Escaping the winter chill, on our exploration we head our wheels to Gujarat. The colourful, vibrant city has always been the favourite haunt station and the Kutch festival promised us even more. Our drive begins a day after the new year dawns, as the fog was less intense we took up to our seats around 6 in the morning. It was a cool drive, and the roads were fantastic so dint pinch shelling out 100s and 500s at the toll booths. A long 12 hours drive and we reachPalanpur.
Not much to see here it was a stop over for our onward journey the next day to Bhuj. Not much hotels around and we checked into Hotel Cappal, its a ok place for a night over. It has a veg restaurant attracting Punjabi and Chinese food lovers. The evening we were welcomed to a restaurant teeming with people much to our surprise. We didn't find the food much exiciting to quote, could be it is one of the best in Palanpur town.
The next day we took the 350 kms journey to Bhuj. Again a endless list of tolls but feasted the fantastic roads. Inbetween we see migratory birds fishing in small and larger ponds, birds flying high in formations, barren land with no villages around, no good dhabas to sit for a cup of tea. We had a sweet breakfast in a small dhaba who served us idli much to our surprise but could not gulp it down with the sweet sambar. We enquire for other options and he looks at us surprisingly, turning his head left right "No" "No". The tea was too sweet and so the dhaba is carefully placed in our sweet memory. The last stretches approaching Bhuj are in a bad shape and by lunch time we hit the Bhuj city.
Our booking confirmed in Hotel KBN we checked in for rest. The most attractive part of the hotel is the restaurant designed as an airplane. Beautifully and aesthetically done it gives you the real feeling of having food in a flight. Rooms are good and the service is excellent. I would recommend this hotel to all those planning to visit Bhuj.
Around 4.00 we hire a auto and take a tour of Bhuj city. The auto driver was our navigator as well as guide. Being a small place we just took 2 1/2 hours to see Aaina mahal, Swami Narayan temple, Pragmahal Palace, museum, Hamirsar lake, Cenotaphs near Hamirsar lake, Bhujiyo Hill, Sharad Baug Palace etc. The Hall of Mirrors in the Aina Mahal is worth seeing and the bell tower of Prag mahal.
The palace lies in a dilapidated condition and urgently requires maintenance. The negligence or the less popularity of the place, is responsible for its present condition am not able to guess. A fozilised tree trunk around 2 crore years old is kept in the corner of the room to be touched and stamped by curious visitors. The stuffed remains of animals are stinking and near decay. The bell tower can be accessed by a steep flight of steps to see the clock tower functions, although its no longer working. There are quiet a lot of items on display since the royal times - the utensils, chairs, tables, chandeliers, paintings, furniture, artifacts etc. 2000-year-old inscriptions, artifacts and coins as old as the Indus valley civilization can be seen in the Kutch museum. The 2nd floor has the handicrafts on display. Photography is allowed on payment of Rs 100/-.
The Hamirsar Lake had a few migratory birds like cranes and spoonbills hence had a good time clicking a few shots by the lake. The Swami narayan temple should not be missed for the intricate marble carvings.
The Ramkund is a square stepwell which has sculptures portraying Ramayana, Lord Ram, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman, as well as the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu along the walls. There is a temple also here. The markets are quite alive with all types of local handicrafts and art work, pick up jat embroidery works, rabari embroidery, wood carving and silver jewellery. The markets offer good bargains so try your skills. I picked a few bandhej sarees, printed sheets and some handicrafts.
The eve we strolled about the market to try the Dabeli. It is made up of boiled potatoes, spiced with special masalas, served inside a butter roasted pav with roasted peanuts and pomegranates garnish. It went well with a glass of fresh juice.
The next day our trip was to Kala Dunger, see India bridge and then White Rann of Kutch, if time permits visit Chaari dund.
We cross the Tropic of Cancer and drive through deserted roads, with a glimmer of handicraft banners and shops here and there we reach Khavda. There we keep asking the locals for the way to Kala Dungar and before we question their hands point to the direction mechanically. Kala Dungar was our stop to watch the great Rann of Kutch extend before us. The flamingo city and Dholaira are said to be visible according to the map. The Duttatreya temple is also located here. From the front of the temple on the opposite side white foxes are said come to eat the prasad/food served for them. They are visible as they come in flocks 30 and more. The temple also offers food, so dont miss if you are around at the meal time.
We then head to India bridge which is around 20 mins from here. The roads climbing down Kala Dungar is too narrow, so we had to stop to give way to the ascending vehicles. The bridge at India gate is controlled by BSF. We require prior permission for entry. Since we could not, we enquired what was further - Dharmsala was the BSF headquarters and another 70 kms more takes you to the last BSF post where the Pakistani post is visible.
Drive back to see the Kutch festival and we head further to see the white sands of the Rann of Kutch. The salt beds are spread acres till visibility reaches. Prior permission is required to enter and tickets are to be taken before entry. Took some photographs, walking around and proceeded to Chari dund.
A board says way to Chari dhand 60 kms and we turn our beast in the direction. Villages and fields past we see ourselves crossing marshy lands, at times we felt we were lost, asking the local villagers we finally make it to Loria and then turn right to Wang village. Inside the village we cross water tanks, a school and take a kutcha road which takes you to a open land known as the Banni grasslands. It is a seasonal desert wetland and we could see tracks of vehicles but could not track which direction to go to reach the lake. A localite asked us to look for the watch tower which brings us near the water body. The place is a treat with nearly two lakh migratory and endangered species of birds. We were lucky enough to spot flamingoes, common cranes, painted storks, spoonbills, chinkara, camels, nilgai and many more birds.
We were too tired by the time we were back. Had dinner and went to sleep. The thali at Hotel Annapurna near the bus station is value for money. Taste the real Kutchi food here. We pick up our thali contents and have our favourites right in front of us, so no wastage and no cribbing. The concept was enjoyed by everyone and we ate our hearts fill. The next day we begin our onward journey to Mumbai.