A stroll on Mandvi Beach

I am strolling on Mandvi beach, with the cool waters of the ocean slipping though my toes. The noise of the jeering tourists is drowned by the gentle waves of the Arabian Sea. A wave of black herons fly by as if the dimming sun is prodding them to go back to their homes.

Situated at the border of Diu and Gujarat, Mandvi beach is a 6 km long stretch where the pristine water of the turquoise Arabian Sea adjoins the seashore. It was once a major port of the region and summer retreat for King Maharao of Kutch.

Once we were back from the salt desert of White Rann, we decided to spend an evening at this pristine beach. The reception at Click Hotel helped me obtain a car for the ride to the port city.

Drive from Bhuj to Mandvi

Mandvi is about an hour down the road from Bhuj, a busy little place with a spectacular shipbuilding yard. I was pleasantly surprised as the flat landscape gradually changed into a hilly terrain as we drove farther away from Bhuj. While in Bhuj and during my stay at the Rann Utsav, all I have seen is vast stretches of flat lands.

There isn’t much to see along the highway except tiny huts and a few single floored concrete buildings. Mandvi suffered far less destruction than Bhuj in the 2001 earthquake and the heart of town, around Mochi Bazar doesn’t show much damage as I witnessed at Chattardi in Bhuj. The buildings along the colorful town are decorated in faded pastel hues.

History of Mandvi

Located right on the Gulf of Kutch, with the Rukmavati River flowing on the east, the town of Mandvi has a rich history. A fortress was established here in the late 16th century and the town itself was a bustling sea port and trading center. Its landmark temples that drew people from all over the kingdom of Kutch. Today it is a slower, calmer place known for its golden sand beaches and migratory birds.

Mandvi Beach

Our driver dropped us off at the parking area. The beach is just a minutes walk away. Before I reach the turquoise green waters of the sea, huge wind mills on my right draw my attention away. The Wind Farms Beach and Wind-mills, which line the horizon of Mandvi, offer a spectacular view from the beach. The Wind mills projects running here is Asia’s first Wind-Mills Projects, started way back in 1983.

The noise grows louder as we walk further towards the wide sea. It was like a carnival out there. People are busy with swimming, surfing and speed boat trips. Some of the more daredevils are trying their hand at parasailing.

We walk away from the crowd and find ourselves are quiet spot in the sun. A few kilometers away from here lies Vijay Vilas Palace. Built as a summer resort in the 1920s by the then Maharao of Kutch, Vijay Vilas Palace is a beautiful red sandstone structure fusing Rajput architecture with colonial elements. Unfortunately we wont have time to explore it today.

As we sat, chatting away, camels keep running by, carrying shrieking tourists on their back. Apart from swims and walks; one can also avail of these camel rides available at the beach.

But I am here just for a leisurely walk on the beach. The beach is a curving stretch of golden sand fringed by blue-green waters, with windmills on one side, the breakwater on the other, and an uninterrupted view of the Arabian sea in front.

As the hot Sun began to make us uncomfortable, we walked towards what appeared to be a breakwater. Some people were sitting precariously at the edge enjoying the gentle breeze. We couldn’t find any way onto the platform, from our side of the beach, so we resigned ourselves to this side of the sandy beach.

Time flies when you are having fun. I didn’t realize, how quickly evening was upon us. The crowd had thinned and many of the people ferrying camels were casually moving around trying to find interested clients. We don’t ride animals, but I called up to one of the camel owners to ask if I could use his tattooed pet to take some pictures. His pet camel called Saagar, was friendly. He stood there calmly as I took a few photos.

The guy also offered to click a photo of us with the handsome beast.

Sunset on Mandvi Beach

We waited at the edge of the shore, even as the tide slowly receded, revealing more and more of the golden sands. Occasionally someone would disturb the peace with the vrooming of the engines of the monster sand bikes gliding over soft beach sand.

Luckily I was carrying my 80-400mm lens. With the Gitzo tripod holding the beast of a lens, I managed to get a zoomed shot of the lone star in our solar system.

Due to the strong haze, the sun started to disappear a lot before even touching base with the ocean. We said our final goodbyes to the lovely beach on Mandvi and headed back towards the parking lot.

Mandvi beach is one of the finest beach of Gujarat and a historic port town of the Maharao of Kutch. Embraced with golden sands and fishing villages, Mandvi is an idyllic location for a relaxed evening. It is beautifully besieged by windmills on the one hand and green waters on the other. Though not as famous as its northern neighbor Bhuj, Mandvi remains a great place to soak in history and enjoy Kutchi hospitality, all at a leisurely pace.

