Gujarat: An Ensemble of Culture, Heritage and SpiritualityAhmad Mukhtiyar January-February 2017 Tourism
A state on the western edge of India, famous for its cultural diversity, lasting heritage sites, tremendous wildlife and exemplary hospitality, Gujarat is the land of legends. It has now made a global mark, much like its greatest son, Mahatma Gandhi.
Travelling to India is one of the best experiences one could ever have and the excitement doubles as you come to Gujarat, which is ‘vibrant’ in every sense. The state has some of the best beaches in the world, unending deserts and traditional villages where people are always ready to welcome guests. The largest of its cities, Ahmedabad, which is developing leaps and bounds, has retained all the charm despite the chaos. The countryside is where the real treasure of the state remains in the form of heritage sites like that of Adalaj Ki Vav, a 14th century stepwell.
Right place and time to halt your caravan
Set in the quiet village of Adalaj, this seven-story stepwell is a marvel of architecture, at the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Historically, the well used to serve as a resting place for hundreds of pilgrims and caravans who travelled along the trade routes.
“The primary purpose of building this well by the then Maharaja was to make the water available to the people and to the travellers. All the travellers would then stop their caravans here, drink water, have some rest and leave for their respective destinations,” says BA Panchal, a tourist guide and escort from Ahmedabad.
With an Indo-Islamic architecture and design, Queen Rudabai, wife of the Vaghela chief, Veersinh, built this stepwell in 1499. Structured to be an ideal resting place, the well circulates sufficient air and light through its numerous small windows. The temperature inside is cooler than the outside.
“Queen Rudabai started the work on this historical marvel in the memory of her husband, Veersinh, as he could not complete the work in his lifetime. She took the help of a Muslim king, Sultan Abu’l Fath Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah I, popularly known as Mahmud Begada who was one of the most prominent sultans of Gujarat,” says Sarvina Pathan, Archeologist and Museologist at Archaeo-Neo, Ahmedabad.
It is believed that in ancient times, villagers came here every morning to fill water and offer prayers.
This is a one-of-its-kind stepwell and has three entrance stairs, which meet at its first storey leading to a huge square platform. It also has a huge octagonal opening as its top.
On the stepwell, one can find inscribed the nine planets, which the people believe, protects the monument from evil spirits. But, the story does not stop here; after the completion of the well, the king did not want a replica of the same and asked his master masons if they can create an identical monument again and their affirmation saw them being put to sword. But, not all the architects of the state have the same ending, like the ones built in the modern times in memory of the father of the nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, or simply, Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948).
Dandi Kutir: Bapu’s abode
In the heart of Gujarat’s capital, Gandhinagar, stands the epitome of Gandhi. This takes you through the life and times of the Mahatma. The ashram is in the shape of a salt dune, which resembles and remembers the Mahatma’s Satyagraha movement, an act of civil disobedience to protest British rule in India. Mahatma Gandhi was born in Gandhinagar and the city has embedded a special relationship with the life and work of Gandhi. In the city, his legacy remains a vibrant part of public discourse and private lives.
“Dandi Kutir is a modern structure with the combination of science and technology. The structure is fully stateof-the-art, with all the modern gadgets in place to guide tourists at every step and tell the story of Mahatma’s life. The chapters are quite clear and give a pleasant feeling and inspire one to be determined on following his path and be non-violent,” tells an official at Dandi Kutir.
“This salt dune structured building show the entire life of Mahatma Gandhi through technology like 3D mapping, 360 view graphics and simulation technology,” the official says. He further explains, “The main aim of this 42-meter high building is to spread awareness about bapu’s life among people, especially the younger generation of India. In this four-storey building, we have divided the entire life of Gandhi into three stages – his childhood to his studies in London, then his life in South Africa and finally when he came to India.”
Mahatma, who always believed and followed the path of peace, stayed diligent to his philosophy of nonviolence till the very end of his life. The determination and dedication of this man made him the father of nation. And, Gujarat not only celebrates the life and contribution of the beloved Mahatma, but also its vibrant culture and tradition over the ages.
Colours of festivity
Gujarat has its specialities – winters are best enjoyed by heading out on desert safaris in Kutch.
Kutch is the largest and the culturally richest district in India. This rare white desert remains a rarely traversed area, but comes to life mostly during the winters through the annual festival of Rann Utsav. The festival literally celebrates the life, culture, and cuisine of the villages of Kutch.
The landscape in this barren, deserted district is shallow and surreal. The small wetlands made by the rains call the birds and wildlife to cheer them up in these arid, waterscarce areas.
This white desert, which in actuality is a salt marsh, is spread across 30,000 square kilometres, extending to the neighbouring Sindh province in Pakistan. The Great Rann of Kutch is one of the largest white deserts in the world.
Every year, this festival entices hundreds of tourists to come, enjoy the uniqueness of the land. The locals make all necessary arrangements like tent accommodations, food and camel safaris.
The other widely-celebrated festival of Gujarat is the Navratri. Cities across the state stay illuminated till late in the evening. It is a festival that spans over nine days (essentially nine nights) and is celebrated not only in Gujarat but across India in general, but Gujarat is where this festival is celebrated with supreme zest and zeal. People remain busy in puja for the nine days and throughout these days young and old, boys and girls put on the traditional attire and absorb themselves in Sheri Garba and Dandiya Raas, traditional Gujarati dances.
Gujarat’s rich and vivid traditions make the destination worth unravelling. One who travels the length and breadth of this state will be left captivated by its tranquil beauty, sumptuous food and memorable hospitality.