India’s wild, western state

Stretching out into the Arabian Sea, Gujarat is a land of great contrasts: a slice of coastline with a hint of desert which plays home to natural wonders, historic cities, dense forest and a unique arts and crafts tradition. Mahatma Gandhi was also born and raised in this western state and it was from here that Gandhi ignited the satyagraha movement with his Salt March, campaigning against British colonial rule in India – an event which proved integral to securing independence in 1947.

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Textiles, temples and fantastic food

The rich history of Gujarat can be admired across the state but head to the busy former capital of Ahmedabad, now a Unesco World Heritage Site. Remarkable architecture lines the streets from the first Indo-Islamic-style mosques to ornately-carved temples. The Calico Museum is another gem, housing one of the world’s finest collections of Indian textiles (think Mughal carpets, Kashmiri shawls and silk weaving).

The city is also home to Sabarmati Ashram, Gandhi’s headquarters from 1917 to 1930, where you can see his sparse living accommodation, plus there’s an excellent museum presenting a record of his teachings (more Gandhi-related cities include Rajkot, where the freedom fighter went to school and Dandi village where the Salt March ended).
Built across the bank of Vishwamitri River is Vadodara, Gujarat’s cultural capital. Highlights include Laxmi Vilas Palace, one of the largest in the world with Venetian mosaic-flooring, Belgium stained-glass window and an Italian courtyard of fountains, and the Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery, which houses a royal collection of original paintings by famous British painters Turner and Constable, Mughal miniatures and fine ivory carvings.

Known for its small, meandering streets, dotted with places of worship, Bhuj is an equally interesting city that serves up fantastic food, especially pakwan (deep fried crisp bread eaten for breakfast), dabeli (a burger stuffed with mashed potato, cooked with masala curry and serious chutneys) and sweets. Make a beeline for Navin Bhelwala restaurant, a big local favorite for dabeli.

Many of Gujarat’s best treasures can be found in the countryside. The Kathiawar Peninsula is the state’s heartland, scattered with temples, mosques and palaces bearing testimony to centuries of different rulers. The important Hindu pilgrimage site Somnath temple is said to have witnessed the dawn of time and the Dwarkadhish temple is built on the site of Krishna’s ancient capital. The Jain temples are superb, adorning the hills of Shatrunjaya and Mount Girnar, close to Junagadh.

Gujarat’s craftwork is also a significant part of the state’s DNA, most notably the jari (gold and silver embroidery) of Surat, the bandhani tie-dye works, fabrics of Jamnagar, and the patola silk sarees of Patan. However, no visit to Gujarat would be complete without a visit to Kutch, India’s Wild West, home to the colorful tribal villages where traditional artisans weave, embroider, dye and print some of India’s finest textiles.

It is also where you will find The Rann of Kutch, a phenomenon of blinding white salt marshes in the Thar Desert – and quite possibly one of the most spellbinding places you will ever see. Time your visit to coincide with Rann Utsav, an annual festival of food, music and nature which runs from November to March. And for an all-out wildlife experience, head to Gir National Park, home to the last remaining prides of Asiatic lions.

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