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Interesting places around Mandvi

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Colors of Rann Utsav

The advent of winter in India brings with it the best weather to experience the historically rich nation. We were in Bhuj to spend a few days in leisure at the Rann Utsav. Rann Utsav is an initiative of the government of Gujarat, which facilitates a four-month long festival in the midst of the Thar desert, every year starting from November and lasting till February. A smart move that generates livelihood for the local villagers who are only too happy to welcome visitors from across the globe – to savor the local delicacies and to witness the unique culture of Kutch.

Bhuj to Rann Utsav

We landed in Bhuj a day before to prepare ourselves for the days at White Rann tent city. We were staying at the Click Hotel, just 15 minute drive from the Airport and just adjacent to the Bhuj Railway Station. The folks from the Rann Utsav, had set up a makeshift tent just adjacent to the hotel.

Dhordo tent city, where Rann Utsav is held, is quite some distance away from the city and they transfer visitors on buses from this base. Various buses are scheduled over the length of day at frequent intervals. We had a quiet breakfast at the Hotel and checked out at 10 am. In the morning I had quietly obtained our passes on the 11 am bus so it was no hassle for us. In fact we were upgraded to an air-conditioned Jeep.

With the bright Sun was beating down upon us, we zipped past the desert. The vegetation went from thorny Babool and Keekar bushes to a desolate golden brown flat desert.

Welcome at Dhordo Tent City

We reached Dhordo tent city in an hours time. Dhordo is the nearest village near the tent city. A large gate welcomed us into the complex.

The visitors got down one by one form the bus and were taken on one of the buggies to the reception hall.

The reception hall lies on the right just after the entrance gate. At the reception, we were handed out our meal tickets to use over the period of our stay. Our luggage was sent directly to our tent.

Each tent is a stand-alone unit, laid out in a circular area. with a massive green carpeted area in the center. The tents were clean and with lot of space to move around.

The sun rays are softened by the thick dotted tent cloth and creates a beautiful glow inside. The AC tents were equipped with all possible amenities that one can think and ask for – Room coolers, round the clock supply of warm water in the middle of a desert.

It was mid afternoon and the AC was already on. Let me tell you right now, even though its November, the afternoons are very bright and consequently hot.

Day 1 at Rann Utsav

It was lunchtime, and after cooling down in front of the AC, we walked out for a block towards the dining hall nearest to our lodging. Two magnanimous dining halls serve sumptuous authentic Kutchi cuisine at the tent city. The dining hall is huge, about the size of a small football field. The eat-as-much-as-you-want buffet is delicious, but vegetarian. They also have special counters set up for Jains, as their food requirements are rather strict. During the stay of our span, I had various dishes, each fulfilling my insatiable appetite for local delicacies.

With our satisfied tummies, we got hold of one of the buggies ferrying visitors around the complex and requested him to take us on a quick tour of the area. The Rann Utsav a city made of more than 400 AC and non-AC tents, divided into 7 blocks, each with around 60 tents. Some of them are basic tents and some premium like the one we were lodged in. The driver also showed us the executive tent, allotted to VIP’s. He went on proudly how the current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi had been their guest for a couple of days.

He dropped us off in front of our block. We spent the rest of the afternoon lazing on the cot.

As evening approached, we were informed about the sunset visit to white Rann at 5.50. We slipped into the local village attires that we had obtained the previous day from Waniyawad market in Bhuj. There are many local handicraft shops around Bhuj and their artisans, ingenious with thread and needle create extremely fine style of embroidery called Mutwa, patterned around tiny mirrors.

Sunset at White Rann

Nothing beats a sunset and that too at the endless desert of White Rann. While basking in the beautiful sunset the only thought that grazed my mind was this, right here – is one of the “Real” 7 wonders of the world. During the monsoon months, the Rann of Kutch is submerged in sea water. As the sea water finally begins to recede in October, the Agariyas move in and begin the elaborate process of salt farming. First, they dig wells to pump out highly saline groundwater from the lake of brine that lies 40 feet below the crust.

More pictures of the sunset at Rann of Kutch

White Rann at midnight

We stayed awake till midnight when the die-hard night crawlers came out of their tents as did we. We were taken to the zero point where the full moon showered us in its blue light.

Day 2 at Rann Utsav

The next day, we woke up late after the midnight stroll at White Rann. The weather was just perfect, not to warm and neither to cold. We stayed in for much part of the morning. There wasn’t much to do at the edge of a desert and as we chatted away, loosened its grip on our minds. Without the demands of schedules crammed with “attractions” and “things to do – we were free to let thoughts unravel, reflect, or simply tune out.

We got out of bed around noon. A tour bus was scheduled to pick us up for Kalo Dungar. After another round of paneer and mawas, we were ready to visit the highest point in Kutch.


