Gujarat and Ahmedabad

Gujarat: The eclectic, Wild West

The eclectic and yet particular Gujarat is best experienced by the intrepid traveller on a third or fourth visit to India as it does not have the tourism infrastructure and focus, nor the upmarket accommodation and services that one is accustomed to say in Rajasthan. Rather, it is frequented by the intrepid foreigner and patronized by local tourists, and its highlights, whilst interesting and unique, may arguably not merit the distance and effort taken to visit them. And yet while the upside is that less European travelers do visit the state, (it is not a Western travelers destination in its own right because of these reasons) we believe there are itineraries (mentioned below) that cater wonderfully to special interest travelers who are seeking something out of the ordinary from their journey which, with a little effort and good planning, this lesser travelled state (by Westerners that is) can easily offer up.

Gujaratis, known for their business nous, as well as their particular taste in food, have made their industrious state one of the fastest growing in India. Home to Hindus, Jains, Parsis, and Muslims as well as the colorful semi-nomadic tribes who inhabit the immense salt flats of Kuchcch, Kachcch (or Kutch), the state of Gujarat has seen its image tarnished by spates of politically fueled communal violence, and as a consequence its popularity as a travel destination dropped off. Despite this historical blight, Gujarat’s atmosphere remains peaceful, and traveling through the state will expose you to a vast, varied, and dramatic Indian landscape, with some of the country’s top architectural and cultural highlights. The experience is all the more pleasurable because it is so wonderfully free of the touts, and tourists, who plague the more well-travelled trails. Scattered around the state are new local resorts and some ageing palaces that have been converted into heritage hotels but be warned not to expect even remotely the luxury, standard and focus of say Rajasthan’s splendour and service.

 

You can attempt to cover the state’s top attractions in around 8 days, but given the distances and the poor state of the roads, we recommend you set aside at least 10 – 12 days. However it is advisable rather to construct an itinerary based on particular interest (see suggested itineraries below) as to merely drive though the state as a general observer is arduous and unwise.

 

Either catch a train (Gujarat Mail or Shatabdi Express) or plane (use yatra.com for best prices) to Ahmedabad from Mumbai, or combine some of the highlights (mentioned below) and add them on as a side-trip with a driver after Rajasthan. It is advised to pick out your respective itinerary and then plan accordingly, preferably flying between the major centres and being met by local specialist guides and travel agencies. Consequently our advice is to do a short side trip after Udaipur, or head up from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, using that as your initial base from which to explore Kutch and then fly out of Bhuj, or if time permits, after Rajasthan drive in from Udaipur, via Dungapur or Mount Abu and head west to visit Patan and Modhera before moving on to the indigenous ethnic villagers of Kutch and its Ranns where you will have the opportunity to interact with and purchase the astonishing crafts and textiles that exhibit the famous handiwork and embroidery of these unique tribes and cultures.

Architecture, Temples and History

Use Ahmedabad as a base from which to explore long day trips, or head way down south to Diu and stop off at Shutranjaya on the way. (Stay 2 nights in Ahmedabad at House of MG or Taj Gateway Ummed)

From Ahmedabad head northwest for a full day trip to explore Modhera (102 km) and Patan (125 km) returning to Ahmedabad at night (or one could move on further west to Rann Riders at Dasada).

Alternatively head back to Ahmedabad for a night (House of MG or Taj Gateway)

Lothal (60km from Ahmedabad)

 

Shutranjaya (203 km from Ahmedabad, at least 3 hours)

Diu (see box – another 300kms south from Shutranjaya, overnight at Radhika Beach Resort, spend a day exploring the old town and swimming.)

Fly out of Diu (see box below).

Ahmedabad

Once part of the expansive Mughal empire, and at one time arguably the finest city in India, Ahmedabad (also termed Amdavad), Gujarat’s largest city with a population of around six million extends along the banks of the Sabarmati River and is a congested, polluted, bustle of a town equally matched by its astounding Muslim, Jain and Hindu history. A fascinating window to Gujarati traditional culture and history, its industrious inhabitants, who are known worldwide for their business acumen are said to generate up to twice that of the GDP of other states and play host to the centre of business for over 40% of India’s pharmaceuticals, textiles and most other commercial and industrial interests. The city, whilst not a university town, also has some of the best tertiary educational institutions including the Institute of Fashion Design which clearly draws on its history as a textile hub. And yet the frenetic pace and chaos of its industry belies its informality and carefree attitude and it appears to have (at least to a westerner) none of the snootyness and social pressures of Mumbai whilst still retaining a cosmopolitan outlook.

