(All Photos are taken by Me and captured in One Plus 3T)
I love planning for a trip just as much as I love last minute changes. Its always been in favor when the plan takes a new direction and I end up exploring someplace new. Travel is my salvation and I always prefer to go out with the best of company. People who know you inside out are the perfect people to travel with, and I am blessed with such crazies.
We always wanted to go see White Desert but it was in late December when we finally got together on a skype call to decide the itinerary. Settled to make a 6 day trip to Gujarat, starting from Bhuj and ending in Ahmedabad. One of us being a selenophile, we planned two nights stay in Kutch out of which one was full moon night.
Started from Delhi on 10th Evening, we took a night flight to Ahmedabad. It wasn't even half as cold as Delhi, though it was a little windy. We had no time to waste so we took an airport cab to the railway station. We had bookings in a late night sleeper train to Bhuj and by the time we woke up due to super chilling weather, our perfectly timed train dropped us at Bhuj by 9 am.
We got out of the station, took an auto and reached Hotel Dollar. The hotel was a mere 1.5 kms from the station. (I wont get into details about any of our hotel stays, if you need info about them, you can personally drop me a message.) We got fresh and without wasting much time, left the hotel to get some breakfast on the streets of Bhuj. Bus station road is your go to place for all the street food around Bhuj. Shankar Vada Pao for Vada Pao and fafda, Maharaja Pao Bhaji and Sundae at Gopi Gola bar are must have's.
We started walking towards Aina Mahal. Instead of taking an auto, I always believe its better to walk and take in the street life of any city. We decided to go to Prag Mahal first and the palace was one of its kind. The 2001 Gujarat earthquake severely damaged the palace. Later the palace was burgled with thieves stealing antiques worth millions. Today, the palace is in a ghostly state. The beautiful picturesque stairway leads to the corridor which opens into a large hall with huge broken chandeliers hanging low. There are two rooms along the hall open for visitors which were in decay state. The palace indeed was shaken to the core by the earthquake and here lay the evidence of the catastrophe.
Close by was Aina Mahal, the more famous attraction of Bhuj. In its heyday it sure must’ve been a sight to behold. It was almost entirely adorned with mirrors and glasses of all kinds. But most of it had fallen apart in the quake.
As we walked out of Aina Mahal, we decided to take an auto to Bhujodi Village. Bhujodi is a major textile center of Kutch, with the vast majority of people involved in textile handicraft production. Here you can meet weavers and many will let you watch them work. In the village, there is Ashapura Crafts Park set up to help artisans display and sell their work. Its an interesting place to visit when you are in Bhuj, to buy shawls, mud work paintings, jutti's, and various other handicraft goods.
The sun was setting and our auto ride was waiting for us outside the park. Famished, all we needed was a gujarati thali to put an end to this day. The auto guy took us to Annapurna Restaurant famous among locals for its affordable thali's. Sweet dal and sweet kadi just dont work for me but my friends really enjoyed their meal.
Night had fallen and we quickly made it to our hotel room bed, in no time we were taken away by deep slumber. Next morning, We were jumping in excitement to reach Kutch. Booked a cab for two days from Bhuj and we were off to Hodka village, where our 2 nights stay was booked at Kutir Krafts. Hodka Village is around 17kms from Dhordo where the RannUtsav was set up. Also, White Rann is also in the vicinity of the Utsav.
Our Bhunga (Mud house) had 2 double beds and the wooden roof contrasted pretty well with the colorful bathroom door, the looking mirror outlined with mud work, the beautiful windows, it was such a happy place to be. After having lunch in the resort, we left to see sunset at the Rann. Cab guy dropped us in the car parking and like all other tourists, we had to take a government run bus to the second stop, from where we would need a camel or horse ride. Instead of taking the bus, we decided to walk to the second stop. What a perfect decision it was. Long never ending deserted road with peace spread out on both sides of road, we lived the moments running jumping taking selfies, shooting videos and relished an uninterrupted view of the setting sun. We further took a bouncy camel ride to reach the white desert. And the moon has risen on the white desert. It was getting dark and the moon light was getting brighter than ever. There was joy all around, people dancing to their own beat, music throbbing on loudspeaker, flashing phone lights, reflection of moon on the salt water ground, it was a site to take in. We kept walking away from the crowds to reach a quiet spot. I set my tripod to experiment some sky shots while my friends had wine straight from the bottle and talked to the moon.
We got in bed tucked ourselves in two blankets each and decided to wake up early to go to Kalo Dungar. Kalo Dungar is the highest point in Kutch and probably the only place in Kutch to get the panaromic view of the Great Rann of Kutch. Since it is located very near to the Pakistan border, there is an Army post at the top; beyond here, only military personnel are allowed. Gaping at the splendor view in front of you, it feels like you are at the edge of the earth, on the brink of vastness that fades off towards infinity.
On way back we decided to stop by in Khavda to take some portraits of villagers. Here, the men usually wrap a colorful scarf in their necks and seen wearing kurta's. People of Kutch look at you with an undisturbed gaze, the confidence in their eyes is applaudable, maybe because they are so used to getting clicked by tourists all the time. Later, we went to Gandhinugam village where there is a huge set up of textile and craft items handmade by the villagers. We had the fortune of meeting Khumbha Bhai's super sweet family. His warm hearted kids and wife allowed us to have a look at their mud work inside their Bhunga, chatted with us for one long hour and offered us to stay with them over the night. I took photographs of the dressed up Kutchi Family and they didnt back out from any of it.