The bus picked us up at 3 pm. The driver was a bit of a novice and he lost his way a couple of times. On the bus a young guide explained to us how surrounded by the sea on one side and the grim, treeless and practically inaccessible Rann mountains on the other, Kutch had been for centuries cut off from the rest of India. With the sea as their primary outlet, the local tribes took to the sea, trading with Arabian kingdoms. Yet while Kutchies have traveled far and wide, Kutch itself remained in a time warp, closed to the influence on the Indian subcontinent.

In the villages around Kutch, these nomadic tribes, each with their own unique tradition of craft-work passed down from generation to generation, gave Kutch its reputation for producing India’s most beautiful handicrafts.

It is at one of these villages where we got down to indulge ourselves in some of the Kutchi handicrafts. Amid the arid and barren land of Kutch, a new dimension is added by the vivid imagination of Rabari women.

Rabari embroidery is characterized by chain stitches and a generous use of mirrors. The women depict the world around them, without the help of sketches or patterns. The only material used is a simple needle and thread, which they purchase from Bhuj, the nearby town. Mani bought a stole for herself.

Many of the villages where the Rabaris, Ahirs, Meghwalis and other tribes lived were devastated by the 2001 earthquake.

After spending an hour among the most vivid shopping mall, we left for Kalo Dungar.

Kalo Dungar

We ride out deep into the desert to explore Kalo Dungar also known as the Black Hill. Kalo Dungar is the highest point in Kutch and the best place to enjoy a panoramic view of the amazing Rann of Kutch. Though not literally black, the hill is known so because in olden times, the merchants returning to Kutch from Sindh used to be guided by this lonesome hill in the grim desert, which used to appear black because of the shadow cast by the sun.

[su_icon icon=”icon: info” background=”#f20000″ color=”#ffffff” text_color=”#4a4a4a” size=”14″ shape_size=”10″ radius=”4″ text_size=”18″ ]More pictures of Kalo Dungar[/su_icon]

It was dark by the time we reached the tent city.

Day 3 at Rann Utsav

Sunrise at White Rann

I would be the last person to get up at 5 am on a vacation. But I did and yes I am not complaining. I was witness to the most lovely sunrise over the white melted salts of White Rann. The silence accompanied with the vastness of space, the cool breeze of early November and the locals dressed up in ghagra & cholis make this moment a feast for my disenchanted urban soul.

More pictures of the sunrise at White Rann

Back to Bhuj

It was a special couple of days in White Rann. For centuries, Kutch had its own time, currency and language. Its walled cities were locked at sunset and opened at dawn. It is said, during the reign of Rao Khengarji III between 1876 to 1947, the keys of the five gates of Bhuj, were delivered to him every night and handed back every morning. This system ended in 1948, when his successor, Maharao Madan Sinhji, acceded to the Indian Union, and in November 1956 Kutch became a district in the state of Bombay.

Best time to visit Rann of Kutch

The climate in Rann owing to its desert land is considered to be one of the harshest and hottest temperatures recorded in India. The summer temperatures go as high as 50 degree Celsius. The winters are also quite extreme with temperatures dropping to as low as 0 degree Celsius. During the monsoon, the salt desert is covered with water considering its proximity to the Luni, Rupen and Indus rivers. The marshy desert is only about 49 feet above sea level.

The best time to visit Rann of Kutch is in winters at the time of Rann Mahotsav. Rann Utsav usually starts from the first week of November & usually, lasts up to March. One of the biggest salt deserts in the world, the great Rann of Kutch in the Gujarat state of India is known not only for its natural splendor but for what its inhabitants have created – The Rann Utsav. Magnificent is the word that one could simply use and glorify the natural beauty of Kutch with the canvas of culture, the profusion of art forms, and an overabundance of life. Please check out the official website of the Rann of Kutch Festival before you plan out.

Considering the magnitude of the festival, the accommodation at Rann is expensive during season time and hence it is advisable to pre-book if one wishes to visit the white desert during the utsav. Other than the festival months there is no accommodation option available in the desert, in this case one could opt to stay around Rann or could make a day trip from Bhuj.

Once at Rann Utsav the shopaholic can also indulge in buying authentic Gujarati handicrafts handmade by the Kutchhi people with a variety of options in clothes, bags and other items such as shoes and puppets.

During season, a variety of food options are also available at Rann starting from local chaats, Gujarati snacks to full-fledged Gujarati thalis. Apart from the festival months, there are barely any options available for food. It is advisable to carry water and food if one wishes to visit Rann from March to November.

Other Places to see around Bhuj

The capital city of Kutch is one of the most interesting and cultural cities of India. It was ruled by the Jadeja Rajput dynasty of the Samma tribe in 1510 and made Bhuj their capital and remained Kutch’s most important town ever since.

Bhuj sells some amazing handicrafts which is known worldwide apart from the historic buildings such as the Aina Mahal and Prag Mahal which are worth a watch.People who are fond of exploring of old monuments and temples will love to explore this city.


