Category Archives: Gujarat

A detailed guide to the Rann of Kutch

With winter, comes in the dry cold winds over the great Indian Thar desert region. The great Rann of Kutch is a part of the Thar desert and is shared between India and Pakistan. The cold winds carry the surface water along with it and dry up the salt marsh. Thus, the entire marshland looks like this phenomenal never-ending stretch of white salt flatland. Rann of Kutch is one of the largest salt marshes in the world and the amazing sunsets over the white salt flats has made it to the bucket list of every traveler and rider.

With all my backpacking experience in other places of India, I wanted to explore ROK too… But when I landed there with a rough idea about the places to visit, I was in for a surprise. Backpacking in Kutch was not as easy as it seemed to me. Firstly, the connectivity through public transportation wasn’t reliable and accommodation options were very few and expensive. It is close to a year since I did this trip and I think I should post this before the ROK travel season starts for this year.

So to begin with, let me tell you the transportation options for getting around Kutch.
1. Pre-book a taxi for your entire trip if you are flying down to Bhuj (The option which I chose).
2. Get a self-drive car or bike from Ahmedabad if that is where you are starting your trip from.
3. There are government buses connecting each place. However, as on date there is only one bus plying each day with long to very long traveling time.

For the stay, I would recommend making Bhuj your central location as it is easy to travel to each place if you choose to follow my itinerary and the stay would be relatively cheaper. The Tent city is extremely expensive and overly commercialized. If you want to experience the tent stay in the salt flats like the way it is portrayed everywhere on the internet, I would advise you to spend your last night at Dholavira.

The roads in Kutch I must tell you are something that will amaze you with. They rip right into the horizon, they are super straight, and one would want to just stop by every other time and get the photos of the road with their car/ bike parked by the side.

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The Tropic of cancer passes across the road

Then comes the itinerary. This is what a typical itinerary for anyone traveling to Kutch looks like if the start and end point of your trip is Bhuj.

Day 1: Koteshwar + Lakhpat + Mata no Madh 

  • You will be traveling to the western-most tip of Indian Sub-continent, Koteshwar. The Koteshwar Mahadev temple is of religious importance. Right after it is located the Narayan Sarovar which is popular for spotting Flamingoes if you are going there in the right season. You can have free lunch at the Narayan ashram located nearby.
  • You can then drive to Lakhpat. You will be welcomed by the large walls of an erstwhile fortress as you enter this town which is now a religiously important place for the Sikh community which maintains the Gurudwara Sahib that houses some of the relics of Sri.Guru Nanak.
  • Lakhpat, once used to be a buzzing port town and the economic center of the state until it was hit by a major famine. The entire town was abandoned for what it is today popularly known to be a haunted village. Anyway, it is guarded by the navy and the coast guards and with their permission, I enjoyed my walk there with some nice photos of the abandoned village, its houses and temples.
  • The deity at the Ashapura Devi temple located at Mata no Madh is believed to be a powerful goddess and hence visited by everyone traveling here. There really wasn’t much for me to do there and I preferred my 2kms drive up to the hill temple over this. We had reached there at sunset time and I decided to spend the remaining time watching the golden skies from there before heading back to Bhuj for the night.
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Enroute the Narayan Sarovar

Day 2: Dhordo + Kala Dhungar + Hodka + Dhorbana + Banni

  • Dhordo: For me, the photos of this exact place was what brought me here even before I knew what Rann of Kutch was. Popularly known as the tent city, it is a commercialized patch developed by the Gujarat government to promote tourism. You can spend some time enjoying the various folk dances, camel rides etc. along with various stalls put-up there.
  • Drive up to Kala Dungar. This is the highest point in the entire Kutch region and the view of 360deg salt flat is something you will not forget. There is a small temple on the top associated with a folklore.
  • Hodka, Dhrobana, Bhirandiyara, Ludiya, Kavda and Banni are some of the several villages along the edge of the Great Rann of Kutch where there are settlements of specific artisans and you can interact with these communities. Although the famous Kutchi embroidery is a generalized term, the patterns used in their stitching, their apparel and jewellery are unique to each community and thus is a representation of individual village. Each of their Bhungas (as the huts are called in Kutch) are uniquely painted and walking in these villages are experiences in themselves. This day trip is highly promoted by the Gujarat government as part of rural tourism.
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The fossils scattered around the fossil park and the great Rann in the backdrop

