A trip to the western border of India

Happy new year folks!

This is my first post on my travel. 2022 was ended with a wonderful road trip across Gujarat covering multiple places.

I think it’s been a few years since we have been seeing the ads by Gujarat Tourism. I don’t know when, but they appointed Amitabh Bachchan – one of India’s most popular actors as the brand ambassador, this ad used to be aired on TV a lot:

This is not the first time I’m visiting Gujarat – I have visited Gir National Park; the only national park in Asia to have Asiatic lions and Statue Of Unity few years ago.

This time, I planned a trip to cover the following places:

  • Ahmedabad
  • Vadodara
  • Rann Utsav
  • Western most border of India
  • Bhuj
  • Patan

So I started researching the ways to get to Rann Utsav and planning the drives – In past we have covered up to 800 km in a single day, but it can become very exhausting, so this time we decided to limit the every day travel to approx 6-7 hours for most part which can be around 300-400 km depending on the road conditions.

The best way to get an idea for the time taken for any particular route is – divide the distance by 55 – it will give you the approx time in hours required to get there. One can also check the time reported by Google Maps to confirm the hypothesis of 55 kmph average speed. Google Map will show you average speed without any stops, but that’s practically not possible as you have to stop for food, refreshing and refuelling. This hypothesised average speed works only when the road conditions are good – typically 4 lane highways.

Routes given by Google Maps are not a substitute for common sense – there have been instances where people drove into a river bed following GMaps blindly. Ask the locals when in doubt. Be vigilant about your surroundings. And learn the basic compass navigation – North, South, East, West.

I am also member of a road trip group operated by Mr. HV Kumar, who has done road trips throughout India in the last 30 years, and he travels a lot. I have also met him once, known as “chief” in our group. Rest assured, you will definitely discuss some travel anecdotes when you meet him.

He can give you customized maps for a fee and help with accommodation as well. I took maps from him; very useful because Google Maps will simply reroute you if you take a wrong turn – his maps don’t.

We started from Pune on a Sunday afternoon, and stopped at Vapi for the night. While I was passing through Mumbai, a traffic cop stopped me and checked if people seated in rear are wearing seat belts – all of us do, as we are more interested in our safety rather than avoiding fines.

Next morning started from Vapi and halted at Sanand – about 70 km west of Ahmedabad. The reason to choose Sanand – our next day drive was long – to Dhordo, where Rann Utsav is organized and we wanted to avoid the morning traffic of Ahmedabad.

Road conditions from Pune to Mumbai are great with the expressway in place, after crossing Mumbai up to Vadodara it was all heavy truck traffic as there are lot of industries in that region and it forms part of the Golden Quadrilateral highway project. There was lot of patchwork on the road, due to which you experience a lot of bumps and is tiring, can’t drive at good speeds either. There are many bridges on the route – the 6 lane highway will suddenly become a 4 lane one for the length of the bridge. This was also the road on which a prominent businessman died due to an accident at one such bridge, after which the rear seat belt started getting enforced.

From Vadodara till Sanand the roads were good. Same goes for Sanand to Dhordo, except some parts were road works were going on.

One big risk with driving across states in India is, harassment by police/RTO officials – which happened while crossing Ahmedabad towards Sanand. The cop went on to ask if I am carrying liquor – who asks such question to a person who is driving with family including parents? One should feel safe when you see cops, at least so far for me, I mostly feel scared seeing them even when I have not made any mistake 😢.

This is not the first time I have encountered cops on inter-state drive, but this particular one was quite rude in behaviour & he was stopping all non-Gujarat vehicles. May be because it was New Year time, they were checking for liquor as alcohol is banned in Gujarat; one of the easier ways for people to get it is bring it in from nearby states.


Day 1

The booking at Rann Utsav Tent City, Dhordo is huge, with some 400 tents. It was a 3 night, 4 day package. We reached right in time to finish the check-in formalities, have some tea, snacks & head to sunset. It was amazing to experience sunset at White Rann.

