Not many visitors make it to Gujarat, the most westerly state of India, perched on the western point of the diamond that roughly represents the shape of the country. A “dry” state (alcohol is banned, although foreigners can buy it for consumption behind closed doors if they first obtain a permit), Gujarat is low on foreign faces but loaded with history and culture.

The state has a language all its own – Gujarati – and is an intoxicating mixture of buzzing cities, quiet villages and some of the best wildlife in the country. If you’ve never considered it as a destination, then this post is for you – check out these Gujarat highlights and start planning your own visit to this fascinating part of India!

There are a huge number of places to see in Gujarat, and these are just the highlights. To get the best out of the state, the ideal Gujarat itinerary would take you in a large loop – allow a minimum of 2 weeks.

Ahmedabad
Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram
Vadodara and Champaner-Pavagadh
Rani Ki Vav stepwell and Sun Temple, Patna
Little Rann of Kutch
Great Rann of Kutch
Bhuj
Tribal villages of Kutch
Jamnagar Marine Park
Dwarka
Gir National Park
Shatrunjaya


The busy streets of Ahmedabad

Ahmedabad

Any Gujarat tour itinerary would be incomplete without a visit to it’s biggest city, Ahmedabad. This bustling metropolis, some eight hours north of Mumbai by train (or 1 hour by air) is pure India, and deserves at least a day to explore.

The historic old town is a maze of alleyways, where communities have traditionally lived in craftsmen’s guilds in enclosed courtyards. Spectacular temples abound; check out the Hindu Swaminarayan temple and Jain Ashtapa Derasan temple, and don’t forget the Friday Mosque (Jami Masjid) where the Muslim faithful come to pray.

The Calico Museum of Textiles is highly regarded – advance booking is necessary. The Ahmedabad region also has a number of spectacular stepwells to visit.

Gandhi’s home at the Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad

Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram, Ahmedabad

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a Gujarati boy, born in the western city of Porbandar. But it is in Ahmedabad that one of the more visible legacies of his incredible life can be found in the form of the Mahatma Gandhi ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati River. Still a working place of religious study to this day, the ashram is a peaceful, sandy oasis in the heart of the bustling city. As a day visitor, discover Gandhi’s own house including one of his famous spinning wheels where local women can teach you to spin cotton. Learn more about his life, and about the work of the ashram, in the displays in his house and the nearby visitors’ centre.

Laxmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara

Vadodara and Champaner-Pavagadh

A couple of hours south of Ahmedabad lies the city of Vadodara, formerly known as Baroda. Home to the Gaekwad dynasty until 1949, the family seat of the Laxmi Vilas Palace is a fascinating place to visit and discover the way of life of the maharajahs. Just north of the city lies the historic site of Champaner-Pavagadh, where a fabulous complex of mosques and mausoleums is overlooked by the Pavagadh Fort high on a hilltop above. It is possible to visit the fort, however the vehicles providing the shuttle service are in poor condition and this is not recommended.

Rani Ki Vav stepwell, Patan

Rani Ki Vav stepwell and Sun Temple, Patan

Gujarat has a number of spectacular stepwells, and none so famous as the Rani Ki Vav well at Patan in the northeast of the state. Constructed in the 11th century but buried under mud and silt for many centuries, it is incredibly well preserved, and it is possible for visitors to descend to the very bottom of the well to explore the extravagant architecture. The stepwell is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Also in the Patan area is the Surya Mandir at Modhera, a spectacular Sun Temple together with an elaborate stepped temple tank. Formed of sandstone with intricate carvings, the temple is one of the best examples of Sun Temples in India and is well worth a visit.

Sun Temple, Modhera

Little Rann of Kutch

In the heart of Gujarat lies the Little Rann of Kutch. This barren desert landscape comes to life during the rainy season, but spends much of the year as a sandy wasteland. The wild asses of the Little Rann of Kutch are rare and endangered; take a jeep safari to see them in their natural habitat. This area is also home to salt farms, mainly on a cottage scale, unlike those further north which are doing considerable damage to the local ecology. Nonetheless, visiting a farm is an impressive experience, and a good form of income for local people.

Wild asses in the Little Rann of Kutch

Great Rann of Kutch

If the Little Rann of Kutch is barren desert, the Great Rann of Kutch takes it to another level. Extending many kilmetres to the Pakistan border, the Great Rann is a vast salt pan stretch far away to the horizon. During the wet season the area floods, depositing the salt of which it is formed and transforming the area into a vast ocean of water as far as the eye can see. The Great Rann is home to the Rann Utsav festival which is held every year during the wet season and can last up to 3 months. During the dry season, however, the salt desert is an impressive and peaceful place to visit.

