Gujarat is a tourist’s delight, with an impressive concentration of culture and heritage rich sites dotting this Western Indian state. Hence one can quickly cover several places of interest within a given radius, with logistics that are easy to deal with and one also saves on time and travel costs.
In my previous post, I had written about what one can do within the city of Ahmedabad and now I will take you to the surrounding attractions which you can accomplish as day trips, while you continue to have the option of making the city your base.
I had only 3 days to spare, so out of the myriad choices tantalizing me, I had to prudently pick only what I could comfortably fit in. My new found interest in bird photography (though currently with woefully inadequate equipment) tempted me to stray into the neighboring districts of Gandhinagar and Mehsana in a quest to trap some of the winged beauties on camera. Indroda Nature Park and Thol Bird Sanctuary were my hunting grounds in these 2 districts, respectively.
Well and I also stepped into a bit of heritage, when I visited the step well at Adalaj in Gandhinagar.
I was fortunate to have the kind assistance and company of friends like Anand, Sujata, Aadarsh etc and that allowed me to make optimal use of the time at my disposal.
They also gave me valuable information about the other places of interest which I will list in this post … locations that I have reserved for another trip to Gujarat 😀
Ahmedabad seamlessly blends with its Siamese (or should I say Gujarati) twin city, Gandhinagar that lies within the district of the same name.
Though it is said to be 20 km away from Ahmedabad, for a first time visitor like me it appeared like a mere extension of Ahmedabad and the border seemed too fine a line to define.
Having said that however, Gandhinagar does have an identity of its own, being a meticulously planned city and geometrically comprehensible in its design, with its divisions of neat sectors.
This city lies along the West bank of the river Sabarmathi and to the North of Ahmedabad city and is named after the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi (in case that was not evident :-D)
This is the capital of the state of Gujarat and a worthy one too, with its wide roads, verdant lung spaces, tech parks, educational institutions of repute, well architected government buildings and majestic places of worship.
Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar together present the tourist with quite a range of sightseeing options, also facilitated by the fact that public transport such as app based cabs operate through both cities.
Things to do in Gandhinagar –
A case of quality over quantity, the places of interest within the city limits may not be too many but they are certainly worth visiting, especially for lovers of nature and architecture.
Gandhinagar has a profusion of parks and greenery that are also home to several species of flora and fauna.
The Sarita Udhyan, Punitvan, Indroda Nature park etc are some of the green spaces in the city.
Sarita Udhyan – is a well known picnic spot and botanical garden with a variety of flora.
Punitvan – meaning Holy forest, is a well known green space that true to its name, has trees and plants segregated according to their celestial relevance. According to hindu mythology, plant life just like human life, is associated with the signs of the Zodiac.
Indroda nature park (INP)– is an enormous forested area that straddles the east and west banks of the river Sabarmati, greening 400 hectares of the city.
The portion on the west is the main Indroda nature park and that on the east is known as the wilderness park or Aranya Udhayan. While Indroda is open to photographers, students and those benefiting from other learning pursuits, Aranya is reserved for mere visiting purposes and no activities are permitted in its forested zone, mainly for the protection of the innumerable reptiles, mammals, birds and other wildlife that it houses.
Indroda park is run by the Gujarat Ecological Education and Research Foundation (GEER).
It is called the Jurassic park of India because of its dinosaur museum which exhibits fossils of bones and eggs. These have been procured from Balasinore which is 90 km away from Ahmedabad and is one of the world’s largest dinosaur hatcheries and fossil parks, which strangely was stumbled upon as late as in 1981 (AD of course :-D). Our very own Indian Rajasaurus Narmadens was also unearthed and discovered here.
The park also contains a snake enclosure, bird enclosure, deer park, water bodies with turtles and water birds and a zoo of sorts that also features the Gir lions and saves you a trip to Gir :-D.
The mammals that are commonly spotted in the park are Nilgais (and Nil-girls :-D) and hundreds of black faced Langurs that co exist mostly peaceably with their human cousins. Peafowl in prolific numbers also stroll nonchalantly, only getting on high alert and going into a silly tizzy when amateurs like me want to get a picture *eyeroll*
Several species of birds both permanent as well as migratory, make the park their home and sometimes one is luckier with clicking them than with the temperamental peacocks *OneMoreEyeroll*
INP is also a great learning ground for students and there is an open air classroom of sorts where lectures can be held. Large posters bearing a wealth of information, are also found at various points in the park.
Various educational sessions are conducted from time to time and are announced via banners in the park.
