CHADVA RAKHAL- OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

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No mobile coverage, no proper signposting, a big lake infested with large crocodiles, dense jungle littered with ruins of ancient dwellings and a 3 km trek leading to an ancient Shiva Temple where the deity is in a subterranean cave and most importantly very little mention on the net and not listed in Wikipedia- does seem unreal and straight out of a horror movie set. But Chadva Rakhal- the hidden gem of Kutch is anything but that.

Off the beaten track, this hunting ground of the erstwhile ruler of Kutch State still remains a private property of the Jadeja Royal Family of Kutch. Just about 18 km from Bhuj, the headquarters and biggest town in the Kutch District of Gujarat, Chadva Rakhal which literally means 'Chadva's Estate' can be reached by following the Bhuj -Mata Na Madh highway and turning left at Samatra Village (about 8 km from Bhuj) and thereafter travelling on the single metalled road for about 5 km before taking a diversion to the left after about 5 km where an old marking on a stone mentions 'Pragsar' in Gujarati.

A short drive through a rutted track and through mustard fields in full bloom brought us to the entrance to the estate which is through an ancient gate with pillars which looked like made of slate slabs. Another ½ km inside the estate takes us to the Pragsar Lake which reportedly is habitat of numerous fishes and hold your breath.....about 300 crocodiles. The Lake Side bund is an old structure made of stone on one end of which is a slab with inscriptions in an ancient Kutchi script. There is nothing else there barring a dense forest and a 100% unspoilt natural habitat.

The jungle surrounding it is dense with ancient teak, banyan, babool and numerous other trees and herbs. The forest is pretty spooky even during day with a number of ruins of structures of an undated past.

A short but reasonably difficult trek (as a cute old sign post warned us) out of the forest towards the low hills leads us to an ancient Maheshwar Shiva temple which is tucked in beyond a ridge. We encountered an interesting shaped dried tree en route- the gnarled old behemoth was in the shape of a hand raised in a mudra or a blessing stance. Mandatory photo ops there and we were off towards the temple. The temple is interesting with a lot of modern day restoration, but its raison-d-etre was the subterranean cave where the swyambu pindis of the deity reachable after a tight squeeze through the rocks give a primordial feel to the place. The lone priest (who stays there through the night on some of the days, and leaves for Samatra after dusk aarthi on others) shared that the temple was over 700 years old and Deshalji I who was the Maharaja of Kutch from 1718-1752 used to regularly visit the place and worship the deity in the cave.

The walk back along the gentle down slope is a breeze. But walking there after sunset is not advised as the area is home to leopards (a quaint sign post on the track marked a 'leopard crossing' and the priest too had told us of 3-4 leopards frequenting the area at night). As it was getting quite dark, we hastened our steps to reach the location of the forest and back to the parking lot. By the time we reached back it was quite dark and the brooding forest with its melancholic ruins looked straight out of a scary movie!

We did not get to see any leopards but were lucky to spot 3-4 huge crocs earlier in the day, lazily floating around the placid Pragsar Lake with their snouts out of the water. Local told us that they stalk Nilgais and other game which came to the lake for the drink and also thrive on the abundant fish in the lake.

The place is still pristine with a rough edge and time seems to have stood still. An unlisted place with no modern trappings seems a luxury in today's plastic times, but at only about 18 km from Bhuj and about 70 km from Gandhidham, it definitely begets a day's outing- if not for anything else but for the free oxygen and the joy of seeing such a dense jungle in the heart of the arid Kutch, images of which are generally associated with the great salt desert and sparse greenery.

Permission is required from Vijay Vilas Palace, Mandvi if you plan to visit as a big group. A few visitors coming for a casual trip need not bother even for that.

This post was originally published on Harry's Travel Blog

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