Chattardi in Bhuj is a small yet wonderful place to experience the history of Kutch. These Chattardis or umbrella-shaped domes were built around 1770 AD to glorify the tombs of the Royal families of Rajput lineage. Surrounded by sea on one size and the grim Rann mountains on the other, Kutch remained cut off from the rest of India, in a time-wrapped cocoon with its amazing culture and art confined within these natural boundaries.

More pictures of the ruins of Chattardi

Mandvi Beach

We drive to Mandvi Beach to laze out in the winter Sun. The beach is a curving stretch of yellow sand fringed by green waters, with windmills on one side and an uninterrupted view of the Arabian sea on the other. The sea is safe for swimming and the beach is ideal for walking. The beautiful beach offers many fun activities including Camel rides, bubble floats, speedboats and even para-sailing. But for us peace hunters, a few steps away there is the silence of the gentle waves and the occasional herons flying by.

More pictures of Mandvi Beach

The earthquake of 2001 that cost tens of thousands of lives in India last January also destroyed a unique civilization in a remote desert haven.

It was the destruction of part of our heritage. For India, the earthquake left its second largest district ruined; for Kutch, it left an age-old, distinct culture in tatters.

Like the Rann itself, that silence, that solitude, is an expanse unto itself. As a break from my urban life, it is a luxury, an escape.

Sunrise at White Rann

I am back again at the zero point of Rann of Kutch and I cannot decided if I am disappointed or enthralled. The sea water has moved back into the salt mud-lands dissolving all the white salt. The visuals have changed completely from a couple of days before when I came here at sunset.

The landscape appears more like as if I am standing on the shores of the sea as I wait for the sun to rise. Only, the sea isn’t a mass of blue or for that matter green. Its is white!

Only a handful of people have made it to the sunrise. I am guessing to much festivities of last night when a popular Indian actress, Vidya Balan suddenly made her appearance at the Rann Utsav.

Towards the western side, the moon rides slowly into oblivion, but no one is interested. Everyone’s gaze are towards the purple sky that has already started to change colors every minute.

A huge three floor structure is standing at the edge of the zero-point. I set up my tripod on one of the platforms below the top floor, where there are no people. Everyone is at the top trying to get the best available viewpoint.

Because of the strong haze, we are able to see the first glimpse of the red ball of fire only after it has already risen a few degrees above the horizon.

After taking a few shots I climbed down the steps, intending to get closer to the edge of the water.

As the Sun goes higher, it casts a long reflection over the melted salt of the marsh . A group of Gujarati tourists break into a dance. It is hard to make out what they are singing, might be a recent bollywood song, but I bet they are just as thrilled as me, looking at the beautiful sunrise over the White Rann.

This is part of my experiences at the Rann Utsav. If you are interested in knowing more about how Rann Utsav can be a memorable experience for you, click here.

Ride to Kalo Dungar

I am at Kalo Dungar, some 50 km north of Dhordo tent city, on the top of the Black Hills. The highest point in Kutch, offers a bird’s-eye view of the Great Rann of Kutch. From here, the entire northern horizon vanishes into the Great Rann, the desert and sky becoming indistinguishable on the horizon.

Drive from Dhordo Tent City to Kalo Dungar

I and my travel companion – Mani, were staying at the Dhordo Tent city. Every year, the government of Gujarat holds a four-month-long festival known as ‘The Rann Utsav’ starting from November to February. The stay at the Tent city includes a free bus tour to Kalo Dungar.

The route to the hill is not very clearly marked. It is best to visit Kalo Dungar before sundown to avoid getting lost on the secluded roads leading to the hill. Our driver, though being a local, got lost twice and had to backtrack to get the bus back on the correct route. Although if you do get stuck at the hill, there is a dharamshala at the top where you can find shelter and basic food.

Even at 462 meters, the hill can still pose a challenge to the novice driver with roads inclined at very steep angles. Halfway up the hill, for a moment the bus driver almost gave up looking at the steep terrain.

Eventually, after a lot of coercing, laced with encouragement from fellow tourists, the bus reached the parking zone, which lies a little distance away from the top. From here local jeeps took us to the peak for Rs. 20 per head. It’s not much of a distance, probably just a way to allow the locals to make some earnings.

While going up, looking down from the back of the jeep, I realized that no bus would have made the drive to the peak. The jeep dropped us off in front of the Dattatreya Temple.

Just opposite the temple lies an Army outpost. This is one of the places where a civilian can get closest to the Pakistan border,  and there is tight security around the hill.

Dattatreya Temple on Kalo Dungar

The hilltop is also the site of a 400-year-old temple to Dattatreya, the three-headed incarnation of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva in the same body. Many fables and tales are associated with the history of the Kalo Dungar. One of them says that Dattatreya happened to pass by this hill while walking on the earth. While admiring the barren landscape, he found a band of starving jackals. He offered them his body to eat and as they ate, his body continually regenerated itself.

