Gandhinagar to Rann: lovely memories, in Gujarat – the land of Bapu. Picking a pen to write about a recent travel is like writing a diary with pink glasses on. You do seem to remember only the beautiful moments. I shall try to make this as objective as possible but the truth is I really did have a lot of fun in my recent travel in Gujarat – the land of Bapu, from Gandhinagar to Rann: lovely memories
Being a tour operator, the last 2 years have been spent sitting at home and fretting about a future shadowed by the pandemic. So, when IATO, our association of tour operators decided to have its convention in Gujarat, we were the first ones to register. After all we need a break.
A break, it was! There was history, culture, geography and people. So much to enjoy, so much to learn, so much to understand. On the very first day, we went for a full day Ahmedabad tour, we were lucky to get a Nirav Panchal as our Guide.
He is a Gandhian, who still makes his own clothes, is a textile graduate. And he has researched in step wells of Gujarat. Moreover he was actively involved in applying for the UNESCO city stature to Ahmedabad. So, all in all we had a complete package of ENCYCLOPEDIA of Gujarat. He had an answer to everything a traveller can think about.
Stepwells of Gujarat
Starting our trip, Gandhinagar to Rann: lovely memories, Our first stop was Adalaj ni Vav – Adalaj the step well. The intricate carvings on the pillars that support the five storeys are mostly intact. As a matter of fact, first time I came to know that step well was not just for charity. But also a commercial hub, where traders stayed overnight and any trading happening here was taxed by the king. So by building step wells the kings were not just helping the population with provision of water but also creating a long lasting supply of tax.
There are around a 100 big and around 1600 small stepwell in Gujarat itself, traditional, subterranean water harvesting systems which doubled up as cool resting places for the villagers as well as the visitors / traders.
Adalaj stepwell has three entrances. The stairs lead to an underground storey, which has an octagonal opening on top. The walls are covered in ornamental carvings with mythological and village scenes. Some of them include Ami khumbor (a pot that contains the water of life) and the Kalp vriksha (a tree of life) carved out of a single slab of stone. There is a belief that the small panel of Navagraha (nine-planets) towards the edge of the well protects the monument from bad omens.
Sabarmati – Bapu Ashram
From here we proceeded to Sabarmati – Bapu Ashram. The ashram has to be visited to fell blessed. A place where the father of nation and other national leaders lived and made strategies about freedom struggle rejuvenates your spirit. We were the lucky ones and got the chance to enter Bapu’s room, which usually remains locked. The rooms of Bapu, Ba, Miraben, Vinoba, all gave goosebumps, feeling as if we were one with that era. Originally called the Satyagraha Ashram, reflecting the movement toward passive resistance launched by the Mahatma, the Ashram became home to the ideology that set India free. Sabarmati Ashram situated on the bank of River Sabarmati.
Next was lunch time, but I personally decided to skip it and go to visit the Kochrab ashram of Bapu, where he first stayed when he came to India from Africa. It is not on the tourist map, but once again the feeling of Bapu around myself is like the first step of understanding Gandhi – which is a necessity in today’s times. I was alone, so was able to cover the ashram and return to the group at their lunch place.
Jain temple to Jama Masjid
After lunch, it was the Hathisingh Jain temple, built around 150 years ago, it has very high level of artistery. The marble carvings, the ornate pillars, the spiritualness, the ambience is breathtaking to say the least.
It was here that we got to know the about the rain water harvesting system of Ahmedabad – Taankaas. Around 10,000 houses in the city of Ahmedabad have large underground tanks or ‘taankaas’ that can each store 25,000 litres plus of rainwater. These serve as mini reservoirs for families during water scarcity. When tested for quality, they have proven to meet WHO norms. These Taakaas, were one of the reasons for Ahmedabad getting the UNESCO City tag.
We also saw the Intricate Jaali work in Sidi Syed Mosque and visited Jama Masjid; we were surprised to see the amalgamation of the hindu and jain symbols in the mosque architecture. Ahmedabad trip left us tired but it was worth it.
Gandhinagar Science City and Dandi Kutir
Next day was Gandhinagar half day, which included Science City – a part of government’s initiative to draw more students towards education in science. Dandi Kutir – a modern attempt to touch and showcase the greatness of the freedom struggle. And Exhibition Centre: made using green construction technologies, capably handles the swift movement of 15,000+ individuals. My group was very impressed.
