India’s storied history reaches far back to many centuries. As evident by the many ancient cities situated across this vast nation. But when it comes to its modern history, one man takes centerstage. His name: Mahatma Gandhi. When I learned that I was going to India, the first thing that came to my mind was the iconic image of Gandhi—as he was fasting peacefully during the height of India’s freedom movement. For me, India is Gandhi and Gandhi is India. So, imagine my delight when I found out that we will be tracing the footsteps of history in Gujarat by following the Gandhi Circuit.
Gandhi Circuit covers his birthplace in the town of Porbandar to numerous places that played a key role in shaping Gandhi’s character. As I woke up before sunrise, I felt a different kind of exhilaration. Because I knew of the incoming opportunity of learning more about Gandhi. As a historical figure whose nonviolent call to independence from the British, reverberated throughout his half a billion compatriots—comes closer to reality.
Dandi (Salt Satyaghra, 30 KM from Surat)
We began our Gandhi Circuit journey in the coastal village of Dandi, just 30 kilometers from Surat. With my camera on hand, I walked towards the National Salt Satyagrah Memorial, a sacred memorial looking out to the vast Arabian Sea. And as if the ocean swept the water back to her womb, I also felt my words and emotions being swept away with awe in this place.
Awe because there I was, a foreigner, having the privilege of being in the same spot where Mahatma Gandhi decided to end his Salt March or the Salt Satyaghra. A civil protest that urged thousands to march for 10 miles each day for 24 straight days to fight against the imposition of tax on Salt. A nonviolent resistance that eventually led to India’s liberation from British rule. A march that not only sparked inspiration amongst his countrymen, but also to the millions across the world to fight for civil rights, justice, and freedom. Surreal, everything felt surreal.
After having my first traditional Indian tea nearby, we then moved on with our journey. Traveling 230 Kilometres Northeast of Dandi to Kevadiya.
Where to Stay in Surat/Dandi: There’s a multitude of hotels one can stay at the textile and diamond cutting capital India. A notable one is The Grand Bagwhati. The only 5-star hotel in Surat boasting of 170 well-appointed rooms, cuisine, and facilities. A true hallmark of Indian hospitality.
Kevadiya (Statue of Unity, 230 KM)
Now see, India, as a country, is one of great gestures and proportions. Imagine having a 1.39 million strong population spread across 29 states and 7 union territories. Gujarat, where the Gandhi Circuit lies, is already home to 62.7 million. So it’s really no surprise that grand statures are built to revere their leaders and gods.
One of which is the Statue of Unity, a colossal monument in honor of Indian politician and Independence activist Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, more popularly known as Sardar Patel (1875–1950).
We arrived at Kevadiya around 6:30 PM. Which was perfect because that meant we can still catch the famed Lights Show scheduled at 7:30. From afar, the Statue of Unity already looked massive. But as we boarded the shuttle towards the park, its real size slowly being revealed to us. Making us excited more and more.
And finally, we arrived at its foot. 182 meters (597 feet) of concrete and steel and its size literally have us dumbfounded. I can’t even imagine how much work was put into building it. Well, so much, apparently. Because it took a total of 57 months to complete (15 months planning, 40 for construction, 2 to turnover to the consortium). It’s so tall that it stands twice as high as the Statue of Liberty. And almost five times as that of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.
Statue of Unity: A Grand Structure for a Grand Icon
And so with such gigantic structure in sight, we finally asked our tour guide AK, “Why such grand structure?” For which, he simply answered “Because he brought all of India together, uniting us as one nation”. You see, at the time of India’s Independence in 1947, the country was divided into 565 princely states. Each having their own rulers, funding, and laws.
For months during the spring of 1947, Dr. Patel threw lunch parties to invoke the patriotism of the kingdoms’ leaders. Until on August 15, 1947, the process of integration was finally complete. Save for some who agreed later on like the small central state of Piploda. And later on also easing the tensions between the Muslim-run state of Kashmir.
Then, complete darkness. It was time to witness the much awaited lights show in the whole of Gandhi Circuit. Twenty plus minutes of lights and music, narrating the rich history behind Dr. Patel’s unification movement. And the best part? The show was projected on to the Statue of Unity itself. To say we were all impressed is such an understatement.
In fact, I think I found myself tearing up a few times throughout the show. Even the foreigner in me was greatly inspired by the immense patriotism that surrounded me. I was moved.
Alas, it was time to rest. We took refuge at the Narmada Tent City for the night. There, we were welcomed by traditional Gujarati food and dance. We then slept in our own go glamping tents while looking forward to the high tea promised by our door in the morning . I was happy, I felt content.
How To Book a Tour at Statue of Unity:
Entrance Fee: ₹ 120 for adults and ₹ 60 for kids. Inclusive of entry to the valley of flower, memorial, museum and audio visual gallery.
