When I was initially planning to backpack across Gujarat I’d no idea what to expect. People suggested that backpacking in Gujarat – particularly inside Kutch – won’t be a good idea. But it wasn’t the backpacking or travelling on my own, that I was worried about. A limited travel information available on Gujarat was the biggest challenge. Other than its few religious sites, a couple of national parks and the over-promoted Kutch festival (or the Rann Utsav), very little has been written or spoken about tourism in Gujarat. A few online travel guides moreover left me discouraged furthermore mentioning about Gujarat’s poor public transportation system.
So before I start with my usual travel guide format, I’d give you a general overview and help you understand Gujarat better.
The state of Gujarat has been divided into three parts: Saurashtra, Magadh and Kutch. Saurashtra and Magadh, does not have much to travel, at least if speaking for the not-so-religious travel community. Other than Gir National Park (popular for spotting Asiatic Lion), all you’ll find here are a few historical sites including Somnath and Dwarka, and a few bustling cities, like Ahmedabad and Baroda. This leaves us to Kutch. It is in Kutch, where you will find amazing natural phenomena like the White Desert and Barren Crack Land. Kutch has recently gained popularity among motorbikers, young tourists and honeymooners. However, a few things to keep in mind are…
- Travelling without a private vehicle can be demanding in Gujarat – due to its unbelievably long distances and poor public transportation. So having your own mode of transportation is always a better choice. Moreover, from big cities to unfamiliar towns, roads inside Gujarat are super-smooth and of top quality – making driving an exceptionally amazing experience. (Read: A backpacker’s guide to travel in Kutch)
- Almost across Gujarat, and particularly inside Kutch, people are very friendly and helping – making solo travelling a fairly easier and safer deal.
- Travelling in Gujarat can be unbelievably expensive or undeniably cheap, depending on how you travel. If you end up travelling the hotspots you’re going to get ripped off, literally. However, stay off the beaten path, and Gujarat will come embracing you as one of the cheapest destinations to travel in India. Avoid Somnath. Avoid Gir. Avoid Rann Utsav. Avoid any other place that has been over-promoted and you’re going to be okay. This particularly applies in Kutch region, where even the basic accommodation (during the peak tourist season in winter) can cost more than a couple of thousand Rupees per night. You stay in Dhordo Tent city, and you end up paying as much as 10 thousand rupees for a night. Stay 10 kilometres away, and you won’t have to spend more than 500.
- Travel Gujarat for 6 major experiences: 1) Spotting Wildlife/migratory birds, 2) Experiencing white desert in great Rann of Kutch, 3) Exploring crack land and salt farms in Little Rann of Kutch 4) Chaotic old-towns (old Ahmedabad/ old-Baroda etc) 5) A few major religious sites (if you’re, at all, into it)
TOP PLACES TO SEE AND EXPERIENCES TO TRY
The road to Dholavira: Located in the Northeast corner of Kutch, Dholavira is a UNESCO world heritage site where you can find ruins belonging to the time of Harappan civilization. But to tell you the truth, the site, on its own, is quite a lame place to visit. There is no information available on site, and the guides who work there as your only source of information makes the experience even worse. Visit Dholavira, not for the original Dholavira UNESCO heritage site, but to enjoy the drive to Dholavira, which takes you through a stretch of 7-kilometer smooth road that passes right through the sparkling White Desert.
Ekal Ka Rann: There are quite a few touristic and a lot more offbeat/unknown destinations to sightsee the White Desert in Kutch. I explored a few of them too, including the White Desert near the tent city of Dhordo, but to my experience, Ekal Ka Rann turned out to be the best among all. Located a few kilometres away from Chobari Village, it was easily accessible and totally offbeat.
Sunsets/sunrises/full moons in the White Desert: The original fascination of visiting the White Desert lies in its captivating sunsets and full moons. As the sun slowly reaches the horizon, it leaves a shade of red and blue and pink, almost making a panoramic distinction across the sky. Full moon nights are moreover no less romantic. If however you miss the full moon and end up around twilight, a million bright stars and clear skies will work together to make your experience no less memorable.
LRK, or the Little Rann of Kutch: Spread around an area of five thousand square kilometres, also known as The Wild Ass Sanctuary, LRK gives you an exceptional landscape – of a barren crack land. Here you can also learn about the process of salt farming, and even spot some beautiful migratory birds. It’s to LRK where Mahatma Gandhi moreover started his ‘Dandi Yatra’ during British Raj. Getting into LRK is, however, restricted, as it comes under the jurisdiction of Indian wildlife, and one requires to obtain a permit to trespass. But if you’re visiting one of the few temples located inside LRK, one of which is VacchRaj temple, where I’d stayed, you can pretty much access it without having a need to obtain any forest permits.
Local Kutchi art forms in village Nirona: If you’re looking to explore a few local art forms in Kutch, Nirona village is the place to visit. In Nirona you’ll find three different art forms, one of which even made its way to The White House. The advantage of visiting Nirona is that all the artisans moreover give you a private demo of how the respective art is originally done, before offering you to buy their work.
Ghost town of Lakhpat: Located just a few kilometres away from Pakistan border, Lakhpat was once Gujarat’s richest town and home to India’s one of the most significant trade routes. But after the earthquake of 1819, which also changed the course of Indus River, it turned into a mere ghost town. It’s amazing to look into Lakhpat’s history while exploring the town’s abandoned old houses.
Old Ahmedabad: Though I often find chaotic Indian town too tough to handle, the old town of Ahmedabad, on the contrary, appeared rather charming – despite being a total madhouse. Its vibrant and frenzied streets were too colorful and vibrant to dislike.
COST OF TRAVELLING
Food in Gujarat is super cheap, definitely a bit cheaper than many other Indian states. Even in top cities like Ahmedabad you can eat a full meal, in a local restaurant, in under 50 Rupees. Invest a little more (around 100 Rupees) and you can eat in a good quality restaurant.
Accommodation in Gujarat can be dirt cheaper as well as unbearably expensive, depending upon which part you visit, and during what time of the year. For big towns like Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar you can expect to find something between 500 to 1500 (more if you want a luxury experience) throughout the year. For other tourist places, for example for places Kutch, expect to pay at least a thousand rupees during the peak season (between November and February). In the west, around Somnath consider cheap guesthouses to be available for no lesser than 600 or 800 per night during the season time.
Transportation: Except for travelling between big cities and inside them, public transport in Gujarat barely exists.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL
Without any doubt, the ideal time to visit Gujarat is during winter (between the months of November and March) because the unbearably hot weather and the tiring heat waves during the rest of the year makes Gujarat too impossible to enjoy. Moreover, never visit Gujarat during monsoon, as many places – particularly the great and little Rann of Kutch – becomes an inaccessible water-body.
More: India Travel Guide