Friday, May 30, 2008

KUTCH - Day 4 (continued...) & Day 5 (the return)


Day 4
13 November, 2007

Route: Bhuj (sight-seeing) – Siv paras-Koday-Mandvi-Bhuj

A unqiue Thali Meal

The book written by Aina Mahal curator recommended Hotel Annapurna for savoring Kutchi food. This Hotel Annapurna is on the main road near the bus station. The hotel has been running for years. The look and ambience is very run down. The crowd isn't too good either. But the USP is the pay-for-what-you-want-in-your-thali concept!

Let me elaborate!

Every time I'd go to eat a thali meal (be it punjabi thali, gujarati thali or just uncategorised thali)I always crib about the amount of food and the variety of items on the menu and the inability to finish it all and doing justice to the heavy price paid. I always yearned for a thali meal that'd let me choose, eat and pay for just the items that I want. Lo, Behold! Here was a hotel that let me do just that!

The hotel had a general area and an A/C area (Family room). I'd suggest you sit in the family room for you'll be put off by the crowd in the general room apart from the heat and the noise. The menu card comes with a list of items in the thali meal and their individual prices. Each day there is a special vegetable and sweet dish. You can choose the items that you want and pay just for it.

We chose the typical kutchi dishes - sev tamato, baingan, bajra roti, kachori and sweet dish. We ended up paying about 400 bucks. The meal was good-not as good as we had expected-but it was extremely spicy. If you have a weak stomach or tender taste buds, kindly eat at some other place.

Art with Mud

Lunch was followed by the search for mud art and pottery sellers. The search landed us across the street from Hotel Annapurna. We were told that there is a pottery seller who sells his ware. We ended up at a shoddy little house. The old man smiled at us, while the children and the lady gave us curious glance.

We enquired about buying copper tinted-pottery. The guy was spinning the Potter's wheel and creating a beauty out of a lump of mud/clay. He was an award winning potter having won the National Award twice over. He humbly told us that all his wares were sold off (the decorative one's) and he was creating pottery for the next season. All he could offer us now was basic pots. We hung around admiring his skills and humbly bid adieu.

Next on our agenda was buying mud paintings and seeing how they're made. We drove to the old Bhuj area, predominantly Muslim area. We had a hard time finding the Mud art shack and the little kids running to the masjid for namaj or simply hanging around(despite the scorching sun) directed us to the right man!

We had seen mud art at Bhujaudi and here we were standing in front of the shack where the wonders were made! We had to duck down to enter the dimly lit work area. The array of paintings just lying everywhere, the paint on the floor and the creativity hit us right away. We started talking to the artists.

Mud art mainly involves creating pattern on plywood with mud, colouring the mud mounds that create patterns and using mirrors and painting to enhance the work of art. On further conversation we were told that mud art and mud paintings are two different things. Mud art is just use of mud/paints and mirror in traditional patterns and modern patterns if the client so expresses. A mud painting is painting people, places or abstract and using mud and mirror just to enhance the look of the painting.

(Mud art : Picture by Pranay)

We flipped through several books of paintings and placed order for 4 mud art paintings. One, a vertical panel with traditional designs of animals and the other three were poses of Ganesha in traditional black, orange and red colour along with mirror embellishments. These guys take anywhere between 15 days to 2 months to finish and deliver your paintings. Courier charges are of course extra.

They are the only famous mud art makers. Apparently the ar is dying, or maybe these guys just don't want to teach too many others the art, almost like don't let the competition suffer. Despite it, the paintings are moderately priced, a little bit negotiable. The charge firstly depends upon the size of the plywood on which the artist will work, the intricacy of the design and lastly your negotiation ability. They do have some ready paintings which you could buy, but it’s nice to choose a pattern and get it delivered to your house. This one art sure isn't to be missed!

The only mistake we made was not to pay any advance. We did ask the artist about the amount of advance to be paid, but he refused on the grounds of trust; you see these guys deliver amply to the naval and Air Force bases in Jamnagar. We also tried following up, but sadly the paintings haven't been delivered. If you do place an order please pay an advance and keep following up. It's worth the extra trouble, trust me!

