From glimpses of wildlife at Gir National Park to exploring the architectural marvels of Ajanta and Ellora to the charming hill town of Mount Abu, there are a range of places to visit near Ahmedabad. Offering a respite from the daily bustle of Gujarat’s commercial hub, these rejuvenating long weekend escapes will compel you to pack your bags and hit the road.
From by-lanes lined with quaint eateries offering the most delectable Gujarati snacks to upscale markets housing massive jewellery showrooms, Surat is a city that offers almost everything you can ask for. One of the most rapidly growing cities in India, Surat is the second largest city in Gujarat and also known as the Diamond City. With the majestic Surat Fort and the Mughal-era monument Mughal Sarai for history buffs, the Lake Garden on the banks of Tapi River for those who want to take it easy, and a line-up of street markets for shoppers—Surat has a range of options for all kinds of travellers.
Formerly the seat of the Gaekwad dynasty, a Maratha clan which ruled over it from the mid-18th century till 1947, the erstwhile princely state of Baroda (also known as Vadodara), is today best known for its heritage and historic university. Often described as the cultural capital of Gujarat, much of modern Baroda was shaped by Sayajirao III, a far-sighted ruler in the late 19th century who patronised art and music, introduced free primary education, and established institutions such as the Bank of Baroda, a railway system and the university.
The city’s beautiful old quarter filled with heritage buildings, and the historical city of Champaner – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – located an hour’s drive out of town, provide a fascinating insight into the past and will prove irresistible for history and culture buffs.
A short three-hour-long drive from Mumbai, the Union Territory of Daman (no, it’s not in Gujarat, which also means you’re good for a tipple) offers all the perks of a Goa vacation sans the teeming crowds. There are two beaches—Devka and Jampore—of which the latter is infinitely better for sun and sand.
The Mirasol Lake Garden—replete with an artificial lake, swan boats and even a toy train chugging along the periphery—is a good spot if you’re travelling with kids in tow. For the more culturally inclined, this former Portuguese colony is dotted with architectural remains (Fort of Nani Daman, the lighthouse, Our Lady of Rosary Church) that speak of its bygone glory.
Rann of Kutch
Currently under consideration as a biosphere reserve, this salt wetland is abundant in biodiversity, and shrimp farming is one of the chief means of a livelihood in the area. With a host of wildlife sanctuaries, and rich presence of rare animals, this is one of Gujarat’s major tourist draws. Occupying about 4,953 square kilometres spread across the districts of Surendranagar, Banasakantha, Patan, Kutch and Rajkot, the topography of the Little Rann of Kutch features large marshlands interspersed with patches of soil supporting shrubbery. While you’re there, be sure to pay a visit to the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary, which is one of the largest wildlife reserves in the country, and keep aside a morning to go bird spotting at Banjana Creek.
Gir National Park
No trip to Gujarat is complete without a visit to the Gir national Park. Sprawling across a vast expanse of 1412 square kilometres of dense forest, it is the natural abode of the lion – the only place outside of Africa where you get to experience the wild cats in their natural habitat. Take in the experience in its entirety by exploring everything, from the 250 species of chirping birds darting out of the thick canopy of trees overhead, to the crocs in the marsh waters.
Spot the leopard, nilgai, hyenas, chinkara and antelopes, including the world’s only four-horned antelopes known as chousingha. Additionally, the Gir is the homeland of a tribe called the Maldharis, that thrives on pasturing and livestock. Spend a few days to really take it all in. We suggest a visit to the Crocodile Breeding Farm, and both the morning and evening safaris – the forest tells a different story after sundown.
Ajanta and Ellora
Ajanta and Ellora are two monumental rock-cut caves that define Indian art and architectural accomplishment. Though these two monuments are separated by a distance of approximately 100 km, they are often mentioned together since their aesthetics and importance are at par and the fact that both are situated in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra.
While Ajanta is mostly about beautiful paintings made on cave walls on the theme of Buddhism, Ellora is all about sculpture and architecture belonging to three different religions prevailing in the country during those times—Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. Ajanta is a cluster of 30 caves of different sizes excavated in a horseshoe shaped stretch of rock embedded in a hill facing a narrow stream called Waghora. Each cave was connected to the stream by a flight of steps, which are now demolished with few remnants left behind. These caves are named after a nearby village called Ajanta.
It includes masterpiece paintings of Buddhist religious art, with figures of the Buddha and depictions of the stories that tell about the previous lives of Buddha. The caves were built in two phases— starting around the 2nd century BC, with the second group of caves built around 400- 650 AD. Buddhist monks used to retreat to this serene place during the monsoon, and as they had plenty of time during such retreats, they used it for deepening their religious quest through prayer and discussion.
The second largest city (after Jaipur) in Rajasthan, Jodhpur is an architecturelover’s feast for sore eyes. The older historic section of the city of Jodhpur is located around the grand Mehrangarh Fort which is bounded by a wall and several gates. Winding streets and unending bazaars run throughout the city that are littered with shops and thronged by visitors throughout the year.
Also referred to as the Blue City, Jodhpur is home to the magnificent Umaid Bhawan Palace. A fivehour- drive from the hill-station of Mount Abu, Jodhpur makes for a perfect getaway once the hill station’s charms stop making an impression on you.