Day 3: Mandvi and Vijay Vilas palace

  • You can take the route via Nalia to reach Mandvi. This route offers amazing views and a stretch with windmills might even blow your mind 😛
  • Stop by at the Vijay Vilas palace
  • Spend some time chilling by the Mandvi beach

Day 4: Bhuj Local sightseeing (Every place has an entry fee and specific open days and timings)

  • Aina Mahal and Parag Mahal are both old palaces of the erstwhile royalty located within the same premises. A visit here is worth your time because it offers a lot of insights into history and photo spots to the shutterbugs.
  • The biggest Swaminarayan temple in India is located in Bhuj. For those of you who don’t know, it is the same organization that manages the Akshardham temple in Delhi.
  • This is a dedicated day for shopping all your Kutchi embroidered souvenirs. You can buy all the handicrafts directly from the artisans and get good deals either at Bhujodi handloom village or Bhuj Haat.
  • Take a walk around the Bhuj Haat premises. A replica of the Parliament building is made here and houses stories from the lives of several leaders who lead India to freedom.
  • A small hike up the Bhujio Dungar fort offers you a panoramic view of the entire Bhuj town, an early morning or evening visit is advised to avoid the harsh sun.
  • Befriend a local and there are some offbeat spots in the town that you would not find on the internet. The Kutchi museum, the Khari Nadi canyon, Paddhargadh ruins, Chattardi ruins, Tapkeshwari caves are among a few of those unexplored gems.
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The Kari nadi canyon, Bhuj

Day 5: Dholavira
For me, this was the highlight of my trip. (Click here to read the detailed itinerary and my story in a separate post). An archaeological site from the Indus Valley civilization era, a fossil park from the dinosaur era, tribal settlements and the enormous stretch of salt flats- You need to time your stay here on a full moon night to get the best experience of the great Rann of Kutch.

Day 6: Head back to Bhuj for your return flight or proceed towards your next destination.

I assume this article was of some use if you were planning your trip to the Rann. Was it helpful? Is there something that I missed out? Tell me in the comments below…

Love Biriyani? Here’s one from every Indian State

Biriyani is one dish that needs no introduction. Although the earliest roots of Biriyani can be traced back to middle-east, Biriyani was brought to the Northern India by the Muslim rulers who largely settled there and the Arab merchants who came to the southern India for trade. Today, Biriyani is more of an emotion for every foodie. Hence, an essential part of Indian food culture. Anybody visiting India has one thing to strike off in their list of ‘To do in India- Eat Biriyani’. But, India is a country of diversity and in no way can the humble Biriyani be left behind without being different.

While Biriyani is a very generic moniker for this spicy, aromatic and delicious preparation of rice, it comes in various forms. These forms are born out of the local influences of available ingredients, regional cuisine, rice variety and flavor preferred. There are mainly 2 types of making it: Kucchi (Raw marinated meat is cooked together between layers of raw rice) and Pakki (Meat and rice are separately cooked with all the spices and served together). While Biriyani is predominantly a non-vegetarian dish, it has been over time tuned for the vegetarian masses. Some versions are named after the place it originated from and some are synonymous with certain families or shops that created the variants.

So, while you enjoy exploring India, here is something for you to try out at each of the 29 states of this huge country- Biriyani.

PLEASE NOTE: There are a few states in India where I have not yet visited and hence do not have sufficient information about the local Biriyani flavours. It will be greatly appreciated if you can help me fill up these empty spaces by dropping your suggestions in the comments below.

