Part Two: Diu, Baroda, Ahmedabad
The story so far: The Gujarat Tourism ads lured us into exploring the state two years ago. My previous account of the two week-holiday stopped on the silvery white, frozen desert of Kutch. This is where the rest of the journey took me.
Our travel was planned only up to Kutch. After that, my friend and I were going to leg it as needed to Diu, then Baroda and from there, to Ahmedabad for New Year’s Eve. To act like a couple of backpackers and travel as we thought convenient was half the excitement and adventure of the rest of our trip.
After speaking to one of the organizing committee members at Rann Utsav and weighing the pros and cons, we decided to hire a cab to Rajkot and take a bus – any bus – from there to Diu.
The drive to Rajkot was picturesque – wide expanses of emptiness changing to hillocks with giant wind mills interspersed with patches of fields full of migratory birds. At one point, when I was half asleep, I saw a filed full of Flamingos. By the time I could stop the cab, we’d zipped past and I let it go because I thought it wasn’t possible that Flamingos would be found in this part of the world. I was wrong. Till date, I kick myself really hard for not having stopped.
We reached the Rajkot bus station by 9 a.m, where we decided we would travel by state transport. It was a new place and we had no idea what to expect – the Bangalore State Transport buses serve their purpose of taking people from one point to another faster than private buses and are fairly clean. We didn’t know what to expect with Gujarat State Transport. But we took out chances anyway and boarded the bus to Diu. The next 13 hours were one of the longest of my life, saved by my friend’s song list. People gave us odd looks, thought we were some big-shot photographers, or some weird women from the West.
My first impression of Diu – you have to cross a bridge to get to it. No, really; I’m not being philosophical or any such thing. Diu is an island, only connected by a bridge with a horribly bumpy road that precedes it. The lights in the distance across are as colourful as Las Vegas, though. (And we did manage to see a fox sprinting across the road as the bus trudged on.)
Once we landed, we took an auto to our resort, dumped our bags and headed out to a nearby shack to celebrate my friend’s birthday. When we woke up late the next day, the beauty of the island smacked us over the head. You can go from one end of the island to the other in a couple of hours. The roads are wide, the air clean, fresh and unpolluted, and Diu itself is as non-commercial as beach holiday spots come. There are lots of natural caves – formed by the retreating sea hundreds of years ago – to walk through and see. Nothing in them except for some spectacular rock formations. The beaches are an absolute joy too. In short, Diu is a place I would return to every year, and I’d recommend people to visit at least once while they’re alive.
While Diu is a peaceful getaway, Baroda’s like a blast from the past. The minute I got there (by state transport again), my mind switched to Black and White mode – the architecture, the palace, the courthouse, an apartment building that doubles up as a base for fire trucks, scooters on the road, women in sarees worn the Gujarati way… it was a nice slice of history. We did a bulk of our shopping there, ate home-cooked, finger-lickingly fabulous Gujju food and burped our way back to Ahmedabad.
A bulk of our sight-seeing at Ahmedabad was done before we landed there for New Year’s Eve. We went to Gandhinagar and then to Adalaj – a stepwell that dates back to hundreds of years and is absolutely awe-inspiring with its intricate carvings and dizzying drops.
In short, Gujarat was an amazing – and extremely different – experience. Like a box of assorted candies whose truth will only be revealed once you buy it and pop a candy into your mouth. I would love to go back there someday, because despite having seen and breathed in the cultural and historical diversity of the place, i didn’t cover half of what it has to offer. And that just leaves me to conclude that those tourism ads were absolutely right – there’s so much to experience in Gujarat.
Getting there: Get a direct flight from Bangalore to Ahmedabad or Baroda and plan your trip according to where each of the places you want to visit are located on the map. The distances are pretty long, so be smart about travel time. You can either fly to Diu or take an overnight bus from Ahmedabad. For the Rann Utsav, the organizers will arrange everything for you.
Go if: You like being pleasantly surprised by places and people, like history, love types of terrains, are a bird watcher or photographer, love exploring the cuisine and culture of different places, or crave a very old-world, quiet time by the seaside.