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Old 10th January 2015, 10:36   #1
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Default A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat

I entered into a new phase of my life last December and wanted to start this new phase with a short and sweet outing with my new companion Therefore the search for a suitable place started few months before the marriage and the suggestions from near and dear ones flowed in. Suggestions were Munnar, Ooty, Coorg, Manali, Maldives, Switzerland and many more such places. These are the most famous places where newly wed couples usually head to. In fact, I have already visited few of those places while I was in college.

We ruled out International outing since my wife and I had only 2 weeks of time for outing before we get back to our respective work. I didn't want to visit some exotic place just for the sake of visiting. Therefore we started scouting for places within our beautiful India. We ruled out all the above places where the newly wed couples usually go and also ruled out all the resorts and home stays. I'm a native of Dakshina Kannada and don't feel anything exciting in any of the resorts or home stays for I feel that they are unnatural.

One fine day my wife (then fiancee) phoned me and said, "Why don't we go to Gujarat?". I gave an affirmative reply. Neither I asked her why she selected Gujarat nor she said why she selected Gujarat. I had only heard of Rann of Kutch and had no idea what other places exist there.

Initially I had planned a drive to Ahmedabad and then to roam about there. But I got heavy resistance from friends and family that it is risky for the newly wedded to drive such long distances. I have no clue about the connection between getting married and driving long distances however, I dropped the idea. I also didn't want to tag along after any of the packaged tours where we should abide by their rules along with other noisy tourists. I immediately called one of our close family friends, Geetanjali Dhar who runs IT Nature Club. She usually conducts customized tours to North Eastern India and I had heard very good reviews of her tours from her clients. Even though I know her personally from past many years, I never got a chance to be a part of her tours. I told her about our Gujarat plan. She was baffled and asked me just one question:

"Why Gujarat?!!"

I didn't have any answer and just laughed. She didn't ask any more questions and promised to get back to me in couple of days with the plan. After 2-3 days, a neat plan was present in my mail box. I gave her a green signal without even properly looking at the plan. I was confident that she will be having the best plan for me since she conducts all the tours with passion. It's more like a hobby than business for her. I got another mail after 3 days with the entire details of the trip which consisted of hotel details, contact numbers, checklist, air tickets, car details, etc. Hence our destination was fixed - Gujarat.

I was busy with marriage preparations until the end of second week of December. Later, everyone started inquiring me as to where we would be heading to after wedding and I answered "We are going to Gujarat". Everyone had the same question:

"Why Gujarat?!!"

My answer was just a smile

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Old 10th January 2015, 11:37   #2
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The plan was to start from Bangalore on December 19th early in morning, stay in Gujarat for 6 days and come back to Bangalore on the night of December 24th.

Day 1:

Our flight to Ahmedabad was at 6:30 AM and we reached Bangalore airport at 5 AM. We had coffee at the airport CCD and then boarded the Indigo flight. The flight was on time and we reached Ahmedabad airport at 8:30 AM. It was very cold there. The cab driver was waiting for us at the airport and he received us with a warm smile. He introduced himself as "Prakash Thakur". This was supposed to be our cab for the next 6 days of our stay in Gujarat. It was a well maintained Etios Liva Sportivo. It had clocked 80K km but was maintained very well.

There was one problem for me. Prakash spoke only Hindi and Gujarati. He didn't understand anything in English. Both of us didn't know a word in Gujarati. I can speak only broken Hindi and can understand only few sentences. My wife came to rescue as she could speak fluent Hindi. Hence, the communication medium was Hindi.

The first day of our plan was to visit some places in Ahmedabad and stay overnight at Hotel Armoise, Ahmedabad. We were directly taken to the hotel from airport. Our cab driver, Prakash was already informed about our entire trip and there was no need for us to reiterate the same to him. Since the entire trip expense was paid beforehand, there were no other formalities while checking into the hotel. We had to just show the hotel vouchers which we had received in the mail along with our ID proofs.

