Sunday, May 29, 2011
At the far northwest corner of Kutch, facing north across the Great Rann towards Pakistan, stands Lakhpat, once an important port city but now virtually abandoned for almost 200 years. A place where you can imagine the rise and decline of a great port city, and simultaneously contemplate the vast emptiness of the desert and the sea.
Like the Wild Ass Sanctuary, Narayan Sarovar is home to a wide array of wildlife, including many species (15 of which are considered threatened) of mammals, reptiles, and birds. The principle species here is the chinkara, an Indian gazelle. In this harsh landscape, only animals well-adapted to the desert climate can thrive, with extreme heat, high winds, and frequent storms. For this reason, many species can be seen here that are not easy to find elsewhere.
Most of Narayan Sarovar is desert thorn forest and scrub forest, with some seasonal wetlands and dry savannah-type vegetation as well. Gorad and babul are the prevailing plant species; gorad in the east and babul in the west. Also found among the 252 species of flowering plants in the sanctuary are hermo, ber, pilu, thor, gugal, salai, ingorio, kerdo, carissa, and the invasive “gando baawal” (prosopsis juliflora), though less so than in other nearby areas.
The endangered chinkara is the only gazelle in the world with horns on both males and females. Of the roughly 7000 chinkaras known to exist, 80% of them live in Kutch, and since their primary habitat is the scrub and thorn forests so common here, Narayan Sarovar Sanctuary is crucial to their well-being. The sanctuary also houses many other mammals, from wildcats like the caracal (African or Persian Lynx) to desert foxes and the endangered Indian wolf, from spotted deer to wild boar. The ratel, or honey badger, renowned for its snake-killing ability and fierce self-defense against leopards, lions, poisonous snakes, and swarms of bees, earning it the title of “most fearless animal” in the Guinness Book of World Records, also lives here.
Birds abound in the sanctuary, with no less than 184 distinct species to be found here. All three species of bustards (the Great Indian Bustard, the Houbara Bustard, and the Lesser Florican) live here, as well as the Black Partridge, 19 different birds of prey, and many species of waterfowl. No bird lover will leave here displeased.
After traveling over the expanse of desert in western Kutch, you find the Koteshwar Temple, at a place where the immensity of dry land meets the incomprehensible vastness of the sea. After so much arid ground, the sight of the ocean will awaken your spirits; though the sea is even less hospitable to humans, a sobering thought. The only point that breaks the skyline from the flat brown horizon to the east and the wide blue horizon to the west is the point of the Koteshwar Temple, the last outpost of human construction at the westernmost limit of India. Not overrun by tourists like the temple at Dwarka, Koteshwar is conducive to contemplating emptiness, pondering the place of humanity on earth (and ultimately, isn’t that what spiritual traditions are about?).
The story of Koteshwar begins with Ravana, who won a boon from Lord Shiva for an outstanding display of piety. This boon was the gift of a Shiva linga of great spiritual power, but which Ravana, in his arrogant haste, accidentally dropped and it fell to earth at Koteshwar. To punish Ravana for his carelessness, the linga turned into a thousand identical copies (some versions of the story say ten thousand, some a million; suffice to say it was quite a lot.) Unable to distinguish the original, Ravana grabbed one and departed, leaving the original one here, around which Koteshwar Temple was built.
Visitors can see the temple, walk along the beach and on a clear night, even see the glow of light from Karachi, Pakistan, on the northwestern horizon.
In a land replete with pilgrimage sites, Narayan Sarovar is a different kind of holy experience. At almost the westernmost point of land in India, it can only be reached by traveling over 100 km from Bhuj across the barren scrubland of Kutch. A journey after which the appearance of a vast lake will surprise you even though you have come to see it and its spiritual significance will be tangible.Narayan Sarovar Lake is one of the 5 holy lakes of Hinduism, along with Mansarovar in Tibet, Pampa in Karnataka, Bhuvaneshwar in Orissa and Pushkar in Rajasthan. The lake is associated with a time of drought in the Puranic area, when Narayan (a form of Lord Vishnu) appeared in response to the fervent prayers of sages and touched the land with his toe, creating the lake, now revered as holy to bathe in (though this is not recommended).
There are temples to Shri Trikamraiji, Laxminarayan, Govardhannathji, Dwarkanath, Adinarayan, Ranchodraiji and Laxmiji, built by the wife of Maharao Desalji. These are of more interest to those on religious pilgrimage here; other visitors are likely to find Koteshwar a more interesting option.
