Gujarat – A Blend of Culture, Colors & Taste

It was some years back that we (hubby & me) started thinking about visiting Rann Utsav. All the travel magazines which covered Rann Utsav and Bachchan ji’s advertisement on Gujarat tourism played cupid for many years. And finally we decided to bid farewell to 2018 with our much awaited trip to Gujarat.
Being in Bangalore, connectivity to Gujarat seemed tough. We were travelling as a group of 8, including kids and elders and having a hectic travel schedule was not possible. So we shortlisted few destinations in Gujarat that were possible to visit in 10 days without stressing ourselves too much.

So it was, Rann Utsav in Kutch, Somnath, Dwaraka and Ahmedabad (in that order) and a few unplanned stops which were worth it. Here are the details of our itinerary for all those who are reading this travelogue and want to plan a trip to Gujarat.

Day1: Bangalore to Ahmedabad

Travel: Indigo Flight from Bangalore to Ahmedabad

Stay @ Treebo Hotels in Khanpur, Ahmedabad

Khanpur area of Ahmedabad has many economical hotels and is 30 minutes by taxi from airport. Our purpose of stay was to just spend a comfortable night so that we could wakeup fresh for next day travel, and Treebo hotel worked out best for us. Staff was friendly, rooms were good and complimentary breakfast buffet helped us to start our next day with fresh minds and full tummies.

Day 2: Ahmedabad to Rann Usav (Kutch)

Travel: By road from Ahmedabad to Tent City (Dhorodo) ~410 kms

There are many trains from Ahmedabad to Bhuj and Rann Utsav management provides transfer from Bhuj railway station/airport to Tent City. However, we were a group of 8 and had hired a tempo traveler (TT) for our entire trip. We started around 9 from Ahmedabad and reached Tent City (Dhorodo) by 6 PM. Roads are really good, but I would recommend to hire an Innova for a smaller group as TT doesn’t pick up good speed and hence we spent a lot of time on road.

Stay: @Tent City, Dhordo

The moment you enter The Tent City at Rann Utsav, you are transported to a different world. At the horizon, we could see the full moon and a huge display of “Rann Utsav” in all colors. Kids were really excited. At reception, we were greeted with a beautiful idol of “Ganesha” and an extremely helpful and polite staff. Check-in took 5-10 mins we got into electric carts running for the ease of guests and reached our cluster. It was a pleasurable sight to see white tents shining in full moon night. Well-kept tents, with attached bath, a huge area for kids to play, a cozy hut in the center of the cluster, a swing to soak the sun the morning. What else can one ask for?

After a sumptuous dinner @ the dining hall, we decided to walk back to our tents and inhale the serenity of the place. In all my travels till date, I have never come across such an ethnically created place which makes you fall in love with the colors of Gujarat. The tent city was booked to its last tent and still we didn’t feel that the place was crowsed, all we could see were colors, white tents, cultural pieces all over the city & the full moon.
Being a full moon night, management had planned a special visit to White Sand Dessert @ 10 PM. White sand dessert is as white as you can imagine. When moon light meets the whites of the sand, that dessert transforms into a sea of waves. My advice is to soak yourself in that beauty as it is once in a life time experience.

  1. Plan your vacation early and choose full moon nights. I had booked our tents in July for our vacation in December.
  2. Rann Utsav happens from November till February every year. December and January nights are really cold, If you are visiting in December (around Christmas), carry woolens as it gets extremely cold during the night and early morning.
  3. Carry comfortable shoes as you may want to walk around the tent city and other places of sightseeing.
  4. I would recommend a 2 nights and 3 days stay @ tent city, to spend a peaceful time there and experience the Rann Utsav to the brim.
  5. For online booking, link is given below or enquire at Gurjat Tourism official website.
  6. https://www.rannutsavonline.com/booking.php

Day 3: Stay @ Tent City and visit to Kala Dunger
Our 2 nights & 3 days package included early morning visit to white sand desert to welcome the sun and Kala Dunger (black hill) @ 2PM.
We were too lazy and cold to wake-up for sun rise and hence spent our morning in our tents and later gorging on the gorgeous breakfast which included all delicacies of Gujarat. If you are a street food lover then you are gonna love Gujarat. “Dhoklas” and “Jalebies” became my personal favorite after this trip.
After breakfast, we explored the tent city, flea market, kids indulged in zip lining and other adventure sports. By 2PM, we were ready for visit to Kalo Dunger.
AC buses were arranged and snacks were provided to all guests. On the way to Kalo Dunger, buses stopped for a short visit to the local village of Kutch. You can be a witness to the real life of Kutch in this village and also freak out on shopping handmade items.

