at Shaam-E-Sarhad, Hodka District.
Day 8: After breakfast depart from Shaam-E-Sarhad to Bhuj. En route you will be able to visit a village where the last surviving practitioners of an ancient painting style known as Rogan will beguile you with the brilliance of this art form. After leaving Bhuj, travel on to the coast at Mandvi and visit Rabari villages and the Mandvi Palace before checking into your accommodation for tonight- a deluxe tented camp virtually on the beach. Free time in the afternoon and evening to relax and swim in the Arabian Sea on India’s longest private beach, overnight at Mandvi Beach Camp.
Day 9: Drive from Mandvi to Dasada (320km) passing picturesque old towns and villages and the colourful sight of various semi-nomadic communities of Rabari people who traverse the deserts and plains of Gujarat with their camel carts. Upon reaching Dasada, check in at Rann Riders, an eco-resort designed using local materials and handicrafts to resemble a village. In the afternoon, you have the choice of visiting local craftspeople in their villages, or for a change of pace and emphasis, you can take a jeep safari to the edge of the Rann of Kutch- a vast salt-marsh which is home to large herds of Indian Wild Ass (Khur) and other desert animals. Overnight at Rann Riders, Dasada.
Day 10: After breakfast and optional morning safari in the Rann of Kutch to see the rich and diverse wildlife of this area, leave Dasada and drive to Danta via Patan. Patan is home to silk weavers who produce Patola fabric- one of the richest silk textiles in the world, woven using the rare double-ikat technique. Also at Patan you can visit the glorious 11th century Modhera Sun Temple complex and Rani-ki-vav, one of the most impressive step-wells in all of Gujarat. Upon reaching the tiny town of Danta, check into Bhavani Villas Heritage Homestay, the ancestral home of the royal family of this former princely state. The welcome is warm and hospitable, and the views over the surrounding countryside expansive and peaceful. The Maharana will take you on an afternoon tour by jeep and you may be able to visit his horse stud. Dinner is a family affair here and accommodation comfortable and spacious. Overnight at Bhavani Villa, Danta.
Day 11: A dawn walk is on the cards today – one of the estate staff will escort you through scrub and rocky landscapes around the Villa to see village life and ancient agricultural techniques at first hand. After breakfast back at the Villa, depart for Poshina (70km) and visit Garasia tribal villages and a tribal shrine where Bhil and Garasia people from about 90 neighbouring villages visit. Check into another special heritage accommodation. Overnight at Darbargadh Poshina.
Day 12: Return to Ahmadabad (170km) for connecting or international flight home.