Kachchh, India’s wild west, is a geographic phenomenon. The flat, tortoise-shaped land (kachbo means tortoise in Gujarati), edged by the Gulf of Kachchh and Great and Little Ranns, is a seasonal island. During the dry season, the Ranns are vast expanses of hard, dried mud. Come the monsoon, they’re flooded first by seawater, then by fresh river water.
Jamnagar is another little-touristed but interesting city, brimming with ornate, decaying buildings and colourful bazaars displaying the town’s famous, brilliant-coloured bandhani (tie-dye) – produced through a laborious 500-year-old process involving thousands of tiny knots in a piece of folded fabric. Perhaps best of all, people here are exceedingly friendly.
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.
Rajkot is a large, hectic commercial and industrial city that isn’t easy to love with its heavy traffic, lack of open spaces, and scant worthwhile sights. But the old city, east of the newer centre, still has plenty of character, with narrow streets, markets, and farmers still selling ghee on street corners.
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.
Sasan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary
The last refuge of the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) is this forested, hilly, 1412-sq-km sanctuary about halfway between Veraval and Junagadh. It feels beguilingly uncommercial, and simply driving through the thick, undisturbed forests would be a joy even if there wasn’t the excitement of lions and other wildlife to spot.