Breezy Drive to Mandvi

By then we were tired and head back to the mess for an hour nap. The spicy food was getting to us (at least me) and I began feeling uneasy. I popped in a Pudin hara, smiled at the thought of feeling the sea breeze playing with my hair, and sat in the car. Mandvi was our next stop! Water at last, after so much heat, desert like vegetation and everything seeming historic, a beach would be the perfect hang-out!

The drive to Mandvi was an experience in itself. The road was two lane, lined at first with desert vegetation, but as we got closer to Mandvi we could see the endless palm trees, and coconut trees swaying to the breeze. Yes, the breeze was refreshing! The road surface was smooth and the traffic was bearable.

As we neared Mandvi, we could spot tourists in shorts and flowery shirts. But we spotted something more magnificent and rare. We spotted a white structure with flags flapping in the gentle breeze. The structure was a temple. We knew what we had to do on our way back to Bhuj.

Mandvi is a quaint little place. It has the charm of Goa (dad mentioned this for he's been to Goa). The roads are narrow and traffic is sparse. The occasional traffic is of course the tourists shuttling between the Beach and the Palace. The Mandvi Palace is about 15 minutes drive from the main stretch of beach where the tourists hang out.

Mandvi Palace

The Palace is a relatively new one (in terms of age of historic monuments). It was the Palace of Raja of Kutch. It is also a very small palace (compared to the gigantic palaces I've seen) and houses a museum. More than the beauty of the palace what appealed to me more was the palace rules that they had advocated. The palace is a pollution-free zone, and noise free zone. Honking is banned, so is disturbing the sparse animal and bird life that it houses.

You all must've seen Aishwarya Rai against the backdrop of her haveli in the movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, or perhaps sitting on the swing on some terrace. This is the palace where it was shot. From the top of the Mahal one can see the endless beach, the swaying tress of and the sun. Adjoining the palace complex is the Mandvi Beach Resort offering luxury stay in cottages on a private beach, five star style. But be ready to shell out those extra bucks.

We decided against denting my dad's wallet and taking one last look at the foot-road that divides the Palace from the Beach Resort, we drove back towards the more bustling part of Mandvi, the Beach! The moment we parked at the beach parking area, my eyes were set, not on the beach but on the windmills. There were about 10-odd windmills spinning their blades to the tune of the wind.

(Windmills on mandvi Beach : Picture by me)

They must generate a lot of electricity here!

Water's edge - the Beach

The beach wasn't magnificent. It was just, a beach! The crowd was mainly families making the best of the diwali break. We sat on the sand and watch the sunset. I and Pranay played in the water and pretended to eat sea weeds as if it was a delicacy!

(Me, trying to hold the sun in the palm of my hand : Picture by Pranay)

We even had photo sessions trying to capture me holding or seating the sun which were highly successful thanks to a knowledgeable photographer, Pranay and a co-operating mode, me of course! The castles were made and broken. The night had set in.

(Sun-set : Picture by Pranay)

Night driving gets difficult, so we headed back for Bhuj at around 7 PM. On the way back we went to 72 Jinalaya's (around 10 km from Mandvi). It was a Jain temple, spic and span, very peaceful and lit up only with candles. Photography and videograhy is strictly prohibited. We happened to meet a family who spoke fluent marathi. They were from a town near Bhuj, but have been living in Mumbai for years. It was a nice conversation. The temple won me over and sub consciously i began comparing a Jain temple with a Hindu one. I preferred the former.

We arrived late at the mess. The food was almost over. But by then most of our stomachs were upset and we had a light dinner, popped a pill, prayed for better stomach and let the pleasant surroundings lull us to sleep.


Day 5
14 November, 2007

Route: Bhuj– Morbi - Jamnagar (HOME!)


