Located on the western coast of India between Maharashtra and Rajasthan, Gujarat didn't feature on the tourist map until recent years. A very successful series of ad campaigns with Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan has changed this though, and tourist interest in the state is growing. There are actually some amazing places to visit in Gujarat, with diverse attractions such as handicrafts, architecture, temples, and wildlife. It's worthwhile getting out and about, away from the major cities, and exploring.
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Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat for many centuries, was declared to be India's first UNESCO World Heritage City in 2017, beating both Delhi and Mumbai. Its walled Old City was founded by Sultan Ahmad Shah in the 15th century, and is home to diverse Hindu, Islamic and Jain communities. The Old City is divided into numerous pols (historic residential neighborhoods with winding lanes and carved wooden homes). Plus, it has some of the finest examples of Indo-Islamic architecture and Hindu Muslim art in India. Explore the area on this fascinating Ahmedabad Heritage Walk.
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The peaceful village of Modhera is home to one of the most significant sun temples in India. Built in the 11th century by Solanki dynasty rulers, it's dedicated to Surya the Sun God. The temple is a substantial structure, consisting of a carved stepped tank, assembly hall, and main shrine. It's covered in intricate stone sculptures. The sanctum is positioned in a way that it receives the first rays of the morning sun at the equinox.
- Where: Northern Gujarat, 2 kilometers west of town towards the Pushpavati River, 25 kilometers from Mehsana and 100 kilometers from Ahmedabad.
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Rani ki Vav (the Queen's Stepwell), Patan
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Rani ki Vav is an ancient abandoned stepwell dating back to the 11th century. It was also constructed during the Solanki dynasty, apparently in memory of ruler Bhimdev I, by his widowed wife. The stepwell has stairs going down seven levels, and panels containing more than 500 main sculptures and over 1,000 minor ones. Only discovered relatively recently, the stepwell was flooded by the nearby Saraswati River and silted over until the late 1980s. When it was excavated by the Archeological Survey of India, its carvings were found in pristine condition.
- Where: Northern Gujarat. Patan is around 130 kilometers from Ahmedabad and 35 kilometers from Modhera.
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The Kutch region of Gujarat is sometimes described as India's "wild west". This immense stretch of largely barren and harsh desert landscape apparently spans more than 40,000 square kilometers, and is one of the country's largest districts. Its name, Kutch (or Kachchh), refers to the fact that it alternates between wet (submerged during the monsoon season) and dry. Much of Kutch consists of seasonal wetlands known as the Great Rann of Kutch (famous for its salt desert) and smaller Little Rann of Kutch (famous for its Wild Ass Sanctuary). Other attractions in the Kutch region include historic Bhuj, villages and traditional handicrafts, the ship building in the port town of Mandvi, and the Dholavira ruins of an ancient Indus Valley Civilization/Harappan city. Find out more in this Kutch Travel Guide.
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- Where: Northwest Gujarat. Bhuj is 340 kilometers west of Ahmedabad.
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One of the four most sacred char dham Hindu pilgrimage sites and seven most ancient sapta puri religious cities in India, Dwarka is considered to be the ancient kingdom of Lord Krishna and the first capital of Gujarat. The Krishna Janmashtami festival is a major event there. Of special importance are Dwarkadhish Temple, built around 200 BC, and Jagat Mandir. Head down to Gomti Ghat, at the holy water's edge, for a spectacle of decorated camels, tea stalls, and seashell jewelery sellers.
- Where: Western Gujarat, at the mouth of the Gomti River on the Arabian Sea, 130 kilometers west of Jamnagar and 300 kilometers west of Ahmedabad.
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Isolated and off-the-beaten-track, Marine National Park lies along the coast on the way to Dwarka. It was established as a national park in 1982 and is the first of its kind in India. Yet, not many people know about it. The national park is made up of 42 islands, 33 of which are surrounded by coral reef, and is home to diverse marine and bird life. Tourists are only permitted to visit a couple of the islands though. The main one, Narara Island, is accessible by car and a long walk during low tide. Visit during the winter, and be prepared to wade through ankle deep water on the seabed. Local guides are available. Pirotin Island can be accessed by charter boat but it's difficult and permission needs to be obtained from numerous government departments in advance.
