“Why Kutch?” friends asked when I shared my mini-vacation plans with them and I said, “Why Not?”. Even Amitabh Bachchan say’s as a brand ambassador to Gujarat Tourism – “Kutch Nahi Dekha To Kuch Nahi Dekha”. Months of November and December are the best to travel if you are planning to explore Kutch by road and a private vehicle is the best way to explore Kutch with its wild and natural beauty. That’s what I did by driving almost 1680 Km across Kutch in my Tata Safari Dicor.
Trip Days: 5 | Distance Traveled: 1680 Km
Places Enroute: Viramgam, Halvad, Anjar, Mundra, Mandavi, Naliya, Narayan Sarovar, Koteshwar, Lakhpat, Mata No Madh, Bhuj, Rudramata Dam Reservoir, Hodaka Village, Shaam-e-Sharhad Village Resort, Dhorodo – White Rann of Kutch, Kalo Dungar, Khavda, Bhujodi, Wankaner Palace
- Day 1: Ahmedabad to Mandavi. Night stay in Mandavi at hotel Sea View. 375 Km | 6 hours 35 min.
- Day 2: Mandavi to Narayan Sarovar. Night stay in Dharamshala. 145 Km | 2 hours 30 min.
- Day 3: Narayan Sarovar to Bhuj. Night stay in hotel Ilark. 170 Km | 3 hours
- Day 4: Bhuj to Dhordo (Rann Utsav, Kutch). Night stay in desert tents. 94 Km | 1 hour 45 min.
- Day 5: Dhordo to Ahmedabad. 495 Km | 8 hours 30 min.
Day 1 – Tuesday, 27th December, 2011
The trip started at 6:00 A.M. from Satellite area of Ahmedabad and we took the route via Viramgam to Mandavi, Kutch. The travel distance is about 375 Km and we had a target of reaching the destination by around 1:00 P.M. including the halts for meals and refreshments. Our first stop was at Viramgam where we stopped to enjoy some ‘bhajiyas and methi na gota’ for breakfast – a delicacy savored in Gujarat.
We reached Mandavi at around 2:00 P.M. and checked in to Sea View Hotel. Since time was running short, we took time to refresh and immediately started off for a visit to Shyamji Krishna Varma Memorial – Kranti Teerth.
After finishing a tour of the memorial we proceeded to view the sunset at Mandavi beach (Wind Farm).
Exhausted, we retired for the day.
Day 2 – Wednesday, 28th December, 2011
It was an early start and we woke up at 5:30 A.M. so that we could enjoy the sunrise at the beach. This is worth experiencing and so we hurriedly changed in to warm clothes and moved on to the Mandavi beach (Wind Farm). Before the sun could peep out of the horizon, we were there at the sea shore. While returning back to the hotel, we stopped at a tea vendor and sipped the hot brew to ward away the chill that we had experienced on the beach.
It was a quick bath for everyone and within an hour and a half we started off to check out the ship building yard which is right opposite to the hotel. On the banks of the Rukmavati River, craftsmen manufacture and assemble ships out of wood and while talking to a contractor of one such ship that was being built, we came to know that each boat takes about 3-4 years to complete and the costs range from around 5 crores to 8 crores rupees.
The ships are then towed mainly to Dubai where they are fitted with engines and then used for transporting cargo. The ship that we checked out was being built since 3 years and it would still take them 6 months of hard work before it was completed. The weight estimated was 1600 tonnes without engines.
The next place in our “Explore Kutch” itinerary was the Vijay Villas Palace on the outskirts of Mandavi. The place is currently the home of Rao Pragmalji and was designed by a British engineer Col. Wilkins (some say they were Italians).
The palace has been a part of Lagan and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (Bollywood Films) and I think that is mainly why this has now become a popular tourist destination. Honking is banned so that the animal and bird life that it houses is not disturbed. Take care!
Just outside of the main gate there is a right turn (be careful as you can easily miss this one) which leads towards the private beach resort. More secluded than the Wind Farm Beach, the Vijay Villas Beach (The Beach At Mandavi Palace) has nice white sand, lovely places to swim and accommodation available in air-conditioned tents along the shore. Charges are roughly Rs.7,000/- per tent for a day.