There was paramotoring adventure activity, which was being charged ₹3000 for approx 5-7 minutes ride in the air. While I have done parasailing earlier, but didn’t do this as I felt the price a bit high for such short duration ride.

After sunset, we were taken back to the Rann Utsav tent city where we had Dhol (big drum) and wonderful lighting of the main area welcoming folks:

A lot of folks were dancing to the beats and even I got a chance to play one of the big drums 😁

Day 2

The second day in the package was a tour to Mandvi, where the following places were covered:

Vijaya Vilas Palace

The beautiful palace was built by the Maharao of Kutch as a summer resort for use of his son. A bunch of superhit films have been shot here. We went through the museum inside. I couldn’t click a good front view of the palace due to time constraints and crowd.

Shyamji Krishna Varma Memorial

This memorial is about a freedom fighter Shyamji Krishna Varma, who gave accommodation to students at India House in London, which also became the place for leading the fight for freedom of India. He fought for India’s freedom, while staying in London. Unsurprisingly, the British government expelled him from Britain and he shifted his headquarters to Geneva & continued working for freedom from there. Before his death, he had made arrangements to preserve the ashes of himself & his wife at Geneva for a century and send it to India whenever India became independent.

The ashes were handed over to the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi in 2003, and later in 2010 this memorial was inaugurated. The memorial is constructed as a replica of India House in London. Inside the memorial they show a short film about Shyamji & the inauguration of the memorial. On the first & second floors, photos of lots of freedom fighters are displayed. You may have never heard the name of many of those, unless you are a history buff!

Private beach

The Rann Utsav bus then took us for lunch and tea at a private beach in Mandvi – the beach belongs to the royal family of Kutch. There are some water sports activities and ATV ride available. If you know swimming, you can even swim there as the tides aren’t strong. It’s quite difficult to find such a peaceful large beach in common tourist places.

In evening, we returned back to Rann Utsav, and on the way back we stopped in a small village selling handicrafts near Bhuj. The guide we had in our bus, told us about the 300 women who came forward during 1971 war to rebuild the destroyed air strip. Those villagers were given a different piece of land to settle & they were selling handicraft. We bought some small items from there.

Day 3

There was a trip to the white Rann to witness sunrise. We were too tired to wake up early in the morning, so we skipped this. The time after breakfast was free, so we explored a bit around – markets within Tent City & outside – the actual Rann Utsav. Quite a lot of shopping was done.

In afternoon we went to Kalo Dungar to experience sunset from the highest point in Kutch. There is an optical illusion here called magnetic hill, but that is best experienced in your own car. Many bus drivers try to demonstrate it but ours didn’t. On the way to Kalo Dungar we stopped at a village Gandhi Nu Gram, a village built on the principles of self sustainability after it was damaged in the 2001 Kutch earthquake.

You can see all kinds of Kutch art and craft here: woodwork, key-chains, wall tiles, jewellery, etc. The houses are built in the traditional Kutchi Bhoonga style – can be seen in many places throughout Kutch, but this is the most promiment one with every house being built like that.

At Kalo Dungar there is a temple of Dattatreya, and the villagers there will readily tie you the traditional Kutch turban, so you can click some photos in the traditional attire. 😄

And sunset at Kalo Dungar is something worth experiencing, with the reflection of setting sun in the expansive Rann:

Day 4

This is the last day at Rann Utsav Tent City, everyone is supposed to check out. People usually leave for their homes on this day and the Tent City folks arrange bus drop to Bhuj airport or railway station.

The cost of Rann Utsav packages can be intimidating, but I found them worth it – they took us to far places in bus, and Sayaji Group of Hotels were serving the food at Tent City. But when one has their own vehicle, it makes little sense to travel in a bus. If travelled by own car it can be cheaper, with stay booked elsewhere.

