Kutch and Kathiawar: A tryst with history


My flight to Bhuj from Mumbai is delayed by at least half an hour. This means that I am waiting at this terminal 1B of Mumbai's domestic airport, for almost 4 hours. Earlier I had left my home town Pune around 8.30 in the morning. For commuting to Mumbai, I had taken a state transport bus service, named as 'Shivneri.' This service is fairly punctual and extremely comfortable, and on any day, I would recommend it. The Bus had dropped me just opposite the airport terminal and I had no problems at all in reaching the airport. The waiting hall at terminal 1B, is quite huge and I kill time looking at the wares displayed in number of shops and a cafeteria, provided for the convenience of the passengers. The flight is finally announced and after some usual confusion, I manage to reach the aircraft. The aircraft is quite full and since this particular flight is designated as low cost, airline does not serve anything free, except for drinking water.

A journey to Kutch and Kathiwar can be truly said to be a tryst with history of Indian sub continent. Almost on every step, a visitor comes across, period markers on a time scale from prehistoric periods around 3500 BCE to years of India's independence struggle in twentieth century, and subsequent years of building modern industrialized India of later years. The region is blessed with such wide range of landscapes on a mega scale, that one feels amazed at the wondrous scenarios produced by mother nature.

The time is well past 5 in the evening, as our plane lands at Bhuj. The airport is quite huge and I see only one Indian air force MI 17 Helicopter standing on the tarmac. Even the arrival hall is quite large, considering the fact that only a couple of flights land here or take off from here, throughout the day. Since I had checked in very early, as expected, my bags arrive on the baggage belt after considerable delay. By the time I come out of the terminal, most of the people have already left. Very few vehicles can be seen now parked in the parking zone. Luckily, I get a taxi rather easily, which does not appear to be a good sign at all, because that means that I am going to get fleeced. In spite of that feeling, I take the taxi, because prospects of getting stranded at the airport unnerve me. The airport is just 3 KM from my hotel and I reach there within 10 minutes. My hunch, proves absolutely correct as the taxi driver claims Rs. 500 or US$ 10 for that distance from me. Reluctantly I pay the amount and walk to my room.

Later I decide to take a walk through the crowded street, which leads to the 'Hamisar lake.' This lake is the central point of this town and a short walk of about 15 minutes takes me there. To my surprise, there is almost no water in the lake. Apparently, rains have been very scanty this year and the lake has not been filled at all. The roads are crowded with unruly and undisciplined vehicular traffic. There are no footpaths and heaps of garbage lie everywhere. My first impressions of Bhuj are not exactly favourable. I return to the hotel.


I have planned to check out of the hotel at 7.30 AM to reach the spot near Bhuj railway station, where welcome center is supposed to have been erected by the organizers of the Rann or the desert camp, my destination for next couple of days. I find much to my resentment that the hotel room service is rather slow and it takes ages to get a cup of tea. I somehow manage to check out of the hotel only around 8 A.M. And reach the welcome center at Bhuj railway station by quarter past eight. I am all wrapped up in warm clothing as the weather is bitterly cold with biting morning breeze.

The scene at the welcome center is rather uninspiring with number of buses standing in haphazard fashion and heaps of baggage lying everywhere. I manage to enter a tent with a welcome sign and go to a counter. To my complete surprise, the staff at the counter, extremely courteous and helping, sees my papers and allots a tent to me and asks me to tag all my luggage pieces with that tent number with paper tags provided by him. He tells me to go outside, give the luggage to one of the bus attendants and get on board of the same bus. I come out and immediately I find a bus waiting for passengers. Within next 10 minutes our bus leaves for Dhordo, approximately 80 Km northwest of Bhuj. We take highway 45 going in northerly direction and pass the Bhuj airport on way. I can see number of jet fighters in their hangers with covers fully on. The landscape outside is quite unusual with patches of waste land and blackish green fields intermixed. I can even see small ponds, which I believe was the result of earlier week's rains. The fields mostly have standing crops of 'Erandi' or castor plant, Ricinus communis (Euphorbiaceae). The seeds yield castor oil, widely used in many applications such as cosmetics and lubricants. Between the field, there are large patches of wastelands with soil looking whitish because of the ground salts. Only 'Babhul' or Gum Arabic shrubs can grow here. As we proceed north, more wastelands appear on our sides with scattered fields seen only near about villages. Villages have round shaped houses with terracotta tiled conic roofs. Occasionally, I can also see some thatched roofs also of conic shape. These are known locally as 'Bhunga” and apparently can stand the earthquakes and storms rather well.

After travelling about an hour, we stop at a road side village known as 'Bhirandiyarni.” We now enter from here the 'Banni' or grasslands of Kutch. We leave the highway and turn left on a small single lane road. On both sides, there are forests of Babhul or Gum Arabic trees with grasses, which have all dried up by now. Kutch area produces large quantities of cow and buffalo milk, and I can see the reason as large number of cattle appear grazing on the grass lands. In another half an hour, bus comes to a halt. We have arrived.

The desert camp is a huge affair with hundreds of tents having all modern facilities, dining hall, recreation areas, a strip mall for shopping and an amphitheater. They even have WiFi in the tents. I go through procedural formalities like registration and receive my camp ID, food coupons and then walk leisurely to my tent. Surprisingly, my baggage has already reached my tent. I am advised to have my breakfast quickly as it is served only up to 10 AM. All the meals are served piping hot, in huge air conditioned dining halls. I have my breakfast of purely Gujarati food like Poha, Jalebi and Gathiya served with sweet spicy tea.

I have free time now, up to Lunch time. After that, we would be taken on a tour to see village craftsman’s fabric embroidery. I decide to spend my time in the shopping mall, buy a few odd things and return to my tent. 

I however end spending well over 2 hours in the strip mall, just amazed with colours and designs of the fabrics and beautiful workmanship of other artifacts. 

I return to my tent. All tents are very well equipped with two beds, a side table and a table with an air heater, water heating kettle, chairs and a modern washroom. I relax a little, have my lunch, again an all Gujarati food affair, and get ready to reach the bus parking area before 2 PM.

A large fleet of buses has been contracted by the organizers to facilitate transport of camp inhabitants and are available just outside the main gate. I board a bus and within next few minutes, there are enough people in the bus and we leave again on the same single lane road on which we had travelled to arrive at the camp. The bus joins highway 45 at 'Bhirandiyarni' but turns left to go in northerly direction. 
The weather has turned very hot now with afternoon sun blazing and scorching us. Soon, we arrive at a cluster of round shaped huts or 'Bhungas'. 

I get down and it becomes clear to me with just one glance, that this is not the real village of 'Bhirandiyarni,' which probably is located further up on the road. This is an exhibition cum sales counter of Kutch handicrafts. Yet, I have no complaints, as what I can see in these huts is, to put in mild words, simply breathtaking. I have never seen previously, such riot of colours and brilliant designs, woven on garments or on bed sheets. There are animals, birds, geometrical patterns, embroidered with a special stitch known as Kutch stitch. Small mirror are fixed on the garments with stitches woven all around them, which makes the garments shine, glitter and dazzle in the blazing sun. The villagers, selling the stuff, are all dressed with brightly coloured garments and headgear. The colours are rich, dark and bright, yet do not appear to be garish and gaudy at all. It is a feast for the eyes. This village visit is a sales gimmick no doubt, but a delightful one.
 I see a strange contraption in one of the huts. It is a small cupboard coated with mud, painted white and with a small door in the front. Above the cupboard, six earthen pots have been kept in two columns of 3 pots. The entire contraption decorated with small mirrors embedded in clay. This is the tribal refrigerator, The earthen pots are filled with water and eatables like milk and other food are kept in the small opening at the center provided with the door. In the hot conditions of summer, when temperatures often touch 50 degrees Celsius, this indigenous refrigerator is very useful. 

We move on to the next village called 'Hodko.' Slightly away from the village proper, a model village has been set up for visitors.The final bit of dusty road to this village goes through a Banni or grassland with dense Gum Arabic shrubs clustered around. This model village is more like a bollywood filmy set with all dwellings, spic and span, with polished doors and well decorated with artful drawings on the walls. 
Yet this is not a film set. People actually live in these huts. I see some lovable kids playing around the huts. I peep inside a hut. It is all neat and clean with household things arranged on shelves fixed on walls. There are some beautiful samples of Kutch mirror work in which small mirrors are embedded on white clay coated flat panels. The designs are mostly geometrical and these panels are usually fixed on the walls. There are lots of curios and other artifacts created by locals around for display. The visit to this model kind of village, is again a feast for eyes. My mind is filled with deep appreciation for creativity of these villagers.