It’s tolerant and progressive founder Ahmed Shah, who in 1411, inherited the Sultanate of Gujarat and judiciously relocated it from Patan to its current position on the ancient site of Ashaval and Karnawati, and named it after himself – the suffix abad means to prosper – attracted traders, skilled artisans and established a formidable merchant class which still exists today. Although it’s fortunes waxed and waned on the back of famines and political unrest, prosper it certainly did, and in the late 19th century the city again rose to prominence as a huge textile centre similarly exporting valuable textiles. Congruously, while Gandhi was revitalizing and restructuring small-scale textile industry, it’s fame came from its role as a home to Gandhi’s famous ashram synonymous with the Indian Freedom Movement. The last textile mills closed in the early 1970’s and the economic hardship that followed most likely played a part in the communal and religious conflict in 2002.

The essence of Ahmedabad is its unique mix of medieval and modern history and its contemporary buzz, its big city lights, buildings and industry alongside its ancient walled city, step wells, temples, bazaars and pols (its charming old city neighbourhoods and residential areas). Overall it can be an unpleasant, noisy, city with its history all but obscured by pollution and its culture urbanized, but one whose soul remains intact and has its defining moments, if you know what to look for.  It is best used as a platform to enter or exit Gujarat from which to commence one of the suggested itineraries.

The Heritage Walk (SSS) in the medieval, walled city, the world famous Calico Museum of Textiles (SSS) and Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram (SSS) on the banks of the same river are certainly not to be missed. Add to that an aggregation of intriguing mosques and tombs, ornate Hindu and Jain temples, beautiful step wells and the worlds’ largest International Kite Festival, Makar Sakranti, in January, and you can rest assured your visit will not be unpleasantly recalled.

Ideally the city should be used as a base from which to explore a number of itineraries depending on your interest (see the special interest itinerary box below) and is a good starting point to head south down to Diu via Lothal and its step well; Palitana and its Jain Temple complex mount, Shatrunjaya; the national parks and reserves of Velavadar and Gir are not much to look at with working vllages and communities living inside of them, and then onto the relaxed Portuguese-influenced island of Diu. Alternatively one can follow the thread and head west directly into Kutch and it’s two Rann’s, taking in the indigenous tribes and their distinctive cultures, customs and world renowned textiles, beadwork, print making and dyeing whilst spotting migratory birds and the endangered Wild Ass.

Places of Interest

 

Embrace the past on your first morning in Ahmedabad and step back in time with the city’s Heritage Walk (SSS) which takes you through the historic heart and soul of the old city and unveils the true nature of its people and the way they used to, and still do dwell. This “must do” guided walk (daily at 8am, 2,5hrs, Rs50 079/2539 1811) is preceded by a short but informative slide show, leaves from Temple Swaminarayan and covers about 3km’s through the labyrinthine alleyways and old carved wooden residences which are so much a part of the fabric and record of the city. This is an excellent opportunity for photographs, especially of its picturesque pols (the self- contained neighbourhoods defined on trade, not on religion), and to see Manek Chowk and Jama Masjid (no shorts or short dresses). Take special note of the ornate architecture, community wells, secret passages, old wooden gates and doors, and the many ornate chabaturas for housing and feeding birds which provides a true sense of wonder of a bygone era and yet which is still very much part of the city today.

The Municipality also runs city bus tours for areas not covered by the walk (9am – 1pm and 1:30 – 5:30pm Rs60 079/2550 7739, depart from the bus stand at Lal Darwaja).