Not far away from the hotel is Koday which has Jain temple complex of 72 different shrines. By the time we finished with the palace tour it was about 1:30 P.M. and time for lunch. One interesting place that my brother had scanned out from travel logs goes by the name of “Zorba The Buddha” which is located in the market area and serves Gujarati Thali. The food was good but what fascinated me was the way they treated people by greeting them as “Bhagwan”. As per Hindu culture, a guest at your place is no lesser than God himself – “Athithi Devo Bhava” – if versed in Sanskrit; and all those who were enjoying the delicacies at the food joint were all Athithi for the staff there.
After a hearty meal it was time to check out of the hotel and move on towards our next destination – Narayan Sarovar and Koteshwar. On way is Naliya which is famous for Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary. Naliya also has an Indian Air Force station, which was built here in view of the town’s proximity to Pakistan. A good place to stop over for a cup of tea while watching the MIGs.
Narayan Sarovar is about 145 Km from Mandavi and is one of the five holy lakes of Hindus with Mansarovar in Tibet, Pampa in Karnataka, Bhuvaneshwar in Orissa and Pushkar in Rajasthan in the list.
It is believed that during the drought days in ancient times, the sages and saints prayed for days and there appeared Narayan (avatar of Vishnu) who by touching the land with His toes created the lake.
Since accommodation is a problem here due to lack of proper hotels we had to stay in a Dharamshala but it was very hygienic and clean. The prices are very reasonable but lack any facilities for food or beverages. We had to depend on the tea stall right outside the Dharamshala. Once checked in by 4:00 P.M. we moved on to visit the Koteshwar temple.
It is believed that the Shiva Linga with immense spiritual power which was gifted to Ravana by Shiva and he accidently dropped it here. In order to punish Ravana for this mistake, identical Lingas were formed in numbers of thousands. Unable to identify the original, Ravana picked up the wrong one and left the original here around which the temple was built.
There is also a checkpoint of BSF here at Koteshwar with a jetty built at the end of the land mass which is closed for civilians. We talked to the BSF jawans guarding the checkpoint and learnt about the hardship that they go through by staying at guard even in freezing temperature and chilling winds. They were very happy to talk with us and they shared one interesting fact – the lights that people believe are that of Karachi, Pakistan are actually shipping boats of our country. Pakistan is about 70 Km far from Koteshwar and Kori Creek and Sir Creek are easily seen from here on a clear day. We saw some boats on the beach which were captured fishing boats of Pakistani fishermen who had drifted to the Indian waters while deep sea fishing.
We went back to the Dharamshala and had our food which we had packed from home. Shops close by around 7:30 so plan accordingly if you need any water bottles or soft drinks. You will not need to worry about keeping them cold as the low temperature will do that job for you.
While on the way to Koteshwar I had identified a nice spot far away from the light pollution from where we could enjoy the night sky. This spot is just outside the arch gate on way to Koteshwar and it was a wonderful sight to gaze at the cluster of stars which you cannot get to see in the light polluted cities. At around 11:30 P.M. we headed back to the rooms in Dharamshala and slept like logs – tired and exhausted.
Day 3 – Thursday, 29th December, 2011
It was an early morning call that woke us up. We had a chance of visiting the BSF camp and talk to the officers there. I cannot name people here or describe this experience in detail as there are promises to keep. We learnt a lot about their living conditions and the duties they performed while sipping hot tea made by a jawan. It was for the first time in my life that I had the privilege of shaking hands with a jawan who was from Gujarat and a Gujarati. While leaving the place, I saluted the Indian flag and thought of all those who had sacrificed their lives to keep it soaring in the blue sky with such majesty, pride and independence. With a heavy heart I bid goodbye to the officers and jawans and thanked them from the bottom of my heart for their unconditional sacrifices.
We collected our luggage from the Dharamshala and checked out to move onwards to Lakhpat at around 10:00 A.M. It is about 35 Km from Narayan Sarovar and about 60 min. drive as the road is a single track and you cannot speed up here. The road runs parallel to Kori Creek facing North across the Great Rann of Kutch towards Pakistan. Lakhpat was once a great port city mainly for export of rice but is now abandoned since around 200 years as a major earthquake in 1819 changed the course of Indus River further towards West thus drying up the Rann of Kutch and also Lakhpat.