Buses then departed for Kalo Dunger and we reached there half an hour before sunset. Kalo Dunger the highest point of Kutch. It is a home to a 400 years old Dattatreya temple, a breathtaking view of the white sands far away and a beautiful sunset.We spent an hour at the Kalo Dunger and started our journey back to tent city. In the night we enjoyed folk dance and music, followed by dinner and a good night’s sleep.

Day 4: Travel from Tent City, Dhordo to Somnath

We relished our last breakfast at the Rann Utsav dining hall and had our last view of the colorful Rann Utsav. All we could say was “Kutch Nahi Dekha to Kuch Nahi Dekha

Journey to Somanth started @10:30 AM, I would recommend to start early as it’s ~500kms and more than 10 hours travel including breaks. Day 4 was thus spent on the road and we reached Somnath @ 7:30 PM. All we could do was check-in into our rooms, have dinner and sleep.

Tips for stay at Somnath

  1. Somnath is a pilgrimage and a small city. The main temple is located at the sea, exactly as Mr. Bachchan claims. So book a hotel near the temple.
  2. I will recommend any Somnath temple trust guest houses, like Maheshwari, Lilavati, Sagar Darshan.
  3. If you want to book rooms in any of the above guest houses, then you have to book early. Online booking is possible and starts 120 days prior and gets full with-in minutes. Link for booking online is given below:
  4. https://booking.somnath.org/GuestHouse/
  5. City has a coastal smell lingering in the air during evenings, so be prepared to endure it.
  6. Mobile phone and any electrical devices are strictly not allowed inside the temple premises. Lockers are available but there is always a long queue. So I would recommend to leave your phone, wallets etc. in the hotel room.
  7. Have proper coordination with your group about meeting points after darshna, as it’s difficult to locate your group without a mobile phone.

Day 5: Stay at Somnath

Somnath temple premises is huge and a serene place, one of the few temples, where you will find a moving queue with no pushing and pulling of devotees. If you want to perform any rituals then you will have to go to the old temple where you will find committee pandits to help you out. After darshana, we spent sometime in temple premises. It is built on the sea shore, and if you just want to hear the waves hitting the shore then Somnath temple is the place to be. You will feel presence of an unknown power.

There is a beach at walking distance but it’s really crowded and not so clean. If not for over-enthusiastic kids, we would have skipped the walk to the beach. There are other temples in 3km radius of the main temple that you could visit in an auto rickshaw. Evenings are made colorful and musical with light and music show at the temple. Temple shines out in different colors of light and with Mr. Bachchan’s voice, narrating the history of Somnath, you will feel proud to be a part of Indian culture. Day 5 ended with music and light show followed by dinner at a small restaurant near our guest house.

Day 6: Travel from Somnath to Dwarka

Somnath to Dwarka by road is ~230kms and took us approximately 6 hours to reach Dwarka. We reached Dwarka at 5PM and checked into and OYO hotel. It was 10mins walk from Dwarkadheesh temple. After freshening up, we headed for temple. My eyes were just moving on from one handicraft shop to another, deciding on what all I need to buy on the way back 🙂 Temple is crowded beyond words, mobile phones are not allowed and so no advice works here. You have to be pushed and pulled to have a glimpse of DwarkaDheesh. But all the effort is worth it. After dinner, we retired to bed to wake up fresh the next day and explore Dwarka.

Day 7: Exploring Dwarka

We started our day by visiting “Bet Dwarka”, which was the capital during the reign of Lord Krishna on Dwarka. Jetty to “Bet Dwarka” starts 30 KM from Dwarka, and takes around 15 minutes to reach the island city. City is again crowded, with lots of street vendors selling a variety of things, from sea shells, real pearls to handcraft items. After Darshan, we headed back to Dwarka.