The Swaminarayan Akshardham is one of the grandest temples here. Belonging to the Swaminarayan sect, this edifice was inaugurated in 1992. It is set amidst 23 acres of land the pink sandstone monument is surrounded by well manicured lush greenery. Its architecture encompasses domes, balconies, intricately carved pillars and several exquisite sculptures. Akshardham translates to Abode of the divine and the aura of peace in the premises is said to justify the name.
The Adalaj Trimandir – is another well known temple where one can find the idols of gods Jainism, Shaivism, and Vaishnavism in same sanctum, hence the tri (meaning three).
The Dandi Kutir is a museum that depicts the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.
Government buildings –
The capital complex of Gandhinagar is located in one of the sectors of the city and houses various government buildings like the Vithalbhai Patel Bhavan which is set in the middle of a man made waterbody, the Legislative Assembly, the Secretariat and High Court.
Heritage sites –
The locality of Adalaj is famous for the Adalaj step well which is also known as the Rudabai stepwell after Queen Rudadevi who had it built in 1498 in the memory of her husband Rana Veerasimha, chief of the Vaghela dynasty. The well provided drinking and washing water for travellers and villagers in those days.
The entire structure is long and rectangular, running from South to North with entry from the Southern side via steps on 3 sides that eventually lead to the well in the North that lies within a square pit at the bottom of an octagonal shaft 5 storeys deep.
The architecture is Indo Islamic with islamic, hindu and jain symbols harmoniously blending together. Carvings on the pillars and walls and also various sculptures depicting scenes from those times, enhance the aesthetics of the monument.
The stepwell is about 20 km from Ahmedabad city and is easily accessed via public transport. It is open from 8 am – 6 pm and entry is free. There is a large courtyard where some basic refreshments are sold. There is also a public washroom but I did not use it and hence cannot comment on its usefulness.
Mehsana district –
This district also borders Ahmedabad and is a treasure trove of ancient temples, step wells and other such sites, some of which are UNESCO recognized. The Thol lake and bird sanctuary also draws birders and photographers in large numbers.
Thol bird sanctuary in Mehsana district –
The Thol lake in Mehsana district is a must visit for bird lovers. This artificially created lake originated as an irrigation tank built in 1912 made by Sayajirao Gaekwad, the Ruler of Baroda at the time.
It was declared as a Bird Sanctuary in 1988 and hosts over 150 species of that have made it their habitat, along with migratory avians that fly in during the relevant seasons. The lake has a prominent population of flamingos, pelicans and sarus cranes, apart from several other water birds.
Thol is around 25 km from Ahmedabad. The timings are from 6 am – 6 pm and it is advisable to reach there at the earliest in order to view the stunning sunrise and watch the birds readying for the day. Car entry fee is Rs 500 and parking is freely available.
There is a long walking track dotted with several view points that also helpfully indicate the various bird species via painted pictures and labels.
However, one would need binoculars to get clear views of the birds from here, so it is a better idea to scramble down the short slope to the lake and walk along its lengthy periphery to get better sightings. Proper walking shoes will make it easier to negotiate the terrain.
The best time to visit Thol is during the winter months of November to February as the weather is better then, than during the rest of the year and also one can get their fill of the migratory birds that throng the place like a thick sheet over the water. Wear appropriate warm clothing as the temperatures are quite low.
My experience –
Time constraints notwithstanding, I did manage to squeeze in a worthy number of places and though I would have liked to see more, I was happy that I had very fulfilling experiences.
Adalaj ki vaav –
Accompanied by Sujata and Anand, I was transported to Adalaj in the comfort of their car. February temperatures are fortunately quite pleasant in the day time and the weather was warmly welcoming even as we reached by late afternoon. However, the downside of this was that the place was thronging with busloads of tourists who found the weather equally appealing 😀
Deciding to wait it out proved futile because there were more busloads arriving by the moment. So we chose to make the most of what we had and apart from not being able to get ‘tourist unhindered’ photographs, we managed to view the place in its entirety quite easily.
The top of the well lies at ground level (like all wells :-D) and is surrounded by a large but not very well kept lawn. One can stroll around the roof and peep into the well through the grill that covers it.
We spent about 30 minutes at the step well, perambulating around its top periphery and then going right down to the lowest level where the actual well lies. The higher portions of the structure were thankfully out of reach of interrupting human beings and the lone pigeon was excused since it contributed to the aura 😀
Overhanging ‘balconies’ at the entrance, provided visitors apt settings for delusions of grandeur where they could pretend to be royalty looking down on their subjects. Of course I had to do the same and Sujata was kind enough to do the honors 😀
Timings seem to be strictly adhered to and the gates are locked after 6 pm so make sure that you get there with at least an hour to spare.
