She then said to me, ‘No one sees the real city from their own eyes. It is only through the lens and only after the picture is taken that one sees the city the way it really is.’
It took as an hour and a half to get to Mandvi. We took the only road, but this time to the south. The roads were a bit rough in the middle, but was better once again when the city was nearing. The city was a bit different from Bhuj. Set in the coast, it was like a typical coastal town. The desert-like atmosphere was not quite there here, but it had its own appeal in itself.
We first visited the Vijay Vilas Palace located right near the sea.
The docks had many fishing ships which were being constructed. But they were dirty (like all the docks which I’ve seen so far.) A thing I noticed in Mandvi was that it had a tinge of white all around it, unlike Bhuj and the other towns which had the yellow desert feel to it. Mandvi was white and blue. And you can feel the coast in the distant because the humid sea air.
The sea was a bit different. It was blue-ish green which really got me excited. And the wind farm on the seashore added to the scene. But the seashore was dirty. We could have gone to the Private clean beach but we didn’t know about it yet.
We had lunch in a place called Hotel Osho, in a tiny narrow street. The place was abuzz, with locals and foreigners. The food was just as delicious as Hotel Annapurna and it had the same system as well for preventing wastage. The rotis and the jalebis were the best. And the chillies!
Our last stop was the Shyam Krishna Memorial. Shyamji was one of India’s many freedom fighters and he had a memorial dedicated to him near the less crowded sea coast area away from the city. The place was a beauty.
The third day ended with us boarding the train to home and spending the next seven out of nine hours sleeping. Kutch proved to be a great way of starting the New Year and it certainly did me good and gave me a chance for a fresh start. The Rann was a beauty – almost otherworldly and the villages and the people were a delight. The vacation definitely was a different and an enjoyable one.
Day 02 Began with one of the hotel staff recommending us places to visit during breakfast. We decided to go to a placed called Kala Raksha first and then to the Rann of Kutch.
Kala Raksha was near our hotel. It took us 30 minutes to get there. Similar to Hira Laxmi, this place had shops inside a hut. But the unique thing was that Kala Raksha itself was a big initiative to promote the talents and the culture of the Kutchi people. It is supported by many big companies including Tata and even UNSECO. We saw a pretty animated film called Taankon Bole Che. And it’s sad that they haven’t posted the entire picture in the net. The film wonderfully depicts in a cute way how these people came to be experts in narrative art as they journey from Pakistan to India and build their homes in Kutch.
The place had lots and lots of handicraft items similar to Hiralaxmi in many ways. There were puppets, stuffed animals, kurtas, kurtis, bags, purses, and many many more, even traditional Indian games that we haven’t even heard of. Sadly, they were very costly so I ended up buying a book of the film we saw and a camel!
Nirona was one talented village. A detour from the Rann, we entered the village at 12 and spent three hours there. We had planned to see the Rogan art there, but ended up circling the whole village. These people not only showed us things they make, but they even showed us how they make their masterpieces. We saw how these people make intricate designs in Rogan art, an old man (titled the Bell Maker of Kutch) showed us how he creates a bell just by merging three metal plates into one without the use of screws and welding. Another man showed us his lacquer work and how he creates it to make colourful items. And the leather shop owner wasn’t available at that time, so we couldn’t see his way of working. My favourite shop was the copper bell shop. The old man, in his 60s was very enthusiastic and his son as well as they showed us their processes and their collection.
All across the village, we received smiles from the people and the kids yelled byes everywhere. Every single kid yelled ‘bye bye.’ Maybe they were even trained to do so to persuade customers into buying things. But manipulation or not, this village was one of the best places I visited in Kutch.
Or next stop was the Rann of Kutch – The White Desert. Before that, we took a short break and ate Kutchi mava and fed the ever hungry dogs over there. Boy, these dogs were smart.
Everyone has to fill a form before entering the desert road. The entire area is military controlled. Indo-Pak border is less than 100kms from the Rann. We first drove through Banni Grasslands and spotted many goats and sheep with their shepherds. A herd of cows and buffalos and camels. Mongoose and wild cats lurked here and there. We entered the area of the Rann Utsav after a while and having lunch, we went to the desert.
The desert is actually a salt marsh and it dries up during dry seasons. If one comes in monsoon, they will find the desert to be a marshy shallow water land. The desert was unbelievable. It felt like the moon – like another planet. It felt like I could see the tip of the Earth from here. The Rann stretches more than 7,500+ sq kms. We spent a few hours here and saw the sunset. We didn’t see the Little Rann of Kutch and Dholavira. Dholavira, to my disappointment, was 250kms away (a whole day trip.) I couldn’t see the ancient city of the Indus Valley Civilization but it was compensated by the beauty and the vastness of the Great Rann of Kutch. We had planned to see the Indo-Pak border and the Indo-Pak bridge. But the bridge was again, really far off and the border was only accessible to the army.
As we returned home, I tried to spot the ghost lights at night. They are called Chir Batti and are like the Will of the Wisps from the movie Brave. A strange light phenomena. I might have seen them, I don’t know, for I spotted many flashing lights here and there. But I guess it was just my imagination.
