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.

Going vegetarian in Gujarat

veg

 

There are many vegetarians in India, particularly in Gujarat.

I am primarily an omnivore, who enjoys meat and fish.

In many of the places we visited on a seven week visit to Kutch and Saurashtra, it was difficult or even impossible to find restaurants serving non-vegetarian food. I spotted street stalls where omelettes were made to order – and they are very delicious – and barrows where un-refrigerated kebabs were on display in the hot weather, awaiting grilling.

In Kutch, I enjoyed the delicately prepared, tasty vegetarian thalis. In Saurashtra, thalis were less attractive to my taste because of their oily-ness and over use of sugar or other sweeeners. However, Gujarat is a paradise for snackers. All over Gujarat, you will find places selling a variety of delicious farsan (savoury snacks). My favourites include: dhokla, patra, ganthia, sev, bhel puri, chewda, dahi puri, khandvi, and pani puri.

Therefore when I wanted something more substantial, I resorted to eating readily available South Indian specialities such as dosas and curd vada. Or, I ordered pizzas. The pizzas, which would look strange to a Sicilian or a Neapolitan, were delicious despite the fact that the cheese used was not remotely similar to mozzarella. I suspect it was often the industrially prepared Indian Amul product. By the way, Amul was a dairy company established just after Indian Independence in Gujarat, inspired by ideas suggested by Sardar Vallabhai Patel, an important statesman and politician born in Gujarat. Getting back to the pizzas, what made them delicious was the tomato sauces used on them. These were not run-of-the-mill out-of-the-can industrial products. They were usually sauces made in the restaurant using fresh tomatoes and herbs and appropriate spices. Indian Chinese food, even if vegetarian, is also an option.

Well, although I am not a fan of veg food, many people fall in love with the various meat-free and egg-free cuisines of Gujarat.

 

Fishermen at Mandvi and entering Pakistan

Mandvi

 

The picture shows dogs resting in the shade provided by a beached fishing vessel in the estuary of the River Rukmavati at the town of Mandvi in the former Kingdom of Kutch, now part of Gujarat.

 

Nearby, there were many similar fishing boats, all manned by Muslim seamen. These boats sail into the Gulf of Kutch, a piece of water that separates most of Kutch from another part of Gujarat, Saurashtra (or Kathiawad). 

 

The vessels are allowed to sail as far west as Okha, but no further as they would then stray into Pakistani water. We were told that there is quite a good deal of smuggling between the Indian and Pakistani fishermen. The Indians have to be careful because they might be arrested in Pakistani waters, as a recent newspaper report  reveals:

“A group of 100 Indian fishermen Monday crossed over to the Indian side through 

Attari-Wagah border after the Pakistan government released them from jail as a goodwill gesture.

The fishermen crossed over to India this evening on the basis of ’emergency travel certificates’ issued by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, officials said.

Immediately after the repatriation, a medical examination of all the fishermen was conducted, they said.

The neighbouring country had released the first batch of 100 Indian fishermen on April 7.

The fishermen were arrested for fishing illegally in Pakistani waters during various operations.

Both the countries frequently arrest fishermen as there is no clear demarcation of the maritime border in the Arabian Sea and these fishermen do not have boats equipped with the technology to know their precise location.”

Quoted from: https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/pakistan-releases-100-indian-fishermen-119041501180_1.html

 

A palace in Kutch

VARSHA blog size

 

Varsha Bhatia, whose family originated in Kutch, trained as an architect in Bombay. Now, she has become a painter, specialising in water colours. Her delicately executed, finely detailed works display her appreciation of the asethetics of architectural masterpieces.

Following a recent visit to Kutch Mandvi, she has painted a pavilion that is perched on the roof of the Vijay Vilas Palace built by the Maharao of Kutch in a traditional Rajput style during the 1920s . 

My wife and I visited this lovely palace during 2018. This extract from my book Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu describes what we found:

A notice on a wall near the main entrance reads: “Tides come and go but the legend here of sheer enchantment continues unabated”.  On entering the palace, we saw a large banner which exclaimed: “Welcome to palace and experience history which is housed within.” The walls of the pleasant rooms, filled with ageing furniture, are lined with photographs of the royal family, their guests including Indian and British hunters with their servants, alongside the spoils of the regular hunting parties, which used to be held in the palace’s extensive grounds.