Thol bird sanctuary –
Sunrise at Thol is a sight not to be missed and hence we made sure that we reached by 6 am. One would have to leave Ahmedabad by 5.15 am at least but since Sujata and Anand own a villa 10 km from Thol, we stayed there the previous night to make our morning’s journey shorter.
Entry and parking formalities done with, we proceeded to the raised walking track and ensconced ourselves within one of the viewing shelters.
The pre dawn scenes are truly a sight to be amazed at. Orange and black dominated the scenery and what at first seemed to be several dark islands scattered across the water, suddenly sprang to life with thousands of flamingoes, pelicans, cranes, ducks and other water birds shaking themselves out of their rest as they prepared to greet the sunrise.
After a while as the darkness gradually receded, we realized that we would get better views on the banks of the lake and as we made our way down the embankment, the sun decided to make its way up, giving us brilliant views as it made a rather rapid ascent from behind the horizon.
The lake has quite a large periphery and the shores are reminiscent of the surface of Little Rann of Kutch with its signature cracks.
We walked along the lake as if following a mirage, where the closer we got, the more distant the birds seemed to be 😀 That is probably also because they kept flying away as we approached but nevertheless I did manage a few pictures that would certainly have been far more meaningful had I had the proper lens.
Once in a way I shot my friends who were a less suspicious target than the birds 😀
We spent over 2 hours at the sanctuary and returned only because we had to 😀 Birders would happily spend a whole day there, especially during the winter months.
Indroda nature park –
This was a hit and run operation on the morning before my afternoon flight and it was made possible only due to my friend Aadarsh who had been tantalizing me with his superb bird photography on Facebook, especially the peacocks and an important looking Spotted owlet family 😀
Tempting me to visit him so that he could get yet another chance to visit the park (which is a mere 5 minutes from his house by the way), he was kind enough to spend an entire Monday morning with me and also make sure that his friend the owlet was obediently waiting for me to do the honors. In fact I think he had conspired earlier with him because the little fellow actually winked at me 😀
However, Aadarsh could not convince the temperamental peacocks to get up and dance but he promised that they would be more obliging in the rainy season. I had to make do with a squatting specimen 😀
This visit to the park was an amazing way to end my already fruitful Gujarat holiday and I came back with a cameraful of memories.
Black magpie robins, sunbirds, babblers, parakeets, storks, pelicans, ducks, francolins and many other birds obliged my lens.
A Rose ringed parakeet hovered around as if inviting me to see where he stayed and shushing me not to tell.
A tiny little squirrel curled up in the fork of a tree and thought I would not see him if he turned his back to me.
A lone Nilgai and his girl gave me momentary poses.
A mongoose scurried through the undergrowth, looking as stunned at me as I did at him.
Red eared sliders (turtles) slid over rocks in the pond and posed for me.
The greatest entertainment though, was provided by the langurs and their little ones who played hide and seek with me.
There were a couple of them who seemed to be deciding on which gender of toilet to use.
And then there were those who drank water straight out of a tap just like their human cousins. I do not know who opened and closed the taps for them though 😀
The langurs also inadvertently provided me with an amazing illusory picture where at first glance they looked like large rodents, quite surprising even me when I downloaded the pictures. Wondering whether I had caught an unusually enormous rat, I had to look several times before I realized that it was a langur bent over, quenching his thirst from a puddle in the vicinity of the tap.
With its ears for eyes, his forelegs for ears, the top of his head for a snout, his eyelashes for whiskers and his rodent like long tail, he does make a handsome rat I think 😀
The 3 hours at the park were so fulfilling and fruitful and I lingered there unable to tear myself away until it was time to leave for the airport. That is also why I could not take up Aadarsh’s offer to show me around the rest of the city and Akshardham and other delights remained unattained.
But as I always say, leaving something undone is like laying the foundation for a potential sequel 😀
Gujarat – Part 2 may materialize some day, if the universe is kind enough !!!
Getting there –
Gandhinagar and Thol are best accessed via Ahmedabad. Private vehicles, app based cabs and buses are the various means of transport.
For more information about Ahmedabad (getting there, best time to visit, where to stay and other logistics), please refer to the earlier post Ahmedabad – World Heritage City.
For more pictures see My Facebook – Ahmedabad – Surroundings (coming soon). Also catch me on My Facebook, My Facebook page, My Twitter and My Instagram
Please Note – The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.
Feb 9th – 12th, 2019