Wednesday, March 12, 2008

KUTCH - Day 2

Day 2
11 November, 2007
Route: Bhuj-Deshalpar-Nakhatrana-Matanamadh-Gaduli-Lakhpat-Narayan Sarovar-Koteshwar-Baranda-Bhuj
Road side food
We departed at 9:00 AM for Lakhpat which was a good 140 kms from Bhuj. I wasn't feeling well so I skipped breakfast. The drive was pleasant and the road side tapirs kept us well fed with snacks like alu-vada, dabeli and ofcourse the Indian addiction-chai and the now very much Indian coke. That's one good thing about Gujarat, you always get food! Oh, and just one piece of advice, always order an ochi-khand(less sugar) tea if you do not want to end up drinking tea with ample sugar, if you forget to say that, you'll probably get tea that's too sweet to even gulp down! I chose to skip food again and had a coke. My decision turned out to be sour. The soft drink kept swirling in my stomach as the roads got curvier or so it seemed to me.
Bare-feet Mata no Math Pilgrims
We were surprised to find so much traffic on the road to Lakhpat. Also, we came across many pilgrims walking bare feet, and guessed that there must be a temple around. We were right! About 90 kms from Bhuj, located on the road to Lakhpat is Mata No Math, the temple of Ashapura mata which is a 'kil devi'(family God) for many Kutchis. The temple s visited by numerous pilgrims on a daily basis-many of who come barefeet-like the one's we saw. The temple complex isn't grand, more so the usual Indian temple, but like the say the Shraddha makes it grand, so be it! There is also a dharamshala in the temple and toilets for pilgrims, but if possible avoid using these toilets as hygenien level is zero and instead do some good to the flora of Kutch.
By the time we left the temple, my condition was fast deteriorating. I couldn't stand talking to anyone. I kept mum and tried to fall asleep, which luckily I did.
Lost Kingdom of Lakhpat
I awoke to the sight of the walls of Lakhpat fort stretching across dry surroundings at 12:45 PM. The view was grand, even though the fort is dilapidated. As we entered the arched entrance of the fort, a haunting feeling overtook me. I felt like a Princess who has returned to weep upon her then prosperous kingdom, which today is nothing but a barren battlefield!
For me, even the grand sights failed to relieve the uneasiness. What didn't fail me was a session of vomiting out the coke filled with pesticides and thereby removing every trace of food or drink from within me. I felt renewed, though sapped in energy, but certainly more enthu to explore the historic fort.
Lakhpat is an 18th century fort which was a famour port until it became dead owing to the earthquake in 1819. Guru Nanak Ji visited this place along with Bhai Bala Ji and Bhai Mardana ji on his way to Mecca Medina. He stayed in one of the houses in the settlement inside the fort which was later turned into a Gurudwara which is visited by many sikh devotees even today. The gurudwara still has the khadau which Guru Nanak Ji wore and left behind as his memory for the people of Lakhpat.There is even a langar and you can do your bit by doing seva. Here construction is still on and most probably they're extending the lodging facility for the devotees where one can stay for free up to 3 days.
After finishing darshan, we drove to Gauz Mohommad's Majar, again within the boundaries of the fort. It is very striking structure and the most well preserved one in this 18th century fort. A 10 minute walk from the Majar takes you to a look-out point overlooking the Kori Creek and the neighbouring marshlands. We only expected a spectacular view as we climbed the 20 something stone stairs to the look-out point but fnding a Border Security Force (BSF) Post truly was a surprise.
BSF and beyond
The post is manned by two jawans of the BSF at any time of the day on a rotational basis. The look-out point gives you a 360 degree view of the kori creek, the marshland, rann of kutch, the settlements inside Lakhpat village and the BSF headquarters. Thanks to my dad being in the defence, we got special treatment and special access to use high zoom binoculars owned by BSF. The views were alluring and our curiosity lead questions thrown at the bsf jawans knew no end. Apparently quite a bit of the JP Dutta movie Refugee were shot inside Lakpat fort. One scene where Ab Jr. runs to meet Kareena whose sitting on the rocks was shot just where the stairs for the look-out point ended. I made my mom sit on the rocks and took her picture, complete with the dupatta on her head and called it 'my Kareena!' Bidding Lakhpat goodbye, we started for Narayan sarovar.
