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Introducing Surat

On the Tapti River, Surat is a busy commercial centre for textiles and diamonds. It’s long attracted outsiders: Parsis settled here in the 12th century, it later became a vital Mughal port and transit point for Mecca, and in 1613 was the first English settlement in India.

Once India’s chief trading port, it declined when the East India Company shifted to Bombay. In 1994, there was an outbreak of the plague, and it was rated as India’s filthiest city. Big cleanups have reportedly left it the second cleanest and healthiest (after Chandigarh). You might be inclined to rate it most exhausting and noisy, but travellers with an interest in colonial history might be tempted to stop.

Built in 1546, the riverside castle is alongside the Tapti Bridge and now full of offices, but there are good views from its bastions. Colonial tombs here date from the 15th to the 18th centuries. Most magnificent is the 17th-century memorial to Baron Adrian Van Reed, a local Dutch company director.

The city has huge textile outlets, including Bombay Market (Umarwada) – a big sari retail centre 1km south of the train station.

The nearby Dangs mountains near Maha­rastra host a spectacular, largely tourist-free festival in the week before Holi.