(Disclaimer: Photography is prohibited after the India Bridge. All phones and cameras had to be deposited at the check post at India Bridge before proceeding to Vighakote. This blog post, a short description (My shortest blog-post yet) is an account of the insane ride to Vighakote and Bediyabet and contains no photographs (except for the ones taken before India Bridge).
It was day 5 (of our Rann of Kutch tour 2015). And our Rann of Kutch tour was drawing to a close. Having secured the necessary permits to ride to Vighakote from the BSF sector HQ at Bhuj the day before, we were all set. (It wasn’t a cake walk for us, considering we had to procure the registration documents of the bike we would be taking and our rental guy (MK Auto - Jacky - +91 9898983999 , Bhuj) promptly refused to do so). Sourcing a bike was bad enough in Bhuj. Getting the guy to let us take his bike to the Indo-Pak border was unthinkable. With a deadline (4pm) to turn in the photocopies at the BSF HQ we had almost given up before Jaideep (Our hotel receptionist) came to our rescue. A few phone calls later, his friend came up with this. (The Hero Honda Splendor)
We took it to the BSF HQ and instantly nicknamed it “The rattler”. With jokes for Shock-absorbers, this tiny wonder actually rattled all the way to Vighakote and Back (a 300 km+ journey) without incident. Considering we had the Hero Impulse a day back (the off-roading beauty with luxuries such as the self-start) the Hero Splendor wasn’t bad at all. Who needs a spine anyway?
(We learnt about Vighakote by accident. On Day 2 enroute Kaladungar, After Khavda, we headed straight, instead of taking the right turn to Kaladungar and found ourselves here… At the board declaring a restricted area 500 meters ahead)
(Day 3 and 4 went in getting ourselves the much needed permit – It takes a day to procure the same.).
Fast forward to the morning of Day 5, Kartik and I, actually stood and stared at the bike at 6 am for a complete minute in silence. We had no clue if it would do the ride. Vighakote was close to 160 kms from Bhuj, 60 kms from India Bridge. At India Bridge, they basically took most of your stuff, (phones, cameras etc;).. Wallets were allowed but were practically useless (There was absolutely nothing on the way – Nothing!). No petrol bunks, no shops, just miles and miles of empty open desert. If your bike broke down, you would be literally stranded. You are in the desert. Pushing the bike is not an option. You wait for an armed personnel to come to your rescue. (We got this info from the HQ – and seriously considered pulling this stunt off with the rattler!). (I thought the ride would be similar to the Spiti valley (Himachal) where there are no petrol bunks after Rohtang for around 150 kms till Chandrataal Lake. There was a massive difference – The Himachal stretch has other bikers!)
We left early. Having done this road before (Day 2: The Rok Tour: The Ekal edition 2015 : http://bit.ly/RoK2K15) we didn’t stop as frequently as before and raced all the way to Khavda. Khavda as mentioned before is your last village before the border. You would do well to stock up on petrol, spares, food and everything else a Human needs before venturing into inhuman conditions. Khavda is the last place with a tire repair point. Get your tires checked. (Random tip: Get a spare. If you do not know how to change a tire, learn! It isn’t rocket science. ) I cannot harp the importance of being prepared for a puncture enroute to either Vighakote or Bediyabet in the middle of nowhere. Since all I have are mental pictures and nothing on digital, you just assume the worst. (Reality isn’t too far!). Khavda would be a good place to buy those bottles of water, yeah!
Post Khavda we come to a road heading off to the right (That leads to Kaladungar). We stayed straight and after about 15 kms from Khavda we saw this sign welcoming us to BSF restricted area (500 mts ahead). (This place with the sign is called Kunwarbet). We continued on and came to the India Bridge. I was promptly asked to remove the Go-Pro from my helmet.
You know you are in military territory after the India Bridge. The number of times the permit letter was checked all the way to Vighakote would put US immigration officials to shame. (I guess it was all the more so, because we were on a bike – people usually turned up in a car – guess it’s Much simpler and saves you the heat and the long ride).
Depositing our phones and cameras, we were asked to get back by 5pm. (They don’t allow people in after noon! (Tip: Go early!). (Your permit will be checked and you will have to make an entry…)
Post the checkpoint at India Bridge, the road sways left and took us to the next checkpoint – Chidiyamore. Chidiyamore is technically the last place you will see humans before Vighakote. Chidiyamore is named so as it is a fork with a huge bird (My guess it looks like a crow.) which stands right in the middle. (Chidiyamore – literally translates to bird-turn-at-the-road). Your permit will be checked here again. (You will have to make an entry here too.). Do not miss the War memorial at Chidiyamore. (We didn’t have enough time on the way back).
From Chidiyamore, the road to the left takes you to Vighakote (around 50 kms away), the right one takes you to Bediyabet (20 kms away). My suggestion would be to do Vighakote first.
