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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

Friday, February 16, 2018

15.02.18 Our Gujarat Tour Report

Though our initial ideas about a Gujarat Tour were confined to only the temples of Nageshwar (one of the 12 Jyotirlingas), Panch Dwarka, and Somnath, later we expanded the scope of our tour to include a few historically important places, the deserts of Kutch and the beaches of Diu.

Some comments on tourism in India in general

India, its diversity, and ancient history offer tremendous scope for development of tourism. Unlike many other countries, different places in India offer differing tastes to the tourists. There is a great amount of variety here in India, which is very unique. Nature tourism, Eco tourism, Religious tourism, Spiritual tourism, Leisure tourism, name anything, it is all here in India.
Only, we don’t seem to have made sufficient efforts to give a boost to tourism. We haven’t fully realized the potential of tourism as a great catalyst to economic growth. So, in the past, we hadn’t focused sufficiently on infrastructure development like roads, electricity, water connection, communication, hotels, and other facilities to encourage tourists to visit thousands of small places that offer excellent scope for tourists to go.

To cite only a small example, there is a place called Thiruppudaimaruthur in Tirunelveli district, close to Cheranmahadevi. Here is a magnificent temple for Lord Siva, with a partially complete temple tower in the front, five circumambulating corridors around the Garbhagriha, right on the banks of the river Gadana (a tributary of the river Tamirabarani), a clean bathing ghat, and to cap it all, eye capturing scenes of flocks and flocks of birds foraging for their food and pecking for water during particular seasons. Not many are aware of this place.

Brahmadesam near Ambasamudram is another example. And there are several places in and around Tirunelveli alone.

In developed countries, they make a hill out of a small mole. Volumes of printed brochures, information, visual aids, and promotional materials are created for many places there that are nothing more than a damp squib.

Why, I write this? Because, I found that in Gujarat they have made a conscious effort to promote tourism of every sort. They had rightly identified that deserts can be beautiful like the forests, and scary too. In fact, they are. And people go there in numbers.

Now, let me tell you briefly about the few places we were fortunate to visit:

Little Rann of Kutch:

This is a salt marsh, lying near the Great Rann of Kutch. We stayed in a place called Patdi. This place is famous for its rare wild ass sanctuary. Besides, it is also a destination for a variety of migratory birds like pelican, flamingo, crane, ducks, Indian bustard etc. The farm house where we stayed took us for the open jeep safari around the marshy land. We also saw the beautiful sunset in the evening. The scary thing about this open jeep safari is that there are no route directions or paved roads to roam around in the 100 and odd kilometers-deep desert. One will be lost in the wilderness if you have no guide. Also, although the marshy soil is mostly dry, at some places it is still wet. There are shallow lakes due to collection of rain water. In fact, when our jeep driver-cum guide was a little distracted for a second, our jeep plunged into a wet marshy soil, and we could extricate the sunken vehicle from the soil only after some tense struggle. Thank God, we were safe.

In the evening, we were at the Swami Narain temple, a fabulous structure of white marble, glittering under lights of different colors and shades. The evening Aarti was a memorable and exciting experience, with the Aarti song playing in the background over the speakers and immediately after Aarti, one of the pundits dancing in front of the Lord for another song. 

To be continued...