Vadodara (or Baroda as it’s often known) lies 106km southeast of Ahmedabad, little over an hour’s drive along National Expressway 1. Vadodara has some interesting city sights, but the main reason for coming here is the stunning nearby Unesco World Heritage Site of Champaner and Pavagadh.
Champaner & Pavagadh
This spectacular Unesco World Heritage Site, 47km northeast of Vadodara, combines a sacred, 762m volcanic hill (Pavagadh), looking like a chunk of the Himalaya dumped on the plain, and a ruined Gujarati capital with beautiful mosque architecture (Champaner). The whole area is referred to as Pavagadh. Pavagadh hilltop may have been fortified as early as the 8th century.
South of Vadodara
Gujarat stretches some 240km south from Vadodara to the border of Maharashtra, 150km short of Mumbai. Surat, 140km south of Vadodara, is where the British established their first Indian settlement in 1614. It’s now Gujarat’s hectic second-biggest city (population five million), and a busy commercial centre for textiles and diamonds.
With broad avenues and greenery, Gandhinagar forms a striking contrast to Ahmedabad. This is where state politicians live in large, fortified houses. Although Ahmedabad became Gujarat’s capital when the old state of Bombay was split, this new capital was planned 28km north on the west bank of the Sabarmati River.
Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary
This 121-sq-km sanctuary, around 60km southwest of Ahmedabad, protects Nalsarovar Lake, a flood of island-dotted blue dissolving into the sky and iron-flat plains, and its surrounding wetlands. Between November and February, the sanctuary sees flocks of indigenous and migratory birds, with as many as 250 species passing through.
Adalaj Vav, 19km north of Ahmedabad, is among the finest of the Gujarati step-wells. Built by Queen Rudabai in 1499, it has three entrances leading to a huge platform that rests on 16 pillars, with corners marked by shrines. The octagonal well is five storeys deep and is decorated with exquisite stone carvings; subjects range from eroticism to buttermilk.
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.
About 80km southwest of Ahmedabad, the city that stood here 4500 years ago was one of the most important of the Indus Valley civilisation. Lacking dramatic buildings, this archaeological site is best appreciated by true archaeology buffs. Excavations have revealed the world’s oldest known artificial dock, which was connected to an old course of the Sabarmati River.
Each November, Gujarat's largest livestock fair is held at Vautha, at the confluence of the Sabarmati and Vatrak Rivers, 50km south of Ahmedabad. Thousands of donkeys, camels and cows change hands here, and some 25,000 people – including many maldhari pastoralists – set up tents and stay for five days of buying, selling, eating, dancing, and making sunset puja in the river.