Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Kutch

(If you’re reading this to plan a trip to Kutch go straight to the bottom. If you have time read the entire trip story, read on. This time instead of putting up pictures, i've put up a video with all of them back to back. That too, is after the entire story)

Epilogue

I knew this would be one hell of a trip, the moment I missed my train.

Flashback time. On Wednesday, 7th December night, 0050 hrs, I had to catch my train from Vasai Road, on the outskirts of Mumbai. So I left from work by a good 2230 hrs and reached the station at 2340 hrs. Which meant I had a good one hour and 10 minutes for my train. I spent another 40 minutes walking around the station and having a quick dinner.

I was at the station by 00:13. I headed to the ticket counter and enquired about the train to Bhuj. I got the shock of my life when he mocked me and said I was late, by a good 24 hours. I was dumbstruck. It was one of those moments you wished your head came with an automatic pop up blocker. Thoughts wouldn’t stop popping out of my mind. “How hard will my roommate laugh when i return?” “How will my colleagues ridicule me?” “Do I book the train for tomorrow” “Do I go to office tomorrow?” Luckily I knew the answer to the last question. I was not going to office for sure, I was on leave for 2 days, followed by a 2 day weekend.

So now I had to think fast. The only thing i could think of was heading home. So without wasting a a minute, I asked the man at the counter to give me a ticket to Mahim. He looked at me with a smirk and pointed to a train two platforms away from us and said “Wo last train jarahi hai”, it’s leaving. I couldn’t get a ticket. Even worse, I couldn’t hop on to the last train.

Now I was clueless and stuck at Vasai Road. I never thought I could ever get stuck in such a way in or around Mumbai. Moreover the area was not even slightly familiar. The nearest person I knew was a colleague who lived in Bhyander. I had no idea about the distance between both the places but I knew they weren’t many stations apart. So I called Madhav and told him the entire story. He told me to catch an auto and come over. He told me the rickshaw wallas would charge exorbitant rates but don’t pay anything more than Rs. 250-300. But to my dismay, or should I say luck, the best bargain I could get was Rs. 500. I refused to go. I could kill 3 hours in the station and take the first train to Mahim. I called Madhav and told him that I wouldn’t come over. He agreed to my decision and added that he was about to call me and tell me to do the same. The route is not all that safe, he added.

So I was just passing my time at the station, when I hit upon the idea of going to the platform meant for outstation trains. From there, I could get a train for a nearer station like Mumbai Central or CST. So I walk down that platform and there were many people over there, which made me feel better at the wee hour of the night. Some were sitting on their luggage, some lying down on benches while some were just walking up and down like me. After walking down the platform for a while, I pass an approachable looking man sitting alone on a bench. He would’ve been my father’s age. So I thought I could strike a conversation with him. I told him that i missed my last train. He suggested I go to Virar, the next stop (there was still a train or two left for Virar). He said that there was a better chance of trains coming from outside Mumbai would stop at Virar. I nodded and thought against it. Whiling 3 hours at the same station sounded like a better idea.

So out of courtesy, I asked him where he was headed. Dehradun, he said. He said he was catching the Dehradun Express that went via Baroda. He had no obligation or need to mention Baroda at that point. I didn’t even tell him that I was headed to Kutch. But then, I guess it’s that thing they say about everything having a reason.

So the moment, he said Baroda, a spark lit up in my mind. I turned around and asked him, ‘How about I go to Baroda instead? Anyway, I was planning to go to Kutch.’ And that man, being the rockstar he was, nonchalantly added that the general compartment would not be as crowded.

The train was coming in 10 minutes, which left me with no time to get a ticket. I thought I had enough to pay the fine, in case I get caught. So 10 minutes later, I hopped on to the general class. It was slightly crowded. I had enough place to put my bag on the ground and sit on it. I even had the side of a berth to lean on. It was going well until a few stops later when a large chunk of people got off. After that, I got a proper seat. I slept intermittently as there were idiots who, out of nowhere would come and sit on my foot or smash my face with their bags. So with a fair amount of sleep, I reach Baroda at 6 in the morning.