Lakhpat – Western land border of India

We checked out and went driving to Lakhpat, Koteshwar Mahadev, Narayan Sarovar and Mata No Madh (Ashapura Mata). There are basically two routes to Lakhpat from Dhordo – one via Bhuj highway, by turning off Loriya and another via Hajipir which more like an interior route.

I asked a bunch of locals about the route condition of the Hajipir one as it was shorter, and makes round trip – as our next stay was in Bhuj. They confirmed about the condition, except for a patch of about 5-10 km which is undergoing construction the remaining was good. So I took that, and the decision awarded me with sights of migratory birds and amazing views on both sides of the road.

Two hours of drive later, we reached Lakhpat fort. You can view the Rann from the top of the fort, and BSF check post.

The route to Lakhpat and the place itself is quite lonely. The fort is not maintained well. Doesn’t see much tourist inflow I guess. From there I drove to Narayan Sarovar and Koteshwar Mahadev. Narayan Sarovar temple was closed due to timings.

After a quick darshan at Koteshwar Mahadev we started driving towards Bhuj, via Mata No Madh which is the place for Ashapura Mata temple, a centuries old one. History of the Madh is available on their official website.

Over the trip, while interacting with Gujarati folks, I found common people very helpful and nice. At Mata No Madh a person alerted me that the rear brake line had broken. I was wondering how brakes were working if the brake line had broken, thankfully it was just the handbrake cable on one of the wheels. I tied it with a cable tie and moved on, thanking the person.

We reached our homestay, Rudra Hills in Bhuj late evening just in time for dinner. An amazing Gujarati dinner was served by the cook at homestay.


Next day, we started for sightseeing of Bhuj to cover the interesting places around: Aaina Mahal, Prag Mahal, Bhujodi, Smritivan Earthquake Museum, Vande Mataram War Memorial and Kadiya Dhro – the grand canyon of Gujarat.

Aaina Mahal

A lot of old artefacts are kept in the Aaina Mahal museum for display. Photography is allowed without flash and tripod. But these is an extra fee to be paid to use anything other than mobile phone for photography. Getting low light shots is pretty tricky and I haven’t done a lot of low light photography, so I couldn’t get many good shots of the artefacts in the museum.

There are 2-3 small shops near Aaina Mahal which sell Kutch handicraft and other items. Kutchi bells are unique to this region and are melodious to hear.

Then we proceeded towards Prag Mahal, which is in the same complex. Aaina Mahal had to be done first because it was just 10 minutes before the museum was scheduled to be closed.

Prag Mahal

Prag Mahal is constructed in Italian-Gothic style and there is a clock tower as well which gives you a view of the whole Bhuj city. The mechanism of the clock in the clock tower is described at the entry of Prag Mahal – based on a kind of weight system. Amazing engineering.

After finishing this we headed towards Smriti Van, a recently inaugurated Earthquake Museum. But sadly, there was a waiting time of 2 hours due to excess rush. So we skipped it and went to Bhujodi, where you get Kutch special clothes and Vande Mataram Memorial is also situated. Our bad luck that even Vande Mataram Memorial had a waiting time of 2 hours. So just did a bit of shopping & headed towards Kadiya Dhro – a Grand Canyon in Gujarat, which was discovered about 4 years ago.

Kadiya Dhro

I got to see a crocodile in river, a Brown Rockchat and amazing views with tea.

Post sunset when everyone started leaving at Kadiya Dhro, we also made the move towards our homestay. After dinner, I saw a clear night sky and thought of doing a bit of night sky photography; while attempting that broke my tripod.

We also needed to do a buy a bag in Bhuj market as we weren’t having enough space to carry back all the Gujarati goodies we had bought. So we checked out next morning, and went to the market to find a bag shop and a camera store. Luckily both were in short distance. We also attempted another try at Smriti Van, but we couldn’t – there was a huge line of cars at the entry itself, forget getting tickets & seeing the museum.


