Do you believe in the saying ‘Everything Happens for a Reason?’ Well I do, and I started believe in it more after my recent trip to Gujarat, Daman and Dadra & Nagar Haveli. Some six months ago I was craving for a weeklong holiday in India, I wanted a place where there was a sea, beaches, lush greenery, some beautiful churches or any religious place and ample of quietude to lose myself into, and if you have been travelling in India for some time, you’d know that all my demands could be fulfilled by one place, Kerala. So, the drill began for general researching; the flight tickets to Kochi were affordable, I found some great budget hotel deals, and chalked out a rough itinerary of places to visit in Kerala. I selected the month of August, since monsoon would be in its full swing, and apparently, it was the year for the Neelkurinjis to bloom (they bloom after every 12 years). And then, one ordinary office day while discussing content with one of the colleagues, the love for Udvada (a Parsi Village in Gujarat that I fell in love with a few years ago after watching a coverage on some travel channel) returned, and the urge to visit it grew at the light’s speed. Since the Parsi New Year/Navaroz also fell in the month of August, I felt tempted to drop Kerala and plan a trip to Udvada to be present at the time of celebration in the village, with which I was madly in love.
It was early July, when Udvada started to take over my thoughts, sidelining Kerala. My Google search history also showed signs of paradigm shift, sounds too corporate? Let me be blunt then and call it exactly what it was like: ignorance towards Kerala and biases towards Gujarat. By mid-July, a rough Gujarat itinerary was also ready with me, which included an apparent visit to Udvada, then a little detour to closeby Daman and Silvassa. The plan got grand with inclusion of Ahmedabad; the beautiful and unsurpassed Polo Forest; and the ancient site of Lothal, situated close to Ahmedabad.
Came August, and the news of the worst flooding of Kerala in a century started to make rounds; I have to admit, as much as I was grieving for the flood affected state, I was glad I dropped the plan of visiting Kerala. So, that’s my story behind believing, Everything has a reason, what follows now is my beautiful journey to gorgeous Gujarat, delightful Daman, and distinct Dadra & Nagar Haveli. In case you are planning a trip to West India, this blog can be useful to you, so stay with me on this one, all right.
Vapi sits some 13-14 km from Daman and is the nearest railway station and has some affordable hotels as well. This is the reason why, I decided to make Vapi as my base to explore Daman, Silvassa and Udvada. I booked a hotel for 3 days on GIDC Area (National Highway 48) which gave me an easy access to both Daman and Silvassa.
Vapi is amongst the most industrialized cities in Gujarat, and also have few attractions to see, which unfortunately, I did not get time to explore. The train from Delhi reached Vapi in the morning around 7:30, the journey was for 17 hours. The hotel was only 10-15 minutes away giving me enough time to rest and freshen up to head to Daman.
If I call Daman a sleepy destination, it wouldn’t be incorrect. The city that is divided in two major parts – Nani and Moti has its own pace and you’d love it to the core. The certain easiness and relaxed ambiance even on a weekday makes you feel quite nice, encouraging you to spend more time here. I took an auto to Daman-Vapi border and from there, a local bus to Nani Daman. There is a dedicated blog on Daman on our website, in case you want to plan a trip.
After getting down at Nani Daman, I chose to walk till Moti Daman, the decision came after the bus conductor informed that it is doable. One has to cross a beautiful old bridge underneath which, flows the serene Daman Ganga river. At a distance from the bridge you can also see the river merging into the sea, and it is such a lovely view to behold. The walking distance between Nani and Moti Daman varies according to the route you take after crossing the Old Bridge. But let me warn you, your feet will ache a bit. I walked along the fort wall, following it all the way to the sea, the Lighthouse, and then finally making it to Moti Daman Post Office (inside the fort). The fort complex has two beautiful churches – one dedicated to Jesus and another to Mother Mary along with a number of government buildings and a school. By the time I finished my march to the fort, the churches were closed only to open again at 3 pm. I checked time on my phone and it indicated that there was still an hour left for the churches’ gates to reopen, so I decided to linger some more on the premises to kill time.
