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Monday, March 05, 2018

05.03.18 Our Gujarat Tour Report - Day 3 at Great Rann of Kutch

Hodka and White Sand Desert     
On the third day of our visit to Great Rann of Kutch we never thought that day was going to be the most exciting day of our visit to the Rann.

On our way to Hodka village, where our night-stay had been planned, we visited a few villages like Bhirandiyara, Ludiya, and Khavda in the Banni and Pachcham region of Kutch, stopping over a few small shops where they sell some of the beautifully crafted handicraft items and dress material. Inside small huts where their showrooms are set up cute, charming, little, village girls, dressed in their traditional village attire adorned with a number of finely crafted ornaments hanging from their arms, necks, nose, ears and head, manage the business very efficiently. Our driver told us that the livelihood of these villagers which depended on the tourists shopping at their places had greatly improved due to the vision of our Shri Modi, who, as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, had done a lot to attract tourists to Gujarat.

Visiting these villages, we proceeded to Kalo Dungar, the black hill, the highest point in Kutch – some 1300 feet altitude. At the entrance to the viewpoint, there is an ancient (now rebuilt) Dattatreya Temple. 

Kalo Dungar offers another fabulous panoramic view of the entire Great Rann of Kutch, the sea, and the border with Pakistan in the far distance (which can only be viewed through a powerful binoculars). A lot of tourists were there at this viewpoint. One can have a camel ride here and also have pictures dressed in the traditional folk attire. The village musicians played their traditional instruments and sang along with them very melodious, rhythmic folk songs. I enjoyed their music and conveyed my personal appreciation to them. 

BSF army people monitor this place as it is close to Pakistan border, and on the day of our visit, the unit members were all from Tamilnadu. If one had the right binocular, I was told, one could view the famous Dolavira, the recently discovered and excavated township belonging to the Harappan civilization too. I was sad that I couldn’t include Dholavira in our itinerary, which was already jam-packed.

From Kalo Dungar, we had another long drive to Hodka village. It was a deserted road, smoothly laid, vehicles passing by occasionally, and vast salt mash covering on either side of the road. You may look at the beauty of the road in the picture alongside.

In Hodka, there are several farm houses designed to be resorts for the tourists. These farm houses are, typically, beautiful mud huts – called Bhungas - with all modern amenities. 

We stayed in one such Bhunga for the night. Just opposite to our resort, a huge stage had been set up, and every day, there were dance, music and other cultural programs as part of Rann Festival.

That evening, we went to the white sand desert which was close by. One needs to take a permit to go inside. Vehicles can reach up to a point, beyond which one can either walk down the three-fourth of a kilometer distance or use camel ride or horse-driven open cart drive. 

On either side of the road, one can see vast stretches of dry land covered with white salt deposits.

People arrive in groups and groups. Some engage in playing, some just walk down, some sit in secluded spots, and many on the viewing tower at the far end. The panoramic view from top of the viewing tower is awesome, and people waited anxiously for the sunset. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this white sand desert, and it was a rare opportunity in life.

In deserts, days are hot and nights are cool. When we returned back to our resort, it was already dark and cool. Several artists were performing on the stage opposite to our resort. The entire place looked heaven on earth. We got excellent vegetarian food at the resort.  

I learnt from websites that the Banni region, in the middle of Great Rann of Kutch, form an island of some 3700 sq. kms, merging some 40 hamlets, surrounded by the Great Rann of Kutch covering some 12000 sq. kms, was once upon a time a fertile area due to rich water from the Indus River flowing through the region towards the Arabic Sea. It also used to be home for a variety of wild animals like leopard, hyeana, fox, wild boar, bluebells, gazelle, etc. And that, people from Sind, Marwar, and even Persia migrated to Kutch in ancient time, the major migration taking place during the 15th and 16th centuries when Bhuj was established as the capital of Kutch region by the Jadeja rulers. Banni region was also the destination for ‘Maldharies’ (the cattle herders) and they lived along with their cattle, cows, buffaloes in ‘bhungas’ in small hamlets. Even today, on almost all roads, one can see cattle crossing the roads or grazing among the dry bushes in large numbers. Importantly, those animals get the first use right for almost all the roads.Everything seems to have changed for this region after the great earthquake in 1819. A fertile land had turned into a desert. 

