Exhilarating Saurashtra - Gujarat

Duration: 14 days.
Best time: November to Mid March.
Focus: Wildlife, cultural, people and history.

Our 14 days tour into Saurashtra and Kutch takes us through a region little known and off the beaten tourist path. A voyage of discovery that gives us a glimpse of a 4000 year old port city of Lothal; last remaining population of the Asiatic Lion hunting in the twilight of Gir National Park; the critically endangered Wild Ass galloping across a bleak landscape in the Little Rann of Kutch; and the most majestic of all the antelopes found in the world – the Blackbuck – dashing through luxuriant grasslands in Velavadar National Park.

Gujarat is the westernmost state of India and derives its name from Gujjaratta, which means the land of the Gurjars a tribe that migrated to India around 5th century AD from Central Asia. Legend has it that the Yadav tribe led by Lord Krishna, the most beloved and flamboyant of all Hindu deities, arrived in this area some 3500 years ago and ruled for a glorious hundred years. The state has three distinct regions – (1) the mainland area that includes Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and the state capital Gandhinagar; (2) the Gulf of Cambay divides the mainland area from the deserted plains of the Kathiawar peninsula – the region is also known as Saurashtra – and (3) the great salt deserts of the Rann of Kutch separated from the Kathiawar peninsula by the Gulf of Kutch.

Historically this region traces its roots to Lothal (City of the Dead), a city that flourished 4000 years ago, and where archaeologists were astonished to find evidences of remarkable engineering skills. The seaports of Gujarat traded with ancient communities of Egypt and Mesopotamia and it is believed that Sikandar (Alexander the Great) embarked upon his journey home from one of Gujarat’s ancient ports in the Rann of Kutch.

Gujarat was carved out the erstwhile Bombay state and was primarily an agricultural economy but now it is the second largest industrialised state in the country. People of Gujarat have long been identified with business and the Patels of Gujarat are a well-known and respected Indian community in other countries, especially UK and USA. Gujarat has a rich panorama of personalities who have contributed to the development of the country – Dr. Verghese Kurien, architect of the Operation Flood, the largest dairy development programme in the world; Vallabhbhai Patel, known as the Bismarck of India, who masterminded the integration of the princely states with Indian Union; and the tallest among them Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who led the freedom struggle against the British in India.

Architecture in Gujarat covers a wide range of styles and manifests itself in the ancient ruins of Lothal, medieval and modern royal palaces, and the Jain and Hindu temples. Muslim invaders introduced Saracenic styles into the region and built many mosques and tombs as evidence of their rule. However, the step wells of Gujarat are typical architectural achievements of the state: the Vav or step well was built to overcome problems of heat and dust and could be several storeys deep.

Ecologically Gujarat is an interesting blend of assorted ecosystems. From the dry deciduous forest of teak, and a variety of acacia besides several other floral species to the marshes and the great salt plains of Kutch each biome is home to myriad species of flora and fauna.

Our foray into this hitherto little known region of India takes us on a voyage of discovery, to three National Parks, (1) Gir – the last stronghold of the Asiatic Lion; (2) Velavadar – the grassland ecosystem of the majestic Blackbuck and (3) the great salt desert (Rann) of Kutch – where you can see the last of the Indian Wild Ass galloping into the sunset.

Endangered Mammals of India – Gujarat

Indian Wild Ass

Genus: Equus; species: hemionus; subspecies: khur
Habitat & distribution: open salt mudflats in the Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India
Status: critically endangered

Two subspecies of the Asiatic Wild Ass are found in India – the Indian Wild Ass (E.h. khur) and the Tibetan Wild Ass (E.h. kiang), found in the Himalayan deserts of Ladakh. In peninsular India the Indian Wild Ass represents the horse family. The general colour of its hide varies from reddish grey to fawn or pale chestnut. It has an erect dark chocolate-brown mane on its neck, which extends along the spine to the root of the tail as a thin stripe; the lower parts are white. The height at the shoulders is 3ft 8in – 4ft (110-120cm) and full-grown adults tip the scales at 250-290kg. The males are slightly superior in size and darker of colour than the females though this difference is not easily distinguishable.

The Wild Ass relies on its speed and keen sight for survival. An ass at full gallop can reach speeds up to 50 km an hour; average speeds can be 30-35 km an hour. They live in herds of up to 30-40 members, sometimes reaching 100, under the leadership of an alpha male who guides the movement of the herd.

Today the Indian Wild Ass is confined to the scorching deserts of the Little Rann of Kutch. It enjoys protection in the Wild Ass Wildlife Sanctuary in the Little Rann, under the Indian Wildlife Act of 1972. Once the khur galloped across the open sandy deserts of Kutch but habitat destruction and poaching drove this fascinating creature to islands, locally known as bets, in the temporary marshes of the Rann.