True desert. The Great Rann of Kutch

Bhuj

The city of Bhuj, in the heart of Kutch, came to the world’s attention in 2001 as the epicentre of a huge earthquake which shattered the region – figuratively and literally. Bhuj today is a bustling and vibrant city, but the scars still remain. Visit the Prag Mahal, a beautiful palace building where earthquake damage can still be clearly seen. The Aina Mahal next door holds a small museum packed full of artefacts from Bhuj’s time under the maharajahs.

The city of Bhuj makes a great jumping-off point to explore the many tribal villages of Kutch.

Aina Mahal, Bhuj. Check out the earthquake damage to the right of the picture

Tribal villages of Kutch

The Kutch area of Gujarat is home to more than salt pans and cities. Dotted across the region, tribal villages maintain strong links with the past. Handicrafts are manufactured here, especially textiles and a variety of weaving, block printing and embroidery; communities also maintain their decoratively-painted houses and colourful tribal costumes which are part of everyday life, not a tourist attraction. Visit these villages at your peril; the people are skilled craftsmen, incredibly friendly and you are sure to depart with your pockets a little lighter – but knowing that you are helping to sustain a vibrant piece of Gujarat’s heritage.

The beautifully-decorated village homes of Kutch

Jamnagar Marine Park

Heading south and west of Kutch will bring you to the city of Jamnagar, where the local markets and Lakhota Lake and Palace are worth a stop in themselves. But the real draw in this area is the Jamnagar Marine Park. A huge mangrove forest gives way to coral reef extending far out into the Arabian Sea. At low tide, head out across the reef (which admittedly hasn’t been in the best condition for many years) to discover the marine life including starfish, crabs and octopus which call these waters home.

Jamnagar Marine Park

Dwarka

The city of Dwarka is located about as far west in India as it’s possible to go. The Shree Dwarkadish Temple, therefore, is one of the holiest in India, part of a quartet of sacred Hindu pilgrimage sites at the four extremities of this huge country.

Walk through the bustling streets, which seem to have changed little over the centuries, to the historic temple where you can join the crowds as the temple flag is lowered and raised five times a day. There has been a temple dedicated to Lord Krishna on this site for over 2000 years, and a visit can be overwhelming for the senses. Explore the many shrines dotted around the complex, and soak up the atmosphere; far from a sobering place of silent prayer, the Hindu temple experience can be chaotic, noisy and joyous. Just relax and soak it all in.

The back streets of Dwarka

Gir National Park

Gir National Park, some 7 hours’ drive west of Ahmedabad and a few hours from Dwarka, is home to arguably Gujarat’s greatest highlight: the Asiatic Lion. Once found over a vast area from Syria in the west to Bihar in the east, the Asiatic Lion is now only found in Gir National Park, where there are currently around 650 animals and rising.

Take a safari through the park to see not only the lions, but also sambar and spotted deer, monkeys, eagles, owls and, if you are really lucky, honey badgers and leopards.

On the edge of Gir National Park is an unusual village, populated entirely by people of African descent. Descended from Africans who came to Gujarat centuries ago, the inhabitants of the village are Indian nationals and Gujarati speakers, but maintain their African physical characteristics. The village is most definitely not a tourist attraction, but some safari routes do pass through as you explore Gir National Park.

Asiatic lion, Gir National Park

Shatrunjaya

One of the holiest sites in the Jain religion, the temple complex at Shatrunjaya has to be seen to be believed. But seeing it is not without effort; built on a hilltop which can only be reached by climbing 3300 steps, it is a true pilgrimage for Jains and non-Jains alike. Porter carry the less able in modern-day palanquins, but most walk, including a number of white-clad monks and nuns who scamper up and down the hillside up to 7 times a day (the number of times you should climb if you really take the pilgrimage seriously!).

At the top, you are more than rewarded with a spectacular temple complex of almost 900 individual temples, all intricately carved, at which the Jain faithful pray. Discreetly watching their worship is a fascinating insight into the Jain religion. If you are planning to make the climb, especially in the summer months, make sure you start early; the climb alone takes up to 2 hours, and can become particularly challenging as the temperature rises; there is very little shade on the path.

For more details on visiting Shatrunjaya, check out my post Shatrunjaya: Exploring the Jain pilgrimage site of Palitana, Gujarat.

Some of the 3300 steps to the Jain temples at Shatrunjaya



If you, like me, are an India fan, check out the following guides to almost every state in the country. I guarantee there is inspiration awaiting!

North and East India: What to see and do in (almost) every state!
Central and Southern India: What to see and do in (almost) every state!

Check out my other posts on India here.


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Hi! I’m Jill, and I’m a British blogger who has been travelling for more than 15 years, visiting over 60 countries on 6 continents. I love to travel both solo and with groups, and to discover the cultures and peoples of the countries I visit. And I love to share a good story or two along the way!