Updated: Aug 19
Tucked away on the western side of India, Gujarat holds a treasure trove of experiences just waiting to be discovered. Far less visited than its neighbouring state of Rajasthan, Gujarat is often a place for the more curious of souls, those that want to immersive themselves in more than just the usual well-trodden routes. There are hundreds of stories to unearth here, from communities who produce some of India's finest textiles, to wild landscapes where unique and endangered wildlife roam.
For my next two group tours (October 2023 and February 2024), I will be taking guests to Gujarat where we will get to discover some of the region's textile and craft highlights. We will also be exploring some of the most spectacular architecture and learn more about the history and legacy of the state. In order to fully immerse ourselves and to help us make meaningful connections with the communities that we meet, we will be joined by one of Gujarat's most experienced expert guides, Mr Pravin Dangera.
Born and raised Kutch, Pravin has been conducting specialist tours through Gujarat since 1996. His knowledge of the state, and of the Kutch district in particular, is unsurpassed. Pravin has spent decades building relationships with some of the most talented artisans and rural village communities across the region and is a strong advocate for responsible and sustainable tourism within Kutch. His knowledge and expertise has enabled him to work with companies such as the BBC and the Discovery Channel - helping to guide the likes of Michael Palin, Griff Rhys Jones and Joanna Lumley.
Ahead of the group tours, Pravin kindly sat down with me to discuss a little more about his experiences in Gujarat as a guide, along with giving some of his personal recommendations for those that wish to visit the region.
Pravin, you have a decades of experience under your belt as a specialist guide for Gujarat and the district of Kutch specifically - what was your motivation to start this work and share the region of Kutch to tourists?
I had never thought about guiding or the tourism industry while I was studying. I was dreaming to join a job with green camouflage or khakhi uniform, maybe in the defence or police / forest department. So after graduation in Literature, I decided to go for a Bachelor of Law! During both of my degrees, I was going out to explore villages and the desert during the holidays. As I was born and brought up in a small village, I have always had an affection with village life, culture and traditions. I always love to visit villages.
So, during those days I got to explore most of Kutch- which is the largest district of India. As I love travelling, I was always helping tourists while they visited Bhuj. During my study of Law, I was also working as a screen printer so when I visited a graphic designer that was located near the Palace complex in Bhuj, I would always trying to speak with foreign tourists in English if I saw them around the Palace. As I had studied in Gujarati language only, I found it interesting to speak with them. This experience allowed me to start going around with tourists to show them the palaces, museum and villages.
In 1996, there was the first regional level guide training program in Ahmedabad. I decided to apply and had 3 exams to attend the training - and I was selected! Later in 1997 I received my license which allowed me to become a Gujarat level guide. All this happened while I was already practicing law in Bhuj but things changed when the Gujarat Tourism board and a team from the BBC were looking for an English speaking guide. From then, I started guiding guests in Kutch and then the whole of Gujarat! I carried on working in law as well as guiding, but after the 2001 earthquake I decided to make travel my full time profession - and now I am the Founder and President of the Guide Association and I am also part of the tourism industry committee.
Image courtesy of Siân Warren
There are many hidden gems just waiting to be discovered when travelling through Gujarat. What lesser known sites do you enjoy showing to your guests?
There are some lesser known places in Gujarat, especially in Kutch. In particular, I love to show the cultural heritage of the interior parts of Kutch District. In this area, I love to
meet people who welcome you with their open hearts and where you can enjoy their hospitality - as well as learn the real life styles of these villages which are near the desert.
I also also like to show guests the ancient port of Lakhpat which is very off-beat and not a typical tourist location. Here we can see the richness of the past in the ruins of the fort and other monuments. It was once a hustling bustling port city at the time of 1819 earthquake but now only a few people live there!
Image courtesy of Pravin Dangera
Trying out local cuisine is always a highlight when travelling, especially in India! If you could recommend one Gujarati dish that guests must try, what would it be and why?
For Gujarati cuisine, especially a Gujarati thali, there are several places I recommend. However, if I had to choose one, the thali at the Prince Hotel is one of the better options. The thali has a feeling like home and the jalebi is the best! A Prince (now King) of a state of Gujarat drives 560 kms in a day just to enjoy that particular jalebi sweet!
Another street food, Dabeli, which many people from Gujarat love is something I recommend too. The Dabeli in Bhuj and Mandvi are always best - actually Mandvi is the origin of the Dabeli!
During your career, you have assisted with several tv documentaries, film and print publications to showcase Gujarat - what has been the highlight of these experiences?
I have worked with many film crews and teams, including for Bollywood, Hollywood, tv shows and advertisements. Among them, working with the great superstar Amitabh Bachhan was a great experience. It was such a memorable experience when he rode my Royal Enfield motorcycle and we got to chat about the great machine that is the Enfield! When we were filming at a village in the Banni area, Amitabh was interested to learn about the local handicrafts and culture of the desert region. He was very keen to ask me questions, even between filming breaks. Working with some the UK media teams for the BBC has been a great experience too!
Gujarat is known for its incredible handmade textiles - for someone who is looking for an introduction into the rich textile heritage of the state, what artisan communities and textile crafts would you recommend to see and visit?
In Gujarat there are so many textile arts and crafts. However, among them, the embroidery of the Marwada and Ahir ladies are the best. They convey their imaginations and feelings in these beautiful art pieces! While there isn’t many colours for inspiration during summer in the arid and deserted area, the ladies just add the bright colours and mirrors in their embroidery work that makes them so colourful.
As well as this, you also have the weavers of Kutch who are always doing the best work according to the season of Kutch. The block printing of Ajarakh art is also very special, with the artisans using natural and vegetable dyes on handmade fabrics to make their textiles so beautiful.
Image courtesy of Siân Warren
If you would like to discover more about Gujarat, get in touch and I can help plan an exciting tailormade journey for you - firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 8064 1703