Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Steer clear of traffic woes - in Ahmedabad

This article "Steer clear of traffic woes" appeared in India Today last month and makes for an interesting read.

Traffic situation in Ahmedabad and roads in Gujarat are much better than we have experienced in the rest of the country. (We have driven across all the States of India, except Arunachal)

However, as mentioned in the article there are still a lot of points for improvement.

Gujarat is one of the few States where pop-up religious structures are dealt with swiftly.

There are however 2 main problems that this article does not touch upon.

3 years back, squatting was not very visible within the city limits. But with massive pipe laying and road reconstruction works, migrant labour has no other option. And they continue to stay put, even after the construction in question is long completed.

I have seen shanties mowed down (which has its own ethical issues) and by nightfall, they are up and running again. If you hadn't seen the destruction, the previous day, you would have never known that it had hapenned at all

The second problem is related to the street vendors. The government allocates open space for all the sabji thelas (laaris) to sell their fruits/ veggies which has space for parking and other considerations.

But there is a large percentage of Amdavadis, who do not want to get out of their car or get their ass off their 2 wheeler to buy fruits and veggies. They want drive-in type facilities and this leads to the vendors coming back onto already narrow streets, that get further blocked, by vehicles stopping to pick up groceries. Most evident around the Vastrapur area, esp the market opp the Swaminarayan Mandir.

Any Thoughts?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Champaner & The Glory that Surrounds It

From : The DNA
16 November 2014

EAT AND DRIVE :- History, Spirituality, Royalty, Natural Beauty & a Unique Craft @ Champaner, Pavgadh, Jambughoda & Sankheda

The Foodie & The Fotographer – Kim & Brajesh go Road Tripping through Gujarat.

A Month Ago, (DNA, 16 Oct 14) we explored Patan, a recently declared UNESCO World Heritage Site, but Champaner was given the same honour more than 10 years ago in 2004, as the only complete and unchanged Islamic pre-Mughal city.

In 1484, Sultan Mahmud Begarah took possession of the Pavgadh Hill fort and renamed it Muhammadabad. Champaner was constructed as the Capital City of Gujarat by the 16th Century.

Today the town sees hordes of visitors, but 99.9% of them head only to Pavgadh Hill to the temple of Kalika Mata – belived to be a Shaktipeeth because Sati’s toe is supposed to have fallen here. Unusually, there is a shrine built over the temple dedicated to Muslim Saint Sadanshah, who supposedly pacified Mahakali, who in a fit of rage had set out to destroy the world.

It is possible to take your vehicle half way up the hill to the parking area, which has a basic Government rest house with very nice staff, who have snacks and tea on offer (if they are open) and usable washrooms. The view from their basic outdoor dining is gorgeous and with a steaming cup of tea and piping hot pakodas, you can forget the world and the crowds outside.

Many pilgrims climb the Pavgadh hill in pilgrimage (4-5 hours round trip), but for those less physically inclined, there is a mono-cable ropeway that can carry 1200 people per hour. However, this ropeway only operates in certain seasons and is often closed for repairs and maintenance, so be prepared for that eventuality.

The Champaner Heritage Site encompasses this temple, the living town of Champaner and the Heritage Buildings spread all over the area, many of which still lie unexcavated. You can see some of these monuments as you drive up the hill. If something looks interesting, park your vehicle (at a proper space that doesn’t obstruct other traffic) and get out for a walk. Walking around these monuments is the only way to truly appreciate their size and intricate work.

The ASI Website lists over 35 monuments that have been studied, but not all of them are easily accessible. Our car often had its capabilities tested to the maximum on some of the side roads and we still couldn’t find some of the monuments on the list. We treated the whole exercise as a treasure hunt and had loads of fun.

The main series of monuments is located directly opposite the path that leads up to Pavgadh Hill. The Jami Masjid here is accepted to be the model for later mosque architecture in India. Some of these Historic sites, now house Government offices. If you ask nicely, they will let you take a walk around their premises.

Champaner is 154 km away from Ahmedabad and takes around 2.5 hours to drive, bypassing Baroda, via Halol. However, you can also spend Friday night in Baroda and then it is less than an hours drive (58 km) to Champaner. You can choose to return to Ahmedabad via Baroda (stopping here for lunch), We however prefer the more scenic route via Jambughoda (25 km) & Sankheda (40km). Then another 167 km to Ahmedabad, for a round trip of around 400 km.