After a final check point, we were off – to Vighakote (Finally.) The road got from bad to mediocre. The road is narrow, and uneven. The entire stretch has over head bunkers along the side of the road. We never really saw army personnel on the road save for a few. It’s a grueling ride, made all the way more strenuous due to the heat. This was March First week and we stopped multiple times to rest! There are numerous deer on the way. (Scampered away the moment we came through). There are electricity towers all the way to Vighakote and they turned left and right with the road. It’s more or less a straight road (and does get a bit boring after a while).. The desert stretches out for miles and miles and it was a liberating thought that we were approaching a different country. We reached Vighakote at 2 pm. The guy took one look at us and remarked we were the first bikers that season. (Random tip: There are numerous Military statins on the way just before Vighakote. Ask for Vighakote, The road turns to the right and there is a small checkpoint before the Vighakote station.). We were greeted by a head inspector from the 111 Battalion BSF. (His name fails me, I hadn’t kept notes). He checked our permit and finally took us to the viewing point.
The feeling of watching the International Border at 700m from where we stood is an incredible feeling. The black fence snaked all the way on either side and on the other side lay Pakistan! It was a poignant moment and it felt weird that except for the border there was absolutely no way you could distinguish the landscape. There is a hill opposite to the viewing point and it stands in Pakistan (we were that close!!).
300 meters on either side of the International Border is no man’s land (and crossing it is an offence). The surprising part was, Khavda almost 80 kms away was the last village on the Indian side and the Indian side was primarily a desert whereas villages and farmlands started as close as 10 kms from the international border on the Pakistani Side. (The Pakistani side has a river, so irrigation isn’t a problem). The head inspector was a lovely guy and treated us to tea before we left. Staring at that viewpoint and looking at Pakistan was great. (You can stand there as long as you like though…). There was one other group of tourists (in a white car) when we reached Vighakote – we didn’t see any other tourists the entire time…)
The ride back to Chidiyamore was intense. I was anxious to do Bediyabet and with the clock rapidly approaching 5pm I pushed the splendor to its max. Capacity. The rattler, ate up the miles. And our backs in the process. We were shaken (literally). Kartik stopped caring about bumps and pot-holes after a while. The end result was we were at Chidiyamore by 3.30pm. A quick gulp of water and 2 packets of biscuits later, we hit the road to Bediyabet. The road to Bediyabet was wider and considering it was a mere 20 kms from Chidiyamore we were there in no time. The Hanuman Mandir at Bediyabet is an exotic location. Firstly, the temple is tiny. Secondly, the temple has a history. And finally, the temple compound has bells! Of every conceivable shape and size. Tiny ones to extremely mammoth ones. The lighter ones chime and ring in strong wind and it was a pretty musical experience.
The Hanuman Mandir in Bediyabet is famed and devotes usually hang bells after their wishes are fulfilled. (That explains the numerous bells at the place). The temple is small and the idol is even smaller. History says during the 1972 war, the Indian soldiers established the idol in Pakistan but brought it back to India after the war. It was to be installed in Khavda but during an overnight stay at Bediyabet, the idol stuck itself firmly to the ground and wouldn’t be budged. The temple was built soon after. The International Border is 3 kms from Bediyabet. The place is much more beautiful than the one at Vighakote and is pretty windy. We finally saw 2 guys on a bike on the way back. Bediyabet is reportedly popular temple and lots of pilgrims throng the place.
The ride back to Chidiyamore and subsequently to the India bridge checkpoint was a lovely one. With the setting sun, the empty road looked stellar. We signed out in the register at Chidiyamore and India Bridge. After a fun chat with the BSF personnel at the India bridge check point who enquired how it was, it was time to head back to Civilization.
A few afterthoughts here…. Having been to the BSF camp at Khardung-la in Early January and now, the Vighakote and Bediyabet stations, I have found the BSF personnel to be an awesome lot. They are extremely down to warmth, are super cordial to tourists and always maintain a cheerful demeanor irrespective of the rigors of their job. I have been mightily impressed by their hospitality at the camp at Khardung-la; similarly at Vighakote. You sirs, have my salute!
Good roads are here again! The ride to the Bhirandiyara Check post passed without incident and we decide to crash in the Bhungas at the Great White desert - RanaKandi (Mr. Kamran (+91 9426435898)) (The place we stayed at on Day 2 during our visit to the White Desert). The Rann Festival was still on.
The rattler maintains a fond place in our memories. What a performance! You sir, just floored us!
The Rann of Kutch tour ended with the Vighakote odyssey and we wrapped it up with the night visit to the Great white desert. And the Turbaned Amitabh Bacchan was right. “Kuch din toh Gujaro Gujarat mein….”
Till next time…