Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Suvali Beach, Hazira, Surat

If you are in Surat and looking for a beach to unwind and relax but hate everything about Dumas Beach, then Suvali is the place to be. An isolated beach and away from the hustle and bustle of Surat and the industrial town of Hazira, Suvali is a good retreat for people who want some solitude, sun, sand and sea. Thanks to the lack of development, this beach is not yet that popular with the masses.

Suvali, like most beaches in Gujarat has black soil, absolutely low-to-no tide and shallow waters. And this in my opinion takes the shine away from the beaches. To me a beach is all about about the roaring tides, crystal clear water and pearly white sand. Quite ironically the roaring tides have a calming effect on me. All of which is lacking in the beaches here. To make matters worse, when you look far into the sea, you don't exactly find seemingly endless stretch of water, rather Steel plants and Oil rigs. And that's not really a pretty sight.

We spent our Saturday evening playing catch and ogling at the Sun getting devoured by the sea.

Getting-there: Take the lane between L&T and GSEG on Hazira road and keep going straight for about 3 or 4 kms.

Must-Do: Watch the sunset
Must-Don't: Littering

My Rating: 4/10
Pic Courtesy: Travelersguideindia

Monday, July 22, 2013

Laxmi Vilas Palace, Baroda

After the disappointment of not being able to see the Palace the previous weekend, this time howev
er I was lucky enough to gain entrance into the majestic and stately palace. Laxmi Vilas by no means is just another palace. It is simply the largest private dwelling built till date and believed to be four times the size of Buckingham Palace. Built by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, everything about this palace is extravagant. The Palace cost a whopping GBP 180,000 way back in 1890 and boasts of having one of the most exquisite Darbar Halls complete with Venetian mosaic floor and Belgian stained glass windows. The palace also had modern amenities like an elevator, plumbing and even a miniature railway line within the palace compound which was constructed to ferry the children of the King between the Palace and School.

This palace is also a paradise for art lovers. Many paintings of the great Artist/King Raja Ravi Verma adorn the walls of this palace. The 700 acre palace compound houses the Moti Baug palace, a museum, a cricket ground, two clay tennis courts, a golf course and a rare teak floor tennis and badminton court. There's also a zoo and a well called the Navlakhi baoli.

Looking at the grandeur and magnanimity of the palace you cannot but swell with pride about the fact this extravagant (yet somewhat lesser known palace) is one of India's crowning glory. This is one of the very few (probably only) palaces in India where the Royals still reside and yet have thrown its doors open to visitors. The visitors are given a voice-recorded guided tour of the palace. Do not forget to spend a little extra time gazing at the armoury room and the paintings of Raja Ravi Verma and the Stained glass work and...

Also check out the Navlakhi well. Though its not well maintained and with limited visibility, it is still worth a visit. Overall it's a thrilling experience to walk around the palace and get a glimpse of how the Royals live their life.

Getting-there: It's a short drive from Baroda Railway station. There are frequent buses and autos running in this route.

Must-Do: Gaze at the paintings of the Raja Ravi Verma, stained glass work at the Darbar Hall, Armoury Room and the Navlakhi well are some of the highlights.
Must-Don't: Vandalism and littering. Photography inside the Palace.

My Rating: 8/10

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Swami Narayan Temple, Baruch.

Some days are just not meant to be a travel day. On such a wretched day there is some sort of evil cosmic force at play that spoils all your travel plans. It is one of those days when even your Plan B fails – almost. My original plan was to take a tour of the majestic Lakshmi Vilas Palace of Baroda and call it a day. Sure enough, I reached this royal Palace as planned, but to my dismay found that it was closed on this particular day owing to the auspicious eve of Navrathri. The Palace was to remain closed for public on these two days as special Poojas were planned by the Royal family. At this juncture that I would like to let my readers know that the Lakshmi Vilas Palace is one of the few Palaces in the country where the Royal family still resides - sometimes.

When the security guard told that the palace was closed it was as if I was hit by a thunderstorm. I experienced a brief moment of brain-freeze. I tried to reason with the security guard that I had come all the way from Surat just to watch the Palace. But somehow the fact that Surat was two and a half hours away from Baroda did not impress him. And then he gave me the stern don’t-mess-with-the-security-guard-look, which was my cue to retract my steps.

With Plan A failing, I had to come up with something to save my Sunday travel plans. Lucky for me, I had done enough tourism R&D over the past few weeks. I knew exactly what to do next. I took the return train to Surat, but alighting at Bharuch (halfway between the two stations). From here I took a rickshaw to the famous Swami Narayan Temple of Bharuch. Swami Narayan temples are famous for their grandeur and pomp, across the globe. And this wouldn’t be the first time I witness such a spectacle. A few years ago, I had the privilege of seeing the magnificent Swami Narayan Temple of Chicago. I was left totally awe-struck by the mastery of the craftsmen who worked their magic in stone.