After the gate opened, I spent time exploring the two churches, both of them had impressive Portuguese style architecture and of course the much-needed quietude that somehow connects you even more to these places of worship. By the time I left Our Lady Of Rosario Prathnalay, it started to drizzle. Taking the directions from the church’s guard, I took an auto from outside the fort for Jampore Beach, which was another 4 km from the Fort Area. An array of shacks cover a part of Jampore Beach and as you get near to it, the air fills with the aroma of freshly cooked seafood and that of the sea itself. Since, I visited in the monsoon season, the water at Jampore was muddy, however, what made me happy was the cool breeze, a view, and finally some relaxing time relishing the best of sea and the alcohol which I was pretty sure would accompany me till the setting of the sun. I dropped the idea of visiting Devka Beach and made my way back to Vapi after relishing a great evening at Jampore.
I had saved a Yellow Kurta to wear on my day of exploring Udvada. The anticipation compelled me to wake up early in the morning too, and I was ready to go in no time. However, I considered it wise to have some breakfast before leaving, since food adds significantly to my happiness. Yesterday’s drill was repeating to get the auto – the haggling thing with the auto driver somehow becomes an innate part of one’s travel in India. The driver gave me the final offer of Rs 200 to drop me off in Udvada Village or else, the best he could do was to drop me at the Level Crossing on the other side of which, autos for the village can be found. I could have refused the former offer, but then the auto driver was an interesting man with a lot to say over women safety in Gujarat (positive things) and the culture of the state, so I accepted the offer. The driver continued talking about how safe Gujarat is for women on the basis of incidents witnessed by him. When, we reached Udvada, he concluded with “it is the land of Gandhi, and people still follow his teachings.” I smiled, handed over the due payment, and got down at a crossroad in Udvada.
Despite being the day of the celebration, the place looked utterly quiet. I did not know anything about Navroz celebration then, neither do I know about it now, however, I should maybe spend some time reading. Anyway, back on track, a Portuguese style building beckoned that I have reached the right place, and I was joyous from inside, but I didn’t see anyone outside, which was kind of strange. I started to walk more Portuguese houses start to greet with colours so soothing and nice that you cannot stop taking pictures of them. I walked 5-10 minutes in silence with an occasional passing by of cars full of Parsis, a few autos that usually had no passengers and bikes that were ridden by non-Parsis. The houses mostly grabbed my attention, they were so pretty that for sometime I forgot about the awkward quietness of the place. I kept walking and came to a stop only when I saw a dreamy white plastered building, as if I was in some remote European town. The sign read Atash Behram (Zoroastrian Temple) and it indeed took my breath away. As a non-Parsi, I was not allowed to go inside the temple, but the fact I was around this holy building and actually witnessing it with my own two eyes, made me dizzy. I must have like hundred pictures of this place in excitement before moving ahead to see the rest of this beautiful beautiful village.
I crossed some gorgeous Portuguese houses, which had these attractive verandahs – the only thing I wished all through was if someone could invite me in for a cup of tea maybe. Alas, that wish didn’t come true. Anyway, I walked towards a pretty looking Dharamshala where a small sign read Homemade Ice Cream. There were few women sitting in the verandah laughing and chatting, that gave a good vibe. I walked past the building and found a small garden type area where some 40-50 goats were grazing, it was an odd sight, something I wasn’t really expecting, but then what the heck, it was Udvada. A decent size shelter was situated next to the lawn, I decided to take some rest, and in no time, rain started to pour. What has been decided as a short break turned to a comparatively long halt, but then, it was a much-needed one. I enjoyed the downpour for little more than half an hour and then decided to start walking to find a place to have lunch. I took a slightly different route to head back as I also wanted to see the beach. So I enquired with few locals to how to go about it. After walking by some more beautiful houses and Dharamshalas, I reached a place from where sea was visible, not the best view, I have to say, but what the heck, I loved the vibe of this place.
