The Plan put to Action
A vast stretch of white sand, camels and people in traditional gujrati wear celebrating the true spirit of life- this is the picture I had in mind for Kutch. It had been my long time wish to explore this part of Gujrat. I was finally able to put the plan to action during my last holiday.
Kutch district in Gujrat state, in the western part of India is one of the largest districts in India. The Gulf of Kutch and Arabian Sea are the water bodies lying in the south and west respectively, while the Great and Little Rann of Kutch lie to the northern and eastern sides. Kutch is popular for its historical, cultural and scenic aspects. The history dates back to the Indus Valley civilization. Various sites like Lothal and Dholavira were hubs of Indus Valley. Kutch is also a representative of the Gujrati culture. The festival of “Rannotsav” celebrated during the months of November to February depicts the lifestyle, cuisine, folk dance as well as the handicraft expertise of the people living here. Moreover, thousands of tourist visit Kutch to witness the scenic beauty of the White Desert during full moon. Palaces and beaches in the district are also popular tourist attractions.
Palaces, temples and more!
Bhuj was the first stop in the list. We took a bus from Jamnagar and reached Bhuj by early morning the next day. After getting refreshed we hired an auto-rickshaw to start our sight-seeing for the day. We started with the very famous Swaminarayan temple which is known for its splendid architecture. Post visiting the temple we moved to Prag Mahal and Aina Mahal. Prag Mahal is named after Rao Pragmalji II who started the construction of this palace during the 18th century. The palace is said be made up of marble and sandstone brought from Rajasthan. From the top of the high tower which has a clock at the front end one can see the entire Bhuj city. Aina Mahal is located just next to Prag Mahal. The palace is said to be built in 17th century by Rao Lakhpatji. White marble and mirrors adorn the beauty of the palace which is now more in the form of a museum. Lot of historic artifacts are kept here for public viewing.
After visiting the palace we moved on to Kutch museum where one can witness various objects of archaeological importance as well as Kutchi handicrafts and paintings. Sharadbaug palace, Chhatardi and Trimandir were amongst other sites visited by us. Unfortunately the Bhuj fort was closed on the day due to some repair work going on the connecting road and so we missed the place.
The earthquake in 2001 had destroyed most of the monuments in Bhuj. A lot of effort by the government has gone in restoring these to the original form.
Ships and a touch of architecture!
After completing the historic sites at Bhuj, Mandvi was next on the list. Mandvi became popular for having the oldest shipping industry which was started by Kharva caste back in the 16th century. It was the chief port in western India before Mumbai port came into limelight. Amongst the must visit places in Mandvi is 72 Jinalaya, the Vijay Vilas palace and Wind Farm beach.
It took about an hour and half by bus to reach Mandvi from Bhuj. We had lunch at a local gujrati restaurant to taste the delicacies of Gujrat. Amongst the items served were dhokla, thepla (form of a bread), patra (dish made out of colocasia leaves), undhyu (mixed vegetables prepared in a special way) and chaas (butter-milk).
After the amazing lunch we made our way to the Vijay Vilas Palace. The palace was built by Maharao Shri Khengarji III , the ruler of Kutch, as a summer resort for the use of his son & heir to the kingdom, Yuvraj Shri Vijayraji and is thus the palace is named after him. It resembles the style and uniqueness of Rajput architecture. The fine stone carvings and glass work are worth admiring. The palace is a major attraction for the film making industry.
From the palace we made a move to the renowned Jain temple, 72 Jinalaya. The temple is built in an octagonal shape and has 72 deris of Lord Mahavir. In the centre of the temple resides a huge idol of Lord Adishwar. Close to the temple is the Wind Farms Beach. We spent the evening on the shore admiring the spectacular view of the waves kissing the shore with the sky turning orange during sunset. On the way back we had an amazing bhutta (sweet corn that is roasted on fire and topped up with red chili powder and salt). The sun was setting and it was time to get back to Bhuj.
The White Desert
The next morning we had a plan to visit the rann or the desert. We hired a cab from Bhuj since there were a lot of places to visit on the way. We also wished to have a look at the traditional handicrafts of Gujrat. Therefore we stopped by at Nirona village in the Nakhatrana district which is known for the Rogan Art. This is a practice of printing on cloth by brush using a special color mix. The handicrafts made here are unique and recognized both nationally and internationally.
We moved ahead to Kala Dungar, the highest point in Kutch district. The place is known for its panoramic beauty as well as the Dattatreya temple. India- Pakistan border lies close to this area. Only army personnel are allowed post the crossing of India Bridge.
It was late evening by the time we reached Dhordo village, which lies in the vicinity to the white desert. We were lucky to visit here during the awesome festival of “Rannutsav”. This festival depicts the true culture and tradition of Gujrat. One can witness women dressed in the traditional Chaniya-Choli and men in Kediyu performing garba and dandiya, the folk dance of the state. There was also a small fair organized by the villagers to promote the handicrafts amongst the tourist.
As you enter the main gate a bus can be found waiting to carry the passengers ahead to the desert. The Great Rann of Kutch is the largest salt desert in the world. During monsoon the salty desert gets filled with water due to vicinity of Luni River. As soon as we reached here we could see vast stretch of endless white land in all directions. The sight of sunset here is mesmerizing. Since it had rained sometime before we reached the entire area was wet and muddy. It was somewhat difficult to walk in the salt patches but was a great experience. One can also enjoy the camel rides here. The best time to visit this place is on a full moon day when the moonlight reflection on the white sand looks amazing. With the amazing picture of the desert in mind we left for Bhuj.
The next morning we had a plan to visit Narayan Sarovar and Mata na Madh. We took a state bus from Bhuj to Narayan Sarovar. There is a famous Koteshwar temple here and opposite to the temple is a great lake. The temple of Vishnu also lies in close vicinity. From Narayan Sarovar we moved ahead to Mata na Madh, to worship in the famous temple of Ashapura Mata, built in the 14th century. This being the last stop for the trip we went back to Bhuj from where we had a bus to Ahemdabad.
How to reach
Bhuj is the centre of Kutch. You can reach Bhuj by railway or a bus. There is also an airport here, but one needs to check the connectivity and frequency of flights from their source location. Bhuj is very well connected with the other major cities in Gujrat as well as the other Kutch tourist destinations by state and private buses. Cabs and autos are also easily available to travel within and across the city.
The cuisine is mainly vegetarian and the must try dishes include Rotla (made of Bajri) which can be enjoyed together with a glass of Chaas (butter milk) or Jaggery, Khichdi (made of rice and dal), Kaddhi (curry), Khaman Dhokla, Dabeli, Fafda, Khandvi and Patra. Gujrat being a dry state you will not find liquor shops here.
Gujrati is the local language here. But Hindi and English is also understood by most of the people.
Garba and Dandiya represent the folk dance of the state. They are mainly performed during the festival of Navratri, however if you are visiting Kutch during Rannotsav you might have a glimpse of it.