The same day we again went to the White Rann to see the salt desert in day light and stayed at the desert a little longer after the sunset. The ethereal stillness and strangely affable silence in the desert didnt allow us to move away from it. On way back we took a personal camel ride to the point from where our cab picked us up. We almost laid back in the carriage and lived few minutes of silence listening to folk music.
Slept like babies tucked in blankets, the mud bhunga being extremely cold by the night. The next morning we took sweet time getting ready and took tons of photos inside the bhunga, making memories with the gorgeous mud houses posing around them. After having our lunch, we checked out of the Kutir and took a shared jeep to bhirandiyara. There is no direct transport available for Bhuj so we took another shared vehicle from Bhirandiyara to Bhuj.
On way to Bhirandiyara, to give us company we had Her Highness, the Sarpanch of Bhirandiyara herself. Saintly grand mother like lady, she sang for us a hindi bhajan and kissed our hands when she bid goodbye. We got in another shared jeep and reached bhuj with lightning fast speed. Without wasting any time we took a local bus from Bhuj Bus station to Mandvi where our new sojourn awaited us.
Mandvi has its own charm about which i can talk for long. The little town is enclosed in the fort walls and remains of the fort walls can still be seen. The city has a four-hundred-year-old ship building industry which still builts small wooden ships. The city is not huge and you can easily commute taking an auto. The popular beach of Mandvi is the Windfarm beach which is crowded with folks from the city every evening. Its called Chowpati by the localites, this Beach has everything from coconut sellers to street food stalls, water bikes, speed boats, camel rides and all other possible sources of entertainment.
There's another beach no portal on internet ever talks about called the Kashi Vishvanath beach. It is one hide jewel for a person looking out for solace in the hustle bustle of city life. We went to Kashi Vishvanath beach to see the sunrise and the beach welcomed us with open arms, sans people. It was like how our private beach would be. The sunrise was worth contemplating. We stood there in awe staring at the hues of blue and golden and as We watched, it grew into a big ball of fire changing from deep orange to golden yellow.
The water was so cold and the beach was really windy. We were in jackets on the beach for the first time. There were lot many migratory birds on the beach adding ample serenity and calmness. We didn't feel like going from the beach but our trip was coming to an end soon and we had to check out today from Mandvi.
Osho, a must visit place for lunch/dinner, the gujarati thali is to die for. Such a slurpy meal, we couldn't stop smiling while the waiters served us with all kind of mouth watering food items. The huge thali had everything one could ask for in desi ghar ka khana. Puri, pakora, roti, aalo ki sabji, mix vegetable, kadi, daal, paneer, papad, fryms, salad, chaanch, garlic chutney, green chutney and green chilly covered in salt(aka chocolate). We ate till our heart's desire and as much as tummy could afford.
Out of all the places we went to, on our trip to Gujarat, Mandvi will stand out for me always, thanks to the super friendly people of Mandvi. The locals we met on streets, the chai walas, the tea culture of people sitting together in groups on the streets sipping tea, the hearty conversations they are always ready for with tourists like us are to be always remembered.
We took a local bus ride to Bhuj, got down on the bus station and straight headed to Shankar vada pao shop and later to Gopi gola bar for Havemor kulfi which was soooo good. After all the food, we headed to Railway station to board our train to ahmedabad.
The next morning we woke up in the metro city of Amdavad and the first thing we had in the morning was Bun Maska with Chai. They dont heat the Bun, and the butter melts in your mouth once you dip it in hot chai. It was a short stopover in Amdavad before we could take our flight to Delhi in the evening. What We hated the most about this city is the fact that nobody follows red light here. Its like red light doesn't stand to its stature, neither anyone wears a helmet. Sadly, there is no driving sense at all.
We went to Jami Masjid which is an architecture marvel about 700 years old mosque. Its always worth going to a religious place early morning for the peace it reflects. After the mosque, we stopped by at Lucky Tea Stall for cuppa tea and bun maska. Lucky Tea stall is quite popular among tourists as its tables are flanked by green painted Muslim graves. It was an experience in itself to sip tea with the dead.
We rode to Adalaj Step well which is intricately carved and is five stories deep. Such step wells were once integral to the semi-arid regions of Gujarat, as they provided water for drinking, washing and bathing. Adalaj step well is frequently visiting by people coming down to Ahmedabad. Later, we decided to go to Ahmedabad Haat for shopping. The place is a small market which houses various forms of art and handicrafts work. And now was the time to buy the glorious food items to carry home else nobody would let us in.
Induben Khakhrawala is your go to place to buy khakhra, fafda, all kinds of pickles, thepla, packed dosa and every gujarati snack you can think of. We bought all that tempted us and by the time we had to leave, we had an extra bag of packed snacks with us. We returned back to our friend's stay, booked a cab and off we were to the airport.
The long Gujarat trip came to an end with umpteen memories and a skin tan. I hope you guys enjoyed going through my super long journey.