Day 2 was an unforgettable day. The Rann of Kutch isn’t a place to be missed. Ending words, if you’re going to Kutch, do not go to the Rann Utsav. Don’t go with a travel agent and don’t go to the festival. Rann Utsav has a very small package. You’ll be left to see only the desert and the ‘mainstream’ handicraft shops over there. And the package costs Rs.15,000 per person. So if you’re a family of four, the package would be Rs.60,00. Add you shopping and it will come to Rs. 70-75,000. We spent four days here and our hotel expenses added to only Rs.15,800. Add the shopping expenses, we spent a total of Rs. 20,000 in Kutch. And we visited many exciting places as well which people in Rann Utsav would miss. Ha! But I have to say, Gujarat Tourism did a fantastic job in promoting tourism in Kutch.
Day 3 – off to the sea.
As 2013 came to an end, I looked forward to a new beginning. To start afresh. For a second chance. And my 3 days/4 nights vacation to Kutch proved to be a great kick starter for my journey ahead.
It was a long nine hour journey to Bhuj, Kutch on train. Normally, I’d crib over the fact but as it was a night train I spent most of my time sleeping. My train playlist included The Rascals, an indie band I hardly listened to because I slept for almost 8 hours straight only waking now and then amidst loud snores and the sudden jerks and brakes.
We arrived at Bhuj 30 minutes early despite the late departure from my city. But oh boy, was this trip going to be amazing. The station was very small and it looked super clean. There were not many people around as well. Bhuj being the capital of Kutch district was still like any other Kutch cities. Only a few trains arrive (around 5-6) a day. It was very chilly as we walked with our bags to the gates outside. There were many autos here and the place was abuzz but still compared to other big cities, this was quiet. We took a chakhada (a big auto) and made our way to the hotel.
The station was just outside the city and we took the only road to the hotel (the road which will further take us to more places ahead.) To my utter surprise, the roads were super clean as well. And there were no potholes! Yes, they were single lane roads with no street lights but there were hardly any traffic and the roads were very smooth. One of the highlights of my trip would be my love for the roads here. We saw many fighter jets on our way. A fighter jet would zoom above us every five minutes. The airforce usually conduct training regularly in these areas. You’ll even find the army and the BSF (Border Security Force) here because the Indo-Pak border is just 150kms from Bhuj. And oh, there are signal jammers near the base. You wont get any network.
Kutch Safari Lodge was a wonderful place. We stayed in tents. Real huge tents that reminded me of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. There were not many facilities inside, but who needs a television, a fridge and a massive wardrobe anyway? There was an attached bathroom with irregular hot water but we didn’t mind. There were insects here and there, but we didn’t mind and killed some shamelessly. I spent some times sprawling outside on a chair like a country-man. The staff was very kind, and very helpful. In fact, people of Kutch especially those in Bhuj and its above areas were all full of smiles and very nice. No one gave a grim stare, nobody was arrogant and aggressive. One great thing about Kutch! The people.
After having breakfast, we took off. Our driver was also a good man, funny and nice. He even acted as our tour guide for three days. The city of Bhuj has a historic feel to it and it still maintains the picture. You wouldn’t find any malls and hardly any franchises here. As we wanted to get a local taste, we had our lunch at Hotel Annapurna (driver’s recommendation.). The food was simply delicious and the hotel had a cool system for the thalis they provided. If you don’t like an item, simple put it it another plate and they will take it away. That way they will prevent wastage. And you’ll save your money. Even the staff were very sweet, especially the owner.
When we left the hotel, we were ambushed by kids who begged us for money. Literally ambushed! The beggars didn’t even have any manners and kept on shouting ‘Money, Money , Money.’ They reminded me of the beggars in Assassin’s Creed games.
We then went to Kutch Museum. On our way, we came across several ruined fort walls and gates. These walls were Bhuj’s old walls and the seven gates were the entrances in the olden days.
Praag Mahal. The palace had taken its toll during the Gujarat Earthquakes in 2001. Only some parts are still totally intact. Films like Lagaan were shot here.
Aina Mahal was closed. Such an odd day for its holiday. On a Thursday. Even this being the neighbour of Praag Mahal heavily suffered due to the earthquakes.
Our last stop for the day was a village called Bhujodi.On our way we saw a long walls on a hill that resembled The Great Wall of China (I had even seen then in Jaipur on my trip two years back.) In the olden days, Bhuj used to be inside those walls on the hill. Later, it extended down and built new walls and now well…cities don’t have walls anymore, do they?
Bhujodi was a little village where you’d find many handicraft shops. We spent an entire hour in one shop and bought many clothes and items. And later, we went to a garden like place called Hira Laxmi Handicrafts. Here, the shops were inside little brick huts.
After our purchases there, we drank chai in the streets near Bhujodi and made our way back to the hotel. I spent the night sitting outside my tent before a few insects started creeping up on me.
At the end of the day, I got the essence of Kutch. It’s history, it’s culture and it’s people.