There are a number of places to eat Parsi food in Udvada, however, my feet led me to this restaurant at the entry of the village next to the Sohrabji Jamshedji Sodawaterwalla Dharamshala. The host was quite welcoming, and offered to serve some Parsi specialities – Patra Ni Machi, and the traditional Dal and Rice with a raspberry soda. The food was undoubtedly delicious but the hospitality and humbleness won my heart more. I have always fallen for remote places, the people are so humble at these destinations that it revives one’s trust in humanity again, no exaggeration. It was 3:30 by the time lunch was finished and I still had whole evening to myself, the thought of heading to Daman quickly popped in my head as if it has been waiting all along for this. So, I took an auto to Daman and decided to head directly to Devka Beach which could not be explored due to me being inebriated a day before.
Udvada to Daman is a short drive of 20 minutes. You can get down at the border, and take the same local bus and ask the conductor to drop you to the nearest stand to Devka Beach. You can then take an auto and visit the beach. Devka is similar to Jampore with black sand, the only difference is in the crowd, here you’d see a lot of families, which to be honest made me feel more comfortable. Here too, I settled in one of the shacks, grabbed a bottle of beer and some cashews, they do not serve any seafood, well, as far as I know. The rest of the evening was spent celebrating my accomplishment of finally making it to Udvada, a destination I have been dreaming to visit. A sudden downpour, did disturb my plan, like a tad bit, but then, it all went quiet after 20 minutes and the evening spent at Devka Beach remains etched in my memories.
It was cloudy since night, so a downpour was expected the next morning. Silvassa, the capital of Dadra & Nagar Haveli was in the schedule today. The capital city is just 20 km from Vapi, and the best way to reach here are the shared autos from GIDC Chowk. Unlike Daman, you don’t have to change vehicle at the border, which was quite a relief. I left for Silvassa around 10 in the morning, since I had a train to catch from Vapi for Ahmedabad later in the evening. Now, this must be the first time, I hadn’t chalked out the day’s itinerary, so, the first attraction I would find on Google was going to determine where I’d go next and the first destination to visit in Silvassa was chosen as Vasona Lion Safari Park. I got down at the city centre, and asked the local auto driver to take me there, “the park is closed in the monsoon season,” he responded, God bless my lack of research. I asked him about the nearest attraction I can visit, to which he answered Swaminarayan Temple, so without giving it a second thought, I requested him to take me there.
Swaminarayan Temple is one of the major attractions of Silvassa. As expected, it is a well-maintained and beautiful shrine that one shouldn’t miss out on. Built on a large platform which can be reached by a flight of stairs, this sacred edifice caught my eye big time. Unfortunately, it started to rain heavily, and I had to shelter myself under a freestanding structure with a roof and pillars. The rain was in no mood to cease, I waited for more than half an hour but neither did it stop nor it rained any less. I finally had to exit the temple, since there was no way I could explore the place anymore without an umbrella. Boarded an auto from outside the temple and asked him to take me to a nice place to eat in Silvassa, where he knows the food is good. He took me a few kilometers away to drop in front of a restaurant which was almost vacant. I confirmed with the driver if this a good place to eat, he assured by nodding. Let me confess, I had one of the best Biryanis at this place, the name of which I have forgotten and feel guilty now. The presentation is what won my heart the most with yellow and white rice grains on top and the gravy right at the bottom, which made it quite unique to the eye. The taste was as brilliant as the presentation. It was already 2:30 when I finished my lunch, and the downpour still continued. Disappointed, I decided to head back to Vapi to board the train, since the chances of exploring the city now seemed bleak. Just to give you a glimpse – Silvassa is a well-maintained city with some good places to visit including a Tribal Museum, few gardens, a lion safari park, and some temples, unfortunately, I couldn’t visit any other place apart from Swaminarayan Temple.
The double decker train from Vapi to Ahmedabad takes around 5 hours to reach. I had booked a hotel close to the railway station in advance, so that gave me time enough to sleep and prepare myself for the next journey to another much-anticipated destination on this Gujarat trip – Polo Forest. I had a simple meal at the hotel in the night, and called it a day. Oh, I do have to mention this, although my hotel was close to the railway station, it was in the part of the city that is not much preferred by the tourists, so my auto driver was a bit worried, and in order to make sure that the place I was staying was safe, he accompanied me to the hotel’s reception area and spoke to the hotel staff, and I have to be honest, it was completely a weird feeling, I have never had someone take care of me like this in my entire travelling life! So, a big shout out to you guys in Ahmedabad, because of you I still believe in goodness in the world.