The 7 km fort walls, erected in 1801 by Jamadar Fateh Muhammed, are still nearly intact and offer tremendous views out over the Great Rann. Once again we came across a BSF check post in one of the fort corners guarded by two jawans. It was again a pleasure talking to them and we gifted some sweets to which they said, “Aap jaise bahut kaam log aate hai aur hamse baat karte hai varna civilian to military wardi dekh ke door baghte hai. Aap se bate karke hame bahut acha laga.” (People like you are very rare to find here as most of the time civilians after seeing a man in military uniform are afraid to come closer. It was really good to talk to you.)
Upon asking about the infiliators, the jawan got a bit emotional about the politics that our politicians play and how within a matter of seconds for their own goodwill the politicians dishonor the hard work of the jawans that it cannot be described here. One should simply hear it from the horse’s mouth to experience the feeling.
We visited the Gurudwara in Lakhpat where it is believed that Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, reportedly camped here on his journey to Mecca and it also houses some of his possessions that he had left behind. The Gurudwara has bagged the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Conservation Award for the year 2004. We also walked in to a Ghost house which was abandoned before we said goodbye to Lakhpat and moved onwards to our next destination Bhuj via Mata No Madh. For those who plan to stay overnight at Narayan Sarovar or Lakhpat (inside the Gurudwara) can plan to visit the Siyot Caves which reflect the Buddhist footprints in Gujarat.
Mata no Madh – popularly known as “Mata Jo Madh” in Kachhi language is where the famous temple of Ashapura Mata, the head deity of Kutch resides. The original temple was built in 14th century and now there are two temples, the original old temple above the hill, which lies abandoned after the earthquake of 1819 and a new temple below the hill, which now houses the deity and is in use ever since. On way to Mata No Madh we saw the mines of Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation Ltd (GMDC), a Government of Gujarat undertaking where three of the coals, Gypsum, Kutch Bauxite and Lignite are being mined. At about 5:00 P.M. in the evening we were through with our visit and ready to move onwards to Bhuj where we had planned our night stay.
On reaching Bhuj we checked in to Hotel Ilark which is on station road and considered one of the best hotels in Bhuj. The tariff is around Rs.3,500/- for a double occupancy room per day but it was worth checking in here as all of us needed a good and comfortable sleep. We dined in the restaurant of the hotel and retired to bed early as the next day was once again an onward journey to the much awaited Rann Utsav in the white desert of the Great Rann of Kutch.
Day 4 – Friday, 30th December, 2011
We checked out of the hotel at around 10:00 A.M. with a “no rush” attitude as the White Rann of Kutch is just about 95 Km from Bhuj. On way we had to still acquire the permit to entire the White Rann of Kutch from the Tourist Facilitation Center. The hotel manager at Ilark had already handed us forms which we needed to submit for acquiring the permit but when we actually reached the spot, the forms were rejected by the officials and we had to fill in a new form. Finally we had our permits ready after paying the fees of Rs.100/- per person and Rs.100/- per car and we moved on towards Dhordo where the Rann Utsav camps were setup. We reached there around 12:00 P.M. and checked in to Kutch Safari Camps.
Since we had time before the lunch was to be served, we moved on to check out the White desert for which we all were very anxious. The drive from the Rann Utsav camps to the White Desert is full of adventure as the sand is very tricky and if you are not careful while driving, the car can easily get stuck which then needs to be pulled out by a tractor. Thanks to my SUV – Tata Safari – we never had to take that assistance.
The white rann is a marshy layer of salt deposited on a huge area of desert and we had heard that it is almost heavenly to see the white desert turn into silver and then blue on a full moon night. At that very moment we decided to come back in the evening to watch the sun set against the white land and again early in the morning to view the sun rise. With our anxiety satisfied we headed back to the tents for our lunch.
At around 2:00 P.M. we started to visit Hodka Village which is about 15 Km from the camp site. The Hodka Village is famous for the traditional Kutchi motifs, leather craft and the exquisite Kutchi embroidery styles practiced by women. While talking to a villager he said, “While the men of the village are away grazing the cattle, the women spend about 16-18 hours of work daily.” He also invited me in to his house made of mud or matti which is popularly known as Bhunga (circular hut). The kids in the village kept on following me as I roamed about carrying my camera and shooting pictures. There was a sweet girl who pulled mildly on my shirt and kept on repeating – “Photo…Rupees…Photo…Rupees?”.