  1. Andhra Pradesh– Doodh ki Biriyani is something that stands out from the rest of the list in flavor and colour. Here, the meat and the rice are cooked together in milk instead of water. Vegetarians can drool over Avakaya Biriyani. This is made by mixing a raw mango and mustard oil pickle with steamed basmati rice.
  2. Arunachal Pradesh(**Need help)
  3. Assam– Kampuri biriyani is a delightful recipe that has originated in a place called Kampur in this north-eastern state.
  4. Bihar– Champaran is a culturally important region in the country that also gives its name to the popular non-vegetarian dish of the state. The flavours of Champaran mutton or Ahuna mutton goes well great in our list. What makes its preparation stand out is the usage of black pepper corns, desicated coconut and whole bulbs of garlic cooked along with the meat. The garlic pulp is then squeezed into the preparation.
  5. Chattisgarh(**Need help)
  6. Goa– With a large number of influences from the erstwhile Muslims, Portuguese and the Saraswata Bramins of Konkan, Goan traditional food is an amalgamation of many cuisines. The Goan fish biriyani is a must try (the fish used may differ) which derives its flavour from coconut and red kokum. It is light on spices.
  7. Gujarat– In a state where vegetarianism is largely preferred, Memoni biriyani comes as a surprise for mutton lovers. It has its origin from Sindh, the region in Pakistan with whom the state shares its border.
  8. Haryana– Although, this state doesn’t have a biriyani it reckons itself with, its long association with the capital city, Delhi can be spoken about. Delhi Biriyani itself has so many versions depending on the part of the city it originated in and the purpose it was created for. Nizammuddin biriyani, Shahajanabad biriyani are a few to name. There is yet another twist to it in the form of the Achaari biriyani. Here, rice is mixed with pickles (Achaar in Hindi). Karim’s biriyani is served from a kitchen that dates back to the mughals (contributed by trippin_on_life).
  9. Himachal(**Need help)
  10. Jammu & Kashmir– Its large association with the Muslim rulers has lead into the creation of the Kashmiri Biriyani (non-veg) or the Kashmiri Pulav (vegetarian dish). Mutanjan biriyani is a dish that stands out in the entire list as it is a sweet form of the otherwise spicy biryani.
  11. Jharkand(**Need help)
  12. Karnataka– Susprisingly, my homestate has all the influences. The Northern part of the state is known for the Kalyani biriyani that was created by the Nawabs of Kalyani who ruled the areas around Bidar district. This is a delicacy cooked with buffalo meat. The coastal part of the state has its influence from the middle-eastern traders who eventually invented the local forms. Beary biriyani is named after the coastal trading community and Bhatkali biriyani with its taste influenced by the Navayath cuisine.
  13. Kerala– The Northern Kerala (Malabar region) is known for its Thalassery biriyani and Kozhikodan biriyani, the middle part of the state has its lesser known dish called Rawther biriyani, created by the Rawther family who lived around the Palakkad area. The Kuzhimanthi biriyani, a form of Yemeni rice is slowly catching up with the locals in and around Cochin. All variants have been largely influenced by the immigrants and traders from the middle-east. Vegetarians, don’t worry. You can dig into delicious plates of Kappa biriyani (tapioca) and puttu biriyani.
  14. Madhya Pradesh– Although this state does not have its own biriyani form, Tehari biriyani is prepared all over northern India. It is the vegetarian version of the Mughlai biriyani which goes by different stories of its origin.
  15. Maharastra– While the Mughals have influenced the spicy Aurangabad biriyani, the Bombay Biriyani is a world apart with its tangy and sweet taste derived from the kewra, potatoes and plums used in its preparation. The Bohri patra biriyani, a name derived in combination of two words- Bohra (the sect who created this recipe) and patra (leaves of colocassia) is a hidden secret of Mumbai.
  16. Manipur(**Need help)
  17. Meghalaya– Although this state doesn’t have a dish called ‘biriyani’ on its menu of khasi cuisine, Jadoh is a dish that’s very close. It is a spicy preparation of rice cooked either with pork or chicken. What sets it apart is that all its ingredients are cooked with the respective animal blood (pork or chicken) instead of water.
  18. Mizoram(**Need help)
  19. Nagaland(**Need help)
  20. Odisha– while there is nothing specifically called the Odiya biriyani, what comes close is the Cuttacki Biriyani, created by a restaurant in cuttack. With the flavours largely derived out of Bengali influence, the ingredients are cooked in Rose water.
  21. Punjab– Punjab doesn’t have its own biriyani recipe. Its proximity to the Pakistan borders gets it the Sindhi biriyani and the Bohri biriyani.
  22. Rajasthan-Jodhpuri Kabuli is a vegetarian recipe deriving its name from the city of Jodhpur in Rajastan and Kabul in Afghanistan. Mewa biriyani is another local taste that’s slightly sweet and garnished with nuts and dehydrated fruits.
  23. Sikkim(**Need help)
  24. Tamil Nadu– While the Nawabs of Arkot influenced the famous Ambur / Vaniyambadi biriyani; the thalapakkatti family created the Dindigul biriyani and the business community of Chettiars brought in their knowledge of spices giving form to the Chettinad biriyani.
  25. Telangana– Hyderabadi Biriyani needs no description. Available in both the kacchi and pakki forms, it was patronized largely during the nawabs of Hyderabad.
  26. Tripura– Although not a native dish, it can still be recognized with chevon biryani due to its proximity to Bangladesh. The chevon biriyani or Dhaka biriyani is the Bangladeshi twist to this incredible rice preparation.
  27. Uttar Pradesh– Influenced by the Awadhi cuisine, the Lucknowi biriyani is flavourful and a burst of cinnamon to your tastebuds. Its lesser known relative is the Moradabadi biriyani.
  28. Uttarakhand(**Need help)
  29. West Bengal– Last on the list, but one of the most popular forms in the country is the Kolkata biriyani. With potato as it’s key ingredient, this preparation of subtle flavours is influenced by the Awadhi cuisine.

