Gujarat Diaries

Egg Discoveries

This time, in Surat, I ended up trying a lot of new restaurants. I had a list of my favourite places I wanted to revisit but a busy schedule promoted me (and E) to choose restaurants based on convenience. Apart from the usual fast food, continental and beverage stuff, I had a lot of egg. And this happened to be the highlight of the Surat food expedition. I discovered some good egg dishes.

Egg lovers, read these reviews and head to these joints to gratify your egg cravings.

Mr. Egg

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Australian Egg

I visited Mr. Egg at Adajan at lunchtime on a weekday and ordered Australian Egg just as E suggested. I decided not to get confused by the wide variety of items on the menu and simply order what E suggested. Turns out, good choice. This dish, served with buttery pavs, contains a lot of cooked eggs soaked in yellow creamy, mildly spicy, highly flavourful gravy. It was love at first bite. Amazing preparation. It was pretty heavy but could be easily finished by me alone.

Prices are moderate and the variety is huge. Everything from Indian street flavours to world flavours to Mughlai flavours. All dishes seemed worth trying.

Just a word of caution. When I was there, I happened to be the only female in the whole restaurant. The rest were groups of men taking a break during their lunch hour. That was very awkward. I wasn’t comfortable at all. So girls, go there in groups.

Eggetarian Cafe

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Iranian Egg

Located on Bhatar Road opposite University, it is easy to miss this one. It is an average dhaaba style restaurant with its name very simply written on the top. It is a part of a small complex of 4-5 shops that stands in isolation. It is often frequented by college crowd.

They have a huge, simply huge, menu of whole bunch of dishes – omelettes, Chinese, main course. You name it and its there. We ordered an Italian Omelette and Iranian Egg. The omelette was amazing. Very cheesy and flavourful. Iranian Egg was bland with a lot of vegetables. You will like it if you love the flavour of egg on its own. These 2 dishes were easily shared by 3 of us.

The staff is really good – polite and courteous. The prices are quite low. They have a lot of variety. Every time you visit, you can line up your choices for next time.

Don’t forget to pair your food with Masala Soda. Damn good.

Categories: Gujarat Diaries, Restaurant Reviews, Surat, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Baroda Food Favourites

I spent hardly 11 months in Baroda but within a month, it had become my favourite city. It has so much to offer. I barely settled there (took a week to settle down the house) and I was engaging myself in various activities and hitting new restaurants. It’s been 1.5 years since I left the big, little city and my mind (my taste buds, actually) still keeps going back to its food fare.

Picking a few was very difficult. But I managed to list down my absolute favourites.

Upma at Canara Coffee house

Canara Coffee House

Canara Coffee House

Never EVER have I had better upma. And will never. Unless I go back to India and reach CCH at 7 am. Reach there at 8 am and the upma is over. Upma is served with coconut chutney. It is neither plain salty not overly sweet. It is the right mixture of savoury, sweet and spicy. It is unmatched. M took me and E to CCH for breakfast before we headed for our first girls’ trip way back in January 2012. M, a big thank you for this amazing discovery.

CCH is also famous for its Poona Misal. I love their coffee too.

CCH is a very old restaurant. it has served several generations and is said to have maintained a consistent taste. It is a legend in Baroda.

Poona Misal

Gangaur Pyaz Kachori

Another reason to be grateful to M for. She told me once – What? You have never had pyaz kachori before? Babe, head to Gangaur. So one fine Sunday, I rushed there and got a couple of them for lunch. And I was floored. For life.

Gangaur is a Rajasthani sweet shop located on Jetalpur Road.

Mirch Masala Bhel & Jalebi

Mirch Masala Baroda

Mirch Masala Baroda

Loud colors. Kitchy walls. Truck decor. Outdoor bench seating. Flashy slogans. Filmstar faces. All MM outlets look the same. Except the Race Course circle one. Their outdoor snacks area is not only fun but also a haven for delicious Indian junk food. Chaat, Paranthas, Rabdi, Ragda Patties – you cannot choose just one. Believe me, you need to choose only one since the serving is so huge. I love their bhel. It is generously dosed with coriander-mint chutney and imli chutney (that’s the way I like it). It is pretty spicy and one bowl is probably enough for two. I like to smother the spicy taste with their hot crispy jalebis. One bowl (priced at Rs. 80 till last year) contains four large jalebis.