Amongst the framed items hanging on the walls, we spotted a 500 Kori banknote issued by the Government of Kutch. It was printed with words both in Gujarati and English scripts. When the Emperor Jehangir (reigned 1605-27) met his vassal, Kutch’s ruler Rao Bharmal (reigned 1585-1631) in Ahmedabad in 1617, Jehangir gave Rao Bharmal the right to strike his own coinage. Thus, the Kori was born. It remained in continuous use in Kutch until 1948, when Kutch became part of the Republic of India.

The windows at the back of the palace look out over formal gardens with dried up water features including a slender stone-lined channel running between bare rectangular patches of ground and fountains. We climbed a spiral staircase to reach the roof of the palace and wandered amongst the domed pavilions with jali screens covering their windows. Another spiral staircase, made of cast-iron, leads to an elevated viewing platform covered with a large domed ceiling supported by pillars. From here, we had a wonderful view of the countryside surrounding the palace and the Arabian Sea.

It is this ‘viewing platform’ that is illustrated in Varsha Bhatia’s lovely water colour work.

 

TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIUby Adam Yamey

is available as a paperback from lulu.com, Amazon sites, and bookdepository.com.

There is also a Kindle edition.

 

 

So close to Pakistan

kandla

 

Sadly, India and Pakistan are fighting again. Some parts of Gujarat, such as Kutch, are perilously close to Pakistan.

“We boarded a smallish propeller aeroplane, a Bombardier, which serves the daily flight from Bombay in Maharashtra to Kandla in Kutch.

Our one and a half hour Spicejet flight headed north west from Bombay. After traversing Saurashtra, the southern peninsula of western Gujarat (also known as ‘Kathiawad’), we flew over an area of rivers and marshes, and begun descending towards the airport of Kandla in Kutch.

Many centuries ago, Kutch was an island between Gujarat and Sindh. It was separated from the mainland by rivers along its northern and eastern edges, and the sea along its southern edge. The rivers disappeared after a series of seismic disturbances, only to be replaced by arid rocky deserts, the Ranns of Kutch. Until the 1940s, Kutch was fiercely independent of the rest of the Indian subcontinent. Despite frequent attacks by its neighbour Sindh (now part of Pakistan) and the Mughals, the Kutchis retained their autonomy. One of the reasons we were visiting this outlying part of India, now incorporated within the State of Gujarat, was to visit the area from which my wife’s mother’s ancestors originated. Another reason was that we had heard that it is beautiful.

Kandla airport is small. As we descended from the ‘plane onto the tarmac, I noticed that our aircraft was surrounded by army men holding loaded machine guns, their muzzles pointing downwards. There were numerous signs forbidding photography because this airport is primarily a military base only 133 kilometres from the Indian border with Pakistan. There was no baggage conveyor belt system. The luggage from the ‘plane was brought to the tiny terminal in wagons from which we had to help ourselves to our bags.”

 

This is an excerpt fromTRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIUby Adam Yamey. It is avalable on Kindle and as a paperback from lulu.com, bookdepository.com, and Amazon.

Camels on the beach

CAMELS

Somnath beach

 

When we visited the beaches at Daman, Kutch Mandvi, and the temple town of Somnath, we saw camels on the beach. Their owners offer rides to holidaymakers, who have come to enjoy the sun, sea, and sand.

However, camels are not only kept for pleasure. All over Gujarat, we spotted camels drawing carts and wagons in towns, villages, and in the open countryside. Apart from being picturesque to my western eyes, they are much valued beasts of burden.

Gujarat and Kutch are areas with a semi-desert terrain and almost desert weather conditions. The camel is ideaaly suited to this environment. Most of the camels used in Gujarat State are bred in Kutch and are highly priced.

 

Read much more about this fascinating part of  western India in “TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIU” by Adam Yamey. The paperback is available from lulu.com, bookdepository.com, and Amazon, which also supplies the Kindle version.

A freedom fighter from Kutch

VARMA HOUSE

Shyamji Krishna Varma (1857-1930) was born in Mandvi in Kutch (now part of Gujarat State). A Sanskrit scholar of world reknown and a barrister, he was also an important, but now not so well-known, activist in the fight for India’s Independence from the British. 

