Gujarat is a fascinating state with picturesque landscapes - from desert in the northwest to irrigated fields in the southeast - and a coastline dotted with fine beaches and some of the world's oldest ports. Yet for all its rewards, it remains squarely off the radar of mainstream tourism, and makes a challenging place for independent travel.

Gujarat abounds in anthropological interest, with a treasure trove of Jain and Hindu buildings, including the superb temples at Palitana and Modhera. Ahmedabad, the state's industrial and cultural centre and until recently its capital, is a showcase for much of the area's distinctive regional architecture.

Millions of Muslim pilgrims have set sail for Mecca from Gujarat's harbours, while the 15th-century scramble for supremacy saw European colonial powers set up factories and trading bases along the coast. As well as being the East India Company's first toehold in India, Gujarat was also a key site in the British Empire's decline: Mahatma Gandhi was born at Porbandar and from his ashram at Sabarmati led the Salt March that galvanized India's independence movement.

Kachchh - an arid peninsula over which Pakistan and India fought a war in the 1960s - is India's answer to the Wild West: a barely travelled desert region whose people have developed an astonishingly vibrant cultural identity against the backdrop of a tremendously harsh terrain.

Kachchh's grasslands, salt marshes, mudflats and mangrove swamps act as a sanctuary for wildlife including migratory flamingos, pelicans and wild ass. Other rare species native to the state include the rare swift-footed blackbuck, found on the plains of Velavadar and the Asiatic lions which inhabit Gir National Park.

Gujarat is one of India's most rapidly modernizing states and in 2002 was the site of the worst communal violence to happen in India this century - in riots which cost 1000 lives.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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