Heated in the north by the blistering deserts of Pakistan and Rajasthan, and cooled in the south by the gentle ocean breeze of the Arabian Sea, Gujarat forms India’s westernmost bulkhead. The diversity of its topography – forested hilly tracts and fertile plains in the east, vast tidal marshland and desert plains in the Rann of Kutch in the west, with a rocky shoreline jutting into its heartland – can be compared to the multiplicity of its politics and culture.
The best travel tips for visiting Gujarat
Gujarat is the homeland of Mahatma Gandhi, born Mohandas Gandhi in Porbandar and a long-time resident of Ahmedabad. In line with his credo of self-dependence, Gujaratis consistently rank at or near the top of the chart in terms of India’s economic output, and have fanned around the world to settle abroad.
The region’s prosperity dates as far back as the third millennium BC, when the Harappans started trading shell jewellery and textiles. The latter, Jain-dominated industry, remains an important source of income for the state. Kandla is one of west India’s largest ports, while much of the country’s diamond cutting and polishing takes place in Ahmedabad and Bhavnagar.
Gujarat has plenty to offer those who take time to detour from its more famous northerly neighbour, Rajasthan. The lure of important temples (eg. Swaminarayan Temple), forts and palaces is balanced by the chance to search out unique crafts made in communities whose way of life remains scarcely affected by global trends.
Gujarat’s architectural diversity reflects the influences of its many different rulers – Buddhist Mauryans, Hindu rajas and Muslim emperors.
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Best things to do in Gujarat
From the superb Indo-Islamic architecture of Ahmedabad to a Solanki fortress guarding a lost Muslim city, here are the best things to do in Gujarat.
#1 Wander through the bazaars of Ahmedabad’s old city
A tangled mass of factories, mosques, temples and skyscrapers, Gujarat’s commercial hub, Ahmedabad (pronounced “Amdavad”), sprawls along the banks of the River Sabarmati, about 90 km from its mouth in the Bay of Cambay.
With an extended population of more than 7.2 million, it is the state’s largest city (and was the capital until it was moved to Gandhinagar in 1970) and India’s sixth largest.
Is mix of mediaeval and modern makes Ahmedabad a compelling place to explore – a wander through the bazaars of the old city is particularly rewarding. The city is packed with diverse architectural styles throughout, with more than fifty mosques and tombs, plus Hindu and Jain temples and grand step-wells (vavs).
The Calico Museum of Textiles is one of the world’s finest, while Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram is a must-see for anyone with an interest in the Mahatma.
#2 See the beautiful eleventh-century Sun Temple in Modhera
If you visit just one town in northern Gujarat, make it Modhera, where the eleventh-century Sun Temple is the state’s best example of Solanki temple architecture.
Almost a thousand years old, the temple has survived earthquakes and Muslim iconoclasm; apart from a missing shikhara and slightly worn carvings, it remains largely intact.
The Solanki kings were probably influenced by Jain traditions; deities and their vehicles, animals, voluptuous maidens and complex friezes adorn the sandy brown walls and pillars.
Within the mandapa, or pillared entrance hall, twelve adityas set into niches in the wall portray the transformations of the sun in each month of the year. Closely associated with the sun, adityas are the sons of Aditi, the goddess of infinity and eternity.
Modhera’s sun temple is positioned so that at the equinoxes the rising sun strikes the images in the sanctuary, which at other times languishes in a dim half-light.
#3 See the traditional embroidery, costume and culture of Kutch
Bounded on the north and east by marshy flats and on the south and west by the Gulf of Kutch and the Arabian Sea, the province of Kutch (also written Kuchchh or Kachchha) is a place apart.
All but isolated from neighbouring Saurashtra and Sindh (Pakistan), the arid landscape is shot through with the colours of the heavily embroidered local dress. Kutchi legends can be traced in sculptural motifs, and its strong folk tradition is still represented in popular craft, clothing and jewellery designs.
Few tourists make it here, but those who do are invariably enchanted. Launching from the central city of Bhuj, you can explore the region’s craft villages, ancient fortresses, mediaeval ports and isolated monasteries.
The treeless salt marshes to the north and east, the Great and Little Ranns of Kutch, breathtaking expanses of cracked white earth, can flood completely during a heavy monsoon.
#4 Visit Dwarka, Krishna’s ancient capital
Poised at the tip of the peninsula, at India’s western edge, Dwarka is one of Hinduism’s sacred Charm Dham, or “four abodes”, thanks to its legendary role as Lord Krishna’s capital following his flight from Mathura to the coast.
In vivid contrast to the arid expanses further inland, Dwarka is surrounded by fertile wheat, groundnut and cotton fields, while the city itself is a labyrinth of narrow winding streets cluttered with crumbling temples. Today, these still resonate with the bustle of saffron-clad pilgrims and the clatter of celebratory drums.