Because these sites are very far from Bhuj but quite close to each other, most travelers take advantage of the journey to visit them all at the same time.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
A Kutchi cultural center, located further south along College Road (which leads away from the lake past Alfred High School, the Ramkund stepwell and the Swaminarayan temple), the B.S.D. contains an excellent collection of Kutchi folk art and crafts, especially from the more remote regions of the district, collected by a forest service official as he traveled around doing government work. There are also exhibits of rural architecture, paintings, textile arts and archaeological specimens.
Located south along the College Rode
Open round the year except Monday 10:00am - 1:15pm & 2:00pm - 6:00pm
For Indians Rs.10/-
For Foreigners Rs.50/-
Note: Photography is not permitted.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
For those heading northwards, Khavda, 66 kms along the principal road going north of Bhuj, is a major stop and the last place to get bottled water and fruits before heading to other destinations. The center of town also has Kutchi food available.
The town has excellent potters and leather craftsmen (indicating a heavy Muslim presence, as Hindus do not use leather), and ajrakh blockprinting at khatrivas. The KMVS office in Khavda sells embroidered handmade dolls and other textile products and is run by local women. The Khavda area has a well-blended population of Meghwals (Hindus) and Muslims hailing from Sindh, leading to interesting combinations of work styles and social traditions. You will find Hindus, more likely to be woodcarvers, for example, and Muslims more likely to do leatherwork, working side by side in the same village.
Khavda is also the departure point to visit the world's largest flamingo colony, at a lake in the desert out past Jamkundaliya, where a half million flamingos stop over on their migrations every year. The flamingo colony can only be reached by camel and is best visited in the winter (Oct. to Mar).
Chhari means salt affected and Dhandh means Shallow wet-lands. This places is a paradise for bird watchers and omithologists, having around 370 bird species and is particularly rich in raports, water fly, waders and larks.
This is a thriving region to come up as an eco-tourism centre in Kutch.
. Since this is one of the places where a civilian can get closest to the Pakistan border, there is an Army post at the top; beyond here, only military personnel are allowed. The hill is also the site of a 400-year-old temple to Dattatreya, the three-headed incarnation of Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva in the same body. Legend says that when Dattatreya walked on the earth, he stopped at the Black Hills and found a band of starving jackals. Being a god, he offered them his body to eat and as they ate, his body continually regenerated itself. Because of this, for the last four centuries, the priest at the temple has prepared a batch of prasad that is fed to the jackals after the evening aarti.
Reaching the hilltop by public transport is difficult; the only bus travels there from Khavda on weekend evenings and returns in the early morning. Hiring a jeep from Khavda is your other option. Visiting in the early morning or late afternoon is recommended, though with a few more hours there are nice hikes to do around the hill. Be sure to take your own food and water and if you want to stay the night, there is a dharamshala next to the temple.
Just 22 kms south of Bhuj on the road to Mandra, Kera houses the ruins of a Shiva Temple that dates to the era of the Solanki rulers. Only part of the temple remains, as much was destroyed in the 1819 earthquake, but the inner sanctum is still there, as well as half of the main spire. The Fort of Kapilkot, also in a rather rundown state, is next to the temple.
Kutchi handicrafts, renowned the world over, are in abundance in Bhuj, from elaborately embroidered clothing and luxurious quilts to block-printing, heavy silver jewelry and woodcarving. Or better yet, you can use Bhuj as a base for excursions to surrounding towns and villages to meet artisans and their families, see the work being done and buy crafts directly from the artisans themselves. This allows more of the income to go directly to the craftsmen and more importantly, creates a relationship between the maker of an item and its eventual owner, in which each one meets the other, learns something about the other's life and shares a bit of their own identity and background. You will quite likely find the personal interaction more valuable than the commercial one and the memory of the visit will stay with you even if you give away what you bought as gifts.
About a 20-minute walk southwest of Hamirsar lake, through open areas that no longer seem like you're in the city, are the royal cenotaphs (memorials to those not actually buried there and, in this case, not buried at all but cremated). Many of the monuments are in ruins due to earthquakes, but those of Lakhpatji, Raydhanji II and Desarji are still quite intact. The site is very quiet, out in the middle of a field, not surrounded by buildings, and is very peaceful in morning or evening, though in the middle of the day it can be quite hot under bright sun.
Open round the year except Friday 9:00am - 12:00pm & 3:00pm - 6:00pm
Note: Photography allowed only with permission and a fee.
Friday, May 6, 2011
Like most Swaminarayan temples, this one has the typical brightly colored woodcarvings around the building, mostly depicting Lord Krishna and Radha. Located just down the road from the Ramkund Stepwell and the Alfred High school, the temple marks the spot where Swaminarayan sat with local holy men when he came through Bhuj.