I often speak about serendipity on my Instagram handle since I have found it at so many places that I’ve travelled to, and Polo Forest was one of them.
Some 160 km from Ahmedabad, exists a place of which very few people know about. A place that is lush green and is adorned with temple ruins, river and mountains, you can very well imagine, what a scenic place it shall be. I boarded a bus from Ahmedabad’s Geeta Mandir Bus Station to Idar, which is at a distance of about 45 km from the Polo Forest. I had booked my tent stay in advance at Polo Retreat which is at Dholivav Kampa in the Polo Forest Area. So, at the bus stand, I booked a full auto to the resort, although there is also an option for a shared jeep in which there are 10 seats but 16 -20 people travel. It is one sight, you cannot miss, and if you think it is crazy, let me tell you I have experienced it myself, well, that part of the story will be coming shortly in the description.
Polo Retreat is indeed a pleasant place, and I got the idea of it, when I entered the resort that is situated amidst a village where there are partially just dirt roads. The entrance of the resort is through an open cafeteria on the right side of which is a swimming pool. The owner sits at the counter of the cafetaria, and more than you, he looks in the vacation mode with sunglasses, sleeveless t-shirt and bermuda shorts on, please Mr. Ramesh Patel, hope you’d forgive me for this extremely honest description.
I was showed my tent amidst this beautiful setting, and I have to say I was dying to spend the night here. The tent was big for a single person, what caught most of my attention was the big bathtub in the washroom! What I did next, is apparent I guess. There were few families eating when I arrived at the cafeteria, little did I know none of them would be staying back and I would have the entire resort to myself. Did that give you an eerie feel? Well it should, because, I felt the same way too when post tea in the evening, I was informed about it by the owner while I was enjoying a dance performance by a Gujju family spending a holiday here. I decided not to visit Polo Forest the same day, and asked him to schedule it for next day early morning, for which he happily agreed and fixed it for 8 am.
At 8:30 pm the dinner was served, and I was back in the tent by 9:15 pm. I tried taking a stroll outside for some time but then being the forest area, the place was infested with insects, so the wise thing was to go inside and call it a day. Outside it was so silent that I could hear sounds of different insects and also that of the silence.
I was ready at the given time, my guide Kalidas Ji came to pick me up on his bike, since I did not have my own vehicle. Mostly, the people who come to Polo Forest bring their own vehicle for convenience and to be honest, it is an asset.
Our expedition began with Kalidas Ji’s self-introduction in which he told me about how he and a few other men from the nearby villages of Polo helped in maintaining a record of the forest and the monuments present. It was after their constant efforts that Government recognized it an important historical destination in Gujarat. The territory of the Polo Forest began, giving me an incomprehensible chill down my spine. The first monument, we stopped by was a Shiva Temple, which is a large temple area that now lie in ruins, I can start to tell you its history but then, the blog would not end. The major attractions of Polo Forest for me was the Harnav River, there was also a trek that heads to a top of hill called Bhim Hill. A sun temple up a short trek on a hill is something one can relish. But fascinating temple for me in Polo was the Jain Temple which has this huge open circle roof that is worth taking hundred pictures of. Next to it lies a fenced area which Kalidas Ji made me cross in order to explore some temples and houses that are buried underneath the ground with only their top part being visible above the ground. After a short hike and little huff and puff, we headed down the hill towards the entry gate where we had parked the bike. I wouldn’t lie but my feet ached a bit, and lucky for me there was a stream running just ahead of us where I got to soak my tired feet. Ah! That feeling I can never forget.