Entrance for Viewing Gallery (135 meters up): ₹ 350 for adults and ₹ 200 for kids. Skip the queue for ₹ 1,000 per person
Park Hours: Open Daily from 9AM-5PM (Except Mondays, closed for maintenance)
Sardar Sarovar Dam (Kevadiya)
The next morning took us to the Sardar Sarovar Dam. A gravity dam built in the 1960s with an elevation of 138 meters (453 ft). It currently supplies water electricity to 6 Indian states. Again staying faithful to its character of grandeur, the Sardar Sarovar Dam spans 1.2 kilometers with a depth of about 163 meters down.
We then proceeded back to the Statue of Unity. This time around, we were scheduled to go up the viewing gallery. I guess it’s safe to assume that being 135 meters up had its real perks – a 360 vista of Kevadiya. On one side, you see the dam and the city on the other. But being high up in the clouds could only last so long. As we had to thread another 250 kilometers to the walled city of Ahmedabad.
Ahmedabad (250 KM)
Home to over seven million people, Ahmedabad is officially the largest city in the state of Gujarat. And perhaps, one of the oldest and richest as well, dating back to the 11th century.
AK planned a long day ahead for us. Mostly because the city was his home and he wanted us to see as much as we can. So after breakfast, we were picked up promptly at 7.
Sidi Sayeed Mosque
First stop in this leg of the Gandhi Circuit was the Sidi Sayeed Mosque. India, while predominantly Hindu, is also home to 11% of the world’s Muslim population. Thus the presence of mosques all over the country such as the Sidi Sayeed Mosque in Ahmedabad.
Although significantly smaller than the famed Jama Masjid, this one is quite special because it is the last of the major mosques to be built in Ahmedabad under the Mughal rule (in 1573). It’s also considered to be one of the most beautiful mosques due to its unparalleled architecture and craftsmanship.
From the outside, it didn’t look much to me, honestly. It’s a small structure with an open courtyard facing the busy intersection across the street. Yet, once I came closer, its beauty slowly revealed itself. Carved jaalis made of perforated stone adorned the windows. Ones depicting of a tree with intertwining branches. Such attention to detail. I couldn’t believe it was built over 650 years before.
Travel tip: Do be mindful when visiting temples and mosques. Remove your footwear, wash your feet and hands if you must. Be wary if women and men need to be un separate sections.
Otherwise known as the Red Door, Lel Dawraja is a Hindu temple located within a Muslim palace.
I didn’t understand at first how that came to be. Or how is that even possible to exist. But I guess it has something to do with how Indians are – kind and all-embracing.
For them it doesn’t matter whatever your religion, race, or even class status is. Because in the end, we are all brothers and sisters, we are human.
Unbeknownst to many, Ahmedabad actually has 14 doors to its walled city. The most famous one being the Teen Daraja or the Three Doors. A beautiful 3-arched structure built in 1415, served as the main gateway to the palace. It also bears the inscription where women were finally given equal rights to inheritance of ancestral property.
Yet, what lies before this architectural marvel is what piqued our interest. Both sides of the road lined up with old buildings, breathing different colors and personalities. The place may now be a market during day. But those structures are actual houses and shops where people still live and do business in.
And true enough, we saw an influx of vendors peddling their own carriages throughout the street. I can only imagine the beautiful chaos of the place.
Ever been to a place having low expectations in the beginning yet you leave speechless by the end? This is one of those. Inarguably one of the must visits in the Gandhi Circuit, you enter the mosque via three entrances. We entered the main one in front. Through a small peep-type gate that gave you a glimpse of the mosque.
And then there it is, an expansive courtyard made of yellow sandstone leading towards a beautiful mosque that’s a beautiful marriage of Hindu-Islam architecture. Ornate carvings adorn its exteriors, accented by jalis (latticed screens) carved in geometric and floral patterns, and domes shaped into lotus flowers.
Step inside and marvel at the immense main prayer hall with 260 columns, reminiscent of ancient Hindu Temples.
Jama Masjid (or Friday Mosque) was built in the year 1424 during the reign of Ahmed Shah I. Its two principal minarets might have collapsed due to an earthquake in 1819. But Jana Masjid will always be one of the iconic landmarks of the city’s architectural heritage.
After spending awhile in Jama Masjid, we drove a few blocks to a street called Panchkuva Darwaja Road. The place itself is known for its motorcycle supplies and garments wholesaler shops.
But what we were after is the Fort-like structure in the far end of the road called Panchkuva Darwaja.
You see, this is where things got more interesting. What we thought as just another of the 14 doors of Ahmedabad, turned out to be much more.
There was a small door on the right side that lead to some stairs spiraling up to the 3rd floor. Once we reached the rooftop, 5 wells surrounding the gate revealed. Thus the name, Panchkuva, which literally means 5 wells. This stepwell also served as the last border of Ahmedabad. And has since been a protected monument in 1969 and then conserved in 1999.
Trivia: Did you know rooftops are actually quite common in Indian households? This is where families usually hold special meals, dry their food/spices, and even hang their laundry.
By this time, I have already found a million reasons to return to India. But deep inside, I knew we had to go back to the very reason why we were traveling around Gujarat – to discover the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi himself.
It may have almost been a century since Gandhi died but his name still resounds in people’s hearts. A thing that unfolded before our eyes as we explored Sabarmati Ashram (or Gandhi Ashram).
