Commercially the West of India includes some of the most progressive regions of the country, yet the coastal states of Gujarat and Maharashtra are steeped in the rich cultural traditions of the past. Goa, often referred to as the Ibiza of the East, is famous for its tourist-friendly outlook and the spectacular beaches, which attract hordes of visitors from every corner of the globe.
Maharashtra offers an astounding number of tourist attractions in a seamless blend of tradition and modernity. Mumbai – the Hollywood of India – is a melting pot of cultures. A throbbing, cosmopolitan metropolis, it still retains the glory of the past, the colonial legacy that coexists with the Maratha influence. The people are a paradox – open and engaging yet fiercely protective of their culture. Still considered as the heart of business India, Mumbai houses the country’s vibrant Stock Exchange. The Gateway of India is almost literally a symbol of entry into the country by sea or air. The rest of the state is a fairly unspoiled part of India which lives its own life, but throws up some incredible gems and stories for the curious traveller. The Ajanta and Ellora caves, about 30 km from Aurangabad, are a World Heritage Site, renowned for the fine, rock-cut architecture – must see destination. Nasik, the sacred city is famous for its caves and waterfalls, besides being a growing commercial centre and home to many vineyards. Mahabaleshwar is a quaint hill station and also a pilgrim’s delight. Travel to Maharashtra beyond Mumbai and it will show you some incredible forts, ancient temples, pilgrimage trails, golden beaches and reveal a distinctive art and architecture.
Most visitors to India never forget their memories of Gujarat. Almost indefinable, the state boasts of an exciting and ancient history that engaged with explorers, visitors and indeed, invaders from far away lands who have in many ways added their own spice to the intrinsic Gujarati culture. With a long coastline and bustling ports, Gujarat has been on the sea route for centuries and the legacy of its varied and strong heritage still continues to vibrate through the people, the way of life, the dance, the music, the architecture, the arts and crafts. Ancient palaces speak of princely states and royal kingdoms, the temples reflect the glorious faith of the people, the lively fairs and festivals display the unbeatable spirit. The landscape of this state is equally diverse, lush forests, wildlife sanctuaries, sandy beaches and the salty desert in the North, the Rann of Kutch.
The city of Ahmedabad is famous for its architecture, a combination of Hindu and Islamic influences, and the home of India’s legendary cotton mills. Surat is a major centre for diamond polishing and trade. The deciduous forests of Gujarat house the Gir National Park. A nesting ground for many species of birds, the park is home to the only remaining Asiatic Lions. The Wild Ass Sanctuary in the Little Rann of Kutch is a World Heritage Site. Gujarat is dotted with the magnificent palaces of erstwhile royalty, each offering a taste of the regal lifestyle of the Maharajas. The famous coastal spots include the shore temples of Somnath and Dwarka, which attract devotees from all over the country. At the ethnic beach resorts cottages are modelled on Gujarati architecture, and a visit to the some of the resorts in the Kutch are an exciting peep into the lives of the tribes that still populate the state.
Since the hippies discovered the tiny coastal state of Goa in the 60s, this beach haven has attracted tourists from all over the world. On one side there is the mesmerizing coastline, on the other the rolling hills. ‘Susegad’, loosely translated as ‘take it easy’, is what life in Goa is mostly about, and is quite distinct from the rest of India. So be prepared for song and dance and dreaming on the beach, for food and wine and a friendly people. Cafes and bars are shacks that dot the beaches, and you will rise late and sleep late in Goa! The culture, cuisine and architecture of Goa is reminiscent even today of its long history of Portuguese rule. The magnificent scenic beauty of Goa is complemented by its splendid churches, temples, forts and villas.
The Goa carnival, a three-day event in February, is a lively tribute to the Goan way of life. Anjuna, Calangute, Baga and Morjim are the popular beaches and these are major tourist hubs. The flea markets are a tourist’s delight, some often held under a sensuous, moonlit sky. Water sports are an option for visitors looking for a little adventure, but if you choose to just sunbathe all day it’ll be easy to find that perfect spot!
Best months are October to March – the weather is perfect, the world comes down to Goa and its one long party. Goa in the monsoons is a delicious treat as well, so July to September is a different experience altogether – you have the place to yourself and there is a romance about the season, which is indescribable.