The Calico Museum of Textiles (SSS) is another compulsory history lesson and similarly is an unrivalled insight into the warp and weft of the history and culture of a city as told through the woven word. It is without doubt the finest collection of textiles and local indigenous crafts in the country, if not in the world, and is a pre-requisite for anyone wanting an understanding of the diversity and depth of the value and skill of the craftsmen and women who produce these fine textiles. The museum, set in lush grounds with Khoi ponds and a 200 year old relocated Burmese teak haveli, is a welcome respite from the road and rail traffic outside its large wooden gates. Appropriately gifted by a wealthy textile merchant the museum fully occupies his aged mansion and fills up room after musty room with exquisite garb and craftsmanship. The tours tell a rich history of antique and modern textiles in India and showcase garments made for the British and Portuguese, the Indian royal family including royal tents and religious vehicles and a startling array of the different type and styles of weaving and design including embroideries, tie-dye, block printing as well as the technical explanations of different stitching methods and the respective needles or looms used in this fascinating profession. The tours are free, and the morning tour (daily 10:30am – 12:30pm) displays the vast range of textiles in its wooden galleries and then in the afternoon also the collection of Indian deities and sculpture the textile galleries (2:45 – 4:45pm), however in the off-season it is collapsed into one long morning tour. Do call to check and book (079/2786 8172). Note: Take water and dress lightly as the rooms can be rather stuffy.

Mohandas K. Gandhi: ‘My life is my message’.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Gujarat’s and indeed India’s most famous citizen, featuring on the Rupee notes, was born in Porbandor, Gujarat, on October 2nd 1869 and proceeded, from his humble beginnings and life, and his influential ascetic philosophy, to change the very world that informs us today.

Merchants by caste (Gandhi meaning grocer), his family rose to prominent political positions at odds with his shy, sickly disposition and average scholarly performance during his early years.  As he grew up he followed his interests in spirituality, religion and philosophy (reading the Bible, Mahabarata and Bhagavad Gita) and often tested traditional Hindu practices (eating meat, caste indiscretions). At 19 he moved to London to pursue his studies in law and adopted an English persona (at least in manners) whilst being true to his promise to his mother that he would not eat meat, drink or chase women. After returning home briefly he arrived in South Africa to practice law (also based on the Roman Dutch law as Britain was). It was here that the plight of his fellow Indians (mostly from Gujarat and Bengal to serve the British and work the cane fields but now becoming integrated) under the atrocious Apartheid laws and his being ejected from a first class carriage reserved for whites, that combined to fuel his resolve. Slowly and determinedly his pubic profile grew and he gained crucial victories for his Indian indentured laborers. It was also during this time that he opted to relinquish his material possessions and sought a spiritual ascetic path, dressing in the handspun dhoti as ell as taking a vow of celibacy together with his wife. This he termed satyagraha which derived from the Sanskrit ideas of truth and resolve, and would become the basis of his passive resistance and non violence philosophies.

Returning to India with a reputation that preceded him, his title ‘Mahatma” or great soul was bestowed on him by the poet Tagore. He proceeded to become a thorn in the British’s side by campaigning for independence and the rights of untouchables (who he named Harijans or children of god) and women. He founded his ashram in Ahmedabad on the banks of the Sabarmati River (a must visit see above) were he could live by these principles. Gandhi increased his politicking in the aftermath of the gruesome slaughter by the British of protestors at Amritsar, leading a series of self sufficiency drives culminating in his famous month-long, 150 mile Salt March from Ahmedabad to Dandi in 1930 where he and his followers made salt in defiance of the British monopoly on production. Garnering worldwide media attention, he was promptly imprisoned but on release he was invited to attend a meeting in London to discuss home rule. The British were unrelenting however and clearly were making too much money to pander to this political upstart. His struggles continued and he spent more time in jail with his wife dying by his side from a long illness. As the nationalist government gained power Hindu Muslim relations suffered and he responded to outbreaks of communal violence by subjecting his own body to severe spells of fasting and self-purification, and finally in 1947, the British guaranteed independence. Partition, however, left him with a sense of failure and again he fasted to stem the increasing violence during this restive period. His endorsement of Pakistan and tolerance of Muslim faith and politics was frowned upon by some fanatical Hindu camps and after an initial attempt on his life in January 1948 he was shot dead by a lone gunman at point blank range in Delhi ten days later. A tragic end to a physically diminutive man who changed the face of the world through his love for others, abiding sense of justice, fairness and his resolve in implementing his beliefs.

Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram (SSS) Peacefully located on the river’s west bank this renowned ashram was Gandhi’s base and headquarters from 1917 – 1930 during his protracted and resolved fight for Indian independence. It was from here that he practiced his ascetic philosophy and was the change that he so wanted to see in the world. It was also from this very site that he set out on his famous salt march to Dandi on the Gulf of Cambay in protest against the British control of the essential mineral. His frugal quarters are well preserved including his belongings (spectacles, sandals and some utensils) and there is an excellent record of his life and times in chronological context as well as excerpts from his speeches, political missives and autobiography. The testimonials from famous peers and colleagues are both humbling and inspiring and one leaves feeling a real sense of awe at this great man whose “life was his message”. There is also an excellent bookshop where you can buy his works and some MG memorabilia. (8:30am – 6:30pm, free, 27557277)

 

Jama Masjid (S)

At the end of the Heritage Walk, along MG Road and close to Teen Darwaja, you will arrive at the Jama Masjid, completed in 1424 by Ahmed Shah with the material of demolished Jain and Hindu temples, with its 260 intricate pillars (legend has it they are impossible to count exactly as one always arrives at a different number) of which no two are the same. You will also notice the two stunted minarets that were destroyed in the 1957 earthquake and the similarities to the beautiful Fatehpur Sikri complex, which this predates and inspired. Avoid Friday when it is at its busiest! The Tomb of Ahmed Shah stands just outside the Jama Masjid’s east gate and includes the cenotaphs of his son and grandson. Across the road and in poor condition is his queen’s tomb. Women are not permitted into the central chamber.

 

Around Ahmedabad

 

Sarkhej

A short hop (under 9km) southwest of Ahmedabad (bus 31 from Lal Darwaja) is another crumbling temple tomb complex fronted by a small muddy lake and encroaching slums. Comprising the tomb of Sheikh Ahmed Khattu (whose name means bestower of wealth) who was the spiritual guide of Ahmed Shah, it was constructed by Ahmed’s successor Mohammed in 1446 and devotee Sultan Beghada who added palaces and a harem before his own tomb enhanced the complex. The site became a retreat of Gujarati sultans who also supplemented it with their own tributes of gardens, pavilions and tombs. Look out for the fine geometric marble work and numerous pillars.

Adalaj Vav

Another spectacular baoli (step well) and good practice for Patan and Modhera, Adalaj Vav (8am – 6pm free), approximately 20km out of Ahmedabad was built in 1498 and is a beautiful 5 storey octagonal well. Easy steps lead down through the platforms and ornate pillars through a narrative of sculpted dancing maidens, animals and musicians.

Lothal (S)(90kms from Ahmedabad)

The largest excavated site of the ancient Harappan Indus Valley civilization that once spread across western India and eastern Pakistan is located at Lothal (open daily from dawn to dusk), about 100km south of Ahmedabad. Despite its crumbling and decaying appearance there was a powerful seafaring community that existed here between 2400 BC which is evident in the remaining evidence of what appears to be a dock, until a flood devastated the area in and 1900 BC.

Shatrunjaya, Palitana (SS)

The holy Jain mount of Shatrunjaya (daily 6:30am – 7:45pm, photography fee Rs. 100) is located alongside the small, insipid town of Palitana which is not worth a stop over by any means (see recommendation below). But with over 900 beautiful temples in relatively good condition (some in mint condition, always being worked on through donations from wealthy businessmen) this is a must visit if you have an interest in temple architecture, are relatively fit and favour sweeping views – of the surrounding countryside, the Gulf of Cambay to the south, Bhavnagar to the North and the Shatrunjaya mountains and river flowing through the verdant hills behind. Records prove that the hill was a tirtha (the Jain’s first tirthankara, Adinath, achieved enlightenment here) as far back as the 5th century, however due to the Muslim raids the existing temples date from the 16th century. Arriving here and being faced with the active, busy temple below and the seemingly infinite steps winding their way up into the misty, lush forest, you get the feeling that you may not come down, or if you do, will come down a changed person. And there is very good chance of this. It is a special place and one that requires silence and meditation along its beautiful path and up into its pious, labyrinthine temples. The climb takes between one and two hours and is utterly rewarding, but if you feel you really cannot manage it, you can hire a dholi (4 pole bearers with a seat). Do be sure to take lots of water and a hat, as there are no shops or services atop.  The individual temple enclosures or tuks form distinct private courtyards decorated in black and white marble and beautiful adornments of maidens, animals, saints and birds. The shikharas or hollow spires are stunning in their proportion and design and be sure to look out for the largest temple, dedicated to Adinath, in the Khartaravasi tuk on the northern ridge (take the left hand fork).  The spectacular Adishvara temple is reached by taking the right hand fork leading you onto the southern ridge.

There is a small museum (daily 8am – noon, 4pm – 8:30pm, Rs.10), located 400m before the start of the temple steps displaying some Jain religious artifacts.

Note: As there is no suitable nearby overnight accommodation, rather depart and return to Ahmedabad on a full day trip first reaching Lothal at sunrise (100kms, 1,5 hours from Ahmedabad) and then moving on to Shatrunjaya (3 hours) for a stiff, late morning walk to return in the evening. Alternatively leaving Ahmedabad before sunrise, reaching Lothal for dawn and then heading to the holy Jain mount, and then after your walk, driving the last (300kms) 5 hours down to Diu (see box below), from where you can have a beer, rest up the next day, have a swim and fly out.

If you do intend to cover this route please keep in mind that there are long hours of driving so be sure to make an early start, hire a comfortable car and a good driver (this can be done through North West Safaris (see above, or directly through RHS Holidays tel: 079/26462666 mob: 0/98240 35432 email: info@rhsholidays.com, ask for driver Prakash Gayari). We have advised as such as there really is nowhere appropriate to stay over at Palitana. The upside of course is that you really do get to see an area of Gujarat you would not otherwise see.

Patan (SSS)

The old Gujarati capital Anhilawada Patan, 2km northwest of today’s dusty town, served several Rajput dynasties and the Solankis between the 8th and 12th centuries before being taken by the Mughals. In 1411 it began to fall into decline when Ahmed Shah moved his capital to Ahmedabad and today few signs of this history remain except for Patan’s beautiful and well-restored Rani-ki-Vav baoli (daily 8am – 6pm, Rs. 100) which is certainly worth the 130 km day trip or stopover to/from Ahmedabad. Built in 1050, for the Solanki queen Udaimati, it is the oldest and finest in Gujarat, and has been brought to life through its excellent restoration in the 1980’s. Prior to that it had been almost completely hidden and protected by silt, with only its top exposed. Its carvings are exquisite and the various incarnations of Vishnu are something to behold. After gaping at these well-preserved sandstone beauties take a short drive into Patan town to wander the quaint old quarters’ streets of wooden havelis and to look at its famous export (especially to royalty) Patola silk saris, with bright, distinctive patterns, some of which fetch up Rs. 70 000 and can take upward of six months to create.

 

Modhera (SSS)

The stunning Sun Temple built by King Bhimdev 1 in 1026 (just 102km northwest of Ahmedabad, daily 8am – 6pm Rs. 100) is undoubtedly one of the highlights in religious architecture in Gujarat and is well worth a visit en route to Dasada, or even a days outing from Ahmedabad together with Patan (above). In tribute to its solar deity it was designed in the Solanki style so as to capture the dawn sunlight on the image of Surya, the sun god, during the equinoxes. Set in lush peaceful grounds one approaches first to the Surya Kund, a beautifully proportioned rectangular baoli (stepwell) containing over 100 shrines to Ganesh, Vishnu and Shiva. There is a wonderful view from the side that looks directly on to the Main Hall and the Shrine’s pillared pavilions and one can immediately appreciate the perfect proportions of this intricate, modest complex. Up close the carved detail is especially elaborate and the 52 pillars depict scenes from the Mahabaratha and Ramayana with erotic beauties seeming to pose for your camera. Look out for the interior display of the 12 representations of Surya’s different monthly expressions and note the damage where the temple was ruined by the Muslim ruler Mahmud of Ghazni, as was the case with Rani-ki-Vav at Patan.

SEWA

The Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) is Gujarat’s largest union comprising over half a million members, mostly in Gujarat. Its mission and objective, which it carries out with success in a number of sectors is to organise, empower and provide infrastructure to women who otherwise would be at the mercy of unscrupulous banks, money lenders and a general discriminatory system. Ahmedabad has maintained a tradition of self-help and sufficiency since Gandhi’s time and as a response to this exploitation SEWA was founded (www.sewa.org, 079/2550 6444) in the early 1970’s. Nearly 90% of all women who work in India are self-employed and are not protected by labour laws of any kind including no minimum wage. Add to this the issues of female foeticide resulting from sex determination tests in pregnant mothers and the unspoken tradition of sati (widow burning) and you can understand why SEWA is such a necessary and powerful organisation. Amongst other services it offers legal advice, training and counsel as well as childcare, petitions bureaucrats and police for women’s causes, runs its own co-operative Mahila Bank offering women low interest loans and advantageous financial services. SEWA has provided and continues to provide assistance to the ailing textile industry and has two craft shops (Mon – Sat 10am – 8pm, Sun 10am – 6:30pm) at the eastern end of Ellis Bridge and its fixed price handicrafts are sold at Banascraft, Chandan Complex CG Road.