Some people differ saying that it was actually a holy saint named Lakkh Guru, a worshiper of Dattatreya who used to live there in an ashram. One day a pack of wild jackals appeared in his ashram and stood expectantly in front of him. When he realized that they were famished, he offered them a simple meal of rice and dal, the staple diet of his ashram. Since that day the jackals started coming each day, day after day.

Because of this, for the last four centuries, the practice of feeding jackals still continues to this day. The priest of the temple prepares food and serves it to jackals every morning and evening, after the aarti (praying).

Beside the temple is a makeshift tent selling Gujarati handicrafts and traditional dresses.

From here we were on foot, making our way upwards towards the topmost viewpoint. People with a disability or just plain unfit can avail the use of beautifully dressed Camels, who can carry them to the top.

The road though steep, is an easy walk and we were hardly challenged as we reached the top viewpoint within a few minutes.

In the distance, despite the haze, I was still able to make out the rectangular salt fields. These are the lands of the Agariya tribe, traditionally salt farmers, who have lived here for centuries. Working every day under a scorching sun from mid-October to June, the Agariyas harvest almost 75 percent of India’s overall salt produce.

Across the Black Hills, staring into infinity, one can realize the tremendous effort of the Sindh merchants, who undertook the crossing of the Great Rann for trade in the olden times.

Why is the Kalo Dungar called Black Hill

Well here is another interesting story. It is intriguing why the locals refer to this hill as the Black hill. There is not a point on the hill that is remotely associated with that color.

Though not literally black, the hill is known so because, in olden times, the merchants returning to Kutch from Sindh used to be guided by this lonesome hill in the grim desert, which used to appear black either because of the shadow cast by the sun or because of the dense forest cover. Just like the North Stars guides the lost people at sea, Kalo Dungar used to act as a marker so the caravans of people crossing the desert would follow it to understand their location.

There weren’t many tourists at the top. A cemented platform with makeshift benches provided relief to those who had tired from the climb. A small structure stood below us shaped like a hut with the words “Suswagatam” painted, which means “welcome” in Hindi.

We wandered around immersed in the beauty of the surrounding. Local kids in their teens would, from time to time, come around offering tea. A few of the brave-hearts had ventured beyond the cemented platform into a narrow trail that went further to the edge of the hill.

The Sun gradually slipped into oblivion. After taking a few shots of the picturesque landscape we started walking back towards the bus.

While driving back, there was a section on the road which our guide brought attention to. He reported that in that 4 km stretch of the road, vehicles roll down in neutral gear at speeds of 70-80 km/hr.

However, a quick search on the internet informed me that the movement of the vehicle is only because of the steep slope and there was no anomaly causing it. Experts from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur and Institute of Seismic Research (ISR), Gandhinagar have concluded that vehicles suddenly gain speed in the descent only because of the steep slope. So much for the magic theory.

Going back was thankfully devoid of any adventure and we reached Dhordo in an hour’s time.

How to reach Kalo Dungar using public transport

Kandva village is the closest inhabited village which is located around 25 kilometers from Kalo Dungar. Reaching the hilltop by public transport is difficult; the only bus travels there from Khavda on weekend evenings and returns in the early morning. Hiring a jeep from Khavda is the better option. Bhuj is almost 90 km away and a day tour from Bhuj would be quite taxing.

People who want to see the Great Rann of Kutch from a different perspective must head up to Kalo Dungar. In my opinion, staying at one of the resorts in Dhordo is the best option for enabling a good experience of Kalo Dungar. The drive takes about an hour and one can stay a bit late after the sunset and still make it back to the resort quickly.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I visit Mandvi Beach on the Arabian Sea.

Sunset at White Rann

I am standing at the edge of the White Rann, an endless stretch of white that goes all the way from Gujarat’s Kutch district to Pakistan’s Sindh. The tattooed Camels have helped us reach this point from where everything is a blank white of nothingness.

The vast expanse of uninterrupted whiteness makes me feel as if I was miraculously zapped from the grim Indian desert to the frozen white lakes of Japan, only I didn’t need the safety of my hefty gloves or winter jackets. Oh yes, it looks like a frozen lake but looks can be deceiving. This is one of the most unforgiving places in India with summer temperatures averaging and peaking at 49.5 °C. Thankfully it is November when it is pleasantly warm.

Centuries ago, the Rann of Kutch was part of the sea until an earthquake turned the exposed sea bed into a sprawling desert. The name “Rann” comes from the Hindi word ran (रण) meaning “desert”. Today, it is a vast expanse of arid land, devoid of habitation, stretching out to the Arabian Sea.

