Western India comprises three large states, one small state and two minuscule union territories. It is bounded by Pakistan and the Arabian Sea to its west and the Gangetic Plains to its east. This is the most heterogeneous of India's regions. The states differ drastically from one another in language, culture and levels of economic development. Maharashtra and Gujarat are among the most industrialized states of India while Rajasthan and Goa are magnets for tourists, though for different reasons.
Western India comprises the following states and union territories.
The land of warriors, deserts, colorful saris, historic forts and Rajput temples
Home to Asiatic lions and fine textiles, developing fast especially around Ahmedabad and Surat.
India's third-largest state is home to two of its most fascinating cities, Mumbai and Pune
Home to the country's best beaches
Here are nine of the most notable cities.
- Ahmedabad — the commercial and business capital of Gujarat and one of the fastest developing cities in Asia
- Aurangabad — a few miles from the famous Ajanta and Ellora caves, a sacred site for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists
- Jaipur — the Pink City, famous for Rajput architecture
- Jodhpur — the Sun City, also known as the Blue City
- Mumbai — the financial capital & the hub of Bollywood and London to many an Indian Dick Whittington
- Nagpur — the geographical center of India
- Nashik — the city of temples
- Pune — Maharashtra's cultural capital, a historic city and home to many educational institutions
- Pushkar — home to the country's only Brahma temple; the camel festival in November is an added bonus
- Kumbhalgarh — a gigantic red fort located amongst the rugged Arravali Hills, and there a nearby wildlife sanctuary
- Shekhavati — comprising of Sikar and Jhunjhunu districts, has towns with well-preserved havelis, forts and temples
- Dadra and Nagar Haveli — a small territory wedged between the larger states of Maharashtra and Gujarat
This region has some of the country's most popular destinations. In Rajasthan, the desert forts of Jaisalmer and the magnificent sand-dunes evoke all the romance and splendour of its princely past. Gujarat's Jain temples and intricately designed stepwells are architectural marvels, while its natural beauty can be enjoyed on the beaches of Diu.
Rajasthanis speak regional Rajasthani (and its dialects like Marwari, Mewari, Shekhawati, Hadoti etc) as well as Hindi, which is also widely used for media and education. Maharashtrians speak Marathi, Goans Konkani while people from Gujarat and the union territories speak Gujarati.
Flying in is convenient, and there are many airports in the West. Railway and sea links do exist, but are not recommended for a number of reasons.
By far the most convenient way to enter the west. There are many international airports and Mumbai is the busiest in the country.
- Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai is the gateway to India and serves over 40 international carriers. You can fly in from a number of important cities, including Paris, Frankfurt, London, New York, Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
- Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport, Ahmedabad from Doha, Kuwait, Dubai, Sharjah, Bangkok and Singapore.
- Pune Airport is quite small and it is a rather inconvenient option for entering India. None the less, it is served by Air India to Singapore and Dubai.
- Jaipur International Airport has limited international flights to the Gulf and South East Asia.
- Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport, Nagpur is another small international airport.
- Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport (AMD, Ahmedabad): You can reach here from Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Bhopal, Chennai, Goa, Hyderabad, Indore, Jaipur, Kolkata and Pune.
- Surat Airport (STV, Surat): You can reach here from Mumbai and Delhi.
- Civil Airport Harni (BDQ, Vadodara): You can reach here from Mumbai and Delhi.
- Rajkot Airport (RAJ, Rajkot): You can reach here from Mumbai.
- Bhavnagar Airport (BHU, Bhavnagar): You can reach here from Mumbai.
- Porbandar Airport (PBD, Porbandar): Only connected to Diu.
- Bhuj Airport (BHJ, Bhuj): You can reach here from Mumbai.
- Jamnagar Airport (JGA, Jamnagar): You can reach here from Mumbai.
International options are terribly limited given the length of the Rajasthan-Sindh border. The Thar Express connects Jodhpur, Rajasthan to Karachi in the Pakistani province of Sindh. However, the inconvenience and slow speed of the train do not make this a feasible option. You have to get off at the Attari/Wagah border, pass through security, get your visa stamped and change locomotives. Besides, it's an overnight journey and catching a flight to Pakistan from Mumbai or Delhi is a far better option.
Indian Railways trains connect the West to many important cities in other parts of the country. Mumbai Churchgate, Victoria Terminus, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Pune City, Jaipur and Chhatrapati Sahu Maharaj Terminus are important junctions. The Delhi-Mumbai Rajdhani Express is the fastest train to the West, connecting the capital to Mumbai in 18 hours. The Trivandrum Rajdhani also passes through the West and is the fastest way of travelling through some parts of Gujarat.
Cruises from the mediterranean ports can be organized and are generally very expensive, amounting to well over 500 € one-way. Mumbai is the busiest port in the country. Unless you have a lot of time to spare and a deep pocket, this option is not recommended. There are cheaper boats that ferry passengers from the UAE and Yemen to Mumbai.
Getting around generally isn't a problem, as the transportation network is extensive.