The Nature Lovers Retreat is a Heritage Property of the Jamughoda Royal family, that has guesthouse style rooms and serves brilliant food. Call at least 24 hours ahead to book for lunch. You may not see any Wildlife, but the Greenery is a soothing balm to the soul. Next time we may try the recently opened Champaner Heritage Resort or the Mount Heritage Resort. If you want to explore further, head to the Jhund Hanuman temple in the sanctuary, with its 18foot high murti, believed to date to the Mahabharata era or the Government Guest House which has great views of the reservoirs.

Then take a quick drive to Sankheda and watch the carpenters known as kharadis create the unique lacquered woodwork furniture of this region. It’s a 400+ year old craft, practiced by 100+ families. Pick up a sofa set or a photo frame and know that you have bought something that isn’t manufactured anywhere else in the world.

After such a series of varied experiences and sights, head back to Ahmedabad content in all that you have achieved for the day.

Champaner Heritage Site – the main mosque – 5 Rs – same ticket can be used for entry to the other monuments too.
Ropeway - 75 Rs

Read the Entire Article on the DNA Website


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Shock & Awe at Junagadh

From : The DNA
2 Nov 2014

EAT AND DRIVE :- Shock & Awe in Junagadh

The Foodie & The Fotographer – Kim & Brajesh go Road Tripping through Gujarat.

Junagadh is often overlooked by most travelers to Gir or Somnath as a tiny town that you pass along the way. However, it is the most undiscovered and untapped gem of Gujarat for us. We have never found tourists (local or foreign) here, except for the pilgrims visiting Mt Girnar, inspite of the town housing multiple sites of interest from Buddhist and Mughal time periods too.

The journey to Junagadh from Ahmedabad, via Rajkot is around 317 km and takes roughly 5 hours, unless you decided to break at Rajkot / Khamabaliya or take a detour into Gondal.

Junagadh means “Old Fort” and this little town has been ruled in turn by the Mauryas, Maitrakas, Solankis, Chudasamas & Mughals – each of whom have left behind a bit of their history, architecture and aesthetics.

For a regular tourist, the main place of interest is the Uparkot Fort which was virtually inaccessible when it was built. Today, you can drive your car right into the fort and actually drive around it. The entry is on the narrow side, but an SUV can get in easily, as long as you come to an understanding with any driver approaching from the opposite direction.

Inside the Fort, the largest spot of interest is the 15th C. Jama Masjid which is itself built like a fort. Its covered courtyard is a unique feature in Indian mosque architecture. Be adventurous and climb up to the higher floor on the rickety stairs. The views are most definitely worth it and you can take multitudes of profile photos (which is what most of the visiting kids end up doing)

The oldest part of the fort is its Buddhist caves that are 2 – 3 stories underground carved out of monolithic rocks. You may feel that there is hardly anything to see and everything is faded, but remember that these caves are almost 2000 years old and use your imagination to visualise what it would look like in its heyday filled with Buddhist monks.

Hire a guide if you would like to hear the mournful story of Adi Kadi – the sisters who were sacrificed, so the stepwells would fill with water. Or have your picture taken astride a stuffed tiger with a BB gun in hand to resemble a shikari of yore, or scramble down the Navghan Kuvo which provided the fort with water in case of long sieges.

There is a snack shop opposite the Adi Kadi Vav, who sells packaged namkeen and cold drinks and you will often find street vendors selling seasonal fruits and cholafali or singdana. You may also find a lady selling local herbs and spices, be wary of what you buy, we found that the aroma of everything vanished even before we returned to Ahmedabad.

Just walk around this whole place and take it all in and enjoy the beauty of the fort and its magnificent backdrop.

Come back towards town and head to the pinnacle of Islamic Architecture in the State – the Mahabat Maqbara, with its external spiral staircase encircled minarets - from the Babi period, but built with a mix of European (Gothic columns, French windows), Hindu and Moorish influences. Climb up one of those staircases for some brilliant views and pictures of the Mahabat Maqbara and the neighbouring Bahauddin Maqbara which is also extremely picturesque.

Stop for lunch at Petals in Lotus Hotel for a pretty decent Indian meal with usable bathrooms. It’s also a good option for an overnight stay with comfortable rooms.

After lunch head towards Mt Girnar/Neminath which is home to Jain & Hindu temples, Buddhist Cave shrines and even a Dargah of a Saint. The Amba Mata Temple is sacred to newlyweds, Guru Dattatreya Temple is built on the spot where he performed severe penance to Lord Shiva for 24 years and Kalka’s peak dedicated to Kali Ma and the resort of Aghoris are the most famous. The annual Girnar / Lili Parikrama is a festival spanning 7 days and involves walking 36 kms and climbing 4000 steps upto Girnar Taleti and most pilgrims do this over 3 days.