- Where: Western Gujarat in the Gulf of Kutch, near Jamnagar.
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An important pilgrimage destination, Somnath is one of the 12 jyotirlinga (shrines of Lord Shiva, where he's worshiped as a linga of light) in India. Its seaside location is powerful, the intricate carvings on its sandstone architecture are superb, and its history is fascinating. The temple was ransacked by Islamic invaders and rebuilt numerous times, with the final reconstruction taking place after India achieved Independence. Mahashivratri is celebrated in a big way there. A colorful religious fair is also held every year on Kartik Purnima (full moon night, usually in November), complete with small children dressed up as Lord Shiva and plenty of bhaang.
- Where: Southwest Gujarat, around 400 kilometers from Ahmedabad and 10 kilometers from Veraval.
- Don't miss the evocative evening Sound and Light Show at Somnath.
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Gir National Park, one of the Top Parks to See Wildlife in India, is the only place in the world where the Asiatic lion can now be found. Thanks to conservation efforts, their numbers have been increasing. Gir is considered to be the largest dry deciduous forest in western India. There's plenty of other wildlife there, including around 300 types of birds. You'll have the best chance of spotting a lion if you go during March until May, although to most comfortable time to visit the park is from December until March. Safaris run daily.
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- Where: Southwest Gujarat, 360 kilometers from Ahmedabad, 65 kilometers from Junagadh, and 40 kilometers from Veraval. It's inland from the beaches of Diu.
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If you're interested in Indo-Islamic architectural, you'll marvel over the intricate design of the striking 19 century Mahabat Maqbara mausoleum complex of local rulers at Junagadh. This historical city, whose name means Old Fort is situated at the bottom of the sacred and temple-covered Girnar hills. You can also visit the ruins of Uparkot Fort, which has some interesting structures such as stepwells and Buddhist rock-cut caves.
- Where: Southwest Gujarat, 315 kilometers from Ahmedabad, 90 kilometers north of Somnath, and 50 kilometers northwest of Gir National Park.
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Velavadar Blackbuck National Park
The largest population of Blackbuck, the unusual spiral-horned Indian antelope, lives at Velavadar. This untamed area is the only tropical grassland in India to be given the status of a national park. It's also home to many species of grassland birds. The Blackbuck Lodge, one of India's top jungle lodges, is an outstanding place to stay there.
- Where: 140 kilometers southwest of Ahmedabad, near the west coast of Gulf of Cambay.
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A little-known UNESCO World Heritage Site, Champaner and Pavagadh are laden with historical, architectural and archeological treasures from both Muslim and Hindu traditions, dating back to between the 8th and 14th centuries. These include a hill fortress, palaces, places of worship (Jama Masjid is one of the most spectacular mosques in Gujarat), residential areas, reservoirs and step wells.
- Where: 145 kilometers southeast of Ahmedabad and 50 kilometers northeast of Vadodara.
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Palitana, a principal pilgrim center for Jains, has accumulated nearly 900 temples and more are being constructed. Climb in excess of 3,000 steps to the top of the hill and you'll find an astonishing Jain temple complex with sensational views. Do note that the hill is considered to be sacred. You cannot wear or carry any leather items and must dress conservatively.
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- Where: Southern Gujarat, 55 kilometers south of Bhavnagar and around 200 kilometers south of Ahmedabad, near the Gulf of Khambhat.
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Saputara, meaning "Abode of Serpents" is situated on a densely forested plateau on top of the Sahyadri range. This hill station has been developed as a tourist destination with hotels around a large lake, boat club, tribal museum, cable car, artist village, and other attractions. It's a popular weekend getaway, especially during the monsoon season when it's misty there.
- Where: Southern Gujarat, 400 kilometers south of Ahmedabad, close to the Maharashtra border.