I then booked a 630 pm sleeper bus for Bhuj which would reach the next morning around 630 am. So with a good 12 hours to spend in Baroda, I would watch the Dirty Picture, walk out somewhere in between (What an intolerable overtly loquacious overkill of verbally constipated dialogues. Phew!), surfing the net, breaking the strap of my bag, getting it repaired, going to Kamati Gardens, Lakshmi Vilas Palace and then spending another few hours in the mall again, eating, napping and watching Sehwag score his double century.

Kamati Garden is this centrally located garden which has a museum and a tiny zoo in it too. I didn’t go to the museum because I believe museums are meant for L K Advani to feel nostalgic. And to my dismay, the zoo was shut, being a Thursday. Nonetheless, I could catch a glimpse of the animals from across the walls which weren’t too high. They had a few deers, monkeys, peacocks and crocodiles who were playing statue and ended up taking the game too seriously. From there I went to Lakshmi Vilas Palace, where the royal family still lives. The entry was Rs.150 and the man at the gate didn’t have change for Rs.500, so I spent the rest of the time at the Seven Seas mall and then went off to catch my bus at 630 pm. It left by around 7 pm.

KUTCH

Friday, 9th December, I reach Bhuj at around 7 am. I had been planning the trip for a long time and finally I was there on a full moon weekend. This weekend however, also had a lunar eclipse to offer. The time I had in time to do my research on Kutch before my journey was very limited, but then, so was the information on the internet. But then, a friend, Vinit, helped me out with his friend’s father’s number, who had been in Kutch for quite a while and he knew the place inside out. I was in constant touch with him over the phone. So any time in doubt there, I would just call Mr. Ayyagiri.

For the trip, all I had figured out was that I had to cover Dhordo, the white ran and Kalo Dungar, the black hill. Oops! That just sounded like a dialogue from the Dirty Picture. That apart, I also planned to visit the Mandvi beach, if time permitted me. I had also found out about a place called Lakhpat which was close to the desert, known for a fort and a gurudwara.

So after having tea and loitering around for a while, I reached the bus terminal and enquired about the bus to Dhordo. They said it would leave at 230 pm. It was just 830 then. So I asked them about Mandvi and they pointed to a bus that was leaving and told me to catch it. I hopped on and was on my way to one of the most famous beaches in Gujarat, 50 kms from Bhuj. The roads were nice and unwinding with hills and the desert on both sides. It made for a decent view. Now here’s one thing I learnt early on the trip. Kutchis look at cameras like they are UFOs. They can’t stop staring at cameras and you can’t decipher the look on their face while they do so. Nonetheless, I kept clicking pictures as the day was slowly getting warmer.

I knew I was close the beach when I saw huge boat skeletons. The huge structures made out of wood, anywhere in Gujarat are a clear indication that you’re close to water. At around 1030, I was at the Mandvi Beach Bus Stop. From the Bus stop, the beach is again a 10 minute ride on an autorickshaw. The auto fellow would take me for Rs. 30. En route he mentioned the Vijay Vilas Palace and asked me if I would like to see that as well. With just 2 hours to spend in Mandvi, I told him, I would tell him later, once I was done with the beach.

The beach was neat and the sea was pleasantly blue, especially for someone coming from Mumbai. It was slightly crowded and a good place for a family outing. There were camel rides, horse rides and speedboats. And it was also clean enough to take a swim. I had a serious crunch of time, so I just decided to take a stroll on the beach. Now here’s a very good thing about the Mandvi beach. It’s only a small stretch of the beach that’s crowded. There’s a long stretch with not a soul, just windmills in a straight line and sea gulls flying over the place. The sea gulls are a kind, you rarely find on Indian beaches. So I had a nice stroll away from the crowd. It was breezy and warm at the same time and the sea gulls made for some nice pictures. It was as though they’d learnt to pose for pictures.

