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

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Gangeshwar Mahadev Temple, Diu

Gangeshwar Mahadev is a Holy spot with 5 Shivlingas supposedly constructed by the Pandavas who stopped at this spot, so that they could worship Lord Shiva before eating. The different sizes of the Shivlingas are attributed to the fact that each of the Pandavas constructed one that resembled his own physical stature. During high tide, the Shivlingas are constantly washed by the sea spray.

Its a pretty peaceful spot and a great place for contemplation, if you can manage to avoid the hordes of religious and other tourists.

You have to walk down a bit of a cliff face, but its very safe, unless the water from the sea spray turns the stone floor slippery. There is no option for wheelchairs or strollers here.

Entry : Free

Velavadar : The Black Buck Lodge & Velavadar Blackbuck National Park

One of the easiest drives for good wildlife sighting in Gujarat is to the Velavadar Black Buck National Park. Velavadar, is about 140km away from Ahmedabad and a leisurely drive, takes around 2.5 hours with random stops for photography or food.

You also have the option to visit Lothal and the Uthelia Palace en route, for a peek into some history, if you so choose.

The drive is very comfortable, roads are good and the only thing that you need to watch out for is - the actual turn off from the Highway towards Lothal / Velavadar that isn’t very clearly marked.

The Velavadar Blackbuck National Park is open from sunrise to sunset (except during the monsoons) If you want to make just a Day Trip, depart from Ahmedabad about 5:30-6:00am, reach the park, go in for a drive. Have lunch at the Black Buck Lodge, relax there until the sun loses a bit of its fieriness, go on another drive around the Park and then head back to Ahmedabad.

The only reason I suggest a day trip option is because : The Black Buck Lodge has just 14 independent cottages and is constantly at high demand. However, to truly enjoy the beauty of this place and relax, it is advisable to spend at least one night at the resort.

The 35sq km Velavadar Blackbuck National Park park has grasslands, shrub lands, saline plains and mud flats, which support a variety of grass, 95 species of flowering plants, 14 species of mammals (blackbuck, nilgai, Indian Grey Wolf, Striped Hyena, Indian Fox, Golden Jackal, Jungle Cat and smaller ones like hare, gerbil, field mice, mongoose and hedgehog), over 140 species of birds and many reptiles. The Alang and Paravalia Rivers, three artificial ponds, two check dams and nearby coastal marshes provide an ideal habitat for aquatic flora and fauna. From a conservation viewpoint, a unique feature of the park is that it is the only tropical grassland in India to be given the status of a national park. This used to be the private grasslands of the Maharaja of Bhavnagar before it was converted into a National Park.

Serious Birders head here for rare sightings of the Lesser Florican, endangered vultures, Demoiselle cranes and a variety of Raptors. The park also hosts the world’s largest harrier roost.

We visited during the monsoons when the main park is closed (mid-June to mid-Oct), but we saw lots of black buck and birds and even a jungle cat on a general drive around the outside of the national park. It is a single lane road and the road behind the Velavadar village has massive craters, so you need a vehicle with higher clearance (like one you could use inside the Park) to make this drive.

As long as you don't have any noisy families visiting at the same time as you, this is the most peaceful resort that you can visit in the State. The cottages are spaced out more like an African (think Kenya / South Africa / Tanzania Safari Resorts) Resort than a Kutchi / Gujarati one. It spreads across acres and acres, with no boundary wall in sight, just rolling swathes of green and blue. The chirping of birds is brilliant background music to this visual relaxation.

They have a fantastic in house library (small, but with plenty of books on wildlife and lots of different magazines if you prefer) at the reception and the sit out here overlooks a beautiful lake, that makes it the perfect spot to cosy up with a book or just sit and contemplate the glorious silence. (that is until a noisy family comes along loudly debating on whether to make their accompanying maids carry their own food or let them eat at the restaurant or some other such BP inducing topics)

The rooms at The Black Buck Lodge are beautiful, wide open and spacious. Each cottage has a little open shower area behind the bathroom that is walled, but open to the sky, we had a tree in our open shower area, that often had birds in it.

The bathtub / shower area inside the bathroom is brilliant. I hate having a shower inside the bathtub, because the tubs are normally curved and small and you keep struggling for balance, but at this resort, they are large and spacious, so it was perfect. (unless you have someone in your group that has a problem climbing up a high stair.)

There are beautiful sit outs all over the resort (including outside the cottage) that are perfect for settling in with a good book. The planters chairs are also ideal for taking a post lunch siesta (weather permitting)

I loved their themed accessories - the cutlery, the bed sheets, the lamps etc. Everything has been very tastefully put together without going over the top. We loved everything about this resort except for a couple of other guests who were obnoxious without even realising it (one maid inside the 20 seater dining room insisted that her 5 year old charge sing ring-a ring-a roses 45 times in a row and he proceeded to do so at the top of his little high pitched voice, a grandfather sat on a seat a foot away from the lake, plopped his just-learnt-to-crawl grandson on the ground and we were subjected to half an hour of "no's" at various volumes and pitches - Vin Diesel could have learned from this grandpa)

This is however my favourite resort in Gujarat and I hope we get a chance to go back and visit inside the park.

You have to take the all inclusive plan as there is no other place nearby to visit for lunch or dinner, unless you plan to visit Bhavnagar for the day. But the food at every buffet was very good (you just have to adjust salt and chillies to your taste - they are served on the side). The non-veg is excellent and quality is high. Since they cater to just the small number of in-house guests (and the occasional lunch crowd), food sometimes gets cold (if you go late etc) but the service is very helpful.

The buffet includes salads, a fairly large vegetarian spread, a non veg dish (chicken / mutton) and a dessert. We had some awesome mutton kurma, mutton Rogan Josh, kofta curries and guab jamuns. Definitely don't miss the amazing pista colored gur which is made in the village nearby. It’s worth waiting to arrive here for your meal.

However, if you feel peckish along the way, the most popular stop is the recently opened Gallops that serves better than average highway food (for Gujarat), although most of the options are deep fried. The complex has a restaurant upstairs, an eatery downstairs, a couple of outlets outside selling chikkis, paan, channachor and frenchfries. CCD and Havmor are due to open shortly.

The Gallops kitchen isn't very clean or inspiring, so we much prefer driving a little further to Pipali and eating at Darshan Hotel which serves the most awesome dhal we have ever eaten on Gujarat's Highway's. Just order that with some hot rotlas and whatever veg side dish that the servers recommend and you and just trust them blindly, you can’t go wrong.

Whether you head here just for a day’s outing or for a long weekend, enjoy the park responsibly, do not harm or frighten the wildlife, avoid loud obnoxious behaviour and respect Mother Nature.

Disclaimer : every story/rant mentioned here is completely true.

5 Point checklist before a long drive.
1. Fuel (The obvious full tank)
2. Air in tyres (including stepney)
3. Tool Box & Jack (you never know)
4. Papers - RC, PUC, Insurance, Licence (right side of the law)
5. Map Route - Paper or Virtual (while getting lost has its own charm)

A shorter version of this trip appeared in The DNA on 5 October 2014

You can read the shortened version here.