To be concluded in the final part...

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Our Gujarat Tour Report ....continued - Day 2 in the Great Rann of Kutch

Our Gujarat Tour Report ....continued

On the second day of our stay in Great Rann of Kutch, we visited Lakhpat Fort in the northwest corner of Kutch. (On the way, we stopped at Mata No Madh temple, a ‘puranic’ temple for Devi. The temple has a story similar to what people talk about Kamakhya temple in Guwahati, Chandi Mandir near Chandigarh, and Jwalamukhi in Himachal)

I understand Lakhpat was once a famous port city, but now virtually abandoned for more than 2 centuries. It appears that during the earthquake in 1819 the course of Indus River altered to the West, drying up the Great Rann including Lakhpat. In 1801, Jamadar Fateh Muhammad had constructed a 7 kilometers long high walls which still remains intact. We had a long drive to the Fort, but once we were there, climbing the wall of the Fort and looking beyond the dried up sea we realized that the trip was worth the trouble. 

Lakhpat is also important for Sikhs, as Gurunanak, the founder of Sikhism had camped at this place on his way to Mecca. There is a quiet Gurudwara, and here, we enjoyed their traditional free ‘langar’ – chapathi and tasty ‘dal’. Sikhs are known for their hospitality and feeding all in their Gurudwaras. 

Besides, Phir Gaus Muhammad, a Sufi mystic, had practiced spiritualism from his age twelve, half as a Hindu and half as a Muslim in Lakhpat. There is a stone tomb with very complex carvings for him. A water tank adjacent to the tomb is reported to be having miraculous healing powers. However, the tank looked very dirty and not maintained properly.

            Narayan Sarovar and Koteshwar     

From there, we had another long drive to Narayan Sarovar and Koteshwar. 

Narayan Sarovar appears to be one of the important holy lakes of northern India like Pushkar in Ajmere. This lake too was full of algae, not maintained properly, and dirty. The Narayan temple was closed during the time of our visit and so, we drove to Koteshewar which was nearby.

The temple of Shri Koteshwar Mahadev sits on the seashore, and the scene looked very similar to Kanyakumari. 

All you see is the vast expanse of deep blue seawater of the Arabic Sea. The Koteshwar temple looked majestic with its tall, beautifully carved temple towers. There is a long pier jetting into the sea for small naval boats and ships.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Great Rann of Kutch:

Usually, when we think of a desert the picture of huge sand dunes comes to our mind. We must have seen in several movies too. Unlike those sandy deserts, the Rann of Kutch (Rann means desert) is a salt marsh, forming part of Thar Desert in Kutch region. It is one of the famous salt deserts. We had collected a handful of raw salt from the Rann as a memoir.
A roadside restaurant with all amenities

On the way to Bhuj
In Great Rann, on the first day at Bhuj we saw Bhuj Museum, Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal and Bhartiya Sanskriti Darshan Exhibition and Cenatophs of Royal Family.
In front of Bhuj Museum

In front of Bhuj Museium
Aina Mahal is an 18th Century palace, built by Rao Lakhpat ji in 1761. Its wall are of white marble covered with mirrors separated by gilded ornaments with shades of venetian glass.  A part of the palace was damaged during the earthquake of 2001. Other portions had since been restored.

Prag Mahal is adjacent to Aina Mahal and named after Rao Pragmal ji, who had commissioned the project in 1865. The palace is designed in Italian Gothic style. It was completed in 1879 during the time of Khengar ji, Pragmalji’s son, costing 3.2 million Indian rupees. We had taken a number of pictures in Prag Mahal and also climbed the tall bell tower through very narrow staircase and steps. The view from above the palace is magnificent.
Inside Pragmahal

The dilapidated part of Pragmahal

Some collections inside Pragmahal

From the Bell Tower

From the Bell Tower, Pragmahal
Some handicraft items outside Pragmahal for sale

Bhartiya Sanskriti Darshan Exhibition is a museum, housing the personal collections of heritage articles of paintings, textiles, arts, and crafts by Late Shri Ramsinh ji K. Rathod, who was also an author of several books.

Swami Narain Mandir, Bhuj