One of the most common locations for 2Way Development volunteers in India is the state of Gujarat. Located in western India, Gujarat borders Pakistan to the West, Rajasthan to the North, Madhya Pradesh to the East and Maharashtra to the South. It is a fascinating state, mostly cut off from the main tourist trail. This gives it an untouched feel and means that Gujarati people don’t have the view of foreigners as walking wallets that you see in some other parts of India. Gujarati’s are known across India as being incredibly friendly and welcoming, and this is certainly something that I have experienced in my time there.
As the state where Gandhi was born, studied and lived during much of the independence movement, the Mahatma has a major presence in many areas. One of the best known Gandhi sites is Sabarmati Ashram, where Gandhi was based during the independence movement. The ashram is located in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city and one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Though huge, hectic and industrial, Ahmedabad also has a fascinating old town, beautiful mosques and temples, and enough shopping and entertainment facilities to keep you happy.
Shaishav, 2Way Development’s South Asia hub, is based in Bhavnagar, a city of half a million in the Saurashtra region. Bhavnagar is a provincial but very friendly city with enough in it to keep you interested, including one of India’s only forest reserves within a city. It is located just 50km from Alang, the world largest ship breaking yard, where approximately half of all ships salvaged from around the world come to be recycled.
Gujarat is a traditional and conservative state, and provides a very different experience to cosmopolitan metropolises such as Mumbai and Bangalore. Dress is conservative, especially for women, and life revolves mostly around the family. The state is almost entirely vegetarian and alcohol is prohibited without a permit. Though many westerners may baulk at the idea of being deprived of meat and beer, most volunteers find that this affects them far less than they were expecting. Many of these factors add to the charm of Gujarat and make it such an interesting place to be. Though it is a hot, dry state with summers often reaching 45 degrees, winters are cool and comfortable with near-perfect temperatures in the mid-20s.
Though largely unknown to foreign tourists, Gujarat has some excellent destinations for short breaks. Just 50km from Bhavnagar is Palitana, and Mount Shatrunjaya, one of the holiest places in the world for followers of the Jain religion. Shatrunjaya consists of a large hill on which there approximately 800 Jain temples, with the main group at the top of the hill, a vigorous climb up over 3,500 steps. The climb is well worth it though once you find yourself in the midst of almost a city of temples clustered together on the summit.
In central Gujarat, Gir Forest National Park is the only place in the world where you can see wild Asiatic Lions. The large forested area contains over 400 lions, along with monkeys, antelope, crocodiles, jackals and many other animals. Lions are seen on the majority of jeep safaris, as are many other animals. On the western edge of Gujarat lies the salt flats of Kutch, a barren but beautiful area that floods in the monsoon and hosts one of the world’s largest flamingo breeding grounds. Kutch is also known for it’s handicrafts and distinct language and culture.
Finally, just off the coast of Gujarat is Diu, a small island and former Portuguese colony that is administered by the federal government in Delhi, rather than the Gujarati state government. This distinction makes the sale of alcohol legal (and thanks to the lack of taxes, very cheap). It also has fantastic seafood, a few sights, a pleasant atmosphere and one or two decent beaches. Though not quite Goa, Diu is a great place to take a quick break, sample the local seafood and quench your thirst for beer.
Our partners in Gujarat work on a wide variety of different fields, including child rights and education, unions and people’s movements, rural health, and water and sanitation. There are many opportunities available for volunteers in Gujarat, for people of all interests and experience.