In the evening we headed towards the beach, it was getting cooler and Sun was going down slowly. Beach has some rocks, not sharp, so one can stand on the rocks and feel the waves kissing your feet. You might feel some small fishes and shells tickling you. There are some water pockets where you can find some life shells and hold them. We spent more than hour at the beach, playing with the shells, sea waves and witnessed a beautiful sunset.

City of Dwarka was bustling with action, tourists and pilgrims filled the streets. We started off on foot to explore the streets. On every corner other corner, we found vendors selling, jalebi, rabri, samosa, fafda, kadhai wala doodh and so on. We couldn’t resist for long and ate like never before. If you like street food then Gujarat is the place to be. Our Our champ announced that he wants to have Jalebi and Rabri for breakfast next day too and “for once”, we agreed with him !! We ended our day 7 with the sweetness of Jalebis!!

Day 8: Dwarka to Ahmedabad with a surprise visit to Marine World

As promised to our son, after a sumptuous breakfast of dhoklas, fafdas, samosa and Jalebi, we started our journey back to Ahmedabad.

A friend had recommended visiting, “Marine National Park” in Jamnagar, which is on the way to Ahmedabad. And we decided to give it a try. It’s a natural marine park. When the tide is low, sea recedes and many sea creatures get stuck in the corals. During the 2 km walk, we found live crabs walking in their shells, star fish, jelly fish, wool crab, flat worm, brittle star and many fishes. We could hold and touch all these marine animals which was a unique experience. If you decide to visit the natural marine park, then I recommend to plan your visit between 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM when the tide is low.

Since we spent a lot of time in Marine Park, it was almost 8:00 PM by the time we reached Ahmedabad. I had booked a 4-bedroom villa on Airbnb.com in Ahmedabad for our stay. It turned out be a beautiful villa in a peaceful locality. Swiggy brought us dinner and we called it a day!

Day 9: Exploring Ahmedabad

We were so smitten by Jalebis and dhoklas of Gujarat that we ended up ordering that for breakfast too and then we headed for Sabarmati Ashram. The book store of the Ashram was the place we spent most time. If you are a book worm then you are going to love it. It was overall an enriching experience for all of us and our son. He finally got to see and read about our struggle for independence.

Then we headed for the Vintage Car museum and it was my turn now to be excited as a child. Blue Cadillac stole my heart away!

Kankariya lake was not a good experience for us as new year Carnival was going on there and had no place to even walk. We spent a peaceful night in our villa and packed our bags to take the flight back home next day morning.

Day 10: Back to Bangalore (Traffic)

Nothing much to say here!

Mukteshwar – Abode of chirping birds and melodies of flute

Hidden in Kumaon hills, at an altitude of approximately 2000 meters, small & silent town of Mukteshwar is a treat for travelers who are seeking peace from the usual fast pace of life.

It lacks the label of a tourist spot, shopping destination and foodies’ paradise, but yet, it is one place where I would like to go back and spend more time, exploring myself and the place.

I visited this small, picturesque town in the month of May. Intention was only to visit a cool place and get a break from scorching summer sun of Northern India. Little did I expect that this place would turn out to be such a great surprise! In month of May, Uttarakhand hills are filled with tourists, especially those who visit the famous lake town of Nanital. We had instead, decided to give Mukteshwar a chance and guess what, it was our chance to be alone with nature and ourselves.

The Arrival

The moment our car took a deviation from Bhowali towards Mukteshwar, number of cars on the hilly turns started dwindling. Totally unaware of what awaited us, and also a little skeptical about how Mukteshwar would be, we started making plans of leaving for Nanital, the next day. Out little boy was already not happy with the deviation that we had taken. All he wanted was to reach Nanital and experience ropeway, boating and buy mini games that are sold at every 10 meters on Lake Road.

We had booked ourselves into a holiday home. Mr.Bhat, the caretaker was waiting for us when we arrived. First approval came from our son, “Ghar to acha lag raha hai (House indeed looks beautiful)”. And we all laughed out loud. It indeed was a beautiful two storied villa, with a spacious living room, splendid kitchen on first floor and 2 bedrooms, with a wide porch on second floor. We instantly fell in love with the place. It was very tastefully designed by the owner, everything from sofa, beds, paintings, interiors and lights were exclusive. Porch had a perfect setting with a coffee table, comfortable chairs and flower pots with blooming roses and marigolds.