He settled in London in the late 1890s and lived there in the northern suburb of Highgate until he moved to France before 1910. This house, number 60 Muswell Hill Road, was his home between 1900 and 1907. A circular plaque commemorates his short stay here.

Going vegetarian in Gujarat

veg 1

 

Travellers visiting Gujarat should be aware that the majority of food served in the state is vegetarian. In bigger places like Ahmedabad and Baroda, finding non-vegetarian food is less of a problem than in smaller places. If you visit Bhavnagar, the Nilambagh Palace Hotel serves very good food – both veg and non-veg. Many people hanker after Gujarati thalis, but I am not one of these people. Those who are not on the Gujarati meals can easily find well-prepared south Indian vegetarian food like dosas, idli, and vada. Pizzas are also widely available, often with excellent tomato sauce made with fresh tomatos. 

veg 3
Gujarati thali

Another thing to consider when planning your trip to Gujarat is that it is a dry state: alcohol is not served in any public places. It is possible to get a permit (I have no idea how) to be allowed alcohol ‘for medical purposes’ (!)  Gujaratis and others desperate for booze can cross the border into either Daman or Diu, both of which were Portuguese colonies until 1961. Now they are administered not by the State of Gujarat, but by the Central Government of India – they are Union Territories. Alcohol is freely available at almost duty-free places in these tiny places, both of which are well-worth visiting.

 

veg 2
A mug of chhas

If you are thirsty, there are plenty of soft drinks available including the refreshing watered down yoghurt drink chhas (also known as ‘buttermilk’). Tea is the prevalent hot drink. We found it hard to get decent coffee, let alone any coffee. Most Gujaratis in Kutch and Saurashtra seem to be keen tea drinkers.

 

Discover more about journeying through Gujarat in Adam Yamey’s new book:

GUJ LULU PIC
Paperback available from lulu.com, Amazon, bookepository.com, Kindle, or order it from your bookshop [ISBN: 978-0244407988]

A village in Kutch

durg 1

When the land dried up

and the crops failed,

 prosperity left Durgapur

durg 2

The village of Durgapur is 5 kilometres northwest of Mandvi. In the past, when the water table was higher, the land around this place was very fertile. The farmers who lived in Durgapur became quite affluent. Nowadays, the ground is unproductive, but the elegant, richly decorated houses of the village attest to its inhabitants’ former prosperity. Many of the houses have first floor balconies which project over the roadways. These balconies have lovely carved wooden balustrades and are shaded by canopies supported by carved wooden pillars and fringed by delicately carved strips of wood. Many of the older houses have crafted stone window frames and intricately decorated wooden entrance doors.

durg 3

 

Today, many houses in the village have been bought by wealthy folk from Bombay, who have also built new homes there. Recently, a large new health centre has been built by members of the Jain community for their own use.

 

durg 4

Boat building in western India

 

Get to know Gujarat better: boat-building in Kutch Mandvi

MANBOAT 7

Gujarat has long been an important maritime interface between India and the rest of the world, especially Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Many of its folk have been, and continue to be, involved in mercantile activities, sailing, and boat-building.

KUTCH 1920

Mandvi in Kutch, which until 1947 was an independent princely state and is now part of Gujarat, used to be an important sea port. It is famed for its boat-building, which continues briskly even today. The wooden dhows constructed in Mandvi are now mostly built for customers in Dubai. They are built alongside the River Rukmavati that runs through Mandvi.

The timber used is ‘sal’ wood (Shorea robusta) that grows in Malaysia. This wood is both extremely durable and water-resistant.

With the exception of electrical saws, much of the construction employs age old techniques as can be seen in these pictures taken by Adam Yamey in early 2018.

MANBOAT 6

MANBOAT 4b

MANBOAT 6

MANBOAT 4

MANBOAT 1

MANBOAT 3

MANBOAT 5

MANBOAT 2

 

Discover much more about Kutch and the rest of Gujarat in “Travels Through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu” by Adam Yamey, available in paperback by clicking HERE

The same book is available on Kindle by searching Amazon for “Travelling through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu