A better way to see Gujarat

A friend of mine from here in Texas recently handed me a copy of the Gujarat guidebook she’s edited and published after living there for some time (and with the additional help of some paid local writers). Since my family is originally from Gujarat I’ve never even considered the need for getting my hands on a guidebook before each visit there. After skimming through nearly 400 pages rich in history and photography I think I’ll be taking this along on my next trip to the motherland. Think “Lonely Planet on steroids”:

A grill would have totally completed this cover picture.

Five thousand years of civilization

Savor the history and romance, colors and textures, rhythms and dance of a land where time have never stood still.

From the rocky heights of the Sahyadri Mountains across to the salt flats of the Desert of Kachchh, Gujarat has something for everyone. Wander through remains of ancient Indus Valley civilizations; venture to meet the lions of Gir Forest; soak in the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi; dance on the streets for nine nights of Navratri. Enjoy an unparalleled ethos of hospitality. Experience vibrant crafts, exquisite architecture, rich wildlife reserves, colorful festivals and eclectic traditions. Join five millennia of seafarers, merchants and settlers from around the globe and come explore Gujarat. [Link]

What the hell. Gujarat has lions? I wonder why my dad has failed to ever mention this salient fact to me (but I’m sure he’ll comment on it and give me an earful down below). I remember going all the way to the northern part of India on a tiger safari but had no idea that there were lions right there in Gujarat. I think part of the problem is that to me Gujarat is just Ahmedabad, and if someone asks me what you do there I’d say “ummmmm…CG Road, Gandhi Ashram, and Siddi Sayid.” I love eating Amul cheese sandwiches when I am in India but I didn’t know I could take a tour of the Amul plant and watch it get made. It’s probably similar to going wine tasting in Napa (but cheese sandwiches are better than wine). The guidebook also taught me a little about the village (Sarkhej) that my grandparents lived in and where my parents partially grew up. I’ve been there but either didn’t know, or couldn’t remember, the significance of the place until I read here about the complex that the village was built around:

Sarkhej Roaza is a mosque, tomb, and royal complex dedicated to the memory of Salikh Ahmed Khattu Ganj Baksh, the spiritual advisor of Ahmed Shah…The Roza was a retreat for successive rulers, each adding a garden or pavilion. Sarkej is another excellent example of a structure that combines Hindu and Islamic design.

The best guidebooks are those that give you a deeper appreciation for what you are visiting by putting it into a context that you can relate to. I appreciate the fact that this book is compiled from the perspective of an Indian American who’s been living there for a while and has been seeking out overlooked places instead of simply relying on guidance from relatives or other travel books that don’t contain nearly this level of detail.

India Guide Publications develops comprehensive travel guides to lesser known destinations in India. Our informative, easy-to-use travel guide books give travelers a complete resource to navigating the rich culture and sights of India’s unexplored regions.

A passionate and energetic team of writers, researchers, designers and map makers, we are totally committed to promoting the insider’s perspective to Gujarat. Locally driven – we know the local culture, speak the local language, and have a deep connection with this space. [Link]

I asked my friend if there will be more guidebooks like these covering some of the other Indian states. I think they are open to collaborating with other groups who want to do other states. I know most people don’t go on vacation to India in the summer but given that everyone I know seems to be planning a trip somewhere right now I thought I’d throw out this tip to some of you who might be going to Gujarat soon.

38 thoughts on “A better way to see Gujarat

  1. The Gir Forests in Gujarat are home to lions.

    I love the use of the comment space of the blog as a medium for father-son communication. “Yo Dad”, if you haven’t talked to Abhi about the birds and the bees yet, here’s your chance.

  2. The NGO Global Heritage Fund (GHF) is trying to help develop historical sites around the world, one of them is the IVC site in Lothal, Gujurat which I see is on your friend’s suggested Ahmedabad itinerary.

  3. if you haven’t talked to Abhi about the birds and the bees yet

    part and parcel of being wise is alluding to the birds and bees without ever mentioning th-, err, nevermind:

    “Always focus on the study – rather than female anatomy”

    best piece of advice intended for someone else that i ever got.

  4. Apparently the Gir Forest may have given rise to ligers . Birds and bees are one thing, lions and tigers is whole other can of dokla. Gujurati fauna behave yourselves !

  5. The Lions in GIR forest are African Lions brought to Gujarat as exotic pets by the erstwhile Maharajas which adapted to Gujarat…It might also interest you that there are black african tribes living in the Rann of Kutch for a few hundred/thousand years.

  6. Oh yes, Gir forest where in a small jeep filled with 7 adults and me, we toured the forest until sunset and couldn’t find any lions! Deer, squirrels a plenty but no lions – it may have been over 15 years ago but it’s still a sore point (that may have to do with 3 hours on a jeep though) …

  7. Abhi: I don’t know what you have been smoking? Oh wait, you just got back from a bachelors party in Vegas. I thought we told you about our trip to Gir Forest – back in 1972 when your Mom and I were 15 feet away from a Lion, a lioness (?) and six cubs. It was a safari prior to your birth – so no wonder you don’t remember. They tied a huge black water buffalo to a tree to attract the lion family, however there were two dudes with fully loaded rifle standing by – just in case the King of the Gir misbehaves while we were there. Gujarat has very ancient and very interesting history. Sarkhej was where your grandparents lived for a while – I was born and raised in Ahmedabad and your mom was born in Kampala and grew up there. It seems like you have forgotten everything, and just remember the Birds and the Bees part!! By the way on your last trip I took you to “Lothal” where I remember you picked up a fossil stone and told me that some folks might fall for that stone, believing it came from the moon. I have so many books in Gujarati – regarding the wonders that Gujarat was and is. According to the legend Lord Krishna chose to retire in Gujarat – where he died – after the epic war of Mahabharat. Unfortunately you never learned the Gujarati alphabet. Yes Rahul, this is one way to communicate with your grown ups. Sometimes we need to call on their cell phones to come down from upstairs to the kitchen to eat dinner. By the way lions were not “braught” from Africa. Loooooong long time ago Gujarat and Africa were joined. If you don’t believe me ask Razib – the whiz kid…… Dad

  8. Yo Dad,

    I’m available if you are interested in adopting. I promise to learn the Gujarati alphabet.

  9. NvM: I have no problem. remember just learning the alphabet won’t cut it. You got to talk the talk and walk the walk. Being a born Gujarati I should warn you that it is no picnic. Are you ready for the first lesson? Just kidding. Like they say charity begins at home. May be I should teach some basics to Abhi. Who knows he might find someone on the moon already speaking Gujarati. Them “Gujjus” are everywhere.

  10. Being a born Gujarati I should warn you that it is no picnic.

    No, it’s a salt march …

    Sorry, sorry, couldn’t help myself …

  11. Abhi,

    Your idea of Gujarat being limited to ‘Ahmedabad’ or ‘Amdawad’ as gujjus call it is perfectly normal. Until I was taken on a Gujarat ‘darshan’ tour, my idea of Gujarat was Baroda. :)

    Kutch is an amazing place and I was amazed to hear that during the earthquake in the last nineties, ‘Aina Mahal’, which was built many many years ago was one of the buildings that actually remained upright.

    My dad took us to Junagadh where we saw gujju lions. They are HUGE!

    YO DAD:

    I read/write and speak gujarati and so does Mr Msichana. I can also bust out home made khandvi. Will you adopt us both? :)

  12. I don’t think they are imported African lions. Lions come in different sub-species, and their original range was not just Africa, but parts of Europe, Central Asia and Iran, and of course India. These Gir lions supposedly represent the last remnants of the Indian lion which was once widespread.

    More on lions.

    More on Indian lions.

  13. MsIchana: Haven’t heard from you in a long time. You probably learnt Gujarati and how to make “Khandvi” and “Dhokra” and “Dhebra” and other Gujarati Yum Yum from your Mom in Africa. Correct? Speaking about Junagadh, we satyed there at the Royal Palace when we went to Gir. There isa beutiful Seashore called “Chorwaad” nearby, and off course the famous “Somnath Temple”. Besides the headquarters for “Naagar” community, Junagadh is also birth place of the First poet of Gujarat “Narsinh Mehta”. Tell you what I will adopt both you and El Capitan – on one condition – you will have to take care of our vacation home in Ahmedabad, and teach Abhi “Gujarati”. I mean real street slang. Deal?

  14. Ooh Narsinh Mehta! My mom made me listen to his bhajans throughout my childhood! I associate the smell of ‘tikhi puree and katki keri’ with a rendition of ‘Jaag ne Jaadwa, krushna gowariya’. I bet you know what I’m talking about…And yes, the Somnath temple is stunning. It was a very refreshing visit after a debacle we had in Dwarka….at Somnath, no one tried to extort any donations out of us.

    El Capitan speaks a different sort of Gujarati from me. I am originally from Kutch but grew up in Kenya and his folks are from Paatan and he grew up in Michigan.

    I call it a deal…what say Abhi?

  15. I think part of the problem is that to me Gujarat is just Ahmedabad

    ah, that’s a big problem. you need to get to surat asap.

  16. Spent a lotta time this year with the tribal folk in Gir forest conducting informal education for their kids, was an amazing place and at sunset they’d take me to a particular stream where every night, without fail, a pack of lions would come to quench their thirst. God I wish i could go back there.

    Abhi – Congratulate Anjali for me, she’s worked so hard for this project to come off the ground and deserves a thumbs up or two:)

    DR

  17. I know most people don’t go on vacation to India in the summer..

    wrong. i’m going in a few more weeks :)

  18. Also, we like ligers. They’re bad-ass.

    Deb: What are you drawing? Napoleon: A liger. Deb: What’s a liger? Napoleon: It’s pretty much my favorite animal. It’s like a lion and a tiger mixed. Bred for its skills in magic.