It is almost evening, as we finish our visits to villages but instead of returning to the camp, we push on further to north east to a guest house, where evening Tea and biscuits have been arranged by the organizers. After refreshing ourselves, we get ready for the final and perhaps the grandest spectacle of the day; the white desert.

The Banni or grasslands of Kutch are spread around the northernmost livable lands of Kutch. Further to north, lies a huge desert, where there are no villages and no one lives. This desert, extending between 50 to 125 Km in North-South direction and more than 300 Km eastwards from the western seaboard of India is not an ordinary desert filled with sand dunes. It is special desert known as Rann. It gets filled up with few feet of sea water during Monsoon months every year and drains itself off in winter, creating marshlands and finally turns itself into a dry and harsh state in summer months, with flaky dry soil all over. Some patches of this vast desert, when the sea water drains off, retain vast layers of pure salt (Sodium Chloride) on the surface, creating almost a magical effort. These white stretches are known as White desert and I am on my way to this rare spectacle created by mother nature.

The bus stops and I get down and look ahead. In front of me, I can see a long bamboo barricade restricting entry only to pedestrians. No vehicles except camel carts are allowed further. Beyond the barricade I see a sea of humanity. Hundreds of people gather here on each day of winter months to watch the grand live show of sun setting down beyond a white horizon. Further away, almost on the horizon, I see a pure white band spread from west to east. That is my destination. The White desert.

I clear through the barricade. No plastic stuff like bottles or bags can be carried any further. The soil is greyish-brownish and very wet at some places. There are small puddles of salty water at many places. 
Just at the beginning of the white desert, a group of local artists have created a bamboo platform. A troupe of singers and musicians are singing folk songs of Kutch, pleasing to the ear, as most folk music always is. I get myself photographed with the troupe. 
As I trudge on further, the soil starts becoming dirty white and finally turns pure white. Now, in all directions, except for the one from where I have walked here, the land is pristine white, stretched right to the horizon. It appears that as if by magic, freak snow fall has occurred here. The sun is about 10 to 15 degrees above the horizon and bright sun light makes small puddles of water shine and dazzle with sparkling golden colour. It is an absolutely a divine sight, I probably would never forget it in my life time.

Time moves on. I take uncountable number of photographs of the surroundings. The Sun, now almost on the western horizon, is a bright ball of yellow and orange. I had never seen before, the sun so pure and divine. Towards east, I can spot the moon around 40 degrees above the horizon, already looking milky white. Finally, sun touches the horizon and in one instant all the puddles from my position to horizon, suddenly light up to golden orange. They appear like vast extensions of the sun behind them. In next few minute, the last few traces of the sun are all gone. Along with the sun, golden orange puddles of water also disappear.

I start walking back towards the bus. While walking, I suddenly realize that the ground around me has suddenly lighted up to a milky white colour. With the sun gone, not leaving even a small orange trace on the horizon, the moon has now started showing its own magic to mother earth. The White desert is now taking a brilliant white silvery hue. The effect is mesmerizing to say the least.

I walk back to the bus stand and return to camp. After a piping hot dinner, its show time again. The camp has an amphitheater, where a troupe from Ahmadabad, is presenting 'Kuchipudi' dances from another Indian state, “Andhra Pradesh.' I wrap up myself in warm clothing as biting desert cold has returned and watch the performance.

Later, as I return to my warm bed in the tent, my thoughts are centered about tomorrow, when we shall be crossing this vast wilderness of the Rann and go to the edge of the north bank, where land becomes livable again. But land on that bank, does not belong to India any more.

We have been told that the buses shall be leaving from the main gate, from 8 in the morning for a journey across the Rann. I get up early, have my breakfast and report at the main gate sharply at eight o' clock and find that the first bus is almost full. We leave the camp in next couple of minutes. Our guide for the journey is an ex-armed forces man and is quite witty. We again cross the same road to Bhirandiyara and then turn left on highway 45 to north. The landscape remains essentially same, patches of Banni grasslands with herds of healthy looking cattle, interspersed with fields growing 'Erandi' crops. We stop at a town called 'Khavda'. It is the last major town before vast wilderness of the Rann to have a cup of tea. 'Khavda town has its own handicrafts specialty. They make leather article here like footwear and purses for women. I notice that many people from the town, look strikingly different and dress differently than their brethren from other nearby villages towards south. These people have longish faces with sharp noses and wear turbans and loose fitting clothes with a scarf, very similar to clothes worn by people from northwest. My guide tells me that these people have migrated here from northwest, many decades before, and have made this town their home. An effort is now being made by the Government, to assimilate these people with Kutch populations.

We continue our journey. Soon we pass another village named as 'Kuran.' Landscape is now slowly changing. I can not see the 'Erandi' fields around any longer. Vast stretches of wasteland can be seen with Gum Arabic trees and dried grasses. Soon we come to land's end. On both sides of the road, I can now see stretches of the Rann, barren, dry, brownish gray and without vegetation of any kind. In spite of being so inhospitable, I can still feel it's charm. On my left or towards east horizon, I can spot the vast stretches of the white desert or the salt flats. On right, beyond the barren brown coloured dry land and almost near the horizon, the Rann acquires a bluish, grayish hue which almost deceives the onlooker, who may assume it to be a part of a vast sea. Looking at the landscape, I find it impossible to believe that this barren and inhospitable world was once a most fertile agricultural land, with abundance of sweet water and a major civilization had prospered here.
Like deep water sea islands, the Rann also has number of islands or 'Bets,' which are surrounded by sea water during Monsoonbut are accessible even by land routes during rest of the year. Ever since historic periods, number of tracks have been known and available for the local people to cross the Rann during summer months. Rann has been the boundary between Princely ruled state of Kutch and British province of Sind, during British raj days. One of the tracks linked Luna town in Kutch with 'Rahim-ki Bazar' (in Pakistan now) passing through Vigokot and Kanjarkot (now called as Islamkot) Two more tracks linked Nagarparkar (in Pakistan now) starting from Bela and Lodrani. The fourth track ran from town of Khavda to Diplo (now in Pakistan) passing over 'Mori bet.' However, no one uses these tracks now and an all weather road, built by army engineers is available for travel from Khavda to cross the Rann.

A Bridge known as “India Bridge” needs to be crossed from Kutch to enter the Rann. Our bus crosses this bridge and we arrive at an border check post known as 'Dharmashala.' From here the security is very tight being the border area with Pakistan. The bus stops at the border check post. We all are asked to surrender our mobile phones, cameras and any other electronic stuff we may have. Even Sim cards used in phones are not allowed. Our bus is checked by a dog trained for the purpose and also by security personnel. We get a green light and proceed with our journey on a 'bet' known as 'Kuar bet. This place in totally uninhabited except for the border police on duty. The landscape is dotted with rocky land, police posts and bunkers, shrubs and grass lands with ripened yellowish grasses. We soon traverse across the 'bet' and cross over to another one, after passing over a short bridge. This 'bet' is called as 'Chiriyamore' (Birds and Peacocks) island by police personnel. We stop at another army post , where the bus driver has to sign a register. Our guide draws my attention to the right. There is a 'Chinkara' or Indian gazelle, (Gazella bennettii) standing in the grasses. This is an endangered specie and very few exist now. They have found the Rann as a safe heaven for obvious reasons. 