The national highway network is quite well maintained in the west. The Mumbai-Delhi leg of the Golden quadrilateral provides excellent connectivity between Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Bus services are very frequent, particlularly in Maharashtra and Gujarat. Raj National Express runs comfortable deluxe-AC buses and connects important cities in the West and the South. Online booking is possible, and there is no surcharge. They plan to expand their network to Northern India by late 2007. As of January 2007, they serve the following cities in the West — Ahmedabad, Goa, Kolhapur, Mumbai, Nashik, Pune, Shirdi, Surat and Vadodara.
The West is a large region, so you might want to fly long distances. Even within the West, flights may well be over an hour long, the Pune-Ahmedabad flight takes one and a half hours. You have to check in an hour and a half in advance. There are numerous airlines serving the West, for a comprehensive list see India#Get Around. Visa Airlines flies regional routes and currently serves Pune-Mumbai and Mumbai-Nashik only. The following airports are used for commercial purposes, there are numerous other small airfields that serve as training centers.
- Maharashtra — Mumbai, Pune, Kolhapur, Nashik, Aurangabad and Nagpur
- Gujarat — Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Rajkot,Surat, Jamnagar, Porbandar, Bhuj and Bhavnagar
- Daman and Diu — Diu
- Goa — Goa
- Rajasthan — Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer
There is plenty to see in the West, which makes it a particularly touristy area.
Forts and palaces
The spectacular forts of Rajasthan were originally unforgiving defensive citadels, but by the mid-16th century luxurious palaces, pleasure pavilions and gardens were added, displaying Mughal-inspired features. In the early 20th century there was another spate of palace building in Rajasthan and Gujarat. As a result of increasing contact with the British Raj, a marked European influence in both architecture and décor is clearly visible in these palaces.
Hill forts such as the ones in Chittorgarh and Jodhpur are the most impregnable examples of Rajasthani forts. The forts at Jaisalmer, on the other hand, lie amidst the sand-dunes of the Thar Desert. Bharatpur's Lohagarh fort used thick mud walls for protection. The Neemrana fort Palace, now a hotel is another architectural wonder with brilliantly designed balconies and lush green patches.
Lalgarh Palace in Bikaner was built in 1902 and is a wonderful example of Indo-European architecture. The unique blend of both styles in reflected in the banquet halls and old-fashioned billiard rooms. The Wankaner Palace is crowned with Italianate pillars and Gothic arches. The cities of Jaipur and Udaipur have the best palaces.
Sariska National Park and Ranthambore National Park are both home to tigers. However, the chances of spotting them are low (especially at Sariska since there are barely a handful left), unless you decide to spend a week or more at these places. The Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary on the outskirts of Bharatpur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to over 275 species of migrant birds. Don't expect miles and miles of forest green in these sanctuaries, most of the landscape is dry and slightly rocky scrubland.
You will find some great cuisine groups in the region. Gujarati cuisine is mostly vegetarian, sweet, and makes heavy use of milk products. Gujaratis make some of the best snack items such as the Dhokla and the Muthia. Rajasthani cuisine is similar to Gujarati, but somewhat spicier. Maharashtra and Goa are famous for their seafood.
If you order a thali (lit: "platter"), you will get a complete meal arranged on your plate, with a roti or chappati, rice and many different varieties of curries and curd. Ordering a thali is a popular option when you are hungry and in a hurry as it will usually be served blazingly fast. Most mid-level restaurants will have a thali on the menu, at least during lunch hours. Occasionally, they will be "unlimited", which means that some of the items are all-you-can-eat. The waiters will actually serve them at your table. Try the Gujarati thali, with its unlimited range of vegetarian dishes, or the spicier Rajasthani thali. The Rajdhani chain of retsurants serve the best thalis for a mere ₹124. They have numerous locations throughout Mumbai, Vadodara and Pune.
This is a region with drastically different approaches to alcohol! Gujarat is a dry state, which means that you cannot legally purchase alcohol without a special permit. Daman, an enclave within Gujarat, has taken full advantage of Gujarat's prohibition by setting extremely low taxes on alcohol and as a result is a popular destination for Gujarati alcohol tourism. Goa has an extremely liberal attitude to drinking and feni, a wine made of cashew is a popular drink there. Maharashtra is fast becoming a wine-producing region and the Sula wines are beginning to make a mark internationally.
Bhang, a form of cannabis is available at government-recognized shops and is socially accepted in Rajasthan.
Cafe Coffee Day and Barista have coffee stores in Mumbai, Pune, Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Nashik, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur and Surat. Fresh juice is available off the sidewalk for nominal prices, usually ₹15-₹20 a glass.
Unlike the plains, the West has a low crime-rate. Pickpockets are known to operate in Pune and Mumbai. Keep your money, passport and credit card safely in your wallet. The National Toll-free Police Helpline is 100.
Rajasthan has plenty of persistent touts, just ignore them and walk on. Hotel-scams are not uncommon and booking a room in advance is highly recommended.