Sacred Narayan Sarovar
Narayan Sarovar is about 31 kms from Lakpat. On the whole drive we just spotted barely 6-7 vehicles. Thus, the road was our slave and we were the kings. The road was pot-holed in most patches. Also, the road peaked and fell and the roller-coaster effect was fun, now that I was feeling better. Narayan sarovar was crowded again, like every other place in India. Narayan Sarovar is a very sacred place for hindus.
Narayan Sarovar stands for lake of Narayana aka Vishnu. There are five sacred lakes here and the temple is built on one of them. The sarovars are rain-fed bodies of fresh water situated just 2 kms from the salty water of the Gulf of Kutch. The lake ghats are used to take holy dips and perform pujas. The temple is very colourful and was a welcome change in the momo-coloured Kutch surroundings. Sadly we could not enter the temple and had to do with praying from outside, with no view of the idol as the temple remains closed from 1 PM – 4 PM. The high point of the temple was the three cute stray pups who were a delight to watch and who reminded us of Donna (our pet German Shepherd) Though a little disappointed, but looking forward to Koteshwar situated only 3 kms from Narayan sarovar, we resumed our drive.
OCean on two sides - Koteshwar Temple
Koteshwar temple has the ocean on two of its side. One side being an open sea and the other having a jetty where before the drying up of river Sind trading used to be in full swing. Koeshwar temple has a beautiful complex which is spic and span. The sights on each side of the temple are nothing short of breathtaking. The temple has a tree where women tie a bangle with a holy thread and stick a bindi when asking for a mannat. There is an ancient story attached with this temple. As I read on this topic on the internet and I quote "King Ravana wanted to be immortal and did tapasya of God Shiva. Lord Shiva gifted him with Ling which he could worship and become immortal. But in arrogance he dropped the ling, which on touching the ground turned into a thousand Lings. King Ravana could not recognize the original ling, and so the boon was lost. There were a thousand lings at that place so the Gods of heaven decided to build this temple and name it Koteshwar."
After the customary darshan and the must-do photo session (the high point being a 360 degree panaromic photo from the highest point at the temple and of course the one where I am doing meditation), we realized how hungry we were.
Hunger Pangs
It was nearly 3 PM and our stomachs were begging to be fed, in fact, ever the rats were tired of running inside them! There weren't any hotels around. The best food on offer was chips and biscuit. That's when we remembered a Tourist Guest House situated between Narayan sarovar and Koteshwar and decided to try our luck.
No luck for us here. The food was over and the staff was sorry! (And I was on the verge of murdering them as an aftermath of my drained out stomach) We bought bottled water called Blister (Bisleri copy-cat!) and headed back to Narayan sarovar to try our luck yet again at the temple bhojnalay.
The bhojnalay was closed, just like the temple and the theleywalla food didn't look too appetising so we had to make do with…you guessed it, chips and biscuit (parle G zindabad for its each!) My recommendation to the travellers eher would be to carry packed lunch at all times for barring the Gurudwara at Lakhpat and the Tourist guest house, there isn't any gastronomic retreat here, forget a gastronomic treat!
High on fast food, we took the drive back to Bhuj, this time via Baranda instead of taking the longer route of Lakpat and Gaduli. The roads were so much better and the traffic was far between. We reached back the mess at 7:00 PM, freshened up and rushed to eat a decent meal.
Traditional Thali meal at Hotel Prince
Our saviour, Hotel Prince on Station Road (Old building). They have another property now on Hospital Road, but if you want to have a traditional meal then only old one has it on offer) After much confusion as to Punjabi/Chinese(at Jesal)/gujrati thali(at Toral), we zeroed in on gujarati thali. The thali was sumptuous, filling and very affordable at Rs. 100 on weekdays and Rs. 110 on Sundays (Rs. 10 extra for special thali, though we have no idea what is so special about it as we didn't bother asking).
Hotel Prince has a book stall and a Embroidery Boutique shop in its lobby. We purchased a guide on Kutch compiled by P.J. Jethi, the curator of museum at Aina Mahal from the small but well stocked book shop. The boutique impressed me. They had a beautiful collection of silk bags, clutches, cushion covers and my favourite, leather wallets, mobile covers and sunglasses case with hand embroidery on it. I bought a leather wallet for dad in tan colour with hand-embroidery for a cool 420 bucks, pretty decent for the workmanship.
We ended the part exciting and part draining day (for me) by getting a good night sleep and of course by going over our plan for tomorrow!
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