Asiatic Lion

Genus: Panthera; species: leo; subspecies: persica
Habitat & distribution: mixed deciduous forests and grasslands of Gir in the Saurashtra peninsula of Gujarat state in India
Status: critically endangered

Of the two subspecies of lions found in Asia and Africa, the Asiatic Lion survives only in India. Highly endangered, it subsists in the harsh environment of the Gir forests, where in an area of about 1400 sq. km, no more than 300 of them remain.

The Asiatic Lion is a tawny coloured beast with no visible patterns on its hide though cubs are spotted when born. The lion carries a head with a pale blond or darker mane that is rarely black, in case of the Asian species, though it tends to be scantier than the African species; females do not have a mane. As if to make up for the loss persica is a shaggier animal with a fuller coat, longer tassel of hair at the tip of its tail, more pronounced tuft of hair on the elbow joints, and a fuller fringe of hairs on its tummy; another characteristic is the distinct fold of skin along the belly. The average length of the African and Asiatic Lion is the same i.e. a little over 275cm (9ft); the largest Asiatic Lion recorded was 292cm (9ft 7in) while the largest African Lion was 323cm (10ft 7in). Body weight is from 110-190kg. Lion is smaller than the tiger.

The lion is a social animal and lives in groups called prides. Unlike other members of the cat family the lion is not a solitary hunter but hunts with its pride, just as wolves in a pack. However, the killing is done as other cats by a fatal bite to the throat, unlike the wolves or wild dogs that tear up their prey while on the run.

Today the Gir Lion is protected but its fate hangs in limbo, as its isolated population is susceptible to outbreak of an epidemic and also from inbreeding. Nevertheless, an attempt has been made under an ambitious translocation programme to give the Asiatic Lion a fresh lease of life by introducing a few males and females in a Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh in central India.


Genus: Antilope; species: cervicapra; subspecies: cervicapra, rupicapra, rajputanae, centralis
Habitat & distribution: scattered populations throughout India except in the Himalayan foothills, the terai, the Northeast, west coast and the desert; prefer grasslands and avoid forests and hill tracts; once upon a time main prey species of the Indian Cheetah
Status: endangered

The Blackbuck is the only member of the genus Antilope in India and undoubtedly one of her prettiest mammals. It found only in India and finds mention in ancient Hindu texts. They have survived in isolated pockets throughout the country, but enjoy special patronage of the Bishnoi and the Vala communities in Rajasthan and Gujarat and fiercely protected for both religious and sentimental reasons.

The males are handsome in their glossy coats that vary from dark brown to velvet black, while the females and fawns are yellowish-brown; the undersides of all are white. Blackbucks have impressive heads with long spiralling horns: the yearling buck has horns without the spirals; in the second year a large open spiral is formed but the full number of spirals are formed by the end of the third year. Females normally do not carry horns but one may rarely come across horned females.

Blackbucks like other members of family bovidae live in herds, which may be anything from 20-30 individuals to several hundreds. They are found in open plains with scrub or cultivation and only enter forests that have extensive stretches of grasslands.

The sense of hearing and smell are moderate to fair, but sight is very keen and they are swift of foot. Once hunted by the Cheetah in open grasslands they had to rely on their sight and speed to escape from its clutches. Unfortunately the Cheetah has become extinct in India and there is no possibility of seeing two magnificent creatures trying to outsmart and outrun each other in that never-ending game of survival

Arrive MUMBAI from your home country by midnight. Garland welcome, assistance and transfer to hotel. O/n Hotel.

Early morning transfer to airport to board flight to Ahmedabad by 9W 701 at 06.10 – 07.35hrs.

Today after breakfast drive to the Little Rann of Kutch (about 175kms/04hrs), check into the comfortable Camp Zainabad before enjoying a jeep safari in the afternoon.

Kutch is a princely state of India and is the largest district of the state of Gujarat. The Great Rann of Kutch and the Little Rann of Kutch are the largest saline deserts in the world, some 24000 sq km. Both are less than one metre above sea level and during the monsoon season they become inundated with water providing an excellent breeding ground for greater flamingos. Then in winter the water dries out leaving behind a vast salt field. The Little Rann of Kutch is the home of the last remaining population of ‘khur’ or Indian wild ass and was declared an Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary in 1972. The asses are attracted by the flat grass covered expanses known as ‘bets’ or islands where coarse grasses spring up in monsoon in the Little Rann of Kutch. With the advent of summer, the asses move to other ‘bets’ in which there is perennial supply of water and grass. Besides the wild ass, there is the rare and endangered Ghudkhur (Equs hemionus khur), not found anywhere else in the world and other species such as the Blue-Bull or Nilgai, Chinkara gazelle, hedgehogs. Carnivores include Wolf, Jackal, Fox, Jungle and Desert Cats. A variety of birds – almost three hundred species – can be seen in and around the Rann during winter with cranes and flamingos in their thousands and rare birds such as the Houbara Bustard in healthy numbers. Watchtowers in certain places enhance the wildlife viewing. Sunrises and sunsets are breathtaking and visits to ancient monuments and inland salt works are included.