The bus now crosses into real Rann area. The road has been raised at least 3 to 4 feet above the ground surface and the sides have been paved with stone bricks set in concrete. The road istself is asphalted. It is so narrow that after every 100 meters or so a shoulder has been provided so that two vehicles may crosss each other. The Rann surface is still somewhat moist, with puddles of water in few places. The road through the Rann, continues for about or 4 Km before we land on another 'bet' designated as 'BOPS bet'. The landscape again gets green again with throny scrubs and grasses with straight stems radiating from a common ground base perhaps of Cenchrus species. We see more and more Chinkaras or Indian Gazelles on way. After the 'bet,' we again hit on a stretch of road, about 10 or 12 Km, going straight across the Rann. There is really nothing to see, except barren flats. On my left, patches of white desert dazzle in the afternoon sun and on northern horizon, small patches of vegetation appear and disappear. Marks can be seen in the dry flats of the Rann, of a number of small and completely dried rivulets, making zig zag patterns. We continue for another 30 or 40 Km. Far towards the north, I can see high ground again with few modern buildings. These buildings, called as 'Vigokot guest house,' signal that we have crossed the Rann. Geographically speaking, we are in Sind now.
Vigokot is an old fort, and ruins can be still seen. A local landlord ruled from here till 1819 earthquake, but his fort and all the villages under his rule were completely destroyed along with drying up of a river, which was the only source of fresh water.
Some more formalities and checks. Finally we get all clearances and the bus moves and parks near a barbed wire fence. I get down and look through the fence. I have reached the border of India. On the other side, about 150 meters from the fence is the country of Pakistan. The international boundary, about 150 meters from the fence is marked with white coloured pillars, 4-1/2 feet high placed at every 40 meters. On Pakistan side, there is no fence at all. It is but natural, because, they have no fear of any encroachments from India. The Border policeman, who accompanies our bus, answers all our queries. He shows us the observation towers placed by Pakistan. I am thrilled by the idea that someone from Pakistan is, at this very moment, observing our bus and a motley crowd of Indians and perhaps wondering, what the hell are we doing on the border. In our bus, there are people who have come from all corners of India, yet at this moment, on India's border, everyone is same; an Indian.
About 5 Km north of this place are ruins of another fort called as Kanjarkot. This fort and villages around it were ruled by the brother of the landlord of Vigokot till 1819 and were similarly and totally destroyed. Further north is the town of 'Rahim ki Bazar.' Historically, Kutch rulers always had their jurisdiction up to this town. After Pakistan was formed, it started objecting to this and claimed that this area was part of Sind, now a dominion under it.
We are told that at this very place, military action had taken place in 1965, when Pakistani's had attacked and had killed about six of Indian CRPF policemen. After the cease fire, an international tribunal was set up to mark the boundary. According to it's award, Kanjarkot was given to Pakistan and Vigokot to India. But that was another day. Border is now all peaceful. We return to the guest house and enjoy our lunch arranged for us. I again have a peep at Pakistan through my Binoculars from the terrace of the guest house. From this height, I can see that there is a small ridge spread in the westerly direction along the Pak border. I ask a policeman about the ridge and he agrees that indeed there is a ridge. I wonder if the ridge is part of the 'Allah Bund,' formed during great earth quake of 1819. Most probably it is just some high ground.
After lunch, we start our return journey to Khavda. Another long afternoon in the blazing sun. Driver turns on the air conditioner and every one dozes off. It is almost 4 in the evening, when we reach Khavda again. The visit to the Rann is over. I react with little suspicion, when our guide announce that we would be now going to another place known as “Kalo Dunger,” or Black hill. The bus moves eastwards and we come across a hilly region. The bus starts climbing the valleys and troughs that have rock surfaces, which only sheared only in flat plate forms. It looks as if someone has stacked a heap of rock plates on top of each other in the valleys. Soon we reach the top. There is an Hindu temple at the top but I push on towards the highest peak, where an observation platform has been created.

The observation platform offers most breathtaking views of the Rann. On my left are the salt pans and behind them the vast stretches of white desert.

On the right of that, is the India bridge, linking Kutch with Rann islands and Sind in Pakistan. And to the right is the Rann, looking bluish gray. The edges have turned white with salt deposits. The Rann looks from here, just like a gulf, full of water and with frothing waves hammering the shores. A total deception.

Later, I return to the camp and have my dinner and watch another well orchestrated dance programme. As I hit the bed, I find it impossible to sleep for a long time with images of the Rann and the border flashing through my mind.
Tomorrow morning I start for Bhuj again.


I get ready early and after breakfast, say good bye to this wonderful camp in a desert in a far corner of India, where I have enjoyed superb hospitality and comfort for last 3 days. I am simply amazed at the efficiency and planning of the camp organizers, who have made this camp a grand success. Our Bus leaves for Bhuj and has a mandatory stop at Bhirandiyara again. This time, I get down and buy some 'Mawa', a tasty treat made from milk. I reach Bhuj around 11 AM and check in the hotel. I decide to spend the day seeing sights from this ancient city, which derives its name from Bhujiyo Dungar, (Serpant Hill) a 160 Meter high hill that overlooks the city, and is said to be the residence of the Great Serpent Bhujang, to whom a temple stands at the top of the hill.

From the 8th to 16th centuries, Kutch was ruled by the Samma Rajputs from Sindh, during what is considered to be Sindh's Golden Age. As the power center in Sindh declined, there were a series of complicated successions and intro-familial murders and intrigues, eventually leading to ascension of Lakho Jadeja, descended from the Samma Rajputs, to the throne as kings. From then on, the monarchy was known as the Jadeja Rajputs, who ruled directly from Kutch, not from Sindh. In 1549 Khengarji I moved the capital from Anjar to Bhuj, given its strategic location in the center of Kutch and Bhuj came into being.

During Mughal dominance followed by British Raj, Jadeja kings of Bhuj always managed to retain there independence to certain extent and this reflects into the individuality of this city. From the times of Lakhpatiji in eighteenth century, successive rulers of Bhuj, added many palaces in the city and did much for the beautification of the city. However a series of earth quakes happening on regular basis had been the biggest detriment for everything that has been built in Bhuj and palaces were no exceptions. The most disastrous Earthquake of them all happened on 16 June 1819, followed by other ones in 1844-45 and 1864. Next big one struck in 2001. These earthquakes have flattened or extensively damaged most of the old buildings in Kutch.

Aina Mahal
For a tourist, Bhuj is an an ideal place, because most of the places worth seeing are located all around a central lake called Hamisar lake. Only last year, this lake had overflown and I was expecting it to hold reasonable amount of water. So, after having for my lunch of so called “Kutchi Pao-Bhaji,” I decide to start my Bhuj sight seeing, with a visit to Aina Mahal (hall of Mirrors) located on one of the banks of the lake. I hire a 3 wheeler, an extremely noisy and uncomfortable type of transport and reach the Aina mahal. It is well described in most travel guides and I quote:

Aina Mahal Palace was built by Rao Lakhpatji in 1750 AD. Aina Mahal is a part of a large palace complex. It is a two storey building with Darbar Hall, hall of mirrors, and suites for royal family. In the 18th century, the Rao Lakhpatji sent a local craftsman Ramsingh Malam to Europe to perfect his skills in glassmaking, enamelling, tile making and iron founding. After he returned back, he constructed the Aina Mahal with the hall of mirrors of Venetian glass. The Hall of mirror has white marble walls which are covered with mirrors and gilded ornaments and the floor is lined with tiles. The design and decoration of the Aina Mahal was due to the efficiency of Ramsingh Malam. The platform above the floor is surrounded by a series of fountains operated by an elaborated system of pumps below a Venetian chandelier. Aina Mahal is a unique example of an Indian palace built in the mid-eighteenth century with European influence.”

Bass relief carvings on the exterior walls of Aina mahal
Unfortunately, great disappointment awaits me. Being a Government holiday on account of Eid, the palace is closed for visitors. I have to remain satisfied with few photographs of the exterior, which is not very inspiring. 

Pragji Mahal
The palace next door is known as Prag Mahal. It was constructed by Rao Pragmalji II (1838-76 AD) and was designed by a famous British architect, Colonel Henry Saint Wilkins, who also had designed many buildings from my home town Pune, like Deccan College, Sasoon Hospital, Ohel David Synagogue. It seems that Prag Mahal took about 10 years to get built at the cost of 20 lakh Rupees. May be, because of my familiarity with similar buildings in Pune, and in particular to the Main building of University of Mumbai with its clock tower, I am not much impressed with this building. Even the cornices or ledges on top of pillars look similar. Fortunately for me, the palace is open for visitors. I buy an entry ticket and move in. 

It is a typical palace museum for a small time ruler of a princely state. Usual things like carpets, period furniture, darbar (court) hall, paintings, utensils, hunting trophies, guns, toys for the young once and so on. In one corner I found a series of reprints of paitings done by one of the great Indian painter of that period, Raja Ravivarma. Someone had added semiprecious jewels on the reprints making them unique and worth while to see. From the terrace of the palace I can view the Hamisar lake. Unfortunately, there is almost no water in the lake because of the scanty rainfall this year. A major water tank near the palace known as 'Ramkund' also is dry and empty. A solitary, wheeled gun is seen next to the front porch of this palace, perhaps the only mute witness to all the damge done by the earthquakes.