WHERE TO STAY & DINE

There are only really two options in Ahmedabad and these are listed first and second, below.

House of Mangaldas Girhardas  (House of MG)

Perhaps the only up to standard accommodation with convenience, charm and character in Ahmedabad, this 1920’s converted wealthy industrialist and textile merchants’ family home is as much a family heirloom as a good boutique hotel. With its convenient if noisy location, friendly service, spacious characterful rooms, business

centre, an indoor pool, small gym and two of the city’s best restaurants (see Dining) it really is the only place to stay in Ahmedabad. Be sure to ask for a Deluxe Room at the back (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7) or a quiet Grand Deluxe Suite (14, 15. 16) to escape the racket of the road. All the rooms are large but if you are craving space then try The Mangaldas Suite (Rs. 12990) on the top floor.

House of Mangaldas Heritage Hotel. Dr. Tankaria Rd, opp. Sidi Sayyid’s Mosque, Lal Darwaja (079/2550 6946 www.houseofmg.com) Rs 4,990 for a Deluxe room, and Rs 6,490 for Grand Deluxe Suite. Taxes extra. AE, DC, MC, V. 24-hr. room service; laundry; Split ac units, fan, minibar, tv, dvd player and library, electronic safe. Internet in rooms and wifi are Rs100 for 24 hrs, free airport transfers. 9am check out.

The Taj Gateway Ummed Ahmedabad

Conveniently located a mile from the airport and less than 4 miles from the CBD, this Gateway Hotel is the most expensive option for upmarket, corporate, accommodation in Ahmedabad outside the chaos of the city. With 91 clean, spacious rooms, efficient service, a large pool, good gym and only fifteen minutes from the city centre (with moderate traffic) it is popular with businessmen and is the more peaceful option, although clearly has none of the character and history of the House of MG. The 4 deluxe suites are fabulous but a pool facing double will more than do the trick.

 

The Taj Gateway Ummed Ahmedabad. International Airport Circle, Hansol, Ahmedabad – 382 475, Gujarat, India. Rs. 10, 000 Garden view room, Rs. 10,500 Superior Pool View Room, Rs. 18,500 Executive Suite, Rs. 25,000 Deluxe Suite, all with baths and shower (6% tax extra; for best rates and deals check online). AE, DC, MC, V. 2 restaurants, airport transfers, 24-hr. room service; laundry; gym, lawns, pool, ac, minibar, tv, electronic safe, car rental, drivers, doctor on call, money exchange, DVD player, baby sitting, beauty parlour, Wifi throughout hotel. t: 079/6666 1234 f: 079/6666 4444, Toll-free in India: 1800-111-TAJ www.tajhotels.com gateway.ahmedabad@tajhotels.com,

Le Meridien. Khanpur Road (079/25505505 www.lemerideien.com/ahmedabad Rs. 11,000 for a classic double, ask for a high, corner deluxe room Rs. 15, 000 with separate bath and shower, includes breakfast) is another corporate option in the city with a view over the river and its attendant slums. The rooms (63) are good, the suites are generous and this business hotel offer the regular services (health club, indoor pool, airport transfers (Rs 700 one way, Internet in the business centre Rs.175 for 30 mins, Wi-fi Rs. 350 12 hours).

The Gujarati’s are known for their food fussiness and you will invariably be able to point them out on public transport tucking into tiffins of their own special fare rather than purchasing food elsewhere. Gujarat is largely Muslim and Jain and as a result most establishments are strictly vegetarian (and of course do not serve alcohol). It makes sense to stick with this diet, especially since you will not be missing out on any delicacies. Make sure you sample the Gujarati thali, which is a simple platter of a number of seasonal vegetarian dishes served with rice, various breads and accompaniments. The food is a balanced, moderately spiced, somewhat sweet, healthy meal and one that will leave you feeling satisfied and without concern for any nasty side effects.