Next day was our uneventful journey back home to Jamnagar. This time we drove via Morbi. My mother had stayed here for two years. She had fond memories of the city, the ships and the merchant navy officers’ looking smart in their uniforms. Now we know one reason for mom being smitten by dad, the uniform! (Dad's in Indian Navy)

A flirt with Morbi

At Morbi we got had glimpse of Palace and 'Jhulta Pul'- Wire Stay bridge somewhat like the Laxman Jhula in Rishikesh. We skipped lunch due to upset stomach and feasted on fruits! We had heard of the numerous watch companies and factories along this road. We tested our luck at the Titan factory hoping to get a glimpse of how our time-keepers are made. No look here, diwali vacations to be blamed!

The Place I call HOME

We were home by afternoon. Donna was elated to have us back. The mithais were happy too - they'd now end up where they were meant to be, and it'd certainly be much more comfortable that waiting for five days in the refrigerator :P

Apart from the upset stomach, the Bhuj circuit was a great 5-day tour. Perfect to unwind, perfect surprise for me and a perfect destination for our annual family trip.


Kutchi mud art -
Specialist in ourdoor and indoor clay work and makers of kutchi bunga.
Contact -
c/o abdul s mara
nr. camp masjid
camp area
ph- 02832258101



One of dad's junior toured Bhuj in January/February 2008. They had to look only as far as my blog for itinerary and travel information. I smiled brightly in response to the compliment. It's good to know that my travel documentation is of some utility to a keen traveler!

If you, the reader has any queries or needs some Bhuj advice, feel free to read my travelogue and drop in your query by way of a comment :)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

SKIING EXTRAVAGANZA - Day 1 - 'Heading North'

Skiing Extravaganza
Solang valley (Manali)
(24 January 2006 to 12 February 2006)

This is a journal of the skiing camp that dad and me attanded in beginning of 2006, nearly two years back!

Day 1 – “Heading North”
(In the Train)
(24th January 2006, Tuesday)

We left home at 3:30 PM and reached Bombay Central at 4:15 PM. We were booked on Rajdhani which takes perhaps the shortest time and promises the most comfortable travel to New Delhi. At the station we met our co-skiers. Most of them were at least 10 years older than me! We checked our seats. Our (Tanya and me) were seat numbers 33 and 36 in compartment AS-1. Dad’s berth was in the royal AC first class compartment and he had an old man to share the cabin with.

Our fellow-passengers were a weird bunch. Most of them were nearing 40. We debated throughout the journey. The hot topics ranged from ‘the use of taking up NCC for getting admission into the desired college/job’ to the bizarre ‘why we bother locking our luggage even in a safe train like Rajdhani!’ (inspired by my act of locking my bags with a solid lock and a heavy chain) I wanted to back answer saying, ‘locking my luggage ensures I get a good night sleep. Further if my luggage gets stolen, will you guys who advocate the safety of Rajdhani own up and reimburse me for it?’, but my dad hinted me to not debate further and I’m glad I obliged.

Overall it was a comfortable journey- if it’s Rajdhani it better be so! I stayed awake till 9:30 PM which in itself is a mini-achievement for someone like me who dozes off as the train gains momentum. Dad was sitting in our compartment till I and Tanya tucked into our beds. He then resigned to his cabin to give company to the old man traveling with him.

Lights out!
Good night.

(PS: Didn’t sleep too well due to the nagging worry about the cash and luggage that I was to look after)

Friday, May 9, 2008

Two Bizzare Temples

Bizzare Temple #1 : Karni Mata Temple

In hindu religion animals are sacred. But a temple full of rats was more of freaky rather than a divine experience for me! Yes, you read it right - a temple full of rats! Big, fat, thin, black, white, furry, smooth shaven, you'll find them all in the Karni Mata temple courtyard.

(rats, rats, everywhere...not a place to hide!, picture from

This temple is located in Deshnok, Rajasthan (30 kms from Bikaner by road). According to folklore, Karni Mata announced that no one from her tribe would fall into yamraj's hands (after she had rescued a devotee's dead child back to life from Yamraj)and hence on their death, they're inherit the body of a rat(temperorily) before being re-born.

Watch the video of this Bizarre temple here

I visited this temple in December of 2005. I was shit scared to step inside the temple premises. Once inside, the terror rose simply because I not only had to keep my composure should a rat run over my foot(it's considered lucky, especially if the rat is white!) but also avoid crushing the rats under my weight (and assuring a place in hell!)A black rat scurried over my foot and left me feeling ticklish and frozen at the same time!