They hold food festivals regularly. I attended their Parantha Festival way back in December 2011. Yummy thick paranthas floating in white butter. Yummm. Must visit if you are looking for hygienic street food.

Danny’s Cold Coffee

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I wrote about them 2 years ago. Their cold coffee is the best. Period. They started in Ahmedabad more than 2 decades ago, serving as a favorite college hangout place, and are spreading their wings to different cities. Their decor is ordinary and the shop is tucked away in a corner of a complex on the busy Jetalpur Road. I am sure, 2 years after their opening, they must be receiving heavier crowds. I believe their Maggie is great too. Try it out.

Girls, just be wary of going there after dark. Danny’s sometimes witnesses rowdy men (they are sometimes friend of staff or staff themselves). Once, M was followed by some goons from Danny’s.

Mandap Thaali

Mandap Express Gujarati thaali

Express Hotel has existed in Baroda since forever. It is a part of my childhood. We lived there for a couple of days when my father visited Baroda for official work. My sister and I sat on their sankheda hichko wearing identical dresses. Later, we visited Baroda regularly for shopping and had evening snacks there. Every time my father visited Baroda for work, he would come back with Jam Cookies and ‘Melting Moments’ from Express. Now, I make it a point to have thaali at Mandap every time I visit home. When I lived in Maharashtra (between 2000 – 2008), I used to come home for holidays deprived of and craving for Gujarati food and my parents would take me to Mandap. Unlike most thaali restaurants, Mandap is calm, sophisticated and classy. Waiters will not crowd around you. They will not messily drop food onto your plate. They will not hover around you making you uncomfortable. They will let you in peace and nicely, peacefully ask you if you need something. The food is simply enchanting. Their Moong Dal halwa is to die for. You are lucky if they have it on their menu the day you go there.

Millennium Biryani

It’s easy to miss this one. It is located in Fatehgunj, opposite Cenetary Methodist church and above Rangoli restaurant. It is an average looking place with an entrance from behind the building. This entrance may often be blocked by buffaloes or a puddle of sewage water. Dare if you may and skip these obstacles. Go up the narrow, dirty staircase, order a Chicken Biryani (with extra masala) and be instantly transported to heaven. This biryani can be matched only by Hyderabad Paradise biryani. No other.

I have fond memories of Millennium sneaking out with my work colleagues for lunch (Guys, I really miss you). We would hog on Chicken Biryani, Mutton Curry and Kheema Masala. Incredible food.

Frigtemp Kheema Frankie

Frigtemp frankie

Earlier known as Hot Dog, they are pioneers of original Indian fast food like hot dogs, frankies and burgers in Baroda. They are in existence since 1977. Egg tikka hot dog and Kheema Frankie are innovations you don’t usually find elsewhere. Even if you do, they won’t be as good as theirs. During school, I have had loads of Kheema Frankies, oil dripping all over the place due to my inexperienced grip. They also have ‘English’ flavours like Egg & Ham, Egg & Cheese (Amul cheese, of course) and Pork Salami Chicken Sausage Egg Cheese hot dog.

Give McD a pass and head to Frigtemp, Fatehgunj. Check out their FB page for more luscious photos.

Salsa Habanero Burrito

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Chef Prakash grew up in SFO California, eating vegetarian Mexican food and developed a penchant for not just eating but cooking Mexican food too. He went back to India and opened Salsa Habanero out of passion. He lovingly cooks and serves authentic Mexican food to Barodians on weekends (take away only). I loved the food the first time I had it. I love it even after spending a year in a country where there is a Mexican food joint after every 5 miles. I have had Mexican food at chains and Mom-n-Pop shops. SH is better than most of them.

Their taste and quality is consistent. The food will never disappoint.

Pop in on weekends between 6 pm to 10 pm for yummy Mexican food. Your visit will feel more fulfilling if you chat up with Prakash and Rita.

Payal Sev Khamani

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chinese samosa payal baroda

 

Gujarati cuisine has extravagant variety that one can never have enough of – Nasta, Farsan, Shaak, Sweets, Athanu. Even after living there all my life, I haven’t tasted everything. i have lived in Maharashtra for a long time and travelled to different cities of the world but what drives me home is Gujarati food. So, like having a thaali at Mandap is mandatory for me, picking up some farsan from Payal is a must too. I invariably go there for Sev Khamani. I like their Chinese Samosa too but somehow I never get them. They are probably too much in demand.