We quickly got ready and headed for breakfast. It was a buffet with wide variety of items. I searched for any at least one typical Gujarati item but in vain. However, all the items were very tasty and fresh. I liked the stuffed Parathas a lot. After breakfast, we started for our first destination - Sabarmati ashram. Since it was a Friday morning, I expected heavy traffic inside Ahmedabad city but to my surprise, nowhere could I see any traffic jam. We reached Sabarmati ashram within no time. In Bangalore, it would have taken at least an hour to cover that distance on a weekday morning.

The parking at the ashram was neat and Prakash preferred to wait for us in the car while we took a look inside. The ashram was a very peaceful place with very less crowd. There were lots of photos, paintings, antique pieces related to M.K. Gandhiji. We almost spent an hour inside the ashram. It was very well maintained.

Some pics taken at the ashram:
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Old 10th January 2015, 11:46   #3
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Default re: A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat

Some more pics taken at the ashram:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00519.jpg


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Old 10th January 2015, 12:01   #4
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Default re: A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat

The ashram is situated on the banks of the Sabarmati river. The river front can be viewed from here. The river front looks terrific with it's neat looks. The Sabarmati river is maintained in pristine condition. How I wish every river was maintained liked this in India. We spent some quality time enjoying the river front before leaving the ashram.

Pictures of the Sabarmati river front:
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Old 10th January 2015, 12:28   #5
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Default re: A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat

Our next destination was Akshardham at Gandhinagar. I was astonished yet again, to see the superb, wide and clean roads from Ahmedabad to Gandhinagar.

Excellent 6-lane road between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-wp_20141219_014.jpg

We reached Akshardham at around 11 am. It should be noted that bags, cameras and mobiles are not allowed inside. There is a cloakroom where these items can be deposited. There is no entrance fee. Even though there were many school children, it looked very peaceful inside Akshardham. We spent around 30 minutes checking out the beautiful mandir.

We then came across a board 'exhibition' which could be entered with a fee of Rs.50/-. We bought the tickets and went inside the 1st and 2nd exhibition rooms. There were a total of 5 exhibition rooms. The first two were nothing but a museum kind of rooms which portrayed Swaminarayana's life and history. We then entered the 3rd exhibition which was a big theatre. Here, a 45 minutes movie was played which showed the cultural diversity of India along with the biography of Swaminarayana. The 4th and 5th exhibition rooms had many models of old places which depicted the contributions of Swaminarayana to the society. This was very good. I especially liked the skit played by the dolls at the end of Exhibition #5. It was around 3 PM when we came out of the exhibitions. It takes at least 3 hours to completely visit all 5 exhibitions.

We then looked for a cafeteria near by for lunch and luckily found one within Akshardham premises. We ordered Gujarati thali. Food was outstanding here. Dhokla was too good. After having lunch, we went back towards Ahmedabad. We couldn't click any picture of Akshardham since nothing is allowed inside it. However we can take a printed photograph from an official photographer there. It costs Rs.100/- and will be delivered in an hour.

We started from Akshardham at around 4 and went to Adalaj stepwell. Even though the area around the stepwell was not very clean, the area inside the compound of the stepwell was well maintained. There were not much visitors here and we spent good amount of time exploring the stepwell. There is sufficient amount of space to park the car outside. There is no entrance fee here too! Cameras allowed.

Few pics of Adalaj stepwell:
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Old 10th January 2015, 13:15   #6
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Few more pics of Adalaj stepwell from top:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00611.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00612.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00613.jpg

We then visited Hutheesing Jain temple at Ahmedabad:
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After visiting the temple, we went straight to the hotel by 6:30 PM. We didn't witness any traffic anywhere then too. The first day was well spent by visiting calm and beautiful places in and around Ahmedabad.

As I mentioned earlier, the first day of our stay was in Hotel Armoise. It's located at Navrangpura. The rooms were very neat and clean. The staff were very courteous and their service was excellent. The restaurant in the hotel too is very good. We had some tasty pizzas for dinner.

