When we stepped onto the vast White desert of Kutch, the moment was worth the long trip to the western state of Gujarat; the view was the most different I’ve felt in all of my travels. Quite excitedly we ran towards the not-crowded end of the Rann where the salt was whiter than the one we were standing on. The unparalleled joy was child-like, and naturally, we even tasted the salt just for the kicks. This was on the penultimate day of our Gujarat Trip. And what a way to put an end to it all.
So, how did we reach there? What all we did before and after? Here’s the travelogue of my Gujarat Trip.
We landed in Ahmedabad on a Thursday morning and after a brief rest at a nearby hotel, headed to explore the city.
First Stop: Sabarmati Ashram
Having skipped the breakfast, we headed straight to the nearby Restaurant, opposite to the Ashram, Toran Restaurant. We planned to have the lavish Gujarati Thali, and the place had that on the menu. Although, what we ate there didn’t quite meet our expectations.
However, the food was excellent, and we headed to the Lal Darwaza area where the famous Siddi Sayyied Mosque is.
Second Stop: Siddi Sayyied Mosque
The Mosque is renowned for the ‘Jali’ placed in the mosque, considered as the de facto symbol for the Ahmedabad city. The mosque isn’t huge and not in the best of condition as well. We were lucky enough to reach at Zohar and hence offered prayers as well.
The mosque has intricated and beautifully carved stone windows or jalis on its arches. The mosque was incomplete before the Mughals invaded Gujarat and hence this jali isn’t visible on all the windows.
Third Stop: Finding the Jhoolta Minar
From here, we walked towards the nearby market, just around the corner, to meet a sea of people shopping. We walked for more than two km to reach the Jhulta Minar. It was January, and yet the heat was starting to get to our head. The Jhulta Minar is next to the Railway station, and surprisingly no one around the place knew how to reach the Minar area. Although we could see the Minar dangling out barely meters away from us, we weren’t able to locate the path to its entrance. The Minar is next to the railway station, in the hustle bustle of the market. We then thought it was best to head to our hotel before the night’s journey to Bhuj.
Our Train tickets were on the waiting list and as luck would have it, got stuck at WL1/2/3! We decided to head to the bus depot at Paldia to take a bus for the overnight journey but before that decided to indulge in some street food.
Kulchas, Pav Bhaji, Dhokla was tasted from the market and wrapped up by some fantastic Rabdi (too Good)!
Landing in a small town before sunrise gives off a completely different vibe. We witnessed the same when our bus arrived. Even in the deserted bus stand with a few Auto Rickshaws vying to get you to their hotel, one lone Chai stall was still serving tea.
The hotel we had booked was just a few meters away from the bus stop; however, our rooms weren’t ready since we arrived early. Royal Guest House is where we stayed, and if you’re planning to stay over at Bhuj, this place is pretty cool. They even hooked up with a fantastic guide-cum-auto-driver who took us to Kutch and back, while making us experience the small villages in between as well. But more on that later.
If your day starts off with an amazing breakfast of Poha, what more can you ask for, right?
We headed to the nearby areas to explore the town.
First stop: Prag Mahal
Prag Mahal is a 19th Century palace in Bhuj, named after Rao Pragmalji who commissioned it. The palace is built in Italian Gothic architecture and red sandstone from Rajasthan.
The inside of the palace is an ad-hoc museum which gives you the feeling of an old haveli being cleaned up for the arrival of guests. The interiors speak of the lavish lifestyles of the kings before and provide a glimpse into their everyday life.
Second Stop: Aina Mahal
Next to Prag Mahal, in the same complex, is the Aina Mahal. The earthquake of Gujarat severely damaged the palace, and the ruins of the palace speak for themselves. A portion, undamaged one, now houses the museum. And it’s beautiful. You’re not allowed to photograph unless you’re willing to pay extra. However, we sneaked in a few photographs. The insides contain decorated corridors, a pleasure area for the Maharaja where dance performances happened. This is very similar to what the Mysore Palace has, and probably a lot of other similar palaces have, displaying the lavish lifestyles of the rulers of those times.
Outside Aina Mahal, there are handicraft shops to buy from the locals, just in case you’re interested.
It was Friday, and we offered prayers at the local mosque. The mosque had multiple pillars, unlike any other mosque I’ve been to. This can well perhaps be due to the severity of the earthquake. Just a guess though.
Third Stop: Umiyaji Dining Hall
Our quest to have the ultimate Gujarati thali finally ended at Umiyaji. If you’re in Bhuj, then this is a must-visit place for its amazing vegetarian offering. Oh, and the food is unlimited here. The owner roams around coordinating a busy gathering of people by arranging seats with a fantastic smile.
Tip: Do ensure you’re here before 3 PM to have their unlimited thali.
Fourth Stop: Bhuj Chattarthi
Pronouncing this place phonetically got us a few curious glances, but finally, we did end up at there. The board at the entrance says, ‘Open from Sunrise till Sunset’ and leads you to the ruins through a small park.
We just sat in the shade of the ruins while a few ‘Pre-wedding photoshoots’ adorned the other ruins and provided us some good entertainment.
Fifth Stop: Street Food
Heading back, we indulged in some street food in the Bhuj Market. From Dabelis to Pav Bhaji to some good ‘ol lemon soda. The street lights up with a flurry of stalls lined at the roadside. After stuffing ourselves up, we headed back to get some sleep to be ready for the big day. It was time for the Rann.
Rann of Kutch
Bhuj to Kutch is 100 kilometers, and we needed to start early morning to cover the villages leading up to the Rann as well.