Land of dinosaurs, ghost lights and human civilization- Dholavira

How does it feel to wake up one day and find yourself to be walking in the pages of history? Having studied all my life about how great a country we live in, where every grain of soil is soaked in rich history- To me, it seemed like I was driving out there in fantasy land. Among the many theories associated with ‘How my country got its name’, it is likely that the place I was heading too has its tales related distantly. India, the land in which the Indus river flows. This region is where the largest recorded human civilization took place in the face of the earth, over 5000 years ago- the Indus valley civilization. With over 1800 sites of Bronze age identified worldwide, I was going to Dholavira, the grandest of all the sites. As if it wasn’t reason enough for me to get excited, this region is an island formed by one of the largest salt marshes in the world, the Rann of Kutch! In the midst of it, exists a fossil site that dates back to the age of dinosaurs!

Just a whiz after Rapat village on the mainland, the ‘Khadir Bet’ island appears rather suddenly! I’m quite sure that anyone who is going there for the first time, cannot proceed without stopping here to just sync the coordination between their eyes and the brain! All you see will be a home straight black road, piercing right through the horizon, flanked by an endless stretch of white that confuses the mind to figure out how the blue sky and the brown land disappeared! As in our case, it was noon and the blazing sun was right atop making it difficult for us to open our eyes to see while the glistening white sand looked same as the colour of the sky. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my sight and thoughts had lost coordination for a few minutes before I spotted some puddles of coloured water here and there, in an otherwise clear white desert of salt. These puddles are nothing but salt water from this inland sea marsh that is yet to evaporate and the colouration is due to factors like the effect of temperature and the concentration of the mineral content in them. My friend and I sat there in thoughtlessness for a while until it struck us that we had a long day ahead!

