Experiencing Gujarat: the story continues.

Part Two: Diu, Baroda, Ahmedabad

Night Market, Ahmedabad. Rows and rows of shops sell hand-made clothes, bags, bedspreads, murals and jewellery that are typical to the Kutch style of craftsmanship.

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.

Stop! The bus to Diu had a bell above the door, with the attached rope going all the way to the back seat. Anybody who wanted to get off the bus at any point of the journey just had to pull the rope, making the bell ring and the driver halt.

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.)

A random beach hidden beyond a canopy of trees, five minutes away from our resort in Diu.

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.

The naturally formed caves, Diu.

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.

The Courthouse of Baroda, my city of Black and White.

Exploring history, Baroda.

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.

The step well at Adalaj. This is a view of the top from where the well is.

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.

Diu Fort.

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.

A noisy ride to the quiet seaside.

Kudle Beach, Gokarna.

Some call Gokarna the poor man’s Goa. Not true. It’s more like the peace-loving, crowd-hating man’s (or woman’s, for reasons of political correctness) Goa. What the temple town lacks in the bustling beaches and rowdy partying associated with Goa, it makes up for with the peace and serenity of a day by its clean, sandy beaches and clear blue waters.

I had been hearing about Gokarna for years and had made several plans to go there, but i could never really see them through for some reason or the other. By the end of the repeated disappointments, i was like Pavlov’s dog – when somebody even so much as mentioned the ‘G’ in Gokarna, my heart reacted with palpitations and my brain with an irrational fear that i would never make it to the place. It just gave me a bad feeling, like it wasn’t meant to be. You see, for a person like me who plans for holidays and never, NEVER cancels them (it’s been a slightly different story since), to plan for a place at least four times and not have it materialise is sheer trauma.

The jinx broke in 2010, when us work friends decided to holiday there over a long weekend.

We took a bus from Bangalore, almost missing it and near-tainting my spotless record of having never missed a train, bus or plane ever. The town is sandwiched between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea and the only way to get there is through the ghats – not a pleasant journey for those who feel the need to empty their stomach with every lurch around bends and every climbing, winding road – unless you want to take the train to Karwar and hire a taxi to Gokarna. It was quite scary, the way the bus swung from side to side; and if you have a driver who sometimes veers off the path in the ghat section like ours did, your heart will be in your mouth by the time you reach the town, with an uneasy feeling that the rest of your organs are not where they should be either.

Opening out to the sea, Hotel Gokarna International.

Opening out to the sea, Hotel Gokarna International.

Having survived Driver Uncle’s Milan circuit ride, we headed to Gokarna International – a hotel by Kudle beach. The location was perfect: step out of the reception and you’re on the beach with fine sand to caress your feet and clear blue waters beyond for a swim. Om beach is the more popular destination with most tourists, so we had Kudle almost all to ourselves.

Paradise Island, a boat ride away from Kudle.

We vegetated, mostly. When we could muster enough will to venture out, we went to Paradise Island and spent an evening there, but otherwise the trip was all about unwinding and letting the sea take over our senses and wash away our city life-exhaustion.

Peace out.

Go if: you have two-three days to spare (more if you really want to soak in the place), want a people-free holiday and no pedlars/hawkers to come and disturb you. Avoid the crowds and head to Kudle. It’s delightfully peaceful.