As I was taking a stroll, a small handmade heap of sand caught my attention. It had a human face drawn on it. To one side was the om sign and to the other side there was a crescent and a star. Behind it, there was a tent. On entering the tent, there were many such heaps of sand and kids were creating art on them. Mostly, maps of India, Gujarat, religious signs. Depicting everything, we claim to teach our kids.

It was a competition organised for the Rann Utsav, the desert festival which takes place every year around December-January. Great, so I was right on time for the Rann Utsav. On enquiring further about the Utsav, I came to know that on that very night there would be a Carnival in Bhuj and the next day, the festival would be taking place at Dhordo. Which meant a change in plan. Dhordo would have to wait till the next day. But just then, I wondered if a ‘carnival’ in Bhuj would be worth it. So I called Mr. Ayyagiri for a second opinion. His immediate reaction to the word ‘Bhuj Carnival’ cleared all dilemma. “It is utter nonsense” he said. He added that if you’re a nature lover, it would be better to visit some place like Kalo Dungar. So the itinerary was set, Kalo Dungar today evening and Dhordo tomorrow. Before leaving, I would have a tender coconut. Despite hailing from the land of coconuts and having tried tender coconut from all over the country, I have to mention, that was the sweetest tender coconut ever. Period.

Done with the beach and with one hour to spare at Mandvi, I asked the autowala to take me to Vijay Vilas Palace. The palace had a Rajput architectural style and was built out of red sandstone. Photography was not allowed inside the palace. The palace was decent in terms of size, not very opulent for one. It had around four rooms, all of which seemed to be living rooms. One interesting thing inside the palace were a huge stuffed tiger and cheetah. You could see the skin was real as there were quite evident stitch marks all over the animals. They were majestic and scary.

On a wall at the palace, they had a family tree of the ruling Jadeja dynasty. Which brought many questions my mind. Where does the royal family stay now? What happened to these princely states after independence? And more importantly, will Ravindra Jadeja play in the next series? Outside the palace, I again had tender coconut. And I was convinced that the tender coconut at the beach was not a one off. I now swear by Mandvi tender coconuts and Bhuj Niro. That’s yet to come.

After the short stint at the Vijay Vilas, it was time to head to Bhuj to head to Kalo Dungar. As the autofellow stopped at the Mandvi bus stop, I asked him ‘kitna hua?’, how much, to which he replied ‘apni marzi se dedo’, it’s up to you. The irony however, was that later on he commanded Rs. 200 for the whole trip. I was in no mood to argue so I handed over Rs. 200 and walked to the bus. A two hour ride later I was in Bhuj.

At Bhuj, I was enquiring about the timings for buses to Kalo Dungar. Now Kalo Dungar in Gujarati or Kutchi I suppose, means black hill. It is the highest point in Kutch and is barely 50 kms away from Pakistan. And there are no direct buses from Bhuj to Kalo Dungar. You have to go to Khavda first and then arrange for something from there. From Khavda, Kalo Dungar is some 18 kms uphill. The next bus to Khavda was half an hour later. And as the name Khavda makes me hungry for some reason, I grabbed a samosa. The samosa tasted like nothing i’ve ever had in my life. And mostly, nothing close to a samosa. Nonetheless, no complaints. After the samosa, I would go to this tiny shop at the bus terminal where they had Amul chaas and lassi predominantly. So I asked the shopkeeper, an old man, for Chhas. He looked at me as though I had asked him to show me a diamond necklace. Despite giving a weird look, he dug out a chhaas from a fridge and handed one over. While giving the chhas, he just told me that there’s Niro. I had no idea what that was so I asked him to get me a Niro instead.