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The colourful puddles of salt water

After stopping by for a Kutchi meal with ‘Bajra ki Rotla’ (Millet roti) with gud (Jaggery) and side dishes that were local delicacies, we passed through several small hamlets to reach our first destination. We were bereaved the luxury of time so that we could explore these individual hamlets. Each one of these settlements represent a different tribal group with their own identity of food, culture, costume, art and even the way their Bhungas (Huts) are designed. I would have loved to spend time walking through them all and learning some bits of techniques to sew the famed Kutchi embroidery too. Anyway, let us talk about the nicer things we did with whatever time we had. So, one-and-half-hour was indeed scarce, to walk through history when a guide took us around the site of Dholavira explaining us about the early, mature and the late Harappas. It can run into pages if I write about the details and hence, I cut a long post short at the end of my walk at the north gate. That’s where a 10-letter signboard is mysteriously laid. These are the only letters discovered from the inscriptions of that era and are still beyond the ability of modern man to be deciphered.

Above: One of the remains of a bronze age Bhunga at Dholavira; Bottom: an wooden board marked with the 10mystic letters at the North gate

It was a 10kms drive further towards the Indo-Pak border area to walk in to yet another era. It was a jump back in time from the bronze age to the era when dinosaurs walked around on this planet. The trees of the time can be found here which resemble huge boulders now in their fossilized form. A short walk down from there lead us to the salt desert and that’s when a sense of massiveness of this earth hit me. A tiny dot on the planet that I am, I felt surrounded by an endless stretch of white. Only at a farther end appeared a small hill, ‘Kala Dungar’- the highest point in the Rann.

We had contacted a private resort in the region who had arranged for an off-road drive, into the Banni grasslands. A 45minutes bumpy drive on the dusty road cutting through the desert was an experience in itself, while being driven to a place that is known to be the only surviving habitat of the Cheetah in India. We were lucky to see a lot of native residents of this reserved forest including herds of Asiatic Wild Ass, Chinkara, blackbucks, Nilghais, wild boars and even a desert fox. Short grass and bushy trees were a different feature in a landscape that was surrounded by barrenness of the salt flats. These grasslands are also famed for the mysterious phenomenon of light called as the ‘Chir Batti’ or the ghost lights. These moving lights occur at night and are believed to misguide people into the vast marshland if they are followed. Although still a mystery, these lights could be components of methane in combination with other colouring elements, easily flammable in the presence of small amounts of heat and oxygen, if needs a scientific approach to answer.

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A herd of Asiatic Wild Ass grazing at the Banni grassland

With the setting sun, came down the temperature as well. With ourselves being covered in white dry dust from head to toe and no thermals with us, the return was a chilling cold drive sitting in the open back of the four-wheeler. But that was the last thing that bothered us, as we watched the golden sun melt into molten red lava merging with white desert before being engulfed into the darkness of the night. Needless to say, watching the setting sun there was ethereal!

Staying back in Dholavira and watching the night pass over the desert and break into dawn is highly recommended. However, we were short of time and had to return to Bhuj the same night. The night’s drive back through the causeway was no less than amazing. We were just 2 days away from the full moon’s night and the moon was almost full (:P). While the rising moon reflected on the salt crystals infront of me, the clear dark sky away from the moon made way for the twinkling stars. So, that was an experience of a lifetime to watch the glittering salt below me on one side of the road and the glittering stars above me on the other side of the road. As our mouths began to chatter with the cold of the night, it was a silent good bye to this mysterious island of Khadir Bhet!

Summary: It is beyond my abilities to put together ‘one word’ to describe a place that has pieces of everything from all ages of evolution of not just humans, but this planet itself. It is a place that has the power to gives you a sense of emptiness of your existence and teach the magnitude of life. Go there, experience it!