Opposite Prag Mahal, there is another but much dilapidated palace known as 'Rani Mahal' (Queens palace). Series of earth quakes have taken their toll on this palace and today it is not safe even for entry. It has some nice architectural features such as windows with beautiful lattice workmanship, balconies and door frames. I spend few minutes admiring the Rani Mahal. My next stop is 'Kutch Museum,' which is supposed to have been founded by Maharao Khengarji III in 1877 AD. The museum has a large collection of Kshatrapa inscriptions, various archaeological objects, arms and specimens of various crafts of the Kutch region. Bad luck keeps following me, as I find the doors closed because of the holidays.

Rani Mahal
Since I have time on hand, I visit Swaminarayan temple, a huge glitzy kind of set up, constructed fully with white marble and hundreds of full relief sculptures on pillars and walls. The sculptures look like printed pictures with the lips of figures painted red and with a mandatory vermillion coloured dot on the foreheads. The temple has a huge following of disciples, and there is a great crowd of devotees. I move on next to 'Chhatardi,' which is supposed to be a memorial for past kings of Kutch. These memorials have been so much destroyed by the earth quakes, that they have built a stone wall around them. I can only have a look from a distance and manage to take some photographs.

Before returning to my hotel, I loiter around the main market and indulge in little bit of shopping. Later, after having a sumptuous dinner, I go to sleep early as I have to leave tomorrow morning for a destination, 250 Km away from Bhuj. The place, I am planning to visit, was a thriving and prosperous metropolis of 20,000 people, about 5000 years ago.

Right in the middle of the Rann of Kutch, there stands a huge island or a 'bet' with an area of about 313 Sq. Km. This island lies east of the 'Kalo Dungar' or Black hill coastline, which I visited on Thursday. The distance of Khadir 'bet' from this coastline is not much as the crow flies, and is just under 25 Km. However, no road exists between 'Kalo dunger' coastline to Khadir bet. The Government had planned sometime back, to build a bridge here. The plans were shot down outright by an expert committee, who thought construction of such a bridge would cause great damage to ecology of the Rann. 
My destination for today is a small village on this 'Khadir bet' and since there is no shorter way, I would have to go round the Rann and enter this island from its eastern end, where a road exists and then cross the island itself as my destination village 'Dholavira' is located on western side of 'Khadir bet.' Considering the distance, I decide to leave early but finally manage to leave my hotel only by 7.45 AM. We take highway 42 to Bhachau. As soon as we get out of city limits of Bhuj, I can see on my right the 'Bhujangiya Dungar' or Hill of the serpent, along with the imposing fort on the top. The road is fairly in good condition except for large number of diversions because of the construction projects going on the road. The entire stretch up to Bhachau is now dotted with mega industrial projects that have come up by road sides. My driver informs me that all this development has taken place during last decade and this region was almost uninhabited before that. We reach town of Samakhiali by 10.15 and take National highway 15 to Chitrod. At this point we branch off on highway 51 to north going to Rapar. This excellent highway mostly goes through forest lands. Yet there are number of villages after Rapar town. The landscape remains essentially same. Arid lands with Gum Arabic shrubs, grasses, large number of cattle grazing. We pass by villages called Desalpar, Balasar and Lodrani. After this village, road turns west. After travelling a distance of about 8 Km from Lodrani, we come to lands end again. Ahead of me is a long bridge of approximately 8 Km length going through white Rann.
The view now changes to what can be aptly described as fantastic. On both sides of the road, I can see nothing but pristine whiteness of the Rann. There is nothing else. After a few minutes, I loose all sense of directions as only things that I see are the road ahead, vast whiteness on the sides and the blazing sun at zenith. The bridge finally ends and we are on the 'Khadir bet.' Unlike other 'bets' of the Rann, this island in inhabited with number of villages like Amarpur, Ganeshpur, Bambinika and finally Janan, which has a Border police check post. We move ahead. I can see ahead a nice parking lot for the vehicles and a building that has a name board that says 'Dholavira Archaeological Museum.' I look at the watch. It is 12.15 PM and we have arrived at Dholavira, thanks to the extremely good roads built by Gujarat Government.
Many readers may be wondering as to why I have been so eager to visit this place in a remote and obscure corner of the country, far away from any of the big cities. There is a reason. This site was discovered first by Mr. Jagat Pati Joshi of the Archaeological Survey of India in 1967-68 and a series of 13 excavations were carried out here between 1990 to 2005 under leadership of Mr. R.S. Bisht, has made many beliefs and myths about pre-historic India, stand on their head and has brought to light a totally new scenario of those times.
I consult with the staff at the museum and fix up help of a guide, Mr. Ravji Bhai to guide us during the tour of this ancient Metropolis in next couple of hours. 

Along with him, I start walking towards a small hill feature opened up by excavations. Ahead of us is a narrow dried up rivulet named as 'Manhar.' I can see ruins of a dam built across this rivulet. Apparently there is one more rivulet similar to this in northwest corner of this metropolis named as 'Mansar.' The people of this ancient city had worked wonders with seasonal water flows of these two rivulets, so that they could quench the thirst and satisfy living requirements of water for 15000 to 20000 city inhabitants.

On the right, I can now see a vast underground water storage tank, with neatly built steps along one of the walls. This was the first tank in which water of Manhar channel would be taken first. Just ahead, we come across a wall about 11 to 13 meter thick. Confined within such four walls was the citadel or fort of the city. The walls are paved with stone bricks on both sides and filled with mud bricks and mud mortar. Mr. Ravji Bhai tells me that the height of this wall was increased at least 3 or 4 times during course of 1200 years (2600 BCE to 1400 BCE) in which this city functioned. The citadel had its own water supply system consisting of storage tanks and a well, whose water was drawn up by a bull operated rope and leather bucket system. The storage tanks are provided with a square shaped pit at the bottom to collect all mud and any other insoluble materials in water. This pit was cleaned at intervals.

East gate
It did not rain much in Dholavira. Even then, these ancient people had perfect arrangements for water harvesting every drop of rain water. The rain water was collected through series of ducts even from citadel walls and stored.

Water harvesting channel 

North Gate

Polished Pillar base

Terraced Stadium

Citadel well
White Rann seen from Citadel

Even more elaborate arrangements were made for the drainage of waste water. The rooms of the palaces had terracotta earthen pipes in a corner to drain off the waste water, which were connected to main drainage lines. These main drainage ducts were provided with air breathing holes at the top to avoid formation of air locks. The waste water was then let off in the sea ( Presently Rann) not far from the western end of the city. Beyond western fortification walls, were servant, quarters and grain storage tanks and more water storage tanks. The Citadel fortification walls on east, north and west had entry gates. Just near the door, chambers were built at a height with roofs supported on pillars, parts of which can be seen even today. The main through-way in the citadel was segregated in three sections, marked by means of 2 polished pillars. In one of the two north gate chambers, archaeologists found a huge name board written with 10 Indus script glyphs or symbols. Each of this was made from Gypsum and was 15 inches high. Total length of this board was about 3 meters and the gypsum symbols were embedded in wood, which had rotted away later, leaving only the symbols intact. Archaeologists believe that this sign board displayed the name of this place to outsiders. Beyond the north gate, there was a terraced stadium that could house 10000 people. It is believed to be the place for social and ceremonial events, festivals and Bazars. Mr. Ravji Bhai tells me that the staircases in the citadel have 7, 15 or 30 steps and archaeologist believe that these were used as a calender system to keep track of time. He also shows me a rock where fossils of sea shells can be clearly seen.

A polished pillar
A slotted stone for pillar base 
After finishing my visit of the citadel, I visit the adjoining museum. The museum has a collection of pottery, tools and clay models of some of the objects found by archaeologists and also a display gallery of photographs of objects found here. I manage to collect lots of information about this place and the way these people lived.

Terracotta  toys 
After a satisfying visit, we have our packed lunch and start on our return journey. Between Rapar and Chitrod towns, we see a 'Nilgai' (Boselaphus tragocamelus the largest Asian antelope, family Bovidae) crossing the road. We return to Samakhiali town, have cup of tea and instead of turning right towards Bhachau and Bhuj, push south on highway 27. My next destination is town of 'Morbi' or 'Morvi', where I might get a chance to visit the 'Little Rann of Kutch.' By dusk, we make it to this dusty town. 