If this is not your cup of tea, just drive up to the furthest point and stop to visit one of the few surviving Ashokan Rock Edicts from 3rd BC along the way.

If you spend more time in the city, the other spots of interest are the Sakkarbaug Zoo – which has an excellent conservation program with Asiatic Lions, Narsinh Mehtha no Choro, Bhavnath Mahadev Temple, Willingdon Dam, Datar Hill or the Darbar Hall Museum.

If you want to extend your trip to Junagadh, you can head off on a spiritual quest for God at Somnath / Dwarka or find God in nature at the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary.


Uperkot Fort
Entry – 4 wheeler with passengers – 40Rs.
Entry – 2 wheeler – 5 Rs

Most sites are open from 9 – 6 and entry fee if any, is 5Rs per person.

Read the entire article on the DNA Website.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Day Trip to Modhera & Patan

In : The DNA
On : 24 October 2014

EAT AND DRIVE :- Catch up with the Sun & the Queen.

Kim & Brajesh go Road Tripping through Gujarat.

Rani ki Vav at Patan was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site just 4 months ago, so it is not yet inundated with tourists. Grab the opportunity to head to this magnificently worked ancient stepwell and see for yourself, why this 11th Century monument is worthy of this honour. On the way, stop at another Solanki monument of the same era at Modhera and breathe in the beauty at one of the 3 main Sun Temples surviving in India today.

This can easily be covered in a day trip. Start early from Ahmedabad to avoid the morning rush. Modhera is a 100km away via Kalol and takes about 1.5 hours to drive.

If it’s too early to prepare breakfast at home, you can always stop at Janpath Hotel near Mehsana, which opens as early as 6:30 am and serves great poha and lassi. Gota, samosa and bread pakoda are also on offer for those who like a crispy start to the day. If you arrive a little later in the morning , they will even offer you fresh dosas and parathas. Almost opposite, is a new McDonalds Drive-In (only), which works well if you want a fast food fix or are a little more conscious about overall cleanliness.

Drive on to the Modhera Sun Temple, where there is more than adequate parking. I have never seen the GTDC cafeteria – “Toran” – at this location open in the 15+ visits we have made, so do carry food with you, if you plan to picnic on the lovely sprawling green lawns at this site. There is a shop near the ticket window, that sells namkeen, cold drinks and water.

The museum at Modhera has been recently opened to the public. While it may seem like there is no point in spending time on broken sculptures, when a large temple complex awaits exploration, there is something to be said about browsing individual sculptures slowly. I find that I pay more attention to detail this way, but tend to gloss over intricacies when presented with a larger structure.

The Sun temple is broadly divided into the Surya Kund – Sacred Tank – surrounded by 108 mini shrines, mostly dedicated to Lord Shiva. Sabha Mandap – Assembly Hall – This is beautifully worked and since it is a semi open structure, here is where you can best admire the carvings of episodes from the Hindu epics. The Garb Gruh – sanctum sanctorum was designed in a way that the first rays of the sun on 21st March, would fall on the idol of Suryadev in here. There is no longer an idol in this temple, or any idol of Suryadev. But there is a small functional temple to Shivji alongside the main temple and there are plenty of depictions of Suryadev on the interior and exterior of the main temple.

Drive on for another 45 minutes (36km) on SH 7 to arrive at the Rani ki Vav in Patan. Before stopping here, head a little further on the same road to the Sahastralinga Talav, to get an idea of what it must have been like during the process of excavation.

Then return on the same road to the Rani Ki Vav (supposedly built on the banks of the River Saraswati) which to us, is the pinnacle of Solanki architecture in Gujarat. Stepwells in Gujarat were not just constructed for the practical purpose of water, but most of them were also used as a social gathering place and hence great attention was paid, to make it a beautiful space. The Rani Ki Vav is the pinnacle in the design & aesthetics of subterranean architecture. It is awe inspiring, right from the time that you begin your descent into the 7 levels. The walls are covered with over 500 main sculptures and 1000 minor ones from mythology and religion. The most prominent are the dashavatar and the image of Vishnu reclining on the Sheshnag, resting in infinity between the ages.

There is rumoured to be a tunnel at the base of this stepwell which extends 30kms into Siddhpur, to be used by the Royal Family for escape, in case of emergency.

At the end of this visit, you can relax and spend time in Patan City, exploring its multiple Jain Temples or admiring the Patola weavers exquisite skill. You can head towards the picturesque town of Siddhpur and stop at Bindu Sarovar – the only place in India for matru shraddh. Or you can head back to Ahmedabad via Unjha and Mehsana, stopping for a lovely South Indian lunch or dosas at Sankalp.