The salt desert spreading over 30,000 sq. km gets submerged underwater during the monsoons. The Luni River, which originates in Rajasthan, drains into the desert in the northeast corner of the Rann. The Rupen from the east and the West Banas River from the northeast also feed freshwater into the desert, making it the world’s largest salt marsh.

Even though it was November the salt was still slimy and difficult to walk over. Just below the white salt lies gooey black mud. The Sun was dipping fast. Mani in her beautiful Ghagra was trying her best to help me take a shot of the sunset over the White Rann. I think I will talk about this photo for years to come.

The low-lying mudflats of the White Rann, which is all but 15 meters above sea level, fill with water during the monsoon between June to September, and then gradually dries out over the rest of the year leaving behind the saline crust that hardens to form the signature luminous white color of the desert. By January when temperatures reduce dramatically and can go below 0 °C, the marsh is transformed into an unending white desert.

In the wee hours of twilight, we were gifted with the sight of the Moon rising in the opposite direction. Most of the tourists had left by then and it was easier for us to take this shot via the tripod.

The salt desert is about 100 kilometers away from the nearest town of Bhuj and that allows the place to be free of random by-passers. There is a quietness to the place, allowing me to ponder. I even forget that I haven’t click a single photo of the white desert in its entirety. No worries there because I will be coming back.

We stayed back till the sun disappeared over the horizon and darkness engulfed us.

Our experience of Rann of Kutch was made even memorable by our stay in the premium tents of Rann Utsav. If you want to know more read the full story here.

The forgotten tombs of Chattardi

On our autumn break, we were heading to the Rann of Kutch. The Great Rann of Kutch is a salt marsh located in the Thar Desert in the Kutch District of Gujarat. Kutch derives its name from its resemblance to a tortoise which is pronounced as “Kachabo” in the local Gujarati dialect. Kutch used to be a desert sporadically populated with small tribes. The first known mention of Kutch occurs around 300 BC. when a holy man, lost in the forests of the north-western Kutch, cleared the wildlands using celestial fire so that he could find his way home. It is said – from those ashes sprang crops of grass so rich that large numbers of pastoral tribes from neighboring areas moved in making it their new home.

Bangalore to Bhuj

There are many convenient ways to get to Bhuj but to save time I choose to take the flight from Bangalore with a break of a few hours at the Mumbai airport. This choice, however, was largely forced because my waitlist queue on the inbound train to Bhuj never moved a place in over a month.

As we landed in Bhuj, the flight intercom alerted us to abstain from taking photos of the airfield, on account of it being near the army base. The International border is not very far away and we don’t really have cordial relations with the Pakistanis.

Bhuj is the principal town of Kutch in Gujarat. The Kingdom of Kutch was founded around 1147 CE by Lakho Jadani of the Samma tribe who had arrived from Sindh. The walled city is built around a lake dominated by a fortified hill. As we stepped out of the Jet Airways plane, an army fighter took off from a nearby field. No wonder, the military doesn’t want tourists posting pictures of this area.

We had reservations at the Click Hotel in Bhuj. Taxis, few in numbers were asking for an astronomical amount of Rs. 500 for a three-kilometer ride to the hotel. With a little bargaining, I was able to convince an auto driver to drop us off at the hotel for Rs 200.

Click Hotel is one of the most lavish hotels in the city. It also helps immensely that they are located right next to the Bhuj railway station. The room and facilities at the hotel were beyond expectation. I would really recommend this hotel just on the basis of its amazing location.

After a shower, we dropped into the hotel restaurant on the ground floor. In Gujarat, come prepared to eat vegetarian. After lunch, we hopped into an auto-rickshaw also known as the Tuktuk, towards the local market. We were searching for some ethnic costumes to wear on our days at the Rann festival.

The Waniyawad market is about 15 minutes away from the hotel and it didn’t take us long to find a decent store that sells local handicraft items.

After obtaining a lovely Ghagra/ choli with lovely mirror work for my wife and a Kurta in Rabari embroidery for yours truly, we hired another auto-rickshaw to take us to the ruins of Royal Chhatardis of Bhuj. The “Chhatris” complex is a popular cenotaphs complex in the outskirts of Bhuj, not more than a 15 minutes ride from the town center. It preserves the tombstones belonging to the Jadeja rulers of Kutch.

The ruins of Chattardi of Bhuj

The sun was already saying its goodbyes by the time we reached the Chattri ruins. As the tuktuk dropped us off, you can tell there is no massive gate announcing an important heritage site. The entrance is so narrow that one can easily miss it. The “Chhatris” complex in Bhuj was constructed sometime in the 18th century to glorify the cenotaphs of the Rao’s of Kutch.