After purchasing the bag & tripod, we went back to our homestay to take the remaining luggage and leave for Harappan site – Dholavira. From Bhuj to Dholavira, there is a route which is not available on Google Maps: Bhuj-Khavda-Aadhav-Dholavira. It’s much shorter than the distance shown by Google Maps as it shows route from the eastern side of Dholavira.

We reached Dholavira late afternoon. But the views from the route are awesome, the route is still undergoing construction. We got to see lots of Flamingoes.

Ended the day with a sunset view from Rann Resort Dholavira, and dinner. Food quality was average, and electricity supply problems were there, which resulted in hot water availability problems.

The sky was clear enough here for me to get pumped up to try some night sky photography, a pretty decent shot for a first timer.

Next day after breakfast and some leisure time at the resort, we went to the Harappan excavation site. Such is the perils of city life, that you can’t even find common birds like sparrows. A sparrow sighting in a village has become an exotic event for us city dwellers, sigh.

Harappan city

At the Dholavira Harappan excavation site – a UNESCO heritage, there is a museum maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India and lot of guides are waiting for tourists. I usually prefer to take guides at such places; otherwise it becomes simply a structural tour without understanding much. It’s also an opportunity to interact with locals. We got a guide who had actually done the excavation when this site was found.

The Harappan city, which dates back to 3000 BCE has amazing facilities like water tanks, closed drainage systems, bead workshop, granary. It’s amazing how people in that era, built all this without any modern machines! Our guide also told us that while the excavation was in progress, they also found a foundry nearby where all the stone structures were manufactured, and used not only here but also exported. It is said that the water body nearby which is a salty lake now, was at some point of time part of the Arabian sea.

Fossil Park

Thereafter, we visited Fossil park which is a few kilometres away from the Harappan site. At the Fossil park we saw a bunch of Fossils – sadly no guide available here, so it was pretty much a structural tour, but the environment was amazing as it was next to the lake. I got great shots of birds!

With that, we ended our day at Dholavira. Returned to the resort and had some rest. Later at night, I attempted some night sky photography again:

Little Rann of Kutch

Next day morning, we left early for Ahmedabad. The drive was through Little Rann of Kutch, which is a forest reserve. Spotted some Indian Wild asses grazing, locally known as Khur. Desert drives can be scary, easy to get lost. And first hand experience of what a mirage is. We went on to Vachhraj Dada Temple which is situated right in the middle of the desert. This being the only home to Indian Wild Ass, the forest department allows jeep safaris to see Khur, other animals & birds in the sanctuary in the wild. I am going to add this safari whenever I plan another trip to this side of Gujarat.

We reached Ahmedabad around 5.30 pm, went to the hotel and relaxed a bit. I had a brief discussion with a friend about a month ago while I was planning for the trip for places to see in Ahmedabad, we also discussed this with the hotel reception and tweaked the list a bit based on available time.



Next day, we decided to hire a Uber cab, as I felt there may be parking issues at the places we wanted to go. Having your own car at any tourist place gives you the biggest advantage of cheap local transport, but since this was a big city, it seemed wiser to take a local transport. We visited Adalaj Stepwell, there are beautiful carvings in the well.

Then we went to Adalaj Trimandir; beautifully constructed and has gods of multiple religions and Hindu sects. It also has a museum about life of A M Patel (Dada Bhagwan), who founded the temple. It’s worth visiting, there are some really good life lessons to be learnt from his teachings.

Then we proceeded to visit Akshardham Swamninarayan Temple in Gandhinagar. It’s a beautifully made temple and there’s a huge museum about Swaminarayan and his life. Due to the terrorist attack that happened a few years ago at this temple, there is tight security. For the first time I saw a defence/police personnel ready with a big gun to shoot.

Gandhi Ashram

From there, we went to Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram. The Ashram has full history about Mahatma Gandhi. Not only school history revisited but a lot more history and philosophy was learnt 😃. We had enough dose of walking and philosophy for the day at Trimandir and Akshardham, so we didn’t see the full Ashram, but it’s worth visiting.