So, we got ourselves an Auto Rickshaw to take us there. Yes! All it cost us was 2200 INR.
Along with the ride, we got an amazing guide who ensured that we know everything about the kutch way of life. It was a little challenging to get used to his Kutchi accent at first, but we talked throughout the trip about Kutch, the people, food habits, tourists that he regularly ferries around and why he stays in Kutch itself and not go anywhere else. He even told us as to when the JP Dutta movie, ‘Refugee’ was being shot how he was also part of it and Abhishek Bachchan even offered him to come over to Mumbai with him. Not sure how true is that, but talking seemed like it to be true.
First Stop: The Dabeli Breakfast
Before leaving Bhuj, we stopped at this roadside Dabeli Shop for fresh Dabelis to kick start our day and following it up with a cup of Chai.
And then we headed towards the Rann. The road gave us some impressive views of the barren lands as well as crops of Indigo and Pomegranate lined the roads, mud houses, people walking long distances by foot, under-constructed roads and small bridges, and lots of dust.
Second Stop: Nirona Village
We took a detour before heading towards the Rann by going to Nirona Village. This village has a few sets of families known for their artisanship.
Rogan Art is one such art form where castor oil is used to create pigments and painted on silk clothes.
Watching how seamlessly they create the art is wowsome. From pigments to the final art piece that it ends up into. We also got to see the design that gifted to Obama, created by these talented people. It was a dying art form, revived by this family along with a few others in the village and is slowly getting back the recognition it deserved.
We headed to another such family of iron-smiths who create iron bells.
The craftsmanship undoubtedly is what makes their artform more appealing along with the dedication with which they continue to put efforts into an age-old tradition. These iron bells can create music, ranging from SaReGaMa to a variety of tunes. Many of these bells also come attached with embroidered patches to add beauty to it.
Our next stop was at the doors of the artists who create colorful imagery on wood using clay. They showed us how they do it by painting clay on wooden utensils with so much detailing.
At the entrance, a group of women and girls sit in circles, selling many of these utensils as well as hand-made dolls.
We headed out towards Rann and before that treated ourselves with “Mava” at one of the roadside shops. You can find a lot of these lined along the roads and even eating little would feel like a mouthful. But it tastes so pure and amazing that I can still recall it even now.
Before heading to the Rann of Kutch, one must fill out papers due to its proximity to the Pakistani Border. Post the formality; we headed towards Kala Dungar or the Black Hill. On our way to the dungar, we came across people dressed in colorful Pathanis. I wanted to don one myself as we saw a myriad of colors splashed along with the Keffiyah. Bright and loud colors; leading the way to the Rann.
Third Stop: Kala Dungar
The hilly area is a magnetic field, and our driver even puts up a demonstration by letting the auto move on its own. The deserted road leading up the hill, while our auto criss-crossed its way up, made us feel like aliens out there in a different world. Also, glad that it was February, else roaming around this place in the summer would be no less than a punishment.
We rented two Camels to take us to the top and even added fancy turbans to our attire along with our rides.
Watching the border, some 80 km, from the hill is a peculiar feeling. Another country just a few kilometers away from where you’re standing. Wow!
Fourth Stop: Lunch
We headed back to have lunch at a place recommended by our guide-cum-driver and apparently this was the regular Gujarati food that people of this region eat.
The most uncomplicated food but very heartily served by the owner who was happy to talk to us and genuinely felt glad to have us there. We were told that we might not get good food over there near the white Rann and hence eat up as much as possible, which we did. And lots of buttermilk too.
Final Stop: The White Rann
As soon as we enter the gates, watching the white Rann was pure bliss. Excited like kids, we ran on the Rann.
You know that feeling of finding food that tastes nothing like what you’ve ever tasted? That feeling of discovering something new? Well, this white desert gave us that feeling. An entirely different view of finding a spot never experienced with your set of eyes.
From the sunshine shining back from the field of salt to watching the sun go down with its crimson light spread across, is a cherished feeling that’ll stay back. I’m told that watching the Rann under moonlight is even more amazing. However, we arrived on a no-moon time and couldn’t do that. Not complaining though. This gives another reason to come here again on a full moon night.
We Headed out from Rann of Kutch to Bhuj by night time and then again catching a bus back to Ahmedabad. Arrived early in the morning at Ahmedabad, to roam a little more around the town after a bit of rest at one of the cheap hotel around the Lal Bazaar area.
We did make one other fantastic food discovery for our breakfast in the form of Khaman and Dhoklas at the famous shop named “Das Khaman shop”.
One of the softest Khamans and Dhoklas, I’ve had ever. These were just amazing, and the variety on display was staggering. I wish there were time to try more of these.
After roaming around for a few more hours around the Siddi Sayyed Mosque and the nearby market, we had lunch at a local non-veg restaurant. Our first non-veg meal in days!
It was their special Biriyani which looked different and had something new to offer. Not the best of biriyani we’ve had but then we’re always ready to try something different.
To kill time and rest peacefully, we headed back to the Sabarmati Ashram where the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was due for a visit the very next day, and hence preparations were in full swing.
Sitting on the riverfront, taking in the peacefulness that the ashram had to offer, is how I would’ve liked this amazing Gujarat trip to have ended. And that’s how it did.
Gujarat was a fantastic experience. From its incredible vegetarian food to its helpful people, the place is impressive. There’s so much more to Gujarat than just the places I visited, but getting a glimpse of the culture and the people, with only this, is a good feeling.