Most of the buildings have almost disappeared into rubble piles as a result of the earthquake of 2001. Still, the remaining pieces of history were enchanting enough for me. A few local visitors were sitting on the broken pedestals, enjoying the beautiful sunset. It was getting dark fast, so I decided to come down the next day at sunrise.

Reaching Chattardis of Bhuj

Even though I was exhausted from the two flights of the day before, I was also bubbling with excitement, to visit the final resting place of the kings of Kutch. I woke up at 5 am when the stars were still illuminating the sky. Bhuj being one the westernmost towns, the sun rises quite late in these parts at around 6.30 am.

It was still dark as I went around the back of the hotel towards the auto-rickshaws parked near the railway station. The Chattardi complex is located at a distance of about 5 km from Bhuj Railway Station, situated to the southwest of Hamirsar Lake. By the time the auto driver dropped me off in front of Chattardi complex, a soft glow of dawn had already appeared over the horizon.

History of Chattardis of Bhuj

I still had a half-an-hour lead over the sunrise. The revolving gate at the entrance was unmanned and I quickly made my way towards the damaged ruins. The Chhatris in Bhuj were commissioned sometime in the 18th century by Jadeja ruler Rao Lakhpatji.

Kutch was ruled by the Jadeja Rajput dynasty of the Samma tribe from its formation in 1147. The rulers had migrated from Sindh into Kutch in the late 12th century. The Jadejas in all probability could have been one of the Sindh tribes who, in the tenth century, were converted to the tenets of the Karmatians. When the leading branch of the Sammas adopted the orthodox form of Islam, the Jadejas kept to their Hindu faith. Some historians point to 1185 when Jam Jadaji became king of Sama Nagar, Sindh. He had no sons. So he adopted two sons of his Younger brother Veraji; Lakhaji and Lakhiyarji. So The names of Lakhaji and Lakhiyarji were changed to Lakhaji ‘Jadeja’, which means son of Jadaji. Thereafter all descendants were named ‘Jadeja’, which means sons of Jadaji.

Interestingly, the genealogy of the Jadejas is still maintained today by the respective Jadeja branches and every single person in their clan can trace their ancestry through to Rato Rayadhan.

The pure Jadeja rule started sometime near 1365 CE. Though considered a new name, they rose into prominence after the conversion to Islam of the Samma rule, that immediately precedes them.

The name Jadeja means “Belonging to Jada” in the Sindhi and Kutchi language, and is pronounced as “Jaa day jaa”.

The construction of cenotaphs or chhatris by the Royal families of erstwhile kingdoms in Gujarat and nearby regions had been in vogue for many centuries. These umbrella-shaped dome structures, built in memory of royals can also be found all over the nearby regions of Rajasthan and also in some parts of Madhya Pradesh which were connected to the Rajput lineage. Kutch was ruled by the Jadeja Rajput dynasty until 1948 when it acceded to the newly formed Republic of India.

The cenotaph complex was deserted at this early hour and I went about taking shots of these collapsed masterpieces. There are no official markings and it is impossible to assign any of these to a particular ruler.

Inside the complex, there are many different types of Chhatris. I really loved the detailing on this tombstone. It is the most detailed surviving structure. Floral designs are the most common patterns found on these tombstones. Apart from floral patterns, hexagons, octagons, and stripe patterns can also be seen across the walls of the structure.

This was in all probability another tombstone of a Rajput king, but it is impossible to say who is depicted on the tablet. Over the years these ancient Chattris – the tombstones of fallen heroes, and stones erected in memory of their heroism and chivalry became their recognition. The person on the horse is supposed to depict the king surrounded by his wives.

Further up, I found another similar tablet. It was much simpler compared to the other ones. This one didn’t have the depiction of the king’s wives surrounding it.

As I moved from one cenotaph to another I found myself in front of the largest and the finest tombstone, that of Rao Lakha built in 1770 CE. This cenotaph is particularly famous as it was shown in a Hindu movie. The movie was released years back and at that point in time the heritage structure still had its roof.

The story of Rao Lakhpatji

Maharao Lakhpatji, born in 1717, was probably the most influential of all the rulers of Kutch. Also known as Lakhaji, he was the Rao of Cutch, who ruled the princely state of Cutch (Kutch) as a regent from 1741 to 1752. He later succeeded his father Deshalji I in 1752 and ruled until his own death in 1760.

Rao Lakhpatji was a pivotal figure in the development of Kutch and his reign which started in 1741 saw the arts of Kutch introduced to the rest of India.

Please be careful while exploring these structures as you can see the main gate is just about hanging somehow.

Unlike Maharashtra, which is almost entirely covered by the basaltic lava flows of the Deccan Trap, the Bhuj landscape comprises sandstone and shale. Built of these red sandstones, the Chhatri of Rao Lakhpatji is situated on the northern side of the Chattardi complex. The main Chhatri used to be supported by decorative pillars, a fine specimen of Kutch architecture. Once you enter Rao Lakhpatji’s cenotaph you will be amazed by the semi-damaged beautiful sculptures of the deities and people in local costumes.