Dwarka really comes to life during the major Hindu festivals, especially Janmashtami (Aug/Sept), marking Krishna’s birthday.
#5 Seek out the Asiatic lion at Gir National Park
The last remaining habitat of the rare Asiatic lion and home to a host of other animals, Gir lies 60 km southeast of Junagadh and 45 km northeast of Veraval. It boasts more than five hundred lions in its 260 square kilometres.
The park also shelters around three hundred leopards, as well as sambar (large deer), chousingha (four-horned antelope), chinkara (gazelle), jackal, striped hyena and wild boar.
The wildlife shares the land with Maldhari cattle-breeders, many of whom have been relocated outside the sanctuary. Those who remain are paid compensation by the government for the inevitable loss of their livestock to marauding lions. Sightings of the lions aren’t guaranteed, although summer is the best time to spot them.
#6 Visit the relaxed island of Diu
Set off the southern tip of Saurashtra is the tiny island of Diu, just 12km long and 3 km wide. Under Portuguese control for more than four hundred years, until 1961, it is now governed as a Union Territory from Delhi along with its sister city of Daman.
The combination of relaxed atmosphere, historic charm, broad beaches and lack of alcohol restrictions makes Diu one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region.
While its beaches are admittedly not as idyllic as Goa’s, most visitors stay longer than intended. Diu Town in the east is the island’s main focus. A maze of alleys lined with distinctive Portuguese buildings form the hub of the old town, while the fort stands on the island’s easternmost tip, staring defiantly out at the Gulf of Cambay.
#7 Palitana temples
For many visitors, the highlight of a trip to Saurashtra is a climb up the holy hill of Shatrunjaya, India’s principal Jain pilgrimage site, just outside the dull town of Palitana, 50km southwest of Bhavnagar.
More than nine hundred temples crown Shatrunjaya, said to be a chunk of the mighty Himalayas where the Jains’ first tirthankara, Adinath, and his chief disciple gained enlightenment.
While records show that the hill was a tirtha as far back as the fifth century, the existing temples date only from the sixteenth century, anything earlier having been lost in the Muslim raids of the 1500s and 1600s.
Climbing the wide steps up Shatrunjaya takes one to two hours, but, as with all hilltop pilgrimage centres, dholis are available for those who can’t make it under their own steam. The views as you ascend are magnificent. Allow at least two more hours here.
#8 Discover the lost city of Champaner
Rising 820m above the plains of Panchmahal, the almost forgotten city – and World Heritage Site – of Champaner stands overlooked by the solitary hill of Pavagadh. Although the city was fortified centuries earlier, in 1297 the Chauhan rajputs made Champaner their stronghold, fending off three Muslim attacks.
It remained Gujarat’s capital until 1536, when the courts moved to Ahmedabad, and Champaner fell into decline. When the British arrived in 1803 it was almost completely overrun by the forest.
Some of the massive city walls with inscribed gateways still stand, encompassing several houses, exquisite mosques and Muslim mausoleums, all imbued with a strange, time-warped atmosphere.
The largest mosque is the exuberant Jama Masjid, east of the walls; two minarets stand either side of the main entrance, and the prayer halls are dissected by almost two hundred pillars supporting a splendid carved roof raised in a series of domes.
#9 See the lavish Laxmi Vilas Palace
Laxmi Vilas Palace is the most extravagant of Vadodara’s palaces, designed by Major Charles “Mad” Mant and commissioned at great expense by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III in 1890.
Audio tours take in its Durbar Hall, armoury and palmfilled mosaic courtyards. The palace grounds are home to the Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum, which holds a modest selection of European, Chinese, Japanese and Indian art, including many epic works of Raja Ravi Varma, personally commissioned by the maharaja of Baroda.
#10 Visit Gujarat’s own savannah, Blackbuck National Park
Outside the tiny village of Velavadar, the 34-square-kilometre Blackbuck National Park is Gujarat’s own slice of savannah. Bounding through the tall golden grass, however, are not impalas but blackbucks, spiral-horned Indian antelopes of which the park has the country’s highest concentration.
Prior to Independence their number stood at eight thousand, but habitat loss and hunting cut this figure down to two hundred by 1966. The park’s blackbuck now number well over three thousand, making it a laudable success story.
It is also home to endangered Indian wolves, striped hyenas, nilgai antelope, jackals, jungle cats and Indian foxes, as well as birds of prey like Stoliczka’s bushchat and harrier hawks, at least 1500 of the latter arriving from Siberia each winter.
