The State is reinventing its tourist destinations and launching a campaign to attract different types of tourists.
LONELY PLANET, the world's leading travel guidebook, rates Gujarat as among 10 of the world's unsung places. Gujarat may not have been the first option of many people when it came to planning a vacation, but that may change soon. The government has decided to boost its tourism and hospitality industry by reinventing its tourist destinations and launching a campaign to attract different types of tourists.
The State has plenty to offer, so it is only a question of tapping the domestic and international tourism potential of the wide range of destinations available. There are historical sites, religious and pilgrimage sites and places where one can see wildlife. And there is an abundance of fairs and festivals through the year.
Gujaratis are known for their penchant for food; undeniably the food is unique and outstanding.
Travelling in the State is easy as it has a good infrastructure of roads, airports and railway lines.Historical interest
The State was one of the main centres of the Indus Valley Civilisation and contains major ancient metropolitan cities from the Indus Valley such as Lothal, Dholavira and Gola Dhoro. Lothal was where India's first port was established, while Dholavira has one of the largest and most prominent archaeological sites in India. The ancient history of Gujarat was enriched by the commercial activities of these cities.
The State played a significant role in the Independence movement. Leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel, Morarji Desai and Bhulabhai Desai came from the State; Mohammad Ali Jinnah's father was also from Gujarat.
It witnessed some of the most popular Independence revolts, including the Salt Satyagraha (Dandi March) and satyagrahas in Kheda, Bardoli, and Borsad.
The Champaner-Pavagadh UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) World Heritage site is located in Panchmahal district in Gujarat. The UNESCO website describes it thus: A concentration of largely unexcavated archaeological, historic and living cultural heritage properties cradled in an impressive landscape which includes prehistoric (Chalcolithic) sites, a hill fortress of an early Hindu capital, and remains of the 16th century capital of the state of Gujarat. The site has begun to attract tourists interested in history.
The State is unique for its many kinds of habitats, including dry forests, majestic grasslands, wetlands, marine ecosystems and rich moist deciduous forests, which are home to some extremely rare wildlife: for instance, the Asiatic lion (in Gir), the wild ass (in the Rann of Kutch), and the great Indian bustard. The State is also home to the world's only four-horned antelope and the black buck, both protected species.
The Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary near Ahmedabad, covering an area of 115 square kilometres, is a refuge for both domestic and migratory birds. Gujarat Tourism has a nature odyssey which includes a look-in on the 250-odd species of birds that help make this sanctuary an ornithologist's delight.Religious tourism
The State has shrines dedicated to different faiths. Dwarka is considered the land of Krishna and Somnath the prime abode of Siva.
Jains consider Palitanta, a complex of more than 860 Jain temples, one of their most important pilgrimage sites.
There are Buddhist shrines at Devni Mori, Vadnagar and Talaja. Parsis, too, have had a presence in the State from time immemorial.
The State celebrates several small and big fairs and festivals throughout the year based on the traditional lunar calendar. These festivals are observed with great enthusiasm by people of all castes and religions. Travel packages that suit all budgets are on offer for every festival in the State.Kite festival
The festival of Uttarayan (Makar Sankranti), celebrated on January 14, marks the end of winter. On this day, kites are flown all over the State from dawn until late in the evening. In the night, many people flying illuminated box kites known locally as tukkals. Well-priced exotic kites available during the festival are a collector's delight. The International Kite Festival is held on Uttarayan day.
The Modhera dance festival, celebrated at the Sun Temple at Modhera, is held in the third week of January every year. At the festival, one can see classical dance as it was originally presented. The temple was built in the style of the Jain temples at Mount Abu.
Rann Utsav, which is organised to promote tourism in Kutch, is celebrated in December and January every year.
The Tourism Department offers a six-day package tour of Kutch, which allows one to experience sights and scenes unique to the region. The Bhavnath Mahadev Fair coincides with the Mahashivratri festival and is a five-day affair. It is held at the Bhavnath Mahadev temple, which is located at the foot of Girnar hill in Junagadh.
The mahapuja of Siva is held in this temple at midnight on the 14th day of the dark half of the month of Magh when it is believed that Siva himself visits the shrine. The fair is a good opportunity to buy well-priced local artefacts, clothes and idols.
Each region of Gujarat has its unique cuisine. In northern Gujarat, the food is usually non-spicy. The region is famous for its varieties of salty treats such as pathara; khaman dhokla, a salty steamed cake; and khandvi. In Kathiawar, a favourite is debra, made from wheat flour mixed with spinach, green chillies, a dollop of yoghurt and a pinch of salt and sugar. It is eaten with chhundo (a hot-and-sweet shredded mango pickle).
Yet another specialty of this region is methia masala, a dry powder made from fenugreek seeds, chilly powder and salt. The region is also known for its wide variety of pickles, which are liberally sprinkled over raw vegetables and salads and give them an especially piquant flavour.
Sugarcane, wheat, millet, peanuts, and sesame are easily available in the Saurashtra region despite its vast stretches of dry earth. Hence, pulses dominate Kathiawari food, and sweets are made of gur (jaggery).
Kutchi cuisine is simple and consists of khichdi, a main dish eaten with kadhi. Some common dishes here include khaman dhokla; doodhpak, a sweet, thickened milk confectionery; and shrikhand, a dessert made of yoghurt flavoured with saffron, cardamom, nuts and candied fruit. It is generally eaten with hot pooris.
Southern Gujarat is blessed with plenty of rainfall unlike Saurashtra. Green vegetables and fruit, therefore, dominate Surati food. No elaborate preparations and no expensive ingredients are required, yet the food tastes exotic. Popular items include a delicious vegetable concoction called undhiyoo and a tangy delicacy called paunk. Surat is also famous for its bakery products such as nankhatais, g haris and saglu baglu mithai, which are easily available in the city's bakeries and confectionery shops.