Accommodation is in “Kooba”, traditional thatch-roofed huts furnished with beds and linen, attached bath with running water, electricity and specially hand painted by local Banjania people.

This morning and afternoon a Jeep Safari. Overnight Camp Zainabad.

An early morning jeep safari before visiting some of the local villages and pastoral tribal settlements. Kachch is a cultural melting pot of Sindhi, Gujarati, Muslim and Rajasthani cultures. Meet Bharwad shepherds, the Rabari camel and cattle herders, Maldhars who keep buffaloes, and Samra and Sindi Muslim cameleers. Overnight Camp Zainabad.

Morning jeep safari before driving to Gondal (about 185kms/04hrs), a beautiful and fortified town and capital of the princely State of Gondal. On arrival stay at the River Side Palace, a magnificent mansion, set amidst a garden of huge trees, besides the Gondali river. Rest of the day free to relax. O/n Hotel.

This morning drive a further three hours (about 115kms) to Sasan Gir visiting the textile town of Jetpur, well known for its screen-printing, block printing and yarn dyeing workshops. Continue to the Gir National Park and overnight at Maneland Jungle Lodge.

The Gir National Park, was established primarily to conserve the Asiatic lion and is now the only remaining habitat of the Asiatic lion. Currently there are about 300 left in this 560 square mile sanctuary. Harbouring around 32 further species of mammals including the ratel, rusty spotted cat, pangolin, ruddy mongoose and civet cat, 300 species of birds and 26 species of reptiles. Gir National Park is a succession of rugged ridges, isolated hills, plateaus, valleys and riverine habitats for the marsh crocodile. The Gir forest has seen a dramatic fall and then rise in the population of the Asiatic Lion over the past century, thanks largely due to the Nawab of Junagadh, who banned all lion hunting in the area. Currently there are about 300 left in this a 560 square mile sanctuary.

The Asiatic Lions
The Asiatic Lion is a subspecies that split from their African cousins perhaps 100,000 years ago. They are smaller than their African counterparts and have shorter manes. Interestingly they have a long fold of skin on their undersides, something that is not too common in the lions of Africa. Unlike Africa, where the Lions hunt in large groups to tackle the large prey animals, the Lions at Gir hunt in much smaller groups because of the smaller size of their prey.

Morning and afternoon jungle excursions by jeep into the Park with a visit to the interpretation centre during the day. Overnight Maneland Jungle Lodge.

Further morning and afternoon excursions by jeep into the park. Birdwatching and nature walks and visits to local Maldharis community villages. Overnight Maneland Jungle Lodge.

This morning drive six hours to Bhavnagar (about 260kms), visiting the shaking minarets at Dhalwara en route. Overnight at Neelambagh Palace.

Wake up early for a morning excursion to Velvedar Sanctuary with a packed breakfast in the jeep.

This Park, in the Bhal region of Saurashtra, is a unique grassland ecosystem that has attracted fame for its successful conservation of the blackbuck, the wolf and the lesser florican. This small 36 sq km tract of grasslands is evocative of the African savannahs and contains herds of the graceful blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) once found in open plains throughout the country. It is the fastest of the Indian Antelopes moving off in a series of amazing leaps and bounds when threatened, before breaking into a run. In February when the rut reaches its peak, males tussle and fight for dominance, ignoring threats from wolves and jackals, the main predators of the blackbuck. Another rare sight is that of the lesser florican who migrate here and breed in the grasslands. The courtship display of the male is a spectacular vertical leap up to a height of two metres, which he can perform up to 500 times a day!

After a short jungle drive continue to Utelia (about 120kms/03hrs) and the comfortable Palace Utelia, still occupied by the Ramily of Utelia. In the evening visit Lothal, the earliest known urban archaelogical ruins in India dating from 2400 BC with its citadel, dockyard, acropolis, bead factory and a site museum. If time permits take a walk into the village of Utelia. O/n Palace

A drive of two hours to the Nal Sarover Bird Sanctuary, well known for its winter migrants and Sarus cranes, (a picnic lunch will be provided). Later in the afternoon drive to Ahmedabad airport for your evening flight to MUMBAI. . On arrival transfer to Hotel for wash and change and dinner. Aftrer dinner transfer to the airport.

Fly back to your home country.End of Service