Some pics of the room at Hotel Armoise:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00466.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00479.jpg

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Old 11th January 2015, 09:52   #7
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Day 2:

We finished breakfast at Hotel Armoise at 7:30 in the morning and checked out of the hotel at 8. The breakfast buffet had wide variety of items. There were no Gujarati delicacies but they were very good. Prakash was already ready for us at the hotel parking lot. Our final destination of this day was Sasan Gir.

It was 8:45 by the time we left Ahmedabad and took the beautiful NH-8A (Some boards showed NH-47. This may be the new highway numbering by the Government) towards Rajkot. We stopped at Hotel Honest just before Limbdi junction so that Prakash could have his breakfast. The rest rooms of this hotel were clean. By the way, I saw a chain of Hotel Honest all along the highway. I presumed it to be the kind of hotels that we see on Karnataka highways- Hotel Kamath. We reached Rajkot by 11:45 am and proceeded towards Gondal in NH-8B. This was our first destination for day 2. We reached Gondal Swaminarayan temple at 12:30 pm.

Prakash's driving style deserves a special mention here. He drove the car smoothly without any sudden maneuvers. He maintained a constant speed of 90 kmph all along the expressway. He used to carefully overtake the trucks and other slow moving vehicles on the road and used to give the right of path to all the vehicles which are faster than him. The overall driving manners of most of the vehicles on the highway was excellent. Since it was a Saturday, I thought the highway would be filled with weekend warriors who drive like jokers with least common sense whom I usually witness on all the highways around Bangalore. But the scene was quite different in Gujarat. First of all, there was no mad rush of cars in the highway. There were few cars but were being driven very professionally . Everyone drove relaxedly and there was no sense of urgency at all. The highway traffic was like this around 10 years back around Bangalore but not anymore. Everyone is so desperate for no reason.

Gondal Swaminarayan temple: The temple has good parking space within its premises. All boards were in Gujarati and hence we couldn't understand anything. We decided to visit the temple and proceed to the next destination. The temple was closed but we could spend some time there. The architecture looked like that of Akshardham. Cameras were prohibited and hence we could click few snaps only. The atmosphere of the area was very peaceful as only handful of visitors were present. The temple was very well maintained. It was sparkling clean everywhere. While we were all set to sign off from there, we saw a bunch of people coming out of a building adjacent to the temple while looked like a Mutt. There could have been some religious event happening inside.

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After spending 30 minutes odd at Gondal, we started towards Junagadh. We stopped for lunch at a hotel, Panchavati between Gondal and Jetpur. We ordered Gujarati thali which tasted fine. The restrooms of the hotel were clean.

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At Jetpur, we took the diversion towards Junagadh. Prakash mentioned that Jetpur was known for Bandhani sarees. My wife wished to shop and he stopped at a retailer outlet, Kalyani which was just before the railway-over-bridge. It had very good collection of sarees, dress materials and like. My wife purchased some sarees and we proceeded towards Junagadh.

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Old 11th January 2015, 11:38   #8
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Junagadh:

We reached Junagadh at around 3 PM. The drive from Jetpur to Junagadh was a comparitively slow due to the numerous diversions in NH-8D. The four laning had been completed at some parts only. The first place we visited at Junagadh was Mahabat Maqbara. The surrounding area of Maqbara was very noisy but inside, it was calm. The place was clean but showed no signs of maintenance by the Government. The information boards are hardly readable and the focus lights are badly rusted. We were the only visitors there.

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Old 11th January 2015, 12:08   #9
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Junagadh Uparkot:

After spending some time at the Maqbara, we visited Uparkot. The street leading to Uparkot was very narrow and confusing. I would never taken my car in such streets. It is quite a mess. Once we reached the entrance of Uparkot, a guide flashed his Government ID card at us and asked if we were interested in his services. We nodded. One has to pay entrance fees to take the car inside the Uparkot premises.