Payal is a very old, renowned shop. They started in 1986 and have become a favourite farsan shop today. They closed down their old shop and opened a new one a couple of years back. I personally liked the older one and miss it. Of course, their taste remains the same.

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There are many more legendary food options in Baroda that can satiate your palate – Mahakali Sev Usal, Raju Omlette, Vishal Samosa Sandwich, Manmohan Bhajiya, Paras Pan, Shreenath Cold Cocoa. I hope to try them on my next visit to India. They would then become my Favourite Baroda Foods II post.

Categories: Gujarat Diaries, India, Restaurant Reviews, Travel, Vadodara | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Dhundiraj Ganpati Temple, Vadodara

M and I have our little story linked to this temple (its 160 year old history apart). This temple was a mystery 2 months back. We scoured for it in the whole of Wadi area and MG Road (in rain and wind, in August) but failed to find it. So determined were we to locate it, we drove on the 2 wheeler, totally drenched, on crowded roads one Sunday evening and accepted confusing instructions from locals who had only vaguely heard of it. We stopped our search only when rain threatened to give us flu.

I was convinced the temple doesn’t exist.

Until, a friend, like a stork bringing happy news, informed us that his friend’s father has been a pandit (priest) in that very temple. Both of them led us there last Sunday (which incidentally happened to be my second-last day in Baroda) and very frankly, I had no hopes. I expected a really dilapidated, unimpressive temple.

I was quite wrong. The sight that met my eyes left me speechless (even though I did find the exteriors a bit bland).

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This temple is located in the heart of Wadi area. You need to reach there by meandering through narrow housing lanes and I assure you, once is not enough to remember the way.

The upsetting thing is the temple is totally concealed by a high wall, which makes it impossible to picture an important monument inside. No wonder, hardly anyone has ever heard of it. It’s disappointing and worrying that such a gem is hidden from everyone and is not getting the attention, praise, admiration it deserves.

The temple was built by Gopalrao Mairal, a diwan during the regime of Sayaji Rao Gaekwad II. As per a story, he was quite wealthy and close to the King; he had even lent some Crores of rupees to the latter in time of need. Today, the 5th generation of Mairals are maintaining the temple.

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The monument has been built using Gujarati and Marathi architecture. The arches, doors, ceiling and pillar supports are very colourful, blue, yellow, red and green very predominant. A unique combination of wood and marble has been used to build it. A Ganeshji idol, which is flanked by Riddhi and Siddhi (usually not spotted), is placed for worship. Pooja and aarti still happens here 3 times a day.

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A strong resemblance can be seen with Tambekar Wada. The jaali work, flowery motifs and excess use of colour is common to both monuments.

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We were shown around by current members of Mairal family who stay right there, maintain the temple and perform daily rituals. They were nice people and were happy to have interested visitors as guests.

This is a piece of art. A masterpiece.

Barodians, go and take a look immediately!

Others, DON’T MISS IT if you happen to be in Baroda during daytime.

Categories: Gujarat Diaries, India, Photography, Travel, Vadodara | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 51 Comments

Why Gujarat Tourism Rocks

While states like Rajasthan, Kerala & Goa have been attracting heaps of tourists since several years, one state has been silently, but warmly, inviting people. Gujarat. Little do people know about Gujjuland’s rich offerings and though most people go running to famous destinations like Jaipur and Shimla for vacations, ardent travellers (even Indians) come here with enough curiosity. Gujarat has spellbinding palaces (many of which have been converted into heritage hotels), tombs, mosques, forts and festivals to boast of.

Before my recent trip to Kerala, I spent time going through Kerala Tourism website and was mighty impressed. I appreciate the importance given by Government on tourism. This is exactly what I felt when I went through Gujarat Tourism website. For a state which does not have tourism as its main earning source, making such a splendid website is a big deal. Snagging Amitabh Bacchan to promote their state is also a big BIG deal.

I absolutely love the Gujarat Tourism logo. It depicts a lion (representing Gir Sanctuary) and a border design boasting of our rich crafts.

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The home page has a photo slideshow of various destinations along with a warm welcome note.

Because the state is so diverse and there is so much to see / do here – from monuments to fairs to beaches to palaces, the website has categorized destinations according to areas and categories.

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Guj tourism destination categories

The most interesting section according to me is the heritage hotels section. I did not know that there are some 21 palaces converted into hotels in Gujarat! How I would love to visit them all! I have visited just one of them – House of MG, Ahmedabad – and must say that it is amazing. Everyone who visits Ahmedabad, must dine in this hotel.