Although I finally made it to the temple, to my disappointment I found that the temple was closed during the day. The temple was to open only around 4PM which meant I still had 3 hours to kill in the hot sun. Deciding against being dead meat in the hot Sun, I decided to take a quick look of the temple from the outside and head back. I spent a few minutes taking pictures of this magnificent structure and headed back to the Railway Station to catch my return train to Surat. And there awaited the third disappointment of the day. The next train will not arrive for at least another two hours. So I decided to take a bus to Surat. And to my dismay the Buses arrive literally at the doorstep of the Swaminarayan Temple. Had I known this before, I would have saved at least a couple of hours of simply running around from pillar to post in Baruch. And finally I found a bus back to Surat. Thanks to the awesome roads of Gujarat, we covered the 60 odd kms in less than an hour.

Getting-there: There are many trains plying between Surat and Ahmedabad via Baruch. After getting down at Baruch Railway Station, take an Auto to Zadeshwar Cross. The temple is a little further away on the Ahmedabad Highway.

Must-Do: Visit the temple during normal temple hours.
Must-Don't: Vandalism and spitting pan/gutka (Oh yes! that's Gujarat's biggest curse)

My Rating: 5/10

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chankapur Dam, Maharashtra.

The only information we had about Chankapur Dam in Nashik District of Maharashtra is that it does exist. And yet we reached there pretty much without getting lost. All thanks to smartphones and GPS apps. Chankapur Dam is about 40-odd kms from Saputara.

The idea was to reach Chankapur Dam a little after noon and then probably take a bath in the water and head back Surat. And we pretty much stuck to the plan except the bathing part. Upon arriving at the landing point closest to the water (as far as the GPS shows), we found the water to be too muddy for a bath. So shed our plans of taking a bath and instead relax a bit before heading back. Thankfully, there was a tiny shack built to take refuge from the beaming Sun. Even though there was no name scribbled on this gift-wrapped gift, I’m ready to believe it was sent from God. After all, here we were in the harshest of summers sitting on the banks of river Girna, nestled between a hill on one side and an idyllic village on the other and staring at a 41m high dam in the distance.

The Sun was so harsh that none of dared to put even a finger out of the shade while resting in the shack. We spent about an hour resting and having conversations on topics ranging from food, travel, cricket et al. As the conversation steered towards their college days, my own mind wandered into the horizon. And how I managed a cat nap I don’t know, but it was one of the best I’ve ever had. And then it was time to head back to Saputara, where we had a unusually heavy lunch before starting on the return leg of our bike ride to Surat. On the whole it was one of the best rides I’ve ever had. And definitely the longest in a day. We had covered close to 450 kms in a day.

Getting-there: From Saputara cross the border and enter Maharashtra. After some 5 kms on the highway there’s a left deviation to Chankapur road.

Must-Do: It’s best to carry a GPS app with you, or simply rely of directions from people.
Must-Don’t: Avoid coming in the summer.

My Rating: 5/10

Saputara, Dang, Gujarat

The ride from Gira Falls to Saputara is in my book the best and most exhilarating bike ride I’ve ever undertaken till date. Saputara means, Home of the Serpents. Although I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the statement in current times, the only thing serpentile enough here were the roads. The ride through Vansda National Park with their winding ghat roads is an experience that has to be experienced at least once in a lifetime. The road in this section is absolutely spot-on, which makes it a ride to remember. Saputara is Gujarat’s only hill station. However, standing at 900 odd-meters, Saputara hardly qualifies to be called a “Hill Station”. It is also aggressively promoted as a monsoon destination of Gujarat. The lush green forests of the Sahayadri ranges of Gujarat attract thousands of tourists not only from Gujarat but also from Maharashtra. Although it’s the monsoons that see people come here in the thousands, the dry and de-leafed autumn of Saputara is equally magical.

By the time we reached Saputara, the Sun was completely out and just about getting warmed up for a rough day in the office. As for us, we tucked into some lip smacking Aloo/Gobi Parathas and Poha. With a filled stomach and a content heart, we were ready to take on the menacing March Sun of Gujarat. We rode to the table-top of Saputara to admire the views. And the views that greeted us there were absolutely mind numbing. The entire panorama was so dry and yet so beautiful. We parked our bikes at one of the view points and decided to hike a hill, which probably was the highest peak in Saputara. Though it was a short hike, it dawned on us that we almost used-up all our drinking water reserve in the process. Yet we spent a little time at the peak soaking the sights.

There are a few adventure sports available here for the benefit of the adventure-minded tourists including parasailing and zorping. Although zorping is on my bucket-list of things to do, I gave it a pass. The zorping here was laid upon what looked like a cricket pitch - only slightly longer than 22 yards. And in no way exciting. We would have spent a little more time here, but there was one more place to cover before we headed back to Surat. And for that we had to cross-over to Maharashtra.

Getting-there: Surat->Navsari->Chikli->Vansda National Park->Saputara.

Must-Do: Get a bird’s eye view of the Saputara landscape. Carry adequate water if you are going there in the summer.
Must-Don’t: Littering and misadventure.

My Rating: 8/10