Western India: Gujarat with bits of Rajasthan & Madhya Pradesh
6 -25 February 2020
Tour Leader(s): Richard Hunt
£3600 including: scheduled flights [London-Mumbai-Bhuj. Indore-Delhi-–London] travel by coach; accommodation in good hotels (often the best) in double/twin bedded rooms with breakfast. [Full board at Fort Ahilya (3 nights)& Kathiwada (2), Half board at Bhuj (3)Dungarpur (2) government taxes, entrance fees.
Insurance; Indian Visa; other meals and incidentals. Single room supplement £1062 (regrettable, but very scarce). Tips for guides and drivers.
Gujarat is less well known that its more visited neighbour, Rajasthan, but is filled with truly fascinating attractions. Its tribal cultures, producing exquisite textiles, the amazing step-wells sunk deep into the arid landscape, often richly ornamented, that provided not only water but underground shelter in the heat of summer, some of its forts, palaces and temples – all these are among the finest to be found in India.
Our new and unusual tour starts in the remote region of Kutch, known for its arid salt desert but interspersed with marshy wetlands, and containing vibrant towns and villages. We explore tribal and nomadic settlements before crossing the Litte Rann of Kutch, famous for the wild asses that roam on the salt-flats. En route to the capital, Ahmedabad, we visit the magnificent 11th C Modhera Sun Temple and both the step-well and textile centre of Patan. Ahmedabad itself has a wealth of old Havelis (merchants houses), mosques and the world-famous Calico Museum of Textiles. By contrast we travel north via Sidhpur into the Aravali hills to stay at Dabargadh Palace in the village of Poshina and from there, via the Jain temples in the Polo Forest, to the lovely lake-side Palace of Dungarpur (Rajasthan).Another journey takes us to the splendid hunting lodge of Kathiwada and on to Maheshwar and the lovely Fort Ahilya, perched above the sacred Narmada river. An overnight stay in Indore before catching our morning flight home via Delhi.
EXTENSIONS are possible: south by road to the rock-cut cave temples of Ajanta and Ellora, or east and north by train to Bhopal, Orchha, Agra and Delhi
This is a holiday! There is so much to see, but we cannot see everything! So the itinerary is selective, yet offers great variety with some time to explore alone, go shopping or just relax beside a swimming pool. When we are not in transit you are perfectly free to include or omit any of the day’s activities. We stay in small hotels chosen for their location, interest and personal attention rather than every western 5* luxury although the hotels on this tour are often the best available. We do our utmost to plan carefully, but frustrations can occur with flights or hotels, which may involve changes in our programme. Indians are most hospitable, friendly and helpful and any difficulties can easily be overcome if we are tolerant and adaptable.
We hope to offer good value for money: this is not the cheapest tour to India as we use convenient scheduled flights, good ground services and appropriate mostly small boutique hotels.
BHUJ & RURAL KUTCH After an overnight flight via Mumbai we arrive at Bhuj to start to explore the region of Kutch. We stay at a ‘camp resort’ just 15 kms from Bhuj city, convenient for visits to villages in and around the Rann of Kutch to see both the nomadic shepherd communities (Rabari and other tribes) who are among the last nomads of India. From their villages they still set out on long journeys of several months into central India searching for pastures for their sheep, goats and cattle, taking wives and often children, but leaving the elderly in the villages at home. Bhuj suffered from the terrible earthquake of 2001but has made a marvellous recovery and we can stills see the palaces and fort, temples and museums of the city.
3 nights at Kutch Safari Lodge. Rooms in circular ‘Kutchi’ houses, pool, garden. Simple & convenient
LITTLE RANN OF KUTCH Crossing the salt marshes and desert region north of the Gulf of Kutch we enter the Little Rann. From here a ‘safari’ visits the islands on the ancient sea bed, home to ‘Gudhkur’ -Asiatic wild asses, as well as black buck, ‘Nilgai’(India’s largest antelope), chinkara gazelle and rich bird life. For those less interested in wild life, visits to the craft village of Dasada can be arranged.
2 nights at Rann Riders, Dasada, rooms in cottages, pool and garden.
MODHERA, PATAN & AHMEDABAD. En route to the capital, Ahmedabad, we first visit the marvellous 11thC temple at Modhera, built by the Chalukya dynasty of Hindu rulers and dedicated to the sun god Surya. Attacked and partly destroyed by the Muslim invader Mahmud of Gazni it remains one of the most impressive of Indian temples. We drive on to Patan to climb down into the amazing 11thC step well, 7 stories deep and containing a temple. It was built by a queen as a memorial to her husband King Bhima I. Also at Patan is a weaving centre where, uniquely, ‘double ikat’ silk weaving is still done. This intricate material is produced by tie-dyeing both weft and warp to produce beautiful saris that can only be afforded by Bollywood film-stars and Indian oligarchs. Less costly items are on offer.