Designed by Ram Singh Malam, an architect and craftsman from the 18th century Kutch region, the cenotaph is polygonal in shape with balconies. There used to be a blue dome with jeweled work strongly influenced by Turkish architecture. His technique of enamel work is now known as ‘Kutch work’. The depictions in stone of Rao Lakhpatji chhatri suggest that 15 of his wives gave up their lives at his funeral pyre.

Ram Singh Malam is celebrated as a maritime folk hero and songs written on him are still sung in coastal regions of Gujarat.

Constructed in 1770, this cenotaph had many individual balconies. The structure used to be covered with a roof with intricate carvings but currently they lie scattered around the tombstone. In the center of all these lavish constructions sits the tablet of the king himself with 15 of his consorts. The tablets used to sit under the central dome, where it is also said, lies the ashes of Rao Lakha.

Raujputana history is rich in historical romance and chivalry. During my research, I read there are other tombstones dedicated to Rao Rayadhan, Rao Desai, and Rao Pragmal, but without any proper guide, it is hard to tell which one is which.

After taking a few shots in the early twilight, I waited for the Sun to show up, reading up on a bit of history behind the most influential ruler of Kutch – Rao Lakhpatji.

Sunrise at Chatteri

The sun took its time showing itself. The sky was already bright all around by the time I saw it peeking from behind the forests. I took my tripod to the opposite side of the sunrise so I could catch the silhouettes of the tombstones in an artistic way.

I was soon basking in the golden rays of the winter Sun. The square pavilion below was a standout among all other dome-shaped tombstones

In some articles, I have read that the Chattri with a blue dome with jeweled work strongly influenced by Turkish architecture is also dedicated to Rao Lakhpatji. Mind you, with some exceptions, Chhatris are basically tombstones that do not contain the mortal remains of that person and they were built as a tribute to their greatness.

The Chattris of different clans display variations of the umbrella form, in a way conveying its extra-ordinariness. The earlier cenotaphs memorialized their ancestors with Chhatris that took forms appropriated from temples built in the region. During the times of the Raos of Kutch, diplomatic relations with the Mughals imparted their own unique flavor to this structure.

By this time, a couple of local residents had made their way to the complex for their morning exercises. The golden light was perfect to capture the details of these tombstones so I went back around the structures that were comparatively less damaged to capture closely the details in these walls.

A distant view of these structures is very pleasing and yet a closer examination of the designs and intricate carvings engraved on the tombstones reveals a wealth of data about the social history of the region. Some walls bear floral patterns while others bear figurative depictions of equestrians and weaponry such as shields and spears.

On the southern side of the compound, there is, what seems like an active temple where people still come to say their prayers. The Jadejas, themselves were followers of Hinduism and worshiped Ashapura Mata, who is the kuldevi of the Jadeja clan and also the State deity. The main temple of the goddess is located at Mata no Madh.

Just in front of the temple, the square pavilion was lit up beautifully in the soft golden rays of the Sun. This tombstone is the only square-shaped tombstone on the premises and appears to be tilted towards the chaukhandi type of architecture, much more prevalent in Sindh, now in Pakistan. Well, let us just say not everyone loves circular domes.

Restoration of Chattardi

It was 8 am already and I had to go back to the hotel to get ready for my ride to the Rann Utsav. The structures have been severely damaged by the Bhuj earthquake of 2001 and some are currently being renovated though at a very slow pace.

The Kutch region is underlain by a Mesozoic rift system. Faults within such rift systems are known to have the potential to generate large earthquakes. Earthquakes have visited this district of Kutch repeatedly over the centuries. The last great earthquake of 2001 has taken a huge toll on the enigmatic buildings from the 18th century. The area is so rich with cultural heritage, and the earthquake was particularly cruel to many of these architectural relics that embody that heritage. 

Walking through the boulders I found stone tablets depicting royalty as well gods and goddesses, some of them exquisitely carved. With no security around the compound, I wonder how difficult it would be for someone to just pick up one of these extremely valuable decorative slabs, either to sell in the gray markets or simply in order to decorate their own drawing rooms. I greatly appreciate the restoration work already done, but the concerned authorities must arrest this decay and destruction of these valuable pieces of our heritage and restore them to their original splendor.

Best time to visit Bhuj

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I visit the White Rann.

What is the best time to visit Bhuj?

The best time to visit Bhuj is between November and February. These are the only times when the harsh sun isn’t beating down on the desert district.

What are the admission timings for Chattris in Bhuj?

It is open 24×7. I didn’t see any guards and morning joggers use the place freely.

What are the admission fees for Chattris of Bhuj?

admission is free