Niro is a drink that is extracted from the branch of date palms. It tastes somewhere between tender coconut and date syrup. It’s transparent in colour and slightly viscous. There was a board besides the shop that had tall claims about Niro. It said ‘Kutch ni amrit’, talked about its high vitamin content and that it was refreshing and highly beneficial. If you ask me for an honest opinion about the Niro there, I would say it’s much more. It has body coolers, mood enhancers, magical powers and everything that teleshopping products claim about their products. Bhuj bus stop Niro, very highly recommended.

Soon, I would be off on my bus to Khavda. The bus was filled with locals in colourful clothes. Kutch is very similar to Rajasthan from the outside. Their clothes are as colourful, their landscape is very similar and even the Kutchi dialect has the same distinct sounds as Rajasthani dialects, even though very different. I again took out my camera and again endured stares. But I still went on clicking pictures. As I was clicking a child’s picture, an old man lashed out at me. The only words I could understand were ‘Bachcha’ and ‘Photo’. So I smiled like an idiot, put my camera back in my pocket, said sorry and raised my hands in defense.

Soon, all of a sudden, the bus would stop and everybody would get off the bus. It was a tea break! The 60 km ride needed a tea break at 4 pm in the afternoon. A good 15 minute break! Impressive, indeed. I was thirsty so I went to the shop there and asked them if they had bottled water. To make things a bit more clear, I asked him for Bisleri. He replied saying he had Feni. Feni? How come? Isn’t that Goan alcohol? And more importantly, isn’t Gujarat a dry state? I told him ok, to check out the Feni. He pulled out a bottle of packaged water. The label read ‘F E N N Y teasted water’. Teasted is some sort of Kutchi filtration and water treatment, I suppose.

After another half hour, I was at Khavda. Now began the main task. Getting a vehicle to Kalo Dungar. The next bus would come the next day. There were jeeps however that could take you uphill to Kalo Dungar but I needed more people. Luckily there was a family who had come from Gandhidham who were also going that way. The family comprised of a man who seemed to be in his mid thirties and his parents. So we were 4 people now. We tried to hire a jeep. But the best bargain we could get was Rs.600. Which according to me was fine. I was ready to pay Rs.150 but the family wouldn’t pay more than Rs. 50 per head. So we had to let the jeep go.

Soon, another group of people would join in. Led by a lady who looked a bit funny. It wouldn’t be right to make fun of someone’s appearance but this lady gave me an impression that God was in a funny mood when he made her. She wasn’t a dwarf but she seemed to be hammered on her head. Same with her voice box. She came in with another four people. We were 9 people now and clearly no vehicle would take us. A man who was accompanying the lady claimed to have gone to some village inside and called for a jeep which would come in half an hour. The vehicle would charge 50 per head. It was already 530 and half an hour later would mean missing out on the sunset.

Even though I agreed, I went around seeing if there was any other way to make it up fast. I walked up to a man standing near a black scorpio and asked him if he was going to Kalo Dungar. Instead of answering me he asked me how many of us were there. I replied four of us (counting the family) or just me. He said he’d charge 700 for four and 200 for one. I quickly asked the family if they were ready for that amount even though I knew they would refuse. So I had to go alone. I bargained to Rs. 150 and was on my way to Kalo Dungar. Funny lady came and started arguing but the owner of the vehicle asked the driver to go ahead.

The road from Khavda to Kalo Dungar was beautiful. It was full of twists and turns, but no hairpins or steep bends. The road was heading eastwards and uphill. There was a good half hour left for sunset, it was still bright and the moon shone bright above the hill top. It was simply stunning. Not only was it bright, it was also huge, a size you don’t generally get to see. After crossing a so called magnetic point, the driver told me there was a magnetic point where a car automatically moves downhill. How thoughtful of him to tell me after it was over.

