Flying into Kutch

Kandla

 

A quick way to get from Bombay to Kutch is by flying. There are two airports in Kutch where passenger ‘planes can land: Bhuj and Kandla.

We took the one flight a day from Bombay to Kandla on the  coast of Kutch. As the ‘plane descends towards Kandla, it flies over a vast area of marshy coastal inlets that surround the seaport. When we landed, we walked down the ladder onto the tarmac, I noticed that the propellor ‘plane was surrounded by soldiers armed with machine guns. The reason for this is probably that Kandla airport is primarily a military aerodrome. Ada, also, Kandla is just over 200 kilometres from India’s border with Pakistan.

We walked towards the small terminal building followed by our baggage that was carried in small wagons joined together like a train and pulled by a little tractor. At the terminal, we had to help ourselves to our baggage before being hurried into the carpark outside the airfield. It was clear that passengers are not particularly welcome at this militarily sensitive area.

Mixed couple mix-ups

These excerpts from my recently published book describe how surprised people, especially in Kutch and Saurashtra, were to discover that a Gujarati had married a European. The reactions described below have never happened to us anywhere else in India.

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“By the end of our third day out of Bombay, our third in Daman and nearby parts of Gujarat, we had become aware of the attention we, as a couple, were attracting. On many occasions, both in Daman and later in Gujarat, Lopa was asked whether she was my tour guide. When she replied that she is my wife, this was met with both surprise and disbelief. It seemed that the locals were not ‘phased’ by the idea of an Indian woman acting as a tourist guide for an unrelated European man, but the idea that we were married was beyond their comprehension …”

And some days later in Bhuj (Kutch):

“After eating toasted vegetarian sandwiches in a tiny café in an alley near a small dargah, we boarded the bus bound for EKTA supermarket near to our hotel. The bus route ends at the Government Engineering College. Lopa and I were chatting, when a young man, an engineering student, turned around and asked Lopa abruptly in English: “Are you Indian?” She replied: “What do you think?” To which the student said: “But, you are speaking English.” Lopa pointed out that English is one of India’s national languages; it appears on every Indian banknote. Then, the youth pointed at me, and asked aggressively: “And, this person?” Lopa said that I am her husband. To which the boy asked incredulously: “You are married to him?” When Lopa confirmed this, his jaw dropped, and his eyes seemed to pop out of his head in surprise and disbelief. This extraordinary behaviour was not an isolated incident. Wherever we went in Kutch and in the rest of western Gujarat, we encountered people who were unable to conceive of anyone of Gujarati background marrying someone not of that background, and certainly not a European.”

 

Join Adam and his wife on their interesting travels through Gujarat, Daman and Diu.

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Breakfast in Bhuj and Catherine Deneuve

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Before breakfast, we rode the bus into town, and then visited the Hotel Prince, which was once rated as being the best hotel in Bhuj. It is elegant but dated. We sat down for what we hoped would be a grand breakfast in the first-floor restaurant. It was almost impossible to catch the waiters’ attention. They were all standing, as if glued to the floor, in front of a large television screen, watching a very gory, bloodthirsty film. When they finally attended to us, we were served a reasonable quality (but expensive) breakfast of eggs and potato parathas. When Philip Ward published his guide to Gujarat in 1994, he wrote that service at this hotel was slow. Nothing has changed since then.

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The Bharatiya Sanskriti Darshan is a privately-run folklore museum near the Collector’s Bungalow. This establishment and its collection were commenced more than sixty years ago by Ramsinhji Rathod, a Forest Service Officer and scholar of tribal and folk arts of Kutch. The museum’s buildings are in two adjoining plots separated by a narrow lane. One plot contains rectangular buildings without architectural merit. They hold the bulk of the exhibits. The other, a triangular plot, contains several round buildings with conical thatched roofs. These traditional Kutchi houses resemble South African rondavels.

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The collection is first-class.  The wonderful array of exhibits includes: diverse household items; embroidered textiles (some of them with small pieces of mirror sewn in them) for which Kutch is famous; books in Sanskrit; boards for playing games; large printed fabrics; paintings and photographs; clothes and footwear; jewellery; household implements; and archaeological finds, including some well-crafted clay models excavated in northern Kutch at Dholavira, the ruins of a city that was founded in about 2650 BC, and was last occupied in about 1450 BC.

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The circular buildings contain additional exhibits, predominantly a large collection of clay pots. We were shown around the museum by a lady volunteer. She is married to a professional singer of Gujarati and Kutchi songs. Proudly, she showed us videos of her husband performing at concerts.  She was accompanied by an employee of the museum, who was wearing one of Kutch’s many traditional colourful folk costumes. It was her job to unlock and lock the various rooms and huts containing the exhibits. She gave us some berries growing on a tree in the compound. They resembled soft cherries but tasted bitter. At the end of our tour, the volunteer invited us into her office, where we were asked to sign the visitors’ book. Then flicking back its pages, she showed us the flattering words that the French actress Catherine Deneuve had written about her visit to this lovely museum.

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