Our caretaker, Mr.Bhat, a very polite and simple man, made coffee for us, while we enjoyed the view from porch. It was almost noon and we were hungry too. Mr.Bhat offered to make local style daal & jeera aloo with hilly herbs and spices, along with hot phulkas and steamed rice.

In the pursuit of….

We savored our food to the last bite and then set out to explore the unknown and unseen. We could hear a beautiful melody of flute and curiously walked towards the direction of melody to find its source.

Mr. Bhat had told us about the handicraft shop, Avani, and it was difficult to miss. A small hut shaped shop, with hand–woven clothes, colored with natural dye, stood out at the corner of the road. The shopkeeper, who was again a local guy, hired by Avani group, explained the process of making dye and clothes. We bought a scarf and organic crayons as a souvenir from Avani.

Our pursuit towards the source of flute melody continued. After 100 meters walk, we succeeded. There he was, eyes closed, oblivious to the presence of tourist, he played his tunes. It was a small café and he was standing at the entrance. We stood there mesmerized till he finished his tune.

 

 

Next stop was an organic products shop, bought some fresh hilly turmeric, aloe Vera and strawberry crush. Roses brushed each other in mild breeze and we walked ahead, in search of choco-brownie, needless to mention that who demanded it 🙂

As if Mukteshwar was hell bound to prove us wrong, a small choco-house popped up at the next corner. What happened next, needs no guessing, fresh baked brownies and some more handicrafts made way to our bags.

 

 

 

 

 

Our next stop was Mukteshwar temple, and we decided to reach there by car since it was more than 5 km away from our stay. On our way to temple, we found out that the area near temple was more densely populated with many hotels and resorts.

Our guide at the temple, took us on a trail towards “chauli ki jali” and narrated stories about the significance of the place and temple. It is said that if a barren woman passes through “Chauli ki jali” then she is blessed with a child.

Many tourists had come to the cliff for rock climbing and zip lining. With a deep gorge beneath them, I am sure these adventure sports brought in a surge of adrenaline rush.

With divine darshan of the Shivlinga at Mukteshwar temple, we headed back to our gorgeous villa to enjoy sunset with a sip of coffee.

After yummilicious dinner of Pahadi kulath ki daal, paneer makhani and parathas, we retired to our beds and promised ourselves to wake up at sunrise.

 

Mukteshwar Morning

It wasn’t difficult to wake up before sunrise, chirping birds did the job. All of us including our little one was up even before sky started turning orange. We sat in our cozy beds, inhaled the morning breeze, and aimlessly looked at the hills. It feels so satisfying when you are not particularly planning to do anything and just enjoying the moment. That was our moment.

However, spell was broken by our boy, who was excited to see Himalayan range shining in the first rays of Sun. So we put on our jackets and started on foot to get a better view of sunrise. It was one of the most beautiful sunrise and Himalayan range sparkled for a split second. Mr. Bhat told us that the Himalayan range is clearly visible on a clear sky day or after rains. And during winters, entire town of Mukteshwar gets covered with white sheet of snow.

Not wanting to go back to our holiday home, knowing that the trip is coming to an end, we wandered on twists and turns of Mukteshwar. Mr. Bhat showed us his home in the valley, where his wife was taking the cows out for grazing.  Jingling of cow bells melted with the sounds of chirping birds.

It was now time to head back and pack our bags, but all we wanted was to extend our stay for one more day. I am sure, another day wouldn’t have been sufficient though. With the aroma of hot aloo parathas and coffee, we bid goodbye to Mr. Bhat, and Mukteshwar.

Mandatory details:

How to Reach:

By Rail: Kathgodam Railway station is the nearest railhead to Mukteshwar situated at a distance of 62kms.

By Flight: Delhi to Pantnagar flight, and 94kms by taxi from airport.

Stay: Tranquil Home Stay. For booking contact: 9837040943, 9720096446, 7351481899

Best time to visit: March to June during Summer/December to experience Snow

Recommended duration of stay: 2 nights and 3 days

Travel tips: Carry warm clothes as it gets cold during evenings and mornings. Comfortable shoes would help to explore the place on foot. Try out food at local cafes or with local people.

 

Checkout Uttranchal tourism blog for more details and places to visit (that we didn’t)

https://www.euttaranchal.com/tourism/mukteshwar.php

 

Enjoy your trip and do leave comments.