(Karni Mata Temple - entrance, picture from

The temple isn't just about these crawling terrors. It's a visual treat for the eyes also! The marble structure, artistic main gate, silver doors with carvings and ample other architectural delights are a photographer's treat!

(silver door with idol carved on it, picture from

Some people call the temple as the 8th Wonder of the World. I like to call it Ratatemple! (rip off on ratatouille)

Bizzare Temple #2 : Duttatreya Temple, Khavda

Kala Dungar(around Bhuj) is home to the Duttatreya temple.It overlooks spectacular Rann of Kutch where one can spot white foxes. These foxes respond to the call of beats of a steel plate and shouts of 'langa' and to come and eat the food/prasad of rice laid down for them.

We saw atleast 30 foxes converge at a cemented area to eat the food and delight the tourists. The temple Bojanalay prepares food even for the pilgrims, should you decide to stay back for a meal. We decided against it as it was past 7 PM in the evening. Thus after witnessing the aarti at sunset (6:45 PM) and spotting the foxes we headed back to Bhuj.For those who wish to visit this temple, I'd suggest them to see the aarti at 12noon and get a better view of the foxes as during sunset, the foxes are not clearly visible and also because the drive down the kala dungar is narrow.

(Jackals, feasting on sweet rice at Kala Dungar, Kutch, picture from

Another drwaback of going in the evening was inability to click pictures of the jackals. We tried with a digi cam, a still cam and a good camera with zoom and external flash, but nothing worked and all we could capture were the glowing eyes of the jackal!Oh, btw we were elated looking at a particular picture in the digi cam. We'd finally captured a jackal! - the elation was short-lived. We discovered that the seemingly jackal was a cow! :P

Out of the two temples, I was more freaked at the thought of rats than jackals! Size truly doesn't matter!

"Chuk-Chuk Gaadi" - Memorable Train Journeys

Whoever said that all train journeys are the same must've travelled with their senses shut!

I'm not a very train person simply because the toilets are pretty sad and I end up just sleeping. But I've been fortunate enough to have taken some interesting train journeys, both in terms of the trains I've travelled in and the experience of the train journey.

Here are my 5 most memorable train journeys (in random order)

Toy Train

If I'm right, here are just three operational toy trains in the whole of India. One in Assam, one between Neral and Matheran (Maharashtra) and one in Ooty, Tamil Nadu. A toy train isn't one where you'd find mickey, sponge bob, gijeo or barbie (I wish!), it simply is a train that runs on narrow gauge and is propelled by burning coals.

When dad got posted to Ooty, we arrived at Mettupalayan-the last train station at the base of Nilgiri hills-from Vizag. To reach Wellington (housing the Defence base)-13 kms short of Oooty- we choose to take the toy train over the usual bus or hired car that'd set me dizzy on each bend!

As the toy train arrives, there is a mad rush for tickets. People even book their seats with handkerchiefs! We were lucky to get tickets and soon enough set off for Wellington. The toy train runs at its own leisurely pace. A healthy human can match up its speed while jogging! Whisteling, hooting and smokin' through the lush forests, bends, peaks and falls, it finally arrives in Wellington.

The train ride is charming and very old world. Remember Saif Ali Khan singing Kasto Mazaa(Parineeta) in the train? - well that's a toy train, but the Assam one and not the Ooty one!

Remember SRK doing Chaiya Chaiya with Malllaika Arora Khan atop the train? Well, That's the toy train I've been raving about!

Jamnagar-Mumbai (saurashtra mail) - 'Alone in the Train'

When we do something for the first time, we're a little scared of how it would go. I was scared too when I decided to travel by train! (Duh! not because I'd never been in a train before, but because I had never taken a long distance train journey alone!)

This particular journey was perhaps the only one where I did not sleep (even not so soundly at night). This was perhaps the only one where I actually observed the people around me, in minutest detail, simply because there was nothing better to do!