After less than half an hour, I was on top of the hill. The view was stunning. It was surrounded by hills, shrubs, deserts and water. I had heard that the White Rann was visible from Kalo Dungar but all i could see was the usual brown desert followed by water. Moreover it was getting dark so the view was not at its clearest. A few important things about Kalo Dungar is that it’s home to a Dattathreya temple, a deity only followed by a certain section of Kutchis. I didn’t enter the temple as I was carrying dust from all over the district with me. Mandvi was the southern tip and this was nearly the northern most point. And this was hardly 50 kms from Pakistan. So there was a BSF base adjacent to the temple.

The view from the sunset point was beautiful. Once the sun started sinking and touched the horizon, it was in a hurry. It was as though it asked the diametrically opposite moon to relieve it of its duties and rushed home. The drama was accentuated by the sound of drums and bells coming from the temple. It looked like the sinking sun was moving to the pace of the drums.

So to give a better description of Kalo Dungar, the highest point is a view point. 50 m downhill is the temple. Besides the road from the view point to the temple is the BSF base. All of these things were to the western side of the hill. To the eastern side, there was a stage at the same level as the temple. Downhill, on the eastern side there are rooms, a big veranda in front of the rooms, a big hall and an open space above the hall, meant for serving food.

So once the sun set, the action shifted to the stage on the Eastern side. Behind the stage at a distance, was a round cement surface where the temple saints feed the jackals every evening after sun set. They’d kept food there for a long time but none of the jackals turned up. After a while, when it was very dark, they showed us some dark figures on that round cement surface. They said there were two jackals a few dogs and cows. And I believed them.

I would then spend a good amount of time walking around the hill. It was windy and chilly and just perfect. I enquired for a room but all the rooms were taken. They however told me that there was a hall where they would provide us with mattresses and pillows for the night. That sounded wonderful, except for the fact that they pronounced it as ‘hole’. So I had a place to sleep at night but I was sure I wouldn’t. I was all set for a nice tête-à-tête with nature.

As I was loitering around, soon the family that was there at Khavda also came. To their bad luck, the sun had already set. We would talk there for a while. They said someone they knew was driving to Kalo Dungar. So they got a lift and left the funny lady there. Dirty Picture, please! The son of the family asked me if they had missed anything and for some reason, I couldn’t resist the urge to be honest. Even though the man was 35 +, he sounded 5+ when he said that he had asked ‘Puppa’ and Mummy to leave earlier. If he had made a puppy face, I would’ve stood there fighting tears. We then parted ways. I went near the temple and they would roam around other areas of the hill.

A while later, something not so pleasant happened. I came face to face with funny lady. She started screaming at me, squeaking rather. You know those times when you’re happy you don’t know a certain language. I had that kind of a moment as the lady would go on with her Gujarati arguments. I countered that with a blank expression and an incomprehensible nod. She got frustrated and walked off in a while.

Soon, I would again meet the family at the veranda outside the rooms. They informed me that they had kept their bags inside the hall and had got mattresses for themselves. They asked me to go and place my bag next to theirs. Very nice of them, indeed! I also returned the favour by warning them about funny lady. We would soon have dinner at the open space above the hall. Once we were done with dinner, the family would retire in the hall while I sat there alone in the veranda.

It was the best time to talk to myself. Suddenly there was a power cut. I was sitting alone there on the moonlit veranda. I could hear crickets all over the hill. And in the background, old people were singing bhajans in their rooms. I was suddenly transported 20 years back in time when I had experienced the same thing while playing in the moonlight at my hometown, one vacation. Nostalgia, was the last thing I thought I would feel on the trip. But it was beautiful, nevertheless. I was thinking of spending the whole night sitting on the bench. But in one hour I was out of there. I would spend the next hour speaking to people at the canteen near the temple.

I struck a conversation with the canteen owners and the BSF jawans over there. It was really nice getting to know the brave people who make our lives secure. They were having a ball at Kalo Dungar. With the kind of postings they get, speaking to people, moderate weather conditions and talking to their loved ones over the phone was a luxury. From places where wild animals could attack them any time to places where there’s no sign of vegetation, their lives is anything but easy. They told me that the entire area came under them because of its proximity to the border and that they were on the hill while a few other of our jawans were at the border, on the Rann.

