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Hello friends, After spending nearly fifty years of her life in sinful existence, my wife decided to go on a pilgrimage to wash away her sins. The intended place was Palitana hills in Gujarat, India, which is the holiest of the holies for the Jains. I'm not a Jain, not really a very religious Hindu either. I have eaten many creatures in my life and not too worried about my sins. But when I was planning the trip for her I realised there were plenty of attractions nearby which could keep me busy for a week. And when my wife promised to sponsor the trip, I decided to somehow cope with the repentance for couple of days followed by continuation of my hedonistic life style. The girls also wanted to tag along to see where their ancestors hailed from. So Gujarat : here we come. For people who are not familiar with Gujarat, it is the Westernmost state of India bordering Pakistan, famous for being the birthplace of father of the Nation, Gandhi-ji, the last few Asiatic lions of Gir forest and having the huge salt pan of Rann of Kutch. Currently the Gujaratis are more proud of the fact that the all-conquering Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi is a son of Gujarat. Most of Gujarat is not really popular with the average western tourist, who do not venture beyond the Golden Traingle. The more I did my research the more impressed I was with the hidden gems of Gujarat. I am planning to go and see the Altiplano salt desert of Bolivia, but the Great Rann of Kutch was no less impressive. The Little Rann of Kutch was a heaven for bird watching, with the last few remaining wild asses. The seven thousand year old neglected ruins of Indus valley civilisation at Dholavira would have been a star attraction in any other country. Throw in some amazing handicrafts, unique geological formations, mouth-watering vegetarian food, pronking Blackbucks, Ayurvedic Spa for the ladies, drinking camel milk straight from the udder and a great beach to relax : our itinerary looked great. Communication won't be a problem as Gujarati is my wife's mother tongue and I have also managed to learn a bit to make sure I understand what my in-laws are talking about me. I usually try to avoid the popular places wherever I travel. Checked Tripadvisor for popularity and Gir forest, Somnath and Dwarka temples were out. I do not see too many reports on Gujarat here. I know some of the regular contributors are planning a trip to Gujarat soon and there is one member from Gujarat who was very helpful to me. I feel it is my duty to raise the profile of this amazing place and show you the India beyond the Golden Triangle, Kerala and the nature reserves. A few years back Mr Modi cunningly employed the services of the biggest celebrity in India, Mr Amitabh Bachhan to promote tourism in Gujarat. Mr Bacchan's brilliant tagline was : " Kutch nehi dekha ? To kuch nehi dekha. " meaning " Haven't seen Kutch ? Then you haven't seen anything. " I entirely agree with that tagline and appoint myself as the worthy successor of Mr Big B. It is not really a wildlife trip but more of an immersion in the rich cultural heritage of India but as we did see quite a bit of wildlife, so I guess the moderators will forgive my digression. I knew February was not the best time to see the migratory birds, as they would have started their journey back to Europe again, but because of kids' school time we could not go earlier. The temperature was just right. Pretty cold in the desert in the morning needing a thick fleece at least and boiling hot by noon. Outside desert it was OK if we could avoid direct exposure to midday sun. The itinerary : 4th February : Birmingham-Dubai- Ahmadabad with Emirates. 5th: Reaching Ahmadabad at 8 am, lunch with friends and then 4 hours drive to Bhavnagar,: Lord's Resort Bhavnagar for 2 nights. Nice hotel, superb food. 6th : Whole day trip to Shatrunjay hills Palitana for pilgrimage, an hour's drive. 7th: One hour drive to Blackbuck Lodge, Velavadar, Blackbuck NP for one night. Treated like royalty, eye wateringly expensive. 8th : Five hours drive to the tiny village of Jogad at Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) to stay at Eco camp with Mr Devjibhai Dhamacha, for two nights. In touch with real India staying in Mud Huts. 9th : Day trips to the interior of LRK to the Wild Ass sanctuary. 10th,11th, 12th, 13th : Five hours of drive to the coastal town of Mandvi via a brief stop at Bhuj. Stay at Serena Beach Resort, Mandvi for four nights. Fantastic location, quite expensive for Indian standard but service needs improvemnt. Day trips to ruins of Lakhpat, rock formations of Nakhatrana and the raptor heaven of Banni grasslands. 14th : 2.5 hours drive to Dhordo via many stops to see the remarkable artisans of Gujarat, to check the last frontier post of India, Black Hills of Kutch overlooking the Rann, and overnight at Gateway to Rann resort, Dhordo to watch sunset over the white desert. Resort is a succesful community project mananged by local villagers. 15th : five hours drive circumnavigating the whole Rann to the little island in the middle of Kadir Bet, Dholavira to see the best preserved ruins of Indus Valley civilisation in India. Overnight at Dholviara Resort. Resort is an overstatement, practically in the middle of nowhere, but just what I always look for. 16th : Long seven hours drive back to Ahmedabad, but not before seeing the ancient handicraft of Patola Saree ( one single saree can cost up to five thousand pounds) and the majestic Sun temple of Modhera. Stay with friends. 17th February : spend time with friends at Ahmadabad, more shopping and start the return journey. The route map : Now time for some random pics from the proud ancient land of Garavi Gujarat. A resilient community and salute to the people of Kutch who had rebuilt their land after the devastating earthquake of 2001 killing thousands and thousands of people and flattening a whole city. Pronking Blackbuck Abandoned flamingo colony Wild asses of India Flamingos galore Swamphen
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