Morbi or Morvi is a medium sized city with a population of about 250000. Like most of the cities in Kathiawar, this was also a small princely state till 1947 and like most of the states of those days, it was also a poor state (Classified as Class III by British) without adequate resources. Things however changed for this small state in 1879, when a dynamic prince, Waghjee Thakor, was appointed by the British to rule over the state. Immediately thereafter, he started taking steps to increase the prosperity of his Morbi Kingdom. He started to build, in 1886, Railway lines for the convenience of people and transportation. He developed Navalakhi port located at eastern tip of the in the Gulf of Kutch, for transport of salt, which was the major produce around. Besides transportaion projects, he built Schools, Colleges and Hospitals also. After his death, Prince Lakhdhirji Thakor was announced as king of Morbi. He also did remarkable job in the history of Morbi. In his time Electric powerhouse and Telephone exchange were built. He also built Temples, Technical High School and Engineering college.
Morbi Princes were very keen about development of industry in their state. Considering abundance of china clay in the state, they actively welcomed ceramic or pottery industry to the state and offered all kinds of incentives. Today Morbi has more than 350 industrial units, manufacturing ceramic products. There are also many clock manufacturing units in the city today. 
Prince Lakhdhirji Thakor built around 1940, a new palace for the royal family. This is the first item on my itinerary today. This palace is just on the side of railway line near Nazarbagh station. The palace compound and the grounds are very imposing and impressive. After getting an entry in the palace grounds, a curving road takes us to the compound of the palace proper. The gate for entry is a huge one and very imposing. Our station wagon gets easily through one of the smaller gates on the sides of the main gate. A straight road leads to the front side of the palace with an impressive facade. However we turn left and reach a side door with a porch. 
The palace itself is a two storied building, with top class modern architecture of 1940's, which reminds me very much of the buildings built on Mumbai's Marine drive during those days. Rooms on the corners have nice curvy shape at the corner. The building has bays and all windows are placed in a band, with slabs projecting out above window lintels to protect from harsh sunlight coming in.
We are shown only the ground floor, which essentially has three suites in north-south direction with each suite consisting of a hall, dining room and bed room, separated by open courts in the middle . The rooms at the ends, which spread along east-west direction, have Darbar hall, lounge for visitors and a bed room on one side and a swimming pool and a billiards room at other end. Each and every room is furnished and decorated in a manner which shows an exclusive and rich taste. Even the marble flooring of rooms have used marbles of different designs. I am able to imagine the grandeur and lavishness of the life style of these Princes, who essentially were dependent on the British crown for their survival. One interesting piece of decoration in Library room is a map of India of 1944, made by using pieces of wood from different trees. For each state and province a different type wood is used. Another noteworthy observation is about the painting and photographs, mainly of British origin.

Locomotive shed of Morbi railway

 Facade of old palace 

Suspension bridge on Machhu river
Mani Mandir 

Machhu River of Morvi
After visiting the palace, I have a look at the original locomotive shed of the Morbi railway, a suspension bridge on Machhu river, old or Darbar Gadh palace and finally Mani Mandir palace and a steel structure known as green tower.

In the afternoon, we start for the main attraction of this place. A visit to Little Rann, which is about 40 Km from Morbi. Even though Morbi city is part of Kathiawar region, Little Rann has always been part of Kutch. This means that I am revisiting Kutch. We leave on highway 321 or Morbi-Jetper road. After Jetpar, we cross the highway 7, which connects to Gujarat capital, Ahmadabad. The road now leads to Khakharechi town. There are fields around with standing crops of Jira and Erandi. The waters on Narmada river from south, have been brought up to here, through a canal and have brought prosperity to this region.
 Skul of a wild ass

Soon we reach the village of Wenasar. The little Rann starts from here and spreads north. We now pick up a dirt track to go in the Rann. The land scape is now strikingly familiar. Reddish brown soil, Gum Arabic trees, grasses and little hillocks. Soon we reach dried mud flats. Cars can be driven on this surface during winter and summer, but it is better to always follow someone else's tracks. I can see at a distance, a breached dam. This was named as Sagar dam, but it got breached during floods. We stop the car on a slightly high ground and get out to search for the wild Asses, which is the principal reason for this little excursion. I see at one place, bones and skull of an ass. Possibly died few years back. The vultures and ants have done such a good scavenging job that the bones look spotlessly clean. We manage to spot one male ass roaming alone, as they always do, but he is so far away that it is difficult to photograph him. 
We move on. On the right, I can see a little pond of water, known as Canal pond, as it contains water mostly leaked from the Narmada canal. I can see few tiny white spots on the blue surface of the pond. We push ahead. Parking the car at a safe distance, we observe the white spots through Binoculars. There is a group of 4 Pelicans and behind them are 6 Flamingos, 4 adults and 2 young ones. Finally I have managed to see them, as they have been eluding me throughout this trip. Flamingos stand rock steady in water looking for fish. Their orange legs stand out over beautiful blue waters of the pond.

We now turn back and continue on a highground known as 'Handi bet.' Police were using this area for shooting practice. But due to pressure of environmentalists, they have shifted out of this and wild asses have returned and have started roaming around. 
We do not require much time to locate a group of 3 fabulous animals, all mares. They are quite tall almost like a horse with white and brown patches on body. 
Further ahead, we see another patch of white Rann, which just looks like Great Rann White desert. However, they extract salt from here for commercial purposes.
While returning, we see a flock of Peacocks and fowls near town of Khakharechi. The Peacocks have lost their blue-green feathers, though their necks look bluish-green. Two of the male birds have fanned out the feathers in a grand fan but the spread out feather fans have only a brownish-grayish look. No wonder that none of the fowls are paying any attention to them.
Tomorrow, we leave for the coastal town of Dwarka.


I manage to leave Morvi by 7.45 AM and cross the city by a road, that goes through most of the clock manufacturing factories in Morvi and joins National Highway No. 8A. We stop at Tankara and have a cup of Tea in an roadside 'Dhaba' and divert to highway 22, which takes us to Jamnagar via Dhrol. After bypassing Jamnagar city itself, we hit upon highway 6, which has some of India/s largest power and refining industries like 'Essar' and off course, 'Reliance Petrolium.' This highway however becomes a narrow 2 lane road, after 'Khambaliya' town and our progress slows down considerably. Even then, we manage to reach the coastal city of ' Dwarka,' considered as the ancient abode of India's most loved folk hero and God, Shri Krishna. 

In India, Krishna finds a place everywhere. From ancient Indian scriptures like Mahabharata and Bhagvad-Gita, mythological stories passed from generation to generation, medieval verses written in 1200 AD by Jayadeva and known as the 'Geet Govinda,' which depicts the divine love of Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, for his consort, Radha and even in modern poetry, Krishna is always there. He is a perfect folk hero, who shows great prowess and bravery against his foes, compassion to his friends and poor, a romantic hero to his lady loves and finally a great philosopher as he gives a discourse on Indian philosophy and Indian way of life to Arjuna, a worrier Prince from Mahabharata. It is believed that this greatest Indian folk hero and king, had established his kingdom at this very place 'Dwarka,' located on India's western sea board. It is obvious that this city is a sacred place. From far corners of India, devotees throng here every day, in hundreds, to pay their obeisance to the lord. 

I check in a hotel, have a Gujarati vegetarian thali (full meal) for my lunch and then set off for an afternoon of sight seeing. The first stop is a Shiva temple called 'Nageshwar,' which was built by one Late Sajan Kumar, who had made his fortune by selling music cassettes and CD's. He must have spent lots of money on this temple, which is quite huge. Luckily the temple is rather plain looking and without any garish ornamentation. He has compensated for the absence of any garish ornamentation by erecting a giant statue of Shiva in human form next to the temple, very similar to a statue I have seen, also on western sea board of India, but much towards south, at Murudeshawar, in state of Karnataka. 

I continue further and stop at a place called 'Gopi Talao,' a little pond with small temples dotting on its southwest perimeter. It is a nice place with few ducks floating on water. The temples, all claim to be the original and principal places of a plethora of deities, whose names also sound foreign to me. We continue further on the road, pass the 'Tata Salt' factory at Mithapur and finally reach the western most tip of the Kathiawar peninsula. A port known as 'Okha' is located here. My interest however is slightly towards east, where a small jetty has been provided mainly for fishing vessels. 