Guj tourism heritage hotels

In fact, I came to know of many places and monuments only after going through this website. And that’s how my feet took me to the interiors of Baroda to look at hidden monuments.

The importance laid on tourism is also evident from promotions done locally. Regular supplements, in the form of booklets, are given along with popular newspapers. I have read two on Gujarat Handicrafts and Monuments.

In August, Sardar Sarovar Dam was at the peak of its glory and thus frequented by lots of people. Gujarat Tourism put up banners all along the way, exhibiting various destinations. A huge stall was put up where huge photographs were lined up again in different categories – festivals, temples, monuments, forts, etc. A detailed map of the state showed monuments, food and items each town or city was famous for. This was one impressive work. A television showed tourism videos featuring Amitabh Bacchan. I was seeing those videos for the first time and was quite spellbound by them.

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It was quite sad than no one was as mesmerized as we were. There were more people getting themselves photographed against the dummy decorative animals than studying the photographs. They must be proud of the kind of promotion and preservation Government is doing for their state’s history.

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Abandoned

In an ignored corner of Jambughoda Heritage Resort, are these abandoned structures. Once used as stables, now these blocks are lying unattended. Thankfully, they weren’t full of garbage; just some broken furniture and remains of construction parts.

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This area is located right opposite the front of the palace (the parking lot and garden in between them) but no visitors go there, I am sure. Except these.

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The only ray of optimism in this unnoticed area is this tiny water body.

I was quite charmed by this spot because lonely, empty spaces appeal to me.

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Jambughoda Heritage Resort

What I liked most about Jambughoda Palace Resort is its old world charm. There are pottery items, idols and doors belonging to the erstwhile era still intact. They do not have a restaurant there; they only prepare a fixed buffet lunch on order and/or when a decent sized group is available. They did, though, agree to give us cool water and some amazing coffee, which we had in the open sitting area beneath trees.

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The palace is a sprawling property. Very quiet and very green. The rooms, dining area and common sitting area are located close to each other but one is free to roam around and explore the rest of the premises.

There is a front veranda that displays several photographs of the royal family.

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On the other end, a well and small servant quarters gives way to indefinite fields.

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Of course, you have to be careful of the noisy ducks and 2 seemingly docile giant dogs. The ducks are scarier than the dogs.

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The moss covered walls may look old but the creepers enhance their ageless beauty.

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Jambughoda is known for its wildlife sanctuary. Apart from that, it is close to Champaner and Pavagadh. Jambughoda can be treated as a weekend getaway where relaxing in a resort can be combined with some sightseeing in Champaner or strolling in the sanctuary. Unfortunately, the 2-3 resorts here are not well maintained. The heritage resort may be the best bet out of the lot.

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Navratri Begins

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Navratri means Nine Nights. While this festival is celebrated by different states in different ways, the most colourful (and closest to my heart) is the Gujarati way of celebrating. Navratri is the most vivid and lively festival of Gujarat during which the Garba dance is performed by one and all with a lot of vigour. This dance is performed in circles around lit lamps and deity statues. The dance starts with an aarti in the evening and goes on till late at night. The last day, people dance till the wee hours of morning.

Different colours represent the various 9 days. Many girls fast during the whole tenure.

The graceful dance is performed in circles by claps, waving of hands and often sticks, known as Dandiyas. I find Garba a very energetic yet stylish dance. All gujjus seem to be born garba experts. Over time, Garba has turned glamorous. The girls are more beautiful, their dresses are more chic and their dance is more sensuous.

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I am blessed to be in Vadodara during this Navratri. Vadodara has some best Garbas of Gujarat. When I was in school, I participated in this dance regularly and won prizes. Thereafter, I moved to Maharashtra for further studies and work. After almost 15 years, I am going to be a part of this splendid celebration again. The eruption of festivities and preparations combined with the awareness that I am spending my last few days in Gujarat was enough to compel me to jump into this madness head on.

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I have visited exhibitions, shopped, made plans and discussed excitedly about it all with friends, neighbours and colleagues. The excitement has surely caught on.

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R C Dutt Road: A Fusion Of Antiquity And Contemporary

Vadodara, a.k.a. The Cultured City, has a rich history that is apparent from the sprinkle of historic monuments and old traditional buildings all around the city. At a crossroad between Productivity Road and Jetalpur Road, one can spot a church-like structure at a distance. There is a majestic government office located on Jetalpur road which I always stare at while passing. The station area and the area near Parsi Agyari ground has old houses that are not very well maintained but still exude an old world charm.