The Ashram was built as a model self sustainable village that Mahatma Gandhi hoped would be adopted throughout the country. Sadly that isn’t the reality, India went the western way of economics, huge cities. End result? Traffic jams, pollution, etc. For our population the self sustainable village was the right solution, such a visionary Mahatma Gandhi was!

At the Ashram I managed to photograph squirrels, parrot and a dove.

Sabarmati Riverfront

We did a bit of book and gift shopping at the Ashram, then left for Sabarmati Riverfront. We spent the evening at Riverfront; so beautifully made, I wish other cities also take a clue from this & improve the condition of the rivers passing through the city.

Later we walked to Rivera Restaurant for dinner and returned back to our hotel.

Modhera Sun Temple

Next day, after an early breakfast, we left for Modhera Sun Temple. A beautiful monument, built in 11th century under Chalukya dynasty. Mahmud Ghazni had destroyed many parts of the temple on invasion, later restored again by King Bhima when he came back to power. The carvings are amazing, just can’t imagine how people did it in those times.

Rani Ka Vav – Patan

Patan, the place where a UNESCO Heritage site Rani Ka Vav exists, was our next stop from here. Rani Ka Vav monument is featured on ₹100 currency note which was issued in 2018. There’s a large garden before stepwells, and recommended to take a guide. Rani Ka Vav was built by Rani Udaymati, queen of Chalukya dynasty of Bhima I, who built the Modhera Sun Temple.

On the walls of the stepwells, lots of Indian deities and stories are represented, and there are multiple levels from which water could be fetched, depending on how much water was stored in the well. One of the finest historical architectures I’ve ever seen.

The place where Rani Ka Vav is located – Patan, is famous for one more thing – Patola dresses. It’s one of the premium designs made, and used to be worn by rich people like Kings, Princesses, etc. Today the price of a Patan Patola saree starts at ₹150000, which is about $1800. There are only two families from the Salvi community who are keeping this art alive. Of the two factories, one was open and had this on the wall:

Weaving process:

It was an amazing experience to learn about Patan Patola, it’s history and the manufacturing process. And with that, we ended our tour of Modhera-Patan, and returned back to our hotel in Ahmedabad.

Laxmi Vilas Palace – Vadodara

Next stop, Vadodara for the beautiful Laxmi Vilas Palace. We had planned to spend another half day in Ahmedabad, but since there wasn’t much left, we decided to move on to Vadodara. Such impromptu changes to travel plan are possible only when you travel in your own vehicle by road 😄.

Laxmi Vilas Palace was built by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III – the Marathas who ruled the Baroda state. The royal family of Gaekwad still lives in the palace, and photography using DSLR is prohibited. No photography inside the palace. You get an audio guide which takes you on a tour of the palace starting from the outside. The architect who designed the palace – Charles Mant; a perfectionist, believed the structure won’t stand, and died by suicide.

The audio guide describes all the aspects of the palace, the architecture, the source of tiles, glasses, etc. There is an armoury room where all kinds of weapons used by the Marathas are kept. In the Gaddi Hall where Maharaja Ranjitsinh Gaekwad ascended throne, paintings of various goddess by Raja Ravi Varma are kept. The Darbar Hall is huge, and beautifully created with chandeliers, artworks and glasses. This is the place where music & dance performances used to occur; even Maharaja who was a classically trained musician, has given a performance. His recording is played in the audio guide.

There is a Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum, which has a massive collection of amazing arts, paintings, cutlery, pottery amongst many others. Combined together, the palace and museum is huge enough to tire you by walking!

Next morning, we left for Pune. It was new year’s eve. My plan was to cross Mumbai before 5-6 pm so that police won’t sniff me at every junction for drunken driving. But truck traffic on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai highway was so high, it was frustrating to drive. We took a break at Schmitten Chocolate Factory Outlet at Surat and then turned towards Saputara, after Navsari, had lunch & break at Saputara and returned via Nashik.

Thus, the amazing Gujarat trip of 2022 ended! Total distance covered: 3214 km.

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