About 5 Km east of this jetty, there is a small island known as 'Bet Dwarka.' I am told that oldest temple of Lord Krishna is located on this temple. Just near the Jetty, I find a large sized launch, getting filled with people. The boat has a very funny sitting arrangement. Along the sides, there are wooden planks to sit. Every one else just stands, where ever he can find a place. In the middle, there is a cabin. I am directed towards that. It is one of the most uncomfortable sitting arrangements I have seen any where so far. Inside the cabin the ceiling is so low that you need to squat, if you do not wish to get your head banged against one of the steel angles provided to support the roof. I sit down. In a short while, the boat gets completely full and the master of the ship appears and starts the engine. A helmsman takes charge of the helm. He has strange looking levers and handles, which probably are the gear shifting levers and accelerator levers for the diesel engine humming somewhere below. Its fun to see him operating the contraptions, but the boat gets underway. As soon as we leave, hundreds of sea gulls appear over board making a big racket. People keep feeding the birds and they keep depositing their droppings on heads and clothes of the people standing in the boat. After a slow crawling journey of 25 minutes, we touch the jetty on 'Dwarka bet.' 

I get down and walk towards the temple. This temple, supposed do be the oldest temple of Krishna, is quite unimpressive and almost in dilapidated condition. Some efforts are being made to restore it. However, it is definitely not worth a visit, unless you are a serious devotee of the lord. The return journey is slightly better because, the master of the boat, restricts number of passenger. I feel that the main reason for this is that the boat is leaky and taking water and he does not want to take any risks. Even then the number of passengers is not very small and sea gulls accompany us and shower their droppings on us.

The return journey to Dwarka is quite uneventful except in one field, we find a large flock of big birds landing and finally reach a temple known as 'Rukmini Temple.' This temple is dedicated to King Krishna's principal queen, 'Rukmini.' The temple is modest, but I find it quite interesting. From the bass and full reliefs on the sides, it is obviously not very old. Most likely to be from thirteenth or fourteenth century AD. The temple has a porch, then the main mandap with an dome or hemispherical top, which might have been added later and a sanctum or 'Garbhagriha,' somewhat recessed. The outside walls are entirely decorated with bass and full relief figures of Gods and Goddesses along with male and female figures.
Rukmini Temple
 Full relief carving of Vishnu on wall of Rukmini temple

I finally return to Dwarka city for the main attraction, 'Dwarkadheesh' or King of Dwarka temple of Lord Krishna. It has fairly large sized premises, consisting of a 7 storied main temple, a Shankaracharya temple and some more small temples. The wall are well covered with intricate carving. However, I did not find many human figures here. I can see mostly design patterns and some elephants carved on the walls. The temple is jam packed with devotees. I finally manage to find a spot at rear, from where I can have a look at the idol. The idol, made from black stone, is totally covered and adorned with dazzling gold ornaments starting with head gear. Obviously the temple is very wealthy. 
 Dwarkadhish temple
Plinth of an excavated temple near Dwarkadhish temple 

As I come out, I see on my left, ruins of an ancient temple discovered by Archaeological Survey of India in 1979-80. These ruins were found, when a two storied building adjacent to the main temple was demolished to clear some space around the main temple and is believed to be from 9th century. The ruins have some fine engraving work done on them.

Tomorrow I travel to another great temple of India, that was destroyed number of times and re built again and again. The temple of Lord Shiva at Prabhas Pattan. 

Similar to many monuments built in ancient and medieval India, The new Somnath temple also has a massive facade structure, known as “Shri Digvijay Dwar.” This massive structure built by using sandstone, consists of three adjacent towers, each having its own spire. The main gate to the temple is in the middle tower. There is a small porch supported by two massive pillars outside the gate. The gate can be closed by two heavy wooden doors of traditional Gujarati design. There are 5 windows with balconies on the front side and few more on the two sides of the facade structure and some full relief carvings of some Gods and Goddesses in line with the lower windows. As I walk along, the spire of the main temple rises just behind the spire of the middle tower of this facade structure.
More security at the gate. I have to pass through a metal detector and another body search for any metallic objects on me. Ahead of me now is the main structure of the Somnath temple. There is a forecourt with nicely manicured garden, that surrounds the temple. In many temples of India, visiting time is always restricted to few hours. Here in Somnath, the temple is open for full day and a leisurely visit is possible.
I walk to the main Mandapa of the temple. At the entrance, just above the ceiling, there is a beautiful full relief carving of 'Nataraja.' This is again similar to design of 'Chalukya' temples at 'Pattadakal,' in Karnataka state of India. The Mandapa ceiling has hundreds of miniature spires projecting upwards, creating a nice effect. The Mandapa itself is an open structure supported on pillars and again reminds me of the Viththala temple at Hampi in south India. The temple trust has started coating the sandstone pillars with golden paint and personally speaking, I do not like this new colour. The original pinkish colour looks much better. In the sanctum, the walls are all covered with gilded metal sheets and decorated with semiprecious stones. At the center of the sanctum stands a tall jet black Shiva Lingam, adorned with gold ornaments. The temple is very imposing and definitely worth a visit. Afterwords, I go round the sanctum, whose walls are covered with many miniature full relief figures. Just behind the temple, I find plinth level ruins of the old 'Parvati Temple.'
Shrine built by Ahilyabai Holkar in 1783
Quite satisfied and happy with my visit, I come out and start walking around the temple compound. Little further ahead on the right side, is a small shrine which was built by “Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar” of Vadodara state in 1783 after destruction of the ancient temple on orders of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1670. This shrine is modest and very simple. Yet it's importance can never be undermined in any way. For almost 100 years, there was no Shiva Lingam shrine at Prabhas Pattan, after ancient temple was destroyed at the orders of Aurangzeb. Ahilyabai built this shrine so that the devotees, who came to Prabhas Pattan, could pay obeisance to their lord Shiva.
I continue walking along the boundary. Soon the road narrows down and turns right in a very narrow lane with shops and houses on both sides. Walking for about half Kilometer in the narrow lane, I finally find the place I am looking for; 'Prabhas Pattan Archaeological Museum.' I have mentioned earlier that the temple , originally built by Chalukya king Kumarpala and subsequently modified by several kings, including Bhimadeva, was dismantled by the Somnath trust in 1950 under expert guidance of the archaeological department. The dismantled stone blocks and original carvings have been kept in this museum. 
This museum itself is in a very obscure, nondescript place. The person in charge tells me that there was an ancient temple of the Sun at this place. The museum looks very ordinary from outside but consists of hundreds of superb specimens of the medieval art of India from 11th to 16th centuries.
Plan of ancient temple as drawn by Henry Cousens in 1931
The ancient temple as it stood in ruins till 1950, is described by Henry Cousens in his book as:
The great temple, which faces the east, consisted, when entire, of a large central closed hall, or gudhamandapa, with three entrances, each protected with a deep lofty porch, and the shrine – the sanctum sanctorum – wich stood upon the west side of the hall, having a broad pradakshina or circumambulatory passage around it. The latter was lighted by a large balconized window in each of its three sides away from the hall, and those formed a very pleasing feature in the general appearance of the building from outside. That at the back, or west side have fallen, and so have the three porches.”
He also mentions that the temple must have been at least 140 feet long. It also appears from his description that vicinity to the sea and the salt spray, has created a great amount of damage to the carvings on pillars and on walls of the sanctum. 
(Photos of ancient temple, courtesy British Museum)
The museum displays many bass and full reliefs and stones from the roof, pillar capitols. I am quite impressed with the grandeur and the intricate carving work on this temple from twelfth century. The workmanship compares well with Pattadakal temples in Karnataka state.
Stone blocks from original ceiling 
A carved pillar

After finishing our visit to Somnath, we take highway 26 to Talala and then to Sasan, which is located in the middle of a dense forest of Gir, the only place, where we can still find Asiatic Lions in their true environment. By the time we reach Sasan, it is dusk. As I settle in for the night, after a very nice dinner, I am reminded that early morning tomorrow, I have to go on a Jungle safari to meet the Asiatic Lion.