Read the whole article on how I travelled alone in the train here

Defence Special - Wellington, Ooty to New-Delhi

It was the summer of 2000. Dad's 11 month course at DSSC, Wellington has come to a close. The end of a certain heaven was here. Our neighbours, friends everyone was moving, that too to completely different cities. The parting was hard, but unlike any other parting thanks to a noble sounding Defence Special Train.

Every summer-around first week of May-a special train runs from Mettupalayan all the way upto New Delhi. The train charters through 6 states, and after 4 long days reaches Delhi. Dad had booked tickets for the four of us and our beloved Doggie- Donna. We did have an option of air-travel, but we choose the train simply because this was no ordinary train.

Our boogie was perhaps used as a hospital on wheels during some war. Instead of he usual compartments with a narrow gangway and 6 and 2 seats on either side, we just had two seats on each side of the boogie. The whole area between the windows/seats (berths) was the gangway where 3 people could pass each other without having to push and struggle!

Now the fun part. Unlike attached metal ladder to climb to the higher berth, we just had two movable metal ladders, one for the berths on the left and one for those on the right. If you happen to be the unfortunate one on the top berth, with a rising urge to pee, you'd certainly be in for trouble. Two options would be open- either to jump off the berth or to scream till someone else on a lower berth wakes up and carries the ladder to your berth. This particular phenomenon was a cause of a lot of inconvenience along with a lot of laughter!

Not all compartmnets were spacious like ours. Some has a dining table and cushioned seats to seat four people, while the others were the standard one's that we see so often. This compartment was very popular with taash-addicts (card-game lovers) like me, simply for the comfortable seating and the ability to look over the cards' of others.

The food was prepared in the train pantry. No hawkers were allowed inside. But that did not deter the foodie in us for the train had one too many stops!

Donna seemed lost at first, but she began enjoying her hide-out in the gangway that joined another compartment and the toilet to our compartment. Unaware passengers were in for a shock for they heard the sudden bark and jumped! Aside from the lack of hunger and mobility problems, Donna also enjoyed the journey.

As we neared New Delhi, the crowd in the train thinned down. Since we got off at the last stop, we had the opportunity to enjoy every mood of this memorable journey.

On second thoughts, I'd never have liked to trade this journey for air-travel!


There was some far-away-relative's wedding in Ratlam. My parents weren't going, but I insisted and tagged along with my uncle, aunts and cousins. The summer was in full form and we had to do with travelling in sleeper class, simply because the journey was short, the fare over-priced and the event-not so grand!

Food is a big part of Indian weddings. Food poisoning isn't so uncommon either. This uncoomonity hit our stomachs hard. Returning from Ratlam, most of our stomachs were acting weird. The initial pain, loose motions and smelly hiccups gave way to something, grander, more grosier in scale.I refer to it as fountain of vomit!

It was almost night. We tried playing cards, but giving in to the uneasiness I decided to sleep. Climbing the metal stair to the top berth, I fell into a slumber...until a gush of liquid pushed out of my mouth and right in the middle of our three-tier sleeper compartment. Some of the stuff clung to the walls, some to my aunts and uncles.

I cried in embarrassment, fear of being scolded and pain. I wasn't alone.

Shortly after, my cousin followed suit and the whole compartment smelled nothing short of hellish. Poor aunts and uncles had a sleepless night as they cleaned the vomit, while we lay mum on our berths and prayed another fountain would not erupt!

When we remember that summer, that wedding and that train journey, only one word sums up the experience 'ewwww!' (as in 'yuck!')

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Who has Crossed the TROPIC OF CANCER?!


Don't believe me? Take a look at me down here trying to be as tall as the historic board!-

Now, here's me with one foot below the tropic of cancer and one above it!! :P

When and how?

On 12 November 2007, on the way to Khavda(Bhuj, Gujarat)- in our brand new Indigo LS - we had spotted a board saying 'you are crossing the Tropic of Cancer'. That time we didn't stop to capture a picture of this historic moment. But on our way back we made it a point to spot at this spot and freeze the moment in style through pictures that you just saw up there.

I wonder when I'll get a chnace to cross the equator *in her dreamy mood*


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