The guide accompanied us in our car and started narrating the history in the usual uninterrupted style of all guides. We stared at him expressionless trying to catch whatever least we could make out of his "Gujarati Hindi"! Prakash, then, came to our rescue by translating it to Hindi which we could understand. My wife, then on, became my guide in English/Kannada. So if I wanted to know something from the guide, this would be the sequence- Poor Me -> Wife -> Prakash -> Guide and the replies were Guide -> Prakash -> Wife -> Poor Me It was quite a task for everyone.

The guide first took us to a place where some cannons were exhibited. The entire Junagadh town could be viewed from this place.

A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00695.jpg

A view of Junagadh town:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00694.jpg

He then took us inside this fort:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00696.jpg

I understood that this is the place where King used to be seated:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00706.jpg

Some pics inside the fort:
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Later, the young guide asked me to handover my camera to him so that he could take a portrait couple picture and this was how he captured us in his style.
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00721.jpg

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Old 11th January 2015, 13:02   #10
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After spending some time inside the fort, the guide took us to a huge stepwell nearby. This stepwell was very filthy with knee-deep water. The guide gave an account of something interesting about the stepwell. After 3 levels of translations, I understood that we had to do this there:

1. Climb down to the stepwell which had roughly 200 steps.
2. Clear the garbage and take some amount of water from the well.
3. Fill our mouths with it.
4. Climb up the steps, holding breath and water inside the mouth.
5. Spew the water at a tree which was at the top.
6. Take some stones lying around the tree and place them one over the other.

If anyone follows the above said steps, they will be blessed to build a house in the next birth with floors equalling the number of stones which are placed one over the other. We discovered the humour in his words, laughed it away and quickly changed the topic to something else and started to take pictures of the distant hills but to our bewilderment, Prakash, not only believed but also religiously followed what the guide just said. He had the feeling of nausea for quite some time since then.

The infamous stepwell. You can notice how dirty the water is:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00751.jpg

The hills surrounding Junagadh:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00713.jpg

Mandirs on the hill:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00714.jpg

He then took us to the Buddhist caves. These caves had three levels below the ground level. It was very cool inside. The modern day pillars and railings stood out like a sore thumb in the otherwise beautiful cave. A nominal entry fee must be paid to visit these caves.

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Old 11th January 2015, 13:16   #11
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Some more pics inside the cave:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00742.jpg


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We were later taken to a reservoir adjoining the fort. We understood that this was built long back by Kings and present water supply to Junagadh is from this place.

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After spending around one and half hours at Uparkot, we thanked the guide, gave him the guide fees and later proceeded towards Sasan Gir.

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Old 11th January 2015, 14:14   #12
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We had Khadak chai just after crossing Mendarda town on the way to Sasan. We saw this beautiful lake at some distance before the national park entrance. Prakash stopped the car and told that we could get a glimpse of the beautiful sunset at this point before going to Sasan.

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There was this animal carcass on the distant shore. Prakash mentioned that lions frequent this area for water at night and this animal would have been a prey:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00795.jpg

After watching the sun set, we proceeded towards Sasan. Our stay was arranged at Anil farmhouse near Sasan. It was at a very remote place. It was dark by the time we reached there. Buffet was arranged and the food was satisfactory.

Our room at Anil farmhouse:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00819.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00820.jpg

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Old 11th January 2015, 16:32   #13
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Day 2 route update:

Ahmedabad - Rajkot (NH-8A, NH-8B):
Excellent 4 lane toll road. The traffic was bit heavy between Ahmedabad - Changodar. There are rumbling strips at all the junctions. The traffic thinned out a bit after crossing Changodar and it was an empty highway all the way upto Limbdi. Then there was again a moderate truck traffic between Limbdi - Chotila - Navagam. The road turns patchy 5 km before Chotila and bad inside Chotila. Then the road turns good and remains so until Rajkot. There was a new toll booth coming up at Hirasar which was operational on our return journey.

Rajkot - Gondal - Jetpur (NH-8B):
Local traffic was heavy upto Shapar junction. Then it was an empty expressway upto Jetpur through Gondal. Roads inside Gondal town are good but bumpy. There is a byepass for Gondal but we went inside the town to visit Swaminarayana temple.

