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Published: March 7th 2018
The “Beast from the East” almost prevented our wanderings as heavy snow showers resulted in our Heathrow flight being the last plane to leave Newcastle that day. We felt very lucky to be able to meet our friends at Heathrow and make the connection with our overnight Jet airways flight to Mumbai and then transferring to a small domestic flight to the city of Vadodara in the Indian state of Gujarat. We noticed an immediate difference, -4c suddenly changed to a sweltering 36c!!
What a first day in India – next morning the colourful Hindi celebration of Holi was in full swing - as Hindus of all ages celebrated the festival by throwing multi-coloured paint powder over themselves and their friends ending up in a myriad of rainbow colours accompanied by much shouting, laughing & merriment with chants of “Happy Holi” to everyone nearby.
Gujarat is an alcohol-free dry State but our planned alcohol-free holiday only lasted two days. We discovered it was possible to obtain a tourist alcohol licence, so we abandoned that idea as the thought of a long cool beer at the end of the day in 36c heat was too appealing!! The Indian bureaucracy however,
almost made us change our minds, and resulted in us spending 45 minutes per person in the tourist alcohol-licence office uploading passport photographs, passport details, Indian Visa details and filling in several forms on the Internet before eventually being able to print off a licence. The next problem was where to buy alcohol – as none was available in the hotel wineshop! A friendly member of staff, however, escorted us on a Tuk-Tuk ride, down past the bus station, right along a small back alley to the Hotel Oasis - where we walked through a dirty small carpark and into the basement where a small wineshop was situated in the corner. The shelves were laden with bottles of spirits, wine & beer - on production of the licence, several rubberstamps later, our names entered onto the computer and in the exchange for a modest wad of Rupees we emerged with our 24 can carton of Kingfisher lager!! - never has a cool can of beer been so enjoyed!!
Our first day of the tour was to the UNESCO world heritage site of Champaner Archaeological Park - comprising many wonderful ruined palaces, mosques, temples and tombs. The buildings were set
within woods and grassland and we encountered local wildlife on the way - lizards, a King Cobra and an angry swarm of honey bees!!
After a morning visit to the Laxmi Vilas Palace with amazing architecture and a grand Hall we headed out into rural Gujarat, through open grassland dotted with trees and through farmland to a small rural village of Bajana. An early morning safari within the Wild Ass Sanctuary was good fun. We saw several small groups of the local indigenous wild ass, together with many birds on and around the salt flats
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