Apart from talking to the BSF jawans, I also went around enquiring about the salt desert and the white Rann. One thing you must know about Kutchis and the White Rann, The White Rann is like God. Everyone has his own definition and sometimes you would also feel no one has even seen it. While someone told me I had to go to Dhordo, someone else told me I had to go to Kandla near Gandhidham. Someone else would tell me to go to another district altogether. Anyways, I would have to look into all that the next day.

Despite my plans of staying up all night, by 1030, sleep took its toll over me. I went back to the hall and the last thing I remember was pulling up my bedsheet. I had the best sleep in a long time. The next morning when I woke up at 6, I was surprised to see that the lights were on. The surprising part is that I’m a light sleeper who can’t sleep when the lights are on. Dirty Picture, I’m serious this time!

After an hour, I was up at 7 and the sun would soon be on its way. I went to the west to see, the moon was sinking into the horizon! The sun and moon were again diametrically opposite like last night. What was even more suprising was that the moon was sinking. I would say, more like a moonset. It was even orangish in colour. Something I had never seen before. I wondered if it was a phenomenon that preceded the coming lunar eclipse that was to happen that evening.

I would spend the next half hour clicking the sunrise and saying my goodbye to all the nice people I had met there. The son of the family also came up to me at the last moment and thanked me for some reason, We’ll meet soon, he added. And that’s when we introduced ourselves. Mithilesh, he said.

Now to go downhill, I had to wait for the next vehicle which I had no idea about. So I decided to walk downhill. The journey was absolute bliss. I could see the hills better as the sun started to shine brighter. While I walked I would suddenly stop in between to experience absolute silence. And then start walking again with the sound of my bag’s clinking zipper and the sounds of my slippers. After a while, I would come across a board with a jackal that read ‘Van Vibhag’, forest department and a lot of Gujarati smeared across the board. As if that wasn’t good enough, after a while, there was another similar board. This time, the board had the picture of a cheetah. After I was 3 kms down, a scorpio would come but would refuse to give me a lift. I continued walking and there at a distance, I could see the white Rann, finally! I had looked in that direction from the top of the hill, the previous evening but it was probably too dark to spot it. I had finally seen what I came to see. And now I would see it even closer.

I still enjoyed walking downhill. Soon, vehicles would start coming uphill. And after walking down another two kms, I saw a few people walking uphill too. To reach Kalo Dungar, I might have taken a vehicle for the last 15 kms but these were people who came walking a good 90 kms from Bhuj. There were many others like them. While I stood there talking to them, a vehicle going downhill stopped and gave me a ride to Khavda. The driver was what one would call an absolute cynic. He went on ranting about Kutch and that there was nothing in Kutch. He then would talk about Modi wasting money over tourism. He later on admitted that it got jobs, but would again call it a colossal waste. “Yeh kya Amitabh Bachchan bolta hai Kutch nahi dekha to kuchch nahi dekha? Kuchch bhi nahi hai idhar” he went on. Even though he was a cynic, he was smiling throughout the ride, so I had no complaints. Except for that one time when he said its better to go to Mumbai or Delhi than come down to Kutch. Anyways, I handed him over a 50 rupee note which he downright refused. I thanked him and got down at Khavda.

From Khavda, I would now catch a bus to the checkpost. Now to go to Dhordo, you need a pass which you could get from the checkpost there. You just need your id proof and at a minimal charge, you can get your pass. But once I reached there and went to the checkpost, I was declined a pass. They were not issuing passes for the next two days because the chief minister, Narendra Modi was visiting the Rann Utsav. The last time I felt so low and dejected was at the Vasai Road station.