I manage to sleep rather well in this forest resort at Sasan. Probably, because of the remoteness, it is very quiet here, except for the noises of the Jungle. I wake up early, absolutely fresh, for my appointment with the king of the Jungle. The safari vehicles turn up around 6-30 AM. Each Gypsy (The open safari vehicles) is provided with 2 benches of sufficient height so that, up to 6 passengers can easily sit comfortably and can watch the jungle from above the drivers cabin, as well as on sides. It is quite cold outside and sitting on the top of an open Gypsy, with a biting cold wind hitting my face, is far from being comfortable. Yet I feel nothing as excitement of a jungle safari is overshadowing all such physical discomfiture. As we start, I can see a rabbit running ahead of us on the road, perhaps scared because of the vehicle. I take it as an extremely good omen and hope that we would have a sighting of the Asiatic Lion.
Our vehicle now stops near the entrance gate of the Gir Lion sanctuary, which I am told, opens only around 7 AM. ID check again and then we are let in. As we enter the sanctuary, there is a feeling within me that I am entering an alien world. This is not a world, where we humans can survive without aid. In this world, I have to stay in the confines of the vehicle carrying me because I am in someone else' territory. This world belongs to Lions, Leopards, Hyenas and crocodiles. They have their own rules and regulations.
Gir forest area is about 1400 Sq. Km, out of which, the national park covers only 258 sq. Km. Area. There are 8 fixed routes of about 35 to 40 Km each, over which visitors are taken around by Gypsy vehicles, and if one particular vehicle makes a lion sighting, it does not mean that all the visitors in the park at that time, would be able to see the same. It is still your own luck. 
It is still dark when we enter the park and immediately cross a small rivulet, over which, a small bridge has been built. I spot a painted stork standing in the water and patiently waiting to catch some early morning fish. The Gir forest appears to have a wide variety of flora in it. There are deciduous trees, which shred their leaves once every year as well as some broad leafed ever green trees. I am not much of a botanist, but can identify few trees like teak, which appear to be there in plenty. I also identify Banyan and Khair trees easily here. From my limited view point from the vehicle, I am able to see that the forest has a variety of landscapes, which probably is one of the main attraction for the animals. It has forested valleys, wide grassland plateaus, and isolated hilltops. I can also see some areas which have open scrub and savannah-type grasslands loved by Lions.
As we move on, we see a 'Chital' (Axis axis)or a spotted deer. Since this is my first animal sighting in the park, I am happy. But this lone deer is followed by number of herds of 'Chitals' containing many animals. Our guide tells me that there are as many as 50000 of these spotted deer in the park. We then sight, couple of wild boars (Sus scrofa), a favourite pray for the lions. Our guide says that there are as many as 400 (plus) lions in the park and about 300 leopards. I then sight on my right, a big animal behind the foliage. Driver stops the vehicle. This animal is a 'Sambar' deer (Rusa unicolo). These deers are large animals easily weighing between 300 to 500 Kg. They are supposed to be reclusive and are supposed to be very dependent on water and are always found near a water source. 
We continue along, the king still eludes us. Suddenly, our driver stops the vehicle and points out to the side of the road that has lots of loose earth. He says that there are pug marks of a fully grown up lion. 
I look carefully and can see the huge foot prints left by a beast. This means that a lion has walked along this road in the night before. We move again but slowly and looking around with great expectations. We again sight a 'chital', directly looking at us. Driver stops the vehicle and points out to a deciduous tree that has lost all its leaves. Almost on the top, an eagle is sitting on the branch. Our driver says that it is a crested serpent eagle. Frankly, I have never seen before, an eagle in freedom and I cherish the sight.
We move on, there is still no trace of a lion. Suddenly our driver slows the jeep and quietly cuts off the engine and halts the vehicle. He points out to my right about 20 to 25 feet to some high ground under shed of few shrubs. I can see a huge, fully grown beast, sleeping there.
We wait silently for the beast to make any movement. Mean while, 2 more Gypsy vehicles reach the spot along with some forest rangers. Forest rangers get down and can see that the beast has had a sumptuous meal, not more than few hours before and is enjoying his siesta. They point out to a nearby tree, where many crows have collected, indicating that a partially eaten carcass is lying there. A ranger checks with his binocular and informs us that it belongs to a wild boar. The rangers, knowing that the beast, with his stomach full, would be very tame and timid, throw few twigs at him.
Woken up with the disturbance, the beast turns his head slowly and looks at us humans and without least bother, sleeps off again. Forest rangers again try to wake him up. This time he sits up and then bingo! Gives a classic pose with his head turned towards us. This one is a fully grown male lion with a beautiful golden yellow mane. For next few minutes, we keep staring at the royal glory of this majestic beast, who is not even shy or afraid of a crowd of 15/20 humans watching him from a close distance. I had hoped that I would be able to sight a lion or lioness at the most, walking at some distance. This sighting is simply unbelievable. A sight, I know, I am going to cherish for rest of my life. 
The time is running out and we move on. On our left, we can see some beautiful peacocks with long bluish green feathers and later a wild camel, calmly munching some twigs. The camel has much more fur on him. Some more spotted deer follow. The driver stops the vehicle again and shows more pug marks- of a Lion family, a male, a female and a cub. But the traces disappear after a while, indicating that they have turned towards deeper parts of the forest.

I look at my watch, it is already past 9 o' clock in morning. This means that we have spent more than 2 hours in the jungle. It is time to go back to the resort. I decide to take it easy and relax for the day. I need the rest after almost a week of continuous travel.
Tomorrow, I plan to visit former princely state of Junagadh.


Junagadh is imbibed with history. Even when on a short visit, it becomes clear that Junagadh is inseparable from its history. There are cities, for example my home town Pune, that are related to history from a particular period. Pune is intimately related with History of Chhatrapati Shivaji and Peshawas, a period of about hundred and fifty years from the pages of history. In Junagadh, you start from 300 BCE and end up with India's independence in 1947, a period extending to 2300 years at least.

Junagadh is merely 57 Km from Sasan, where I am staying now. Since, there is not much motoring to do today, we get ready lazily and after a sumptuous breakfast, hit highway 26 around 10 AM. For the first 10 to 15 Km, the Gir forest area continues and I even manage to spot a spotted deer. The only town that comes on way is Mendarda. Road is a beauty and we take just about 45 minutes to reach Junagadh. The principal crop in this area is groundnuts, I am told, but by this time of the year, it has been already harvested. I can see that in many fields, along the roadsides, the farmers have now planted Jeera and Dhaniya (Coriander) crops. As Junagadh city nears, I can see huge premises of ' Central Groundnut research institution' on the roadside.

The Junagadh City is like any other city in Gujarat or for that matter, in India. Narrow congested roads, unruly traffic and to top it, wondering cows. The first place on my itinerary today is known as 'Darbar' hall museum. In the year 1748, when Mughal power from Delhi had weakened, an Afghan Soldier of fortune named Sher Khan Babi (Well known Bollywood actress of 1960's “Parveen Babi,” was from this family.) established Junagadh state. Babi Nawabs of Junagadh, conquered large territories in southern Kathiawar and ruled over the state for the next two centuries, first as tributaries of Vadodara, ruled by Gaikwars and later under the suzerainty of the British until India’s independence. On September 15, 1947, Nawab Mohammad Mahabat Khanji III of Junagadh, chose to accede to Pakistan, arguing that Junagadh could access Pakistan by sea. India refused to accept the Nawab's choice of accession. The government pointed out that the state was 96% Hindu, and called for a plebiscite to decide the question of accession. India cut off supplies of fuel and coal to Junagadh, severed air and postal links, sent troops to the frontier, and occupied the principalities of Mangrol and Babariawad that had acceded to India. On 26 October, the Nawab and his family fled to Pakistan following clashes with Indian troops. On 7 November, Junagadh's court, facing collapse, invited the Government of India to take over the State's administration. The Dewan of Junagadh, Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto, (the father of Pakistan's now ill famous ex prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was later hanged,) decided to invite the Government of India to intervene and wrote a letter to Mr. Buch, the Regional Commissioner of Saurashtra in the Government of India to this effect. A plebiscite was conducted in February 1948 and finally Junagadh became a part of the Indian state of Saurashtra.

Darbar hall was the place where Nawabs of Junagadh held their court. It is in the heart of the city near Diwan Chowk and consists of a Palanquin Room and galleries displaying pictures, textile and arms. Darbar hall turns out to be a glittering affair with royal couches, couches for high officials and chairs for others all covered with silver metal and many chandeliers of different colours dazzling the ceiling. Many curios and gifts received by the Nawabs, have been arranged neatly along the walls, which include a miniature sized pistol and some antique clocks, bronzes and mirrors. In an adjoining room, the palanquins used by the Nawab and his family, again covered with silver metal, have been kept. The royal paraphernalia like umbrellas, shields and the formal robes of the Nawab are displayed in show cases. Another room displays personal arms and weapons in possession of the Nawab. Some of the swords and daggers have hilts covered with gold and embedded with semi precious and precious stones. Another gallery nearby, has portraits and photos of Nawabs. The museum is a 'must see' for any visitor to Junagadh.