Ahmedabad is an enormous bustling city, but we shall be concerned with its historic centre, with its old havelis – merchants houses – markets, mosques, more step wells and the quite superb Calico Museum of Textiles.
3 nights at the House of MG. A haveli of 1924, built for a textile merchant, transformed into a rather luxurious boutique hotel in the city centre. Indoor swimming pool, small garden, gym, massage.
SIDHPUR & POSHINA Driving north, we visit Sidhpur, a town on the sacred Saraswati River and an important pilgrimage centre. It has an astonishing number of grand mansions built by the Bohra community of merchants who made their money trading in Bombay, Calcutta, Rangoon or Singapore in the late 19th & early 20th centuries (rather like the Chettiars of Tamil Nadu, though here the houses are mainly collected in one town). Vast, ornate – often ‘European’ in style - and mostly empty, they line the streets of this little known town. Our destination is Darbargadh Palace in the village of Poshina in the Aravali foothills on the Rajasthan border. The ancestral owner Kr Harendrapal Sinh and his wife are our hosts in this palace hotel, and can arrange visits by jeep to the local villages.
2 nights at Dabargadh Poshina, 25 rooms. Welcoming, modest but interesting accommodation.
DUNGARPUR Before crossing into Rajathan, we first visit the Polo Forest with the ruins of several 15thC Jain and Hindu temples. Dungarpur remained a Princely State until independence from Britain in 1947, The city was founded in the late 14thC by a branch of the Mewar (Udaipur) dynasty, but was occupied by Moghul rulers and recently by Joanna Lumley for her TV series. A main attractions include the Juna Mahal – the old palace (now a museum), a 7 story building perched above the town, beautifully decorated with murals & mirror work; the royal car collection; several temples and, of course the Udai Bilas Lakeside Palace dating from the mid 19th C (where the family moved in the mid 20th C) and where we stay.
2 nights at Udai Bilas Palace 23 rooms, infinity pool, gardens
KATHIWADA Travelling south we enter Madhya Pradesh to stay at another noble edifice – the Hunting Lodge (hotel) of the former principality of Kathiwada. Built in 1895, this fell into decay and was restored after 2007 by the heiress of the family to an 11 room luxury hotel. Guided walks are conducted to local tribal cultures, or a longer trek to the forest and waterfall. Pottery and block-printing studios.
2 nights at Kathiwada Raaj Mahal, swimming pool, gardens.
MAHESHWAR, FORT AHILYA AND MANDU A 3 hour journey east brings us to Maheshwar on the north bank of the sacred Narmada River. It is a place of pilgrimage and the banks are lined with temples, with ‘pujas’ – religious ceremonies – often performed in the early monrings and evenings. Perched high above, but overlooking the river is the 18thC Fort Ahilya, the former residence of the princely Holkar family, now converted to a delightful boutique hotel. Adjacent is a very impressive weaving centre and from the hotel we can make expeditions by boat on the river. A major expedition will take us to Mandu, a deserted Moslem city high on a plateau. Built by a succession of rulers, it came under Mughal rule until taken by the Hindu Marathas (Holkars) in the 18th C. Much of the 37 km wall with 12 gates remains, and many of the buidlings – palaces, mosques, tombs and water tanks are magnificent
3 nights at Fort Ahilya. Recently increased to 17 rooms. Lovely gardens, swimming pool, full board
DEPARTURE VIA INDORE To give us a more comfortable departure, we drive to Indore and overnight at The Lemon Tree Hotel only 8 km from the airport. This is a business style modern hotel.
Departure 09.15 arrive Delhi 11.10 Clear Immigration. Dep Delhi 14.45 arrive London Heathrow 18.55
SUMMARY OF PROVISIONAL ITINERARY GUJARAT 2020:
Depart Heathrow by Air India 13.30
Mumbai 04.00 Clear Immigration Dep 06.35 Arrive Bhuj 08.30 Kutch Safari Lodge (3)
Morning visit to Bhuj City
Drive to Little Rann of Kutch Rann Raiders (2)
Via Modhera and Patan to Ahmedabad. House of MG (3)
Drive via Sidhpur to Poshina (2)
Drive via Polo Forest to Dungarpur (2)
Drive to Kathiwada (2)
Walking/trecking or craft visit.
Drive to Fort Ahilya (3)
Visit to Mandu
Relax until afternoon Drive to Indore – Lemon Tree hotel (1)
Flight via Delhi: Dep Indore 09.15 Delhi11.10 Clear Immigration Dep 14.45 HR 18.55