If you are not yet ready to call it a day, then you can visit Thol Bird Sanctuary en route and time it in a way to be there around sunset to witness the amazing cacophony of 1000’s of birds coming to roost around the lake.

There is so much natural beauty, history and architecture to be discovered around Gujarat, that it is never a question of “what is there to do this weekend?”, it is more about “how much can I see and do this weekend?

Modhera Sun Temple
Entry 5 Rs
Parking 20 Rs
Usable Washrooms behind the museum

Rani Ki Vav
Entry 5 Rs
Still Camera 100 Rs
Booklet 30 Rs

Sahstralinga Talav & Bindu Sarovar
Entry – Free

Thol Lake
Car with passengers – 200 Rs


Read This Article in Detail on the DNA Website

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Weekend Trip to Diu

From : DNA
12 October 2014

The Foodie & The Fotographer – Kim & Brajesh explore Gujarat through their road trips

Let’s face it : Living in a Dry State like we do, the minute you say that you want to drive to Diu, most minds jump to the most obvious. But there is so much more to see and do in Diu, including just enjoying the sun and sand on one of its many beautiful beaches, bordered with Hoka Palms that were originally imported from Mozambique.

The drive to Diu from Ahmedabad is approximately 350km and takes around 6 hours. You can go via Dhanduka on SH 236 or via Bhavnagar.

We prefer the Bhavnagar route, because it also gives us the option to break journey at the beautiful Nilambagh Palace Hotel for lunch. Whether you eat in the formal dining room with its humongous Burma Teak table and Czechoslovakian chandeliers or at the serene Garden Restaurant, you will always remember this place. They serve Indian, Chinese and Continental cusine, but we heavily recommend their Indian food, especially the local style chicken curry and tandoori chicken with rotis.

If you are heading straight to Diu for lunch, our first recommendation is O’Coqueiro. (No relation to the infamous restaurant in Goa with the same name) It’s a simple space, with food cooked in the house behind and while service is sometimes slow, it is worth the wait. Try their Penne Calamari, Bavette con Gamberi, Caldo de Camarao or the Fish in Tomato Curry. They also have quite a range of vegetarian dishes that are good, but the seafood is outstanding - absolutely fresh and tasty.

After lunch, pay a quick visit to the St Thomas Church next door, which is now the Diu museum. It’s a 10-20 minute stop, but has some good antique statues and wooden carvings. Try the Sao Tome Retiro upstairs, for budget accommodation and great BBQ parties (for residents only)

Once it’s slightly cooler, head to the Diu Fort to work off some of those calories from lunch. Built by the Portuguese in the 1530’s, it is worth climbing its ramparts for the magnificent sea views and a glimpse of the Island Fort - Panikota Forte do Mar.

For dinner, head to Cat’s Eye View at The Resort Hoka / Hoka Island Villa. It’s a lovely chilled out Garden venue which also serves brilliant seafood – Indian and Continental. If you are not in the mood for a heavy dinner, choose from a wide range of snacks to go with your drinks – batter fried prawns or fried brinjals there’s something on offer for everyone and their breakfasts are great too. The rooms here are quite quirky, but comfortable.

Heranca Goesa is a great option for breakfast after a swim / dip at one of Diu’s many beaches – Nagoa, Jalandhar, Chakratirth or Ghoghla. Gangeshwar Mahadev is a Holy spot with 5 Shivlingas supposedly constructed by the Pandavas to worship Lord Shiva before eating. During high tide, the Shivlingas are constantly washed by the sea spray. St Paul’s Church is a functional Church that holds services on Sunday, but can be visited almost anytime.

If you want to do something more adventurous, head to the Naida Caves, that are extremely picturesque (they are the backdrop to Rani Mukherjee’s opening dance sequence in Aiyya) and great fun to scramble around. If you want to do some serious caving, carry a flashlight and always go with a companion.

Honour our brave sailors who died defending our country at the INS Khukhri Memorial. This is also a perfect spot for a sunset viewing.

If you are not particular about staying on Diu itself, the Hotel Magico Do Mar is an interesting option just before the bridge that crosses over into the island. The cottages are very cosy and they have a private beach too.

Entry to all places of interest on Diu (except the Shell Museum) are free. Timings vary, but are generally sunrise to sunset. The Fort has a functional prison, so the timings here are a bit stricter.

5 Accessories to carry on driving trips
• Sunglasses & Caps for all
• Sufficient supply of water
• Camera - not the phone variety
• Music
• Phone

Read the Entire Article on the DNA Website