Excellent expressway between Ahmedabad - Rajkot:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00638.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00643.jpg

Lush green fields all along the highway:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00641.jpg

Jetpur - Junagadh (NH-8D):
4 lane work is in progress. Good one way roads where ever the work is completed. Other places it's bad with pot holes.

Somewhere between Jetpur - Junagadh:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00656.jpg

Ahmedabad - Junagadh route: https://goo.gl/maps/2qH97

Junagadh - Mendarda (SH-26):
We took the SH-30 from Junagadh and took a right at Khadiya towards Mendarda. The road is patchy between Junagadh - khadiya. The road turns good after taking right at Khadiya and is in great condition for 10 km after which it turns patchy. The roads inside Mendarda is bad.

Mendarda - Anil farm house, Sasan Gir (SH-26):
Very good single lane road upto Gir National park entrance. The road turns narrow and rough thereafter. Speed breakers every 100 meters. The potholes start complementing the speed breakers 8 km before Sasan. The road again turns good 5 km before Sasan with frequent speed breakers.

Road between Mendarda - Gir National Park:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00761.jpg

Inside Gir National park:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00803.jpg

Junagadh - Sasan Gir route: https://goo.gl/maps/1f52f

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Old 12th January 2015, 15:50   #14
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Default re: A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat

Day 3:

We inquired the resort guys the previous night about the Gir Lion safari for which they asked if I have an online permit booking. I answered a no. They informed that we were required to be at the safari spot as early as 4:30 am and wait for the permits in queue. The temperature was very low the previous night and I was skeptical to get up at 4 in the morning and stand in the queue there. One of the boys then said that chances of spotting a lion was a rare possibility. He added that if I weren't a wildlife enthusiast/photographer, I could go to Devaliya Interpretation Zone where we could see the lions in an open area. Since I was neither of the two, I was okay with his idea. I hinted Prakash about our decision and asked him to be ready only by 9 in the morning. So, if you wish to go to the lion safari trial, please book online well in advance. There are limited number of online permits available and may get sold out couple of months earlier.

We were up at 7 in the morning and it was chilly outside. There wasn't any possibility of me getting up at 4 in that ice-cold weather and queue up for the safari. There was another issue then. Water for bath was lukewarm. I couldn't find any geyser and therefore guessed that the pipelines connected to a solar water heater. I took bath with resent in that water and we checked out for breakfast.

This was the view from the balcony:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00842.jpg

The river Hiran flows right next to this farm:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00840.jpg

Breakfast at Anil Farm. The buffet had limited items but the food was good. The hot parathas were blessings in disguise in that cold weather:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00888.jpg

After breakfast, we took a stroll in the resort. The resort had wide varieties of mango trees. Prakash was ready at 8:45 am and we decided to check out from the resort and head to Devaliya Interpretation Zone. The food and service at Anil farm was good. At times the staff at the farm appeared perplexed but they were very courteous.

Photos taken inside the Anil farmhouse:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00857.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00859.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00862.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00865.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00877.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00882.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00891.jpg

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Old 12th January 2015, 21:49   #15
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Default re: A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat

Devaliya Interpretation Zone:

Devaliya was just 20 minutes away from the resort by drive. It being a Sunday, I expected a huge crowd but found only few tourists at the park. There were no entrance or camera fees. We bought the tickets for the bus safari. The bus starts only after it gets occupied completely. Since there were not many visitors, we had to wait for 40 minutes before the bus could start. The driver took us around the Interpretation Zone and we could see few deer, lions and nilgais(the largest Asian antelope). The safari lasted for 40 minutes. Prakash asked if we wanted to spend some more time there but since we had nothing else to see there, we decided to go to Somnath. The restrooms were filthy and were badly maintained at Devaliya and is better avoided.

Pictures captured at the interpretation zone:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00905.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00907.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00908.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00910.jpg

His Majesty:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00919.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00921.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00923.jpg


A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00924.jpg

Nilgai:
A trip to the Jewel of the West - Gujarat-dsc00928.jpg

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