After soaking my feet for around 10 minutes in the water, I was rejuvenated to visit Harnav Dam, which according to Kalidas Ji was our last destination. Before that, we headed to the museum, maintained by Polo Forest authorities that has exhibitions of various native birds, animals and tribes. The museum is a short distance away from the Dam area. We parked the bike and Kalidas Ji took me to the dam site from an unconventional route where the tourists were not allowed. I got full view of the Harnav Dam and the feeling you bet was amazing. A short hike up a hill, brought us the bridge area of the Dam where tourists get the panoramic view of the Polo Forest. In case you are visiting, make sure to either wear a light perfume or no perfume at all since the bridge is infested with bees who can mistake you for flowers, no kidding. The wide vista from the dam is something that will linger in my memory for long.
Kalidas Ji while returning said, he wanted to show me one more place – an old Dargah before we head back. I happily said yes. The Dargah is situated on an elevated hillock now, whereas earlier it was on a boulder amidst the Harnav River that now runs on its left side. The place is surreal with mountains around and the quietness will compel you to spend some time here. I soaked my feet again and asked Kalidas Ji to take my picture. I wanted to take back as many memories I could with me, but most of all I really wished to take back this peace, this positive silence and the serendipity.
After returning to the resort from Polo, I was to head back to Ahmedabad. Kalidas Ji offered to drop me till the taxi stand. Remember, I was talking about the shared jeeps which over accommodate people, yes, now was my turn to ride it. And no exaggeration there were exactly 15 people in my jeep with 5 people (including the driver) in the front seat; 4 in the middle (including me); 4 in the rear and two standing at the rear end. The driver was careful not to drop any of the passenger hanging outside on the street, and he was doing a pretty good job. I reached Idar bus station in one piece, and thanking god for it, I headed to board bus to Ahmedabad and made it to my hotel on Ashram Road by 5:30 in the evening. I chilled in the city, met a friend I’ve been meaning to, and called it a day by 11:00.
Next day, I planned my day’s itinerary in order not to repeat Silvassa’s mistake. The first destination in the itinerary to visit in Ahmedabad was Sabarmati Ashram, apparently due to its proximity to my hotel. So quite a positive day began with the exploration of Sabarmati Ashram, and you can find my detailed experience on this link here. After spending a major chunk of day here, I headed for Adalaj Stepwell, which is some distance away from the main city. The auto driver himself seemed like an ardent fan of this attraction in Ahmedabad since he told me he has visited Adalaj 10-12 times with friends and family. He offered to take me back to the city saying he’d be interested again to visit this stepwell again. At the entrance of the gate, a guide offered to give me a tour, and agreed. I always feel, that a guided tour is so much better than trying to decipher things on your own. Also, I feel hiring guides is part of sustainable tourism, and thus, must be encouraged wherever and whenever.
The guide informed about how each pillar in the Adalaj has different carving and several other important information, which you can find in a separate blog here. You’d find a number of tourists visiting this stepwell, however I feel a small fee should be imposed so that some revenue is generated for better maintenance of the place. My guide listened to the guide carefully, and I loved how looking at every pillar, he would repeat what the guide has told about different carved patterns. We completed our exploration of Adalaj in 30-40 minutes and were ready to head back to Ahmedabad. I asked my auto driver who by now have understood my taste in architecture to drop me at Sidi Sayyed Mosque.
En route though, the driver convinced me to pay a short visit to Swaminarayan Temple in Ahmedabad, which according to him is the first Swaminarayan shrine in the world. I got excited and agreed to visit, and indeed it was a good decision. The temple, as expected was beautiful, and although I wasn’t allowed inside, I did get mesmerize with its exterior. After visiting Swaminarayan Mandir, en route, the driver spotted another temple, this one a Jain one called Hutheesing Temple and he was excited like a little kid. As if he was the one visiting a new city, he insisted that we see this temple as well, and the chirp in his voice and shine in the eyes compelled me to agree with him.
Hutheesing is a gorgeous temple and if at all they would allow photography inside, I would be able to share with you some really breathtaking pictures with you. It’s a large temple complex with incredible architecture and detailed carvings. The temple was completely empty when we visited, and my auto driver made friends with the guard who invited us to see the upper storey of the temple, where the marvellous stone jaali (net) work could be seen closely. A steep and narrow staircase led to the upper part of the temple, the guard gave detailed information of the work and then took us to the roof area to appreciate the massive temple domes. It was such a great experience and unique as well.