Best places to stay in Gujarat
Whether you're seeking a luxurious resort, a quaint homestay, or budget-friendly accommodation, Gujarat has a wide choice of accommodations. From bustling cities to charming rural retreats, Gujarat offers a range of options to suit every traveller's needs.
Historic Lal Darwaja, part of the Old City, has some excellent midrange accommodations and a number of heritage hotels. There are some international chains outside the city centre, like Crowne Plaza, else you'll find guesthouses here. There are a number of well-kept, clean hotels offering identikit rooms near the railway station.
Kutch, Northern Gujarat
Expect heritage homestays, chic hotels, plus luxurious camps with traditional Kutchi bhungas (mud-brick and straw homes) overlooking the Gorudra Reservoir in Kutch.
Patan, Mandvi, Wankaner and Gondal, Northern Gujarat
Elsewhere in Northern Gujarat, Patan offers no-frills business hotel, Mandvi has luxury hotels right on the beach or villas with sea views, and both Wankaner and Gondal also have some remarkable ex-palaces and official guesthouses of the Maharajas.
Diu Town has the best choice of hotels on the island, but note that prices rise during festival periods – particularly Diwali, Holi and New Year’s – while in the off-season they come down by as much as seventy percent (some places may even close for the season, so call ahead). Some people, especially women, may be put off at festival times by the rowdy atmosphere.
Vadodara, Southeastern Gujarat
Vadodara’s numerous mid-range hotels are often full, so book ahead. The few budget options are in serious need of some loving care. Most hotels are in Sayajigunj, just a short walk southeast of the railway station.
How to get around
Getting around Gujarat is a breeze. There are various transportation options but most travellers prefer the convenience of buses or the flexibility of taxis. The railway network is more limited here than other Indian states. Here's how to get around Gujarat.
Gujarat boasts an efficient and well-connected bus network, making it easy to travel between cities and towns. With short distances and excellent roads, hopping on a bus is a convenient option for exploring the state.
In addition, Ahmedabad’s much-heralded BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System, also known as Janmarg), beats the traffic with exclusive lanes and median bus stations.
While Gujarat does have a railway network, it is relatively limited compared to some other regions in India. However, the Ahmedabad-Bhuj line is an exception and offers a popular and convenient mode of transportation for travelers. While train schedules may sometimes be inconvenient, especially when compared to the short travel times by road, trains can still be a viable option for specific routes and destinations in Gujarat.
Taxis provide a flexible and convenient way to navigate Gujarat, especially for those who prefer personalized transportation or wish to explore off-the-beaten-path locations.
Hiring a taxi allows you to set your own itinerary, giving you the freedom to visit multiple attractions in a single day or travel at your own pace. Taxis are readily available in major cities and towns, and you can either book them through taxi services or negotiate fares with local drivers.
How many days do you need in Gujarat?
To fully explore the wonders of Gujarat, it is recommended to plan a trip of at least 7-10 days. This timeframe allows you to visit the major attractions, experience the cultural diversity, and immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of the state.
During this duration, you can explore the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park and the Rani ki Vav stepwell, marvel at the architectural wonders of Ahmedabad's Old City, embark on a wildlife safari in Gir National Park, and soak in the coastal beauty of destinations like Diu and Dwarka.
Additionally, Gujarat is renowned for its rich cultural festivals and fairs, such as the International Kite Festival and the Rann Utsav, so timing your visit to coincide with these events can enhance your experience.
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What is the best time to visit?
The best months to visit Gujarat, climate-wise, are between November and February when the temperature stays a comfortable 17–27°C. Summers (April to May) are dry, sunny and very hot, with temperatures reaching around 41°C in the day and 30°C at night.
Monsoon season (July– Sept) keeps temperatures lower, around 30°C, although some areas, like Saurashtra and Kutch, don’t actually receive much rain.
Find out more about the best time to visit India.
How to get here
From its rich cultural heritage to its scenic landscapes, this guide will navigate you through the diverse transportation choices available, ensuring a seamless journey to the captivating land of Gujarat.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport is 10 km north of Ahmedabad. It is connected to the centre by prepaid taxis, auto-rickshaws and buses which terminate at the local (Lal Darwaja) bus stand in the west of the old city.
Ahmedabad is on the Delhi–Mumbai train line, and serves as the jumping-off point for most destinations within Gujarat. The main railway station is Ahmedabad Junction (known locally as Kalupur station).
The state bus stand is in the southeast of old Ahmedabad, on Gita Mandir Rd by Astodia Gate. From here, government buses link the entire state and beyond, while a/c “Volvo” buses, operated jointly by the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation and various private companies, link Rajkot, Vadodara and Bhuj.
Numerous private bus agencies near the station and on Paldi Rd, west of Sardar Bridge, offer services throughout the state and into Rajasthan, Maharashtra or Madhya Pradesh.
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