From part of history of events that happened here hundred or two hundred years before, I am now going to the 3rd century BCE, when Emperor Ashoka ruled the Indian sub continent. Junagadh was also part of his empire. The famous emperor, chose, far corners of his empire, to display his beliefs in form of edicts engraved on rocks and pillars, to make his citizens understand the Buddhist concept of dharma and his efforts to develop the dharma throughout his kingdom. Although Buddhism and the Buddha are mentioned, the edicts focus on social and moral precepts. One such place, which Emperor Ashoka chose to display his thoughts to his subjects was Junagadh. He chose a large rock at the foot of 'Girnar' mountain, to engrave his thoughts or his edicts on its northeast face. 

This rock was discovered in 1822 and consists in all of 14 edicts of the emperor. A portion of the rock has chipped away with loss of some of the writings. This rock, which also has on the other side, inscriptions by MahaKashatrapa Rudradaman (130-150 AD) and Skandagupta (455-467 AD) has been enclosed for safety inside a building by the Government with galleries to go around the rock. The 14 rock edicts here variously record, royal orders against slaughter of animals: Facilities for medical treatment to man and animals; promulgation or Royal dharma to comprising respect to parents, economy in cost of living, kindness to animals etc. Transparency in public works, caring for all communities; avoiding extremes in anything and many other things.

I decide to break for lunch. Afterwords, this zigzag travel through history would have to continue with jumping forward once again to nineteenth century. 

One of the Nawabs of the Babi family, Mohammad Mahabat Khanji II ruled over state of Junagadh in a period, 1851 – 1882. Almost 10 years after his death, a tomb or a Maqbara was built on his grave in 1892. I am on my way to visit this historic building. This building is in the middle of the old city; one of the highly congested areas, today. The building however, is so imposing that it is quite impossible to miss it. The tomb is an architectural masterpiece that has come out of a mixture of Hindu, Moorish (Medieval Morroco) and European influences and is very remarkable. It is also probably the best preserved monument from the Babi Nawab's period. The structure is quite traditional with a central domed hall, flanked by four minarets along four corners. The minarets have external stairways that spiral in opposite directions to maintain symmetry and creates a stunning effect. On its side, stand the Jama Masjid and Vazir’s Maqbara, which itself is also a remarkable piece of architecture. 
The buildings are located in a large campus which are being maintained in a very poor fashion. There is no upkeep and I see boys playing cricket. The yellow grass around the monument requires mowing. 
The building has some very unusual features very uncommon in India. I can see on the sides of the doors and windows many Gothic columns and the windows themselves are styled like french windows, from floor to lintels. Some of the carvings are also noteworthy. Mahabat Maqbara is one of the neglected tourist sights, but definitely worth a visit.
I now move on again to outskirts of the city, where an old fort named as 'Uparkot' which really means Upper Fort, stands. The fort ramparts are built almost on ground level with circular towers at the corners. A car very easily can enter in the fort and can take you around saving much of trouble. As we enter, I can see a couple of temples of Hanuman and Ganesh. Once inside the fort, road climbs up sharply and I find myself at a much higher level, almost at the top of the bulwark. There are two guns kept here, named as 'Neelam' and 'Manek'. According to the legend, these were cast in Cairo. The guns were used by a Turkish naval force, invited by Sultan of Gujarat in a war against Portuguese in Diu in the year 1583. Turks were defeated and left the guns behind and were brought here and kept on the fort. 
Opposite the guns, stands a white coloured old and abandoned building of Jammi-Masjid. The building has three central courtyards with roofs that have octagonal openings. There might have existed 3 domes on the openings in the roof. It is believed that this 140 pillared building was a Palace of one Rani Ranak devi, married to Raja Rakhengar. This residence of Ranak devi was converted into a mosque by Muhammad Begada after his conquest of Junagadh, when he defeated Chudasama ruler, Raja Mandlik III in 1473. The main or east side entrance to the building, is one floor lower than the building floor, indicating a possible arrangement to facilitate travel on an elephant. Just outside the north gate,there is a spot, from where a clear view of Mount Girnar is possible. 
About 500 meters to northeast of Jammi-Masjid, there are two deep wells called 'Adi-Kadi Vav' and 'Navghan Kuwo.' The first one looks like a man made canyon because of the weird rock patterns seen on the side walls in the rock. This well is 41 meter deep and can be approached by a flight of 164 cut steps spread along a 81 meter long and 4.75 meter wide ramp. I try to go down the steps. After going more than half way down, I realise that the well is filled with garbage only and that too, mainly plastic. I beat a quick and hearty retreat. The other well, named after Chudasma dynasty Raja Navghan (1025-1044 CE), is perhaps deeper and the steps go round the well. I find myself short of being enthusiastic to go down the steps as there is nothing to see and just give up. 
 Mount Girnar
Adi-Kadi Wav
The last major attraction on Uparkot fort, are the Buddhist rock cut temples. I have seen number of such Buddhist caves in Deccan, but all of them were excavated on the face of cliff, starting at bottom most level and going up one or even two stories. The Uparkot caves are radically different from this construction prevalent in Deccan. Here, the caves have been excavated deeper and deeper in the rock, making a real subterrestrial abode for the monks. The caves are excavated, around three open shafts or a ducts of rectangular shape. Since these shafts are open to sky, fresh air can reach the bottom of the pit, easily. The monk's cells and prayer halls have been dug around the shafts on two stories, joined to each other by stair cases. 
Lower floor lacks fine workmanship 
I take a stair case, which leads me down to a lower floor. A passage from here leads to the main hall (open to skies through second shaft) on this floor. This has been excavated in a very crude form. The walls, pillars and recesses in the walls are all excavated without any fineness or art form. This probably indicates that these have been dug much earlier than the lowest part. Two flights of stairs take me to the lowest floor. The main hall of this floor (partially open to skies) contains exquisitely carved pillars, whose base, shaft and the capital contain uniquely decorative designs. The pillars are not circular but are having a polygonal shape with 24 or even 30 sides. The plinth bases are square and have intricate designs engraved on them and florally ornamented capitals carrying animal and human figures. The walls are adorned with horse shoe shaped Chaitya arches with Buddhist railing pattern carved below it. Within the arch, a human couple (in some places, two women) with ears like that of a rabbit, are carved. A continuous band of lattice design is also carved below the arches. Flowers are shown on the horse shoe arches. The designs can be related easily to Satavahan period rock cut temples.
Buddhist Chaitya arches with figures inside 
engraved on walls of lowest floor 
Highly decorated pillars on lowest floor
 Popular Buddhist theme of Garland carriers engraved on the
 base of the pillars; A Graeco-Roman Influence on Indian art

Each pillar base, just near the floor has probably the famous garland bearers that are seen on the Satavahan period Stupa at Amaravathi. Very clearly a Graeco-Roman influence on the art in India. This cave can be dated to around 2nd century. The third shaft on south leads to a water cistern where rain water was stored. On one side there is a platform for bathing.
It is very clear from the fineness and detailed sculpturing of figures carved on pillars, that even though the lower cave and pillars were excavated in very early period, probably third century BCE, the lowest floor has been done much later or around 2nd century CE.
I come out of the caves. We have tea at one of the roadside shacks and start back for Sasan. After a night's rest, tomorrow we start for Rajkot, where I would be catching a flight for Mumbai and then a bus ride to Pune
My Kutch-Kathiawar excursion is now coming to an end. The memories would surely stay with me for my life time. It has been a wonderful fortnight to say the least.


  1. Slotted stone for pillar base. Was the type of stone on which the two pillars of the stadium are situated? Could the slot in the stone base have been used to construct a pavilion atop the polished pillars? Thanks for the fascinating tour narrative, Athavale ji. Namaskaram. Kalyanaraman

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  3. sir, you had captured a photograph of a loco shed at morbi. can you please tell me where it is situated in morbi. I didnt saw this shed at morbi railways station. please guide me if you can recall.

    1. If I recall correctly, the loco shed can be seen from the road that starts from the New Palace and ends at the bridge on the river. On the other side of the bridge is the old palace