R C Dutt road is my favourite portion of Vadodara for its glittery shops, haven of food and old fashioned structures. These huge, old structures that are laid far away from the main road, after an expanse of overgrown grass and long driveways, are probably converted into government offices or guest houses or given away to senior government officials for stay.

I have been enthralled by them and have always wanted to look at them closely. I got the opportunity recently when we visited Ramkrishna Mission (earlier known as Dilaram Bungalow). This is another spiritual setting open to all interested visitors.

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Right opposite Dilaram Bungalow are two majestic bungalows. The attractive carved boundary and elaborate gateposts seem to have been made during the time of Maharajas.

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Had it not been for the scary dog that kept us away, we would have managed a closer look at this red brick structure. We took photos from the gate while an attendant peered as us curiously from the veranda.

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We managed to trespass into the other one’s premises. We have no idea what this bungalow is currently used for. As compared to the two, I found this one more charming. I was quite taken in by the creepers and stained glass windows. The grounds of the bungalow – the garden and driveway – were ignored and ill maintained. Yet, it was the charisma of the bungalow that took our breath away.

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Vadodara has been very familiar and comforting for me. I have been seeing the same walls and buildings since childhood. I have actually resided here only for 10 months but how lovely this time has been! I made more friends and I learnt new things. I would love to stay here forever.

But I am spending my last few days here. Heavens now how much I am going to miss this big little city.

Categories: Gujarat Diaries, India, Photography, Travel, Vadodara | Tags: , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Snacks @ Kirti Mandir

Did you know, Kirti Mandir, another marvellous architecture built by the Gaekwads, has a little eating joint tucked away in a silent corner? The eating joint is located opposite the majestic main structure and is nestled between two Shivji temples. The café which is commonly hit by collegians and young couples has some basic tables and chairs placed in a covered area; though you also have the choice of dragging chairs out to sit in the open beneath a dense tree. Sit there, in midst of old houses and greenery and enjoy some hot bhajiyas with tea.

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They do not have an extensive menu, just some basic bhajiyas, tea and coffee but I can vouch for them. You won’t be disappointed.

Even though it is situated on the busy Kothi Road, Kirti Mandir is quiet. It is pleasurable enjoying coffee while facing traditional houses, chaste temples and graceful wall art.

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The only disappointing thing is that the joint closes at 7 pm every day and is closed on Sundays. They have the potential of developing the cafe further by adding more food varieties and extending the timings.

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An amusing sign board in the open canteen on Sunday. Reads: Today canteen is closed. So, do not sit here, come here or roam around here.

Kirti Mandir is a cenotaph of the Gaekwads. The many rooms contain statues and paintings of important ancestors of the Royal family. The main hall is now used for satsangs and traditional functions or competitions on occasions like Diwali.

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Hazira Maqbara, Vadodara

Our quest for seeing all the hidden historic treasures of Baroda took M and me to Hazira Maqbara (also known as Qutubuddin Tomb) on a sultry, hot Sunday. This monument is the tomb of Qutubuddin Muhammed Khan and his son (the latter occupied important position in Administration of the city). This tomb, which was built in 1856, is significant because Qutubuddin Khan was the tutor of Salim, son of King Akbar who was ruling Vadodara city that time.

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The plaque at the entrance of the huge green premises explains that there is a step well a little away from the tomb and was perhaps used to water the vast gardens in earlier times. The monument is extremely beautiful. I was quite amazed to see this masterpiece which still stands in its full glory and mystique.

The tomb is located on a height in octagonal shape with beautiful delicate jaali work walls and tall windows and arches. Several tombs are kept inside smaller rooms that are also open to worshippers and visitors. An interesting story was told by the lady caretaker (who was quite taken by M and me, apparently, because she refused to leave our side). There is a tiny room in which a tomb is laid out at an odd angle. She informed us that originally the tomb was placed parallel to the wall but over years it shifted on its own.

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The monument area is clean and very well maintained. Entry is open to everyone and its quietness draws locals quite often. People come and sit there for spending some quiet time. That is what M and I did too. We sat and chatted in this rarely found serene spot amid a growing city.

The architecture is comparable to any Mughal monument of Delhi or Agra. It is one of the finest monuments of Vadodara that must not be missed by tourists and locals alike.

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