Finally, we reached the popular Sidi Sayyed Mosque, and the rain also arrived. Unfortunately, when I reached this famous destination in Ahmedabad, it was almost time for the Namaaz (prayer time) and I was given a window of mere 5-7 minutes to explore. I hustled, quickly took pictures of the famous Jaali work and there I was standing outside the mosque gate before the men start to gather. I wish I had more time to take pictures and even to carefully look at the detailed artwork. My last destination was Bhatiyar Gali, because they say if you haven’t had non-veg here, you’re trip to Ahmedabad is incomplete. The auto driver dropped me at the entrance of Bhatiyar Gali and bid goodbye. I started my exploration but the rain was keeping me down, so I settled for the first place I found for trying the non-vegetarian food and it turned out to extremely good. I had this large piece of chicken fry, some rice and a chapati to give my stomach what it has been craving for so long. The rain continued, so I had no option but to head to the hotel. In the evening, I took a short walk on Ashram Road, exploring its nooks and corners and then settled for a small meal before crashing into the bed in the hotel room again.
What’s travel without some glitches and fails? Nothing, I say. Lothal was all planned, there was a bus to be boarded again from Geeta Mandir to Bagodara and from there an auto had to be taken to Lothal, what could go wrong in it, right? Well, at a remote destination, you cannot predict which small thing can turn out to be bad. Don’t worry, nothing major went wrong, just small fails here and there. First one being, the unavailability of a direct auto to Lothal from Bagodara and second one being no transport means between Arnej and Lothal. Yes, I couldn’t find any vehicle from the Arnej Level Crossing for almost 45 minutes and I burnt myself under the scorching heat. However, due to God’s mercy, I did manage to get an auto after 45 minutes, which had one seat left for me. The auto driver said, we had to go and drop the other people a few kilometeres away and then we could return to head to Lothal. I had no choice but to agree. We dropped the other passengers some 2 km opposite the direction of Lothal and then headed for my destination.
This auto driver also had the same inquisitivity about me travelling all alone though he added, Gujarat was safe enough for any solo female traveller. I smiled, and nodded in agreement. The driver spoke about Lothal and how it is gradually catching the eyes of international tourists in the winter and summer seasons, and I was just wondering what would be like to visit this place in peak summer when it was hot in the monsoon season.
A travel guide for Lothal is on the website already, in case you want to plan a trip to this destination in Gujarat. Lothal comprises of a well-curated museum which will definitely intrigue you, and the main archaeological site where you can literally walk in the past. The auto driver skipped the museum but was overjoyed to show me around the excavated site which due to the monsoon rain had turned lush green offering an incredible sight to relish. We spent approximately 40 minutes to visit the site before the black clouds started to show the sign of interruption. The driver suggested we should head back if the sudden downpour is what I want to avoid. He dropped me at Bagodara and to my surprise I did not have enough cash to pay, and to add a bit thrill to my surprise, all the ATMs were closed in Bagodara since it was Eid. We checked each ATM in the hopes of them being partially opened but to no avail. Then an idea struck me, I asked the driver to take me to the nearest petrol pump, he did as I said. I requested the payment collector to swipe my card and in return give the amount in cash to the driver, he was really helpful and without any question agreed to my request. The driver was elated, he exclaimed, who could have thought this could be an option. He also said, “I’d take partial payment from you and let you go with some cash, so that you do not face any problem on the way.” His words melted my heart, some time we meet such nice people out of nowhere and I believe that’s the beauty of travel. The driver even came to see me off at the bus station, it was such a heartwarming gesture, something I won’t forget.
To answer why I travel solo – I feel it is the most amazing way to see the world, meet the most heartwarming people and most importantly come back each time with a new perspective, something that you miss when you’re travelling with friends or family. Gujarat and Daman trip was such a soulful experience for me, because sometimes all you need is to be amongst strangers and feel that not so strange warmth of being home. If you haven’t given solo travel a thought, it is time that you consider going on one, because guess what, life is indeed is about finding new adventure everyday.