Gopi Dining Hall: (Pritamrai Road 079/657 6388) By far the best choice for basic local vegetarian fare, and a hotspot for locals and westerners alike, so you may need to wait for a short while as it efficiently and graciously serves its loyal patrons some of the tastiest freshest Gujarati and Kathiawadi thalis in Gujarat at ridiculously low prices (Rs 40 –75). Do not miss this simple but authentic dining experience.

Vishala: (S) (lunch 11am–3pm and dinner 8–11pm Rs.150 – Rs. 250; on the southern edge of town opp. Vasana Tol Naka 079/26602422). A unique dining experience set in the lush grounds of a constructed traditional Gujarati village. The owner, apparently not being able to get a permit for a restaurant, cunningly constructed a small village-style open air restaurant including a home for his personal Utensil Museum, with thousands of unique and fascinating artifacts from stirrups, nut crackers and pots to bellows, chappati carriers, and dowry boxes. Look out for a pot that is over a thousand years old! The food is excellent and serves all you can eat traditional veg thalis on long wooden tables while you are seated on the floor. It’s recommended to make an evening of this and arrive early to tour the museum and then tale in the post-prandial entertainment of traditional dance and music, and delicious ice cream.

Agashiye: (SS) Set on the rooftop terrace of the House of Mangaldas Hotel, this is also one of the best restaurants in Gujarat, and at night is a great spot to escape from the chaos of the streets. Chill out on the cushions and sample excellent Gujarati fare – its prices are high by local standards (Rs 200 – 300) but it is well worth the few dollars more. If money is an issue simply eat downstairs at the Green House which is just as good, serving extensive lunchtime meals outside including tasty, local flavored ice creams (try the rose or litchi).

 

For two good non-veg options try Mirch Masala (SG and CG Road) for good barbeque and non-veg Indian food and Tomatos which also does a good continental (also on CG Road).

A Particular Gujarati

When traveling Gujarat, one of the highlights is sampling the local cuisine, which differs from the more spicy, rich Rajasthani fare. Predominantly Jains, (as well as Hindus and Muslims), the Gujarati’s, who are known for their fussy eating habits (the strict do not eat garlic onions), do not eat meat nor do they drink (Gujarat is a dry state) and their cuisine has evolved into a tasty, slightly sweet style of vegetarian cooking.  Their standard, staple meal, the vegetarian thali, is comprised of an array of fresh, seasonal vegetables, whether bindi (okra), aloo (potatoe), bhaigan (brinjal) or dhobi (cauliflower) or a mix of all of these with side dishes of dhal, pickles, atchar (spicy) and chutneys (sweet) accompanied by a variety of breads (chappati’s, naan) are renowned and it is customary at lunch or /and dinner to scoff one of these reasonably priced (usually around Rs100) “all you can eat” meals with your hands, washed down with a chilled glass of buttermilk and followed by a cleansing cup of cardamom spiced masala chai. When taking public transport you will invariably always notice the Gujarati’s with their communal eating habits and their tiffins, not willing to chance below standard fare. Follow their lead, and get your hands dirty with some of the world’s best vegetarian food that would make Whole Foods green with envy.

FAST FACTS: Ahmedabad

 

Airlines:

Domestic: Air Deccan (airport 079/30925213) Jet Airways, Ashram Road 079/2754 3304) Kingfisher Airlines airport 1800/233131

International: Air India 079/2658 5622;Air France 079/ 26446886; British Airways 079/2656 5957; KLM 079/2657 7677

Banks and exchanges: Facilities for US and GBP cash and travelers cheques are available at the Bank of India in Khaz Bazaar, the Central Bank of India opp. Sidi Sayyid’s Mosque and the State Bank of India opp. Lal Darwaja (near to House of MG). For Visa go to bank of Baroda’s Ashramn Rd branch and there’s a branch of Thomas Cook at 208 Sakar III, off Ashram Rd near the old High Court. CITIBank has a branch on CG Road at B/201 Fairdeal House.

Hospitals: VS General, Ellis Bridge (079/6577621) is a government hospital.

Post Office: Salapose Rd. (Mon – Sat. 10am – 8pm Sun 10am – 4pm).

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