So I went and started talking to one of the policemen there. He told me there was nothing that could be done about the situation. Just then, the place Lakhpat came to mind. I asked him about Lakhpat and he told me that it’s much better than Dhordo. He told me there’s a fort, a gurudwara, a naval camp, Narayan Sarovar lake and a lot more over there. He told me I won’t be in the Rann of Kutch but I could see it from there and that I required no permission for it. So I just called Mr. Ayyagiri at that moment and told him the situation. He told me that Lakhpat would be a very good option. He also added that there was a Koteshwar temple close to the border which was worth seeing. So the next stop was Lakhpat

It was 1030 then. From the checkpost, Bhuj was 2 hours away and from there, Lakhpat was 3 hours away. Which meant I could reach there by around 5 or so. I caught the next bus to Bhuj and headed for a nice refreshing glass of Niro. The old man selling Niro recognised me and said ‘Niro bau special chhe!’ with a smile. I couldn’t agree more. I got a bus for Lakhpat which would leave at around 1.

I was on the bus and the conductor told me to take a ticket of ‘Nakhatrana’ instead. He told me the bus took a very long route and taking a direct bus from Nakhatrana would be a better option. So I got down at Nakhatrana which at around 230. As I asked the people there about a bus to Nakhatrana, they pointed to the bus I got down from. I told them what had happened. They said yes, it takes a longer route but it would’ve been a better option. So they adviced me to take another bus for ‘Mata na Math’ or ‘Mata ka math’ as it is called in hindi. Math is not pronounced like math in mathematics, it’s pronounced like math in no if, no bhatt, only math! And to answer your question, I am not ashamed of my sense of humour. And now that I’ve acknowledged my horrendous sense of humour here’s another one. If you call a person from Kutch, a Kutchi. What would you call a person from Lakhpat?

So in another hour I would be at Mata ka Math. One amazing thing about Mata ka Math is the beggars. They are so determined and strong willed that they will block your way and won’t take no for an answer. So dodging beggars, I would finally get a jeep to Narayan Sarovar. They told me Lakhpat was not so far from there and that there would be many options from there. So I’m off to Narayan Sarovar, which is locally called Nasarovar.

I reach there at 530 and grab a cup of tea and ask the chaiwala about the next bus to Lakhpat. I get another shock when he says there’s nothing until tomorrow morning. A jeep driver walked up to me and said the only option you have is taking a private vehicle. He would drive me to Lakhpat for Rs. 700. I found the amount too high. The jeep person added that there was no other way I could reach Lakhpat. Meanwhile he said he would take me to Koteshwar temple. Which was 2 kms from there. He said the ride would cost Rs. 60 but as there was someone already waiting to go there, he would take us both there for Rs. 30 per head and bring us back. I instantly agreed.

Narayan Sarovar is a lake situated at the western most part of the Kutch. Perhaps one of the western most parts of India. Next to it, the Koteshwar Temple is situated on the Kori Creek which, like Kalo Dungar is very close to Pakistan. The Koteshwar Temple had two Shiv Temples and like most temples in Gujarat, they had a nice ‘akshardham-like’ structure with beautiful carving. It was amazing how every region close to the border had to have a temple. It was as if the rulers back in the days had seen the film border where Suniel Shetty says ‘Gaaon barbaad kardiya par Maa ke mandir ko chhoo nahi paaye’ and said, ok, let’s make more temples.

The view at Koteshwar was beautiful. The sea had receded and all that was left for a long distance was mud. There was a sea stuck in the mud and house out of nowhere was also placed in the middle of the mud. We had only half an hour to spend in Koteshwar, which we nicely spent. The other man who accompanied me to Koteshwar meanwhile adviced me not to drive to Lakhpat for Rs. 700. He said that he would be leaving for Mata ka Math soon. I could get down at a place called Gatholi on that bus and get something for Lakhpat from there. So I was sure of what I had to do now. Go to Gatholi and then Lakhpat and catch the Lunar Eclipse from there.