Now established as national monument, Sabarmati Ashram is one of the many residences of Mahatma Gandhi who lived at Sabarmati (Gujarat) and Sevagram (Wardha, Maharashtra) when he was not travelling across India. This is where he stayed with his wife Kasturba and some of his followers for a total of twelve years. A thing that struck me the most is how simple Gandhi’s residence was.
Gandhi, although born to a wealthy family, has lived a very modest lifestyle. One that’s easily characterized by him eating only one meatless meal a day and wearing less clothes. Thus being pictured topless in many accounts all throughout his freedom movement.
And yet what many don’t know is that being modest actually went beyond just that for Gandhi. By living a simple life, he was able to refocus his thoughts and energy into higher thinking, into a greater purpose. A thing that became evident throughout his adult life till his demise. As accounted in the inspiring stories and events of his life told all around the ashram.
Our journey in Ahmedabad ended in the exact place where it all started for Gandhi – the Dandi Bridge. Although already reconstructed, this place marked the beginning of Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March on March 12 1930.
Together with 80 satyaraghis, many of which were scheduled castes, Gandhi began his Salt March from here towards the coastal village of Dandi, Gujarat. A place that’s over 390 kilometres (240 miles) away from their starting point at Sabarmati Ashram. Very much like the long journey ahead of us to Gandhi’s birth city, Porbander.
Where to say in Ahmedabad: Fortune Landmark Hotel
Note: Do make a sidetrip to the city’s many marble temples. 🙂 They’re beautiful!
Porbander (390 KM)
It took us nearly six hours to reach the city of Porbander. As exhaustion overcame all of us, we decided to rest early to give way to the long day ahead.
6 AM. My alarm went off signaling my last day in the Gandhi Circuit tour. I hurriedly got up to take a snapshot of the sunrise and then got ready to explore Porbander. We had two important spots to see before rushing off to the airport at Rajkot. I was excited but at the same time sad that things are drawing close to the end. Breakfast then off we traversed.
Completed in 1907, Sudama Temple is one of the most revered sites in all of Gujarat. This sanctuary is dedicated to Lord Krishna’s childhood friend Sudama. In fact, this is where the admirable trait of Indian hospitality (Atithi Devo Bhava) was best displayed. It is said that Lord Krishna himself washed the feet of his guest, Sudama, and even drank the water after.
Devotees of the temple come here by the thousands. Most particularly by newly married Rajasthani Kshatriya couples who wish to receive blessing. The time of our arrival could not have been any more perfect too. As the early sun revealed the temple’s ornate architecture backdropped against the soft hues of pink and blue skies.
Traveler tip: Come early in the day as more devotees visit in the evening. The temple itself is free to enter and is well-maintained. But sadly, the surrounding areas are not. And there are not facilities for tourists as well.
Kirti Mandir (Gandhi Museum)
We then spent our last few hours in Porbander in a place where Gandhi literally began his life. At the Kirti Mandir, othewise known as Mahatma Gandhiji’s Birth House. Yes, we made it to his actual birthplace. I was ecstatic, I was awed, I was humbled.
Gandhi’s ancestral house was nothing short of beautiful. A well-kept three storey home with quaint swing door windows, about 10 rooms all over, and wooden stairs.
A Swastika also marks the actual spot where Gandhi was born for identification.
The whole place, just like Gandhi, felt so peaceful and serene. And as if young kids, me and The Traveler Twins wandered into the different rooms. Taking snapshots of the place and of one another before moving on to the memorial beside it after.
Nanjibahi Kalidas Mehta, a famous industrialist, initiated laying the foundation stone of the Kirti Mandir in 1947. But it was only in 1950 when the whole memorial finished construction. Standing at 79 feet symbolizing the lifespan of Gandhi, the memorial is truly an impressive ode to nation’s father.
The monument itself represents the immense respect that Gandhi held towards all religions. With the structure depicting the architectural elements of six religions – Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi temple, Church and Mosque.
Make sure to visit the museum upstairs. Because it showcases the many different photographs of Gandhi taken during various moments in his life.
Complete your Gandhi Circuit experience by walking through the old town nearby. Down to the monument of Mahatma Gandhi in the roundabout.
Traveler Tip: Kirti Mandir is located along Kasturba Road. And the street can get both narrow and crowded. So if you’re traveling by car, just opt to leave it behind in a nearby parking lot to be sure.
Where to stay in Porbander: Hotel Lords Inn
Notes on the Gandhi Circuit Tour Experience
Our Gandhi Circuit tour took about four full days, with most hours on the road, going from one heritage city to another. But I assure you the long journey is truly worth it. While the tour did not boast of natural wonders like breathtaking beaches, mountains and whatnots; it did, however, show places that appealed to one’s emotions and sense of wonder. Places that not only tell the story of the nation’s most inspiring son but also of those that became instrumental in shaping India to be the great nation that it is today.
For more information on the Gandhi Circuit, visit Gujarat Tourism at https://www.gujarattourism.com/ or get in touch via e-mail at email@example.com. Thank you AK for showing us around, till the next!
*NOTE: Words and photos by Tina Punzal of Hungrytravelduo.