Next day was the start of long distance travel. We started from Gandhinagar to Rann: lovely memories created on our way to Little Rann of Kutch via Patan and Modhera. Patan was an ancient Hind capital before Mahmud of Ghazni sacked it in 1024. Patan is famous for its beautifully designed patola silk sarees, you can visit the Museum of National award winner Salvi family to see the weaving of Patola sarees.
Rani ni Vav
There is also the renovated Rani-ki-Vav, a step well which boasts of some of Gujarat’s finest carvings and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rani ki Vav: The stepwell built in 1063 by Rani Udayamati of the Chaulukya Dynasty to commemorate her husband, Bhimdev I. A 1304 composition of Jain monk, Merutunga, mentions that Udayamati, the daughter of Naravaraha Khangara, built this stepwell at Patan. Archeologists Henry Cousens and James Burgess visited it in 1890s when it was completely buried under silt and only the shaft and few pillars were visible.
The stepwell rediscovered in 1940s, and the Archeological Survey of India restored it in 1980s. The stepwell is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites since 2014.
After the visit to Rani ki vav, we visited the Patola Museum run by the multiple-award-winning Salvi family, this purpose-built museum is an excellent place to see Patola silk weaving in action. The family has specialised in double-ikat weaving (a process that their ancestors brought from Southeast Asia) since the 11th century.
We can observe a demonstration on the loom and compare the family’s craft with beautifully displayed single-ikat textiles from around the world, from Uzbekistan and northern Thailand to Holland. The art of double ikat goes back centuries and is also in some of the cave paintings in Ajanta.
Legends say that it was in 12 century AD that King Kumarpal of the Solanki dynasty, invited 700 families of patola weavers from Jalna (South Maharashtra) to settle down in Patan in North Gujarat. The Salvi family is one of them. They have continued to preserve this art for the last 35 generations.
Modhera Sun Temple
Next stop was Modhera Sun Temple. The beautiful and partially ruined sun temple of Modhera was built by King Bhimdev I (1026-27) and bears some resemblance to the later, far better known, Sun Temple of Konark, Orissa. The dawn sun shone on the image of sun God at the time of the equinoxes.
It took us a whole day of activity and finally we reached the place where we had to spend the night, a beautiful resort in Dasada named Rann Riders Resort. It is a complete staycation package in itself. The greenery, the water body, birds and little hut like cabins. It was a wonderful time we had there.
In the morning we went for a birding safari to The Little Rann of Kutch. Main birds sighted are McQueen’s Houbara Bustard, Chestnut Bellied & Spotted Sandgrouse, Indian Courser, 13 species of Larks & Sparrow Larks, 5 of Quails (including Button quails), Thick-knee, Desert Warbler, Desert & Variable Wheatear, Aquila Eagles, etc. And yes, there was the Gujarati Ass – wild donkey also on the trail.
Then once again we were in a long haul bus journey to Bhuj . On the way we visited a few craft specific villages all related to various textile techniques before we reached our next halt Bhuj.
Next day started with a visit to Bani Villages like Bhirindiyara, Hodka, Dhordo each displaying skills of their artisans that make beautiful embroideries, colourful, inlaid mirrors and leather work.
The different villages have people belonging to Rabari, Meghwal, Harijans and Mutwa Community. Afternoon we visited White Rann Desert and enjoying the sunset there. The White Desert is a result of accumulated salt – during the rains it becomes a marshy area. Rann Utsav was the high point of the tour.
A whole city created around October and the same is cleared and area is cleared fully in March. The city of tents – although temporary has all the conveniences of the highest order. Ah, the feeling of being in the lap of luxury. The food is vegetarian, but the spread is massive and highly recommended. You will savour authentic Gujarati cuisine.
The sunset point trip on camel or camel carts is an enjoyable activity. It is lively everywhere, and you can see many other tent cities start their cultural program. The travelers enjoy the sunset in a river of white. It is beautiful. Gandhinagar to Rann: lovely memories created, and knowledge about the various aspects of Gujarat enhanced.
Like all good things, this trip too came to an end. And next day we started 8 hour journey back to Ahmedabad to take our flight home. We all had happy and beautiful memories of Gujarat and this trip had given us an opportunity of making lifelong friends. The hotels and restaurants used in the trip were top class. And I would recommend the same to anyone who asks about Rann Utsav – awesome experience of a lifetime.