I pulled out couple of greens and handed it over to her. I then asked my wife to fetch some sweets from the car and distribute them. Unfortunately we had exhausted the stock of the same and so we were left with no choice but to distribute the Chikkis that we had.
We headed back to the camp site at around 5:00 P.M. with a plan to be in the desert at 6:00 P.M. to witness the magnificent sunset. We had a quick round of tea and snacks and headed back for the desert.
The sunset was an amazing experience and we decided to stay back till it was a complete night fall to enjoy the clear night sky and photograph some star trails that I always wanted to do. Do remember to carry lots of woolens with you as it gets very cold in the desert at nights.
We came back from the desert at around 8:00 P.M. and went to check out the various exhibits and shops setup at the Rann Utsav. Back in the tents at 9:30 we had our dinner and tucked in the beds by 10:30 with a plan to get up at 5:30 A.M. to photograph the sunrise in the desert.
Day 5- Saturday, 31st December, 2011
Even before the rooster could wake up, we were out of bed and wrapped in heavy woolens. The temperature was 4o C and the chilly winds from the desert made it worse. The hues in the sky before the sunrise were an amazing experience and while shivering I managed to click some great photographs of the sunrise.
It was 7:30 A.M. when we headed back to the tents for a nice warm bath but to our surprise and shock there was no warm water. Before the warm water could make it to buckets from the central heating system, it got cold in the metal pipes and we had to skip a regular bath and do with a French bath instead.
We had our breakfast and checked out of the Kutch Safari camp to visit Kalo Dungar. We had to reach there before 12:00 P.M. as we had heard about a tradition where the locals used to feed Jackals before they cooked their own food and ate it. Interesting it sounded but we were sure it would be more fun checking it out. On way to Kalo Dungar we stopped at Khavda as there were lot of migratory birds – Flamingos, Siberian Cranes, Pelicans as well as Mallards, Ducks, Steppe Eagles, Hawks and more. Due to the tight schedule we decided to check out the place in more detail on the way back.
The Black Hills or Kalo Dungar is the highest point in Kutch at 462 meters above sea level. From here, the entire northern horizon vanishes into the Great Rann, the desert and sky often becoming indistinguishable. The hill is also the site of a 400-year-old temple to Dattatreya, the three-headed incarnation of Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva in the same body. We did a quick round of the scenic viewpoints and headed straight to the place where they rang bells at 12:00 P.M. to call upon the jackals and invite them for food. The bells rang, the local placed the food on a platform and within minutes a jackal sprung on to the platform and started gobbling up the sweet rice.
The show was over and it was time for us to head back to the main highway and visit India Bridge.
India Bridge is one of the places where a civilian can get close to the Pakistan border beyond which only military personnel are allowed. Special permission is required from BSF Headquarters at Bhuj to cross India Bridge and visit the Indo – Pak border. We had none!
We requested the BSF jawan and he asked for permission from his captain who was sitting in a check point across the bridge. The answer was a “YES” and we were delighted. The gate was opened and we drove down across the bridge to be greeted by the BSF officer. Once again it was a long talk and he explained what lies ahead across this cordoned area and how this bridge is the only connecting motor-able medium. He added that the last observation point of BSF is 70 Km further inside from India Bridge. Since photography is strictly prohibited I adhered to the same and kept my promise to the officer by not stealing any pictures of the bridge.
We had plans to visit Dholavira but due to heavy rains this season, the road from the Little Rann was closed and so we dropped the idea. We moved on to Khavda and stopped over the spot where we had spotted the migratory birds.
It was time to take out the camera and indulge in to some photography before moving on to our next destination – Bhujodi.
Bhujodi is a small town just 8 Km of Bhuj and is a major textile center of Kutch. There is a place called “Shrujan” which is a local non-profit set up 40 years ago to allow women to market their work better and earn a better living from it. The Shrujan campus is an interesting place to visit, with embroidery exhibits, a production center and excellent examples of local architecture with environmental awareness in mind. By the time we had finished checking out this place, it was 4:30 P.M.
It was a long drive back and by the time we reached Ahmedabad it was 1:00 A.M. Exhausted and having driven almost 1680 Km in the entire trip, I hit the bed with the memories of the trip bringing a smile on my face while I was sleeping.