The overnight train from Ahmedabad was on time and we got down at the desolate Anjar station at the crack of dawn. Our anxious eyes spotted Sanjeev, who was to be our host and guide over the next few days. We quickly loaded our bags in his car and sped to the guest house for a quick change before embarking on our exploration of Kutch. We had a long day ahead of us.
The lingering monsoons ensured an overcast sky much to our relief. Not only the weather, soon other misapprehensions about Kutch were cleared for us. The hot, arid landscape that we had envisioned turned out to be a cool, cloudy and lush green countryside. We learnt that during Narendra Modi’s tenure as Chief Minister, he had brought Narbada waters through pipes, which had transformed the region. We witnessed this first hand when we halted at a famous dhaba on the Bhuj bypass, famous for fresh fruit juices. The fruits for the staggering variety of juices were all grown at their own farm! We even packed a supply of fresh frozen juices which the owner assured would remain cold for 3 to 4 hours.
The countryside continued to amazeus. Having been posted in this region in the early 1970’s, the greenery appeared a miracle. Anjar had been the epicentre of the devastating earthquake in 2001, and along with Bhuj, had been razed to the ground. Both places were now bustling towns, shining in their newness. Naturally, no old construction had survived and everything was post2001 construction
Our first destination was the Matanamadh Temple, famous for the Ashapura shrine that is steeped in antiquity finding mention even in the Puranas. She is reputed to fulfil all wishes and has a large following. The peculiarity of the deity is that she is seen on her knees, appearing to stand up. The long queue notwithstanding, we were able to get a satisfying ‘darshan’ and were again on the road by 12:30 pm. Having covered 150 kms, we had another 50 kms to reach Narayan Sarovar, the western-most point of our trip.
The welcome arch of Narayan Sarovar marked the beginning of a kilometre-long causeway connecting the town with the mainland, with dry flats on either side. A huge concrete TV tower was visible from the distance. We were now at one of the western-most points of India. The next populated city across the border in Pakistan was Karachi itself! The glow of the city is visible on clear nights from here. The town is famous for the sarovar (lake), once nourished by Saraswati River and one of the five sacred sarovars for Hindus, another one being Kailash Mansarovar.
Koteshwar is a few kilometres further and is on the seashore. And it is the last habitation on the Indian side of the border. This ancient temple also finds mention in Hindu religious texts. Legend has it that in the Ramayan, Ravana, while carrying the Shivling from Kailash to Lanka, placed it on the ground and the temple came up on the spot. The temple is an imposing construction built to withstand the seas and storms and it is well maintained and clean. The nearby BSF border outpost car park was nearly swamped with visitors heading towards the temple. A strong breeze from across the sea cooled us slightly as we performed our rituals. The packed lunch was sumptuous and was enjoyed under the picturesque stone-roofed picnic spots constructed along the seashore
It was 3:30 pm by the time we were on the road again. Next destination was Mandvi, famous for its beach and other historical monuments. We had the option to retrace our path by following the more traveled route. We chose the path less traveled, which was also shorter and it took us past the Indian Air Force base at Naliya. The distance was 150 kms, but the road conditions were uncertain.
Our apprehensions were soon put to rest. The road was well maintained and the countryside continued to be green, with a sprinkling of industries along the way. These were mostly cement plants and salt units. Wind farms were
plentiful. A large portion of road users was herds of cattle! We had to often slow down to give them right of way. The historic port town of Jakhau and religious centre of Pingleshwar were bypassed, as they were off the main NH 41. It was late afternoon when we entered Mandvi. The town was brimming with tourists since it was a Sunday. The road to the beach was jammed with cars and we took the safer option to park at a distance. The long walk helped loosen our cramped legs and was refreshing. The beach resembled a mela. Swings, merry-gorounds, food stalls, camel and horse rides covered every available space on the beach. Families holding hands tightly and sitting in the shallow water enjoyed each wave as it came crashing and engulfed them! We joined in the fun. Sanjeev opted for a camel ride, while we savoured a freshly roasted corncob.
We still had the final 100 kms to cover back home and felt it was prudent not to wait to witness the sunset. We left at 6:00 pm. Initially Google led us up a village path, before we realised our mistake and took some “manual” decisions to find our way back to NH 41. The highway joined the road connecting Mundra Port and the highway was full of big container trucks trundling along with their massive loads. With darkness setting in, our progress reduced considerably.
Tiredness finally took its toll and most of the journey was completed in relative silence.The highway towards the end became single lane, which further reduced progress.Finally, at 8:25 pm we reached the guest house. It had been a full12-hour day spent on the road. We had covered the expanse of Kutch and traveled literally to one end of India! The experience was revealing as this circuit was off the major tourist routes and we had many misconceptions of the area being barren and undeveloped. I hope more people make the effort to visit this area to gain a better insight about our country, its people and culture. And our heritage, which is still largely unknown to most of us. We were lucky to have had the opportunity to get a glimpse of it.
Brig. A.P. Singh, SM (Bar), VSM was commissioned into the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army on 31 Mar 1972. He has been an adventurer at heart and found time between his professional duties to be deeply involved in sailing and participated in the First Indian Expedition around the World on Trishna. A National Champion and a National Coach, he has accompanied children under 16 years’ age for international events for over 25 years. Presently he is the Registrar, Indus University Ahmedabad