As we reached Narayan Sarovar back from Koteshwar, it was 6 pm. The bus to Mata ka Math was at 630 pm. So we whiled time away and took pictures of the sunset. At the same time, the eclipse had just started. The moon looked as though a part of it was blocked by smoke. It had a very unordinary shape. In a few minutes, the shape would smoothen out and the moon would slowly start getting eclipsed. It was like a half moon and crescent moon with the rest of the moon appearing in a faint pink colour. In a while the crescent reduced to a small patch of light. It looked as though someone was flashing a torch from the other end. The moment it got completely eclipsed, it was as though the 2 dimensional moon we had been seeing all these years suddenly became 3 dimensional.

It was already 7 and the bus was yet to come. Soon the bus would come at 715 and the bus driver would run off to get some tea wasting another 15 minutes. When the bus didn’t come by 7, I had decided to spend the night at Narayan Sarovar. I didn’t see a point in going to some Ghatoli and being stuck over there at night, in case I didn’t get transport to Lakhpat. As it is, I already lost any faith whatsoever in the local transport there and people’s reassurance of getting ‘options’ from any given area. So I had decided to take the bus for Lakhpat at 530 am, the next morning.

So I booked a room at Narayan Sarovar. It costed me Rs. 200 but it was big enough to fetch Rs. 20,000 a month in Mumbai. It didn’t have a TV, else it could be compared to any room you get elsewhere for nearly Rs. 700 a night. All in all, fantastic deal. It was run by a religious trust and it would already be evident that profit is not their main goal. So once I booked my room, I sat in the open watching the lunar eclipse. While I sat there awestruck, people were going around doing their own thing as though they see a lunar eclipse every day.

The air was slowly getting chillier at night and I had a nice kadhi and khichdi for dinner and retired for the night. And once the eclipse was over, I had a shower too. Yes I am superstitious. But then, what’s the harm in being superstitious if it calls for a nice shower in warm water. I would soon doze off after the shower. I needed an early start.

The next day, I would wake up at 4 am, get ready and reach the bus stop at 515 for the Lakpat bus. And then, the biggest disappointment of the journey awaited me. The bus had left way before time. Now trying to reach Lakhpat and then reaching Bhuj would was too big a risk to take. And even though there was enough time for the train, there was no way, I could take the risk of missing another train.

I saw the sunrise there at the lake. It was beautiful with chirping birds and quacking ducks. After clicking a good sunrise, I would take the next bus to Bhuj, have another glass of Niro there, chat a while with the Kaka selling Niro, while time surfing the net and watching a movie and by the next morning, I would be in Maharashtra.

So in short I didn’t make it to the salt desert, I didn’t click pictures of colourful people there and the only hut I saw was the police check post. But then, travelling is not just about the destination, it’s about the journey. And things you say to console yourself. And I’m thankful to Kutch for giving me one of the most eventful trips till date.

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Places in Kutch

Dhordo – White Rann, the salt desert. Direct bus from Bhuj – 86 km

Hodko – A village with mud huts, place made for rural tourism. Direct bus from Bhuj, on the same route as Dhordo, 11 kms before Dhordo.

From Bhuj to Dhordo, you have to cross a check post for your pass to visit the White Rann. You get the pass on showing your id proof and paying a nominal fee. Dhordo and Hodko are to the left from the check post and if you go straight, you reach Khavda. Keep going straight, you’ll reach Kalo Dungar.

Kalo Dungar – highest point in Kutch. Close to Hodko. No direct bus from Bhuj, you have to go to Khavda first.

Mandvi – Awesome beach, highly recommended. Incredibly sweet tender coconuts.

Another stretch on the west that you could explore includes Lakhpat, Narayan Sarovar and Koteshwar temple. 3-4 hours from Bhuj.

Note: There’s public transport to anywhere but timings and availability are not reliable. It’s always better to hire your own vehicle. And whatever you do, do not leave Bhuj without having Niro at the Bus Terminal