  19. Yo Dad, I know you are in great demand, and I don’t read, write or speak Gujarati except for this tidbit, but I concentrate on study rather than the female anatomy, love dhokla and khandvi, know about Gir, and don’t need to be called on a cellphone for dinner. Do any of these count in getting to the head of the line?

    And Abhi, now that you’ve got your PhD, haven’t you been directed to focus on the female anatomy? Grihastha, and all that?

  20. Rahul; That is a nice song. I recognize Amitabh Bachhan, don’t know who the actress is though. Abhi don’t need no instruction on how to find a girl. He is still young, and I am sure knows quite well where to focus. Yes, he has a PhD, but that does not mean one is good at exploring, researching, validating and confirming a potential life partner. His old man can give him some pointers though if asked. It will happen – like in most cases – before he knows it. That my boy is called LOVE!! ISHQ KIYA NAHI JATA – WOH TO HO HI JATA HAI !!

  21. Oh Yo dad..I am disappointed :( . The girl with Amitabh in that song is none other than a most beloved Gujji from Junagadh, Parveen Babi.

  22. Abhi don’t need no instruction on how to find a girl. He is still young, and I am sure knows quite well where to focus… His old man can give him some pointers though if asked.

    Ah, what a timely response! It remind me of this.

  23. perfect timing. thanks, abhi. just this morning, i decided to go to gujarat in december (couldnt resist the milk badam and amul cheese)!

  24. You didn’t know Gujarat was one of the few places that still had lions and you are blaming your dad! You ignorant bastard.

  25. Gujjubhai:You don’t say? Parveen Babi went to the same Mount Carmel – Convent High School in Ahmedabad where my wife went. Although she was two years junior to her. I understand she lost all her marbles by the time she checked out – dreaming about Amitabh Bachhan.

  26. Parveen Babi’s story is quite tragic. She totally disappeared from Hindi films and the public consciousness in the early 80s, only to make a dramatic return in the early 2000s, claiming that Amitabh Bachchan had conspired to kill her. She died alone in her Bombay home and her death was only noticed because she hadn’t picked up the usual newspaper and other supplies from her door for multiple days. The general belief is that she was suffering from schizophrenia, which was probably aggravated by her poor treatment by Mahesh Bhatt, Danny Denzongpa (and maybe Amitabh) during their extramarital affairs with her. I think Mahesh Bhatt even made a movie based on his affair with her (was it Arth?).

  27. but that does not mean one is good at exploring, researching, validating and confirming a potential life partner.

    on point observation Yo Dad Sahib! I have encountered too many cousin brothers waddling in the extremes. they are either in la la land singing Rafi’s Aaj Mausam or trying to write algorithms for a foolproof personality test. Attention cousin brothers! Love is not a reductionist venture!

    ISHQ KIYA NAHI JATA – WOH TO HO HI JATA HAI !!

    WAH!

  28. The general belief is that she was suffering from schizophrenia, which was probably aggravated by her poor treatment by Mahesh Bhatt, Danny Denzongpa (and maybe Amitabh) during their extramarital affairs with her.

    This poor treatment is par for the course…but most women bounce back…I think in her case it was schizophrenia plain and simple. Maybe combined with severe loneliness, who knows. She was one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the Indian screen. A good example of the fact that being rich, glamorous, famous, good-looking, etc. does not necessarily make you happy or lead to a happy ending. She was also very obese when she died. Very sad. Sometimes society and culture and family can fail people so badly.

  29. Oh wow, I am really excited to read this book!

    I too didn’t know much about Gujurat until I lived there for a year. And I spent a week touring Saurashtra and we went on a “safari” in Gir and we saw a bunch of lions. The interesting thing is that it’s a preserve, so as we were driving along the highway in the evening we saw some lions hanging out along the side of the road, which was pretty cool.

    When I think of Gujurat, I think of Baroda, because that’s where I spent most of my time and I think of my Kaki who has all the OG info on Guju customs and was educating me the entire year. Which was kind of annoying at the time, but now really cool.

    My favorite memory by far is going to the kethi and eating raw vhudyadi.

    If you are ever in Baroda you have to go the Gujurati Thali restaurant at the Welcome Hotel. It has the best Gujurat Thali hands down.

  30. Just flew in from Amdavad this morning…took a trip through Saurashtra and used this book extensively. Anand Shah of IndiCorp is an editor and referred it to my wife while we were there. It really is one of those guidebooks that make you wonder, “why didn’t I think of that!” Great background on every city with some of the most relevant details from a perspective that resonates with 2nd gen Gujjus.

    The hotel choices are much better now in Somnath than my last visit. Junagadh is a gem, but stay clear of the supposedly “lavish” Leo Resort…algaed swimming pool and mildewy rooms with weak A/C’s. The climb up Mt. Girnar is not for the faint of heart and start very early. The Gir forest preserves close in the monsoon so best time is in the winter as for anything in Gujarat.