An excellent place to cool off on a hot afternoon, Hamirsar Lake is where people go to swim, or sit under a tree and enjoy the water, as well as where many women do their laundry. Walking along the lake's edge is a great way to get from one place to another, with the Aina Mahal and Praga Mahal, the Kutch Museum, the Ramkund Stepwell and Ram Dhun Temple, the Swaminarayan Temple and the Alfred High School all located very close to the eastern side of the lake; a walk from the Aina Mahal to the Swaminarayan Temple (passing all the other sites mentioned) takes about half an hour. Further around the other side of the lake is the Sharad Baug palace, and the road to the royal chhatardis.
The oldest museum in Gujarat, founded in 1877 by Maharao Khengarji, it has the largest existing collection of Kshatrapa inscriptions, dating to the 1st century AD, as well as examples of the extinct Kutchi script (now the language is mostly written in the Gujarati alphabets) and an interesting collection of coins (including the kori, Kutch's local currency.) A section of the museum is devoted to tribal cultures, with many examples of ancient artifacts, folk arts and crafts and information about tribal peoples. The museum also has exhibits of embroidery, paintings, arms, musical instruments, sculpture and precious metalwork.
A visit to the Kutch Museum, to learn about the history of tribal and folk tradition of the district, will help you get to know about present-day people and their lives. Remember that visiting a museum is a great way to learn about history, but tribals are not merely part of history, they are a major part of Kutch's (and India's) population and cultural identity today. Try to visit people's homes and families; a visit to a museum and a conversation with a real human being are not mutually exclusive, they are complementary, and if anything, the latter is the most important of all.
The Museum has been under renovation lately, check the hours before visiting.
Inside the palace, you can visit the main palace halls as well as climb stairs of the 45m bell tower for an exhilarating view of the city. After coming down (not before, for your own peace of mind!), check out the cracks between the stones in the wall, visible from the courtyard, caused by various earthquakes over the years. Then stop for a glass of fresh sugarcane juice on your way out of the compound.
Situated next to the Aina Mahal in the same compound
Open round the year except Saturday 9:00am - 12:00pm & 3:00pm - 6:00pm
Charges for Photography Rs.30/-
Charges for Video Shooting Rs.100/-
The Aina Mahal palace, or “Hall of Mirrors” was built during the flamboyant rule of Lakhpatji in the middle of the 18th century. Master craftsman Ramsinh Malam, who trained as an artisan for 17 years in Europe, felt unappreciated by lesser rulers in the area, so he went to the royal court at Bhuj and appealed to the king for work, who commissioned this palace. Malam designed it in a mixed Indo-European style and set about creating the materials for the palace locally. He established a glass factory at Mandvi, forged cannons in an iron foundry and manufactured china tiles in a factory in Bhuj. It seems Gandhiji's ideal of swadeshi had an early proponent in Ramsinh Malam. He personally crafted the fountains, mirrors and glasswork, as well as many other wonders of artisanship—a pendulum clock in sync with the Hindu calendar, doors inlaid with gold and ivory... come visit to find out the rest.
The Aina Mahal is at the northeast corner of Hamirsar lake, easily walkable from most of Bhuj. Anyone along the way will give you directions. Be sure to explore the rest of the compound outside the palace, with its beautiful carved doorways, elaborate window boxes and balconies. Most of the compound is in ruins, some brought down as recently as the 2001 earthquake. Poke around and explore unexpected places; don't settle for just walking into the palace museum with a ready-made experience.
In a walk around Bhuj, you can see the Hall of Mirrors at the Aina Mahal; climb the bell tower of the Prag Mahal next door; stroll through the produce market; have a famous Kutchi pau bhaji for lunch; examine the 2000-year-old Kshatrapa inscriptions in the Kutch Museum; admire the sculptures of Ramayana characters at the Ramakund stepwell; walk around Hamirsar Lake and watch children jumping into it from the lake walls as the hot afternoon sun subsides; and catch the sunset among the chhatardis of the Kutchi royal family in a peaceful field outside the center of town.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Arambol is situated further north of Goa and is approximately 50 kms from Panaji, the state capital of Goa.
One section of the beach has a salt water lake close to the sea, enclosed between the mountains that hide the spectacular Banyan tree. The beach attracts many international tourists, particularly Israelis, mainly during the winter season between December and February.
Chowpatty beach is situated at the top end of Marine Drive. It is the only beach in the central part of Mumbai. This beach is the venue where many Hindu religious ceremonies can be witnessed like the annual thread-tying ceremony initiating young boys into the Brahmin caste. Another festival 'Nariel Purnima' is celebrated towards the end of the monsoons. Here the idols of Ganesha are immersed on the last day of 'Ganesh Chaturthi'.
Porbandar is situated along the Arabian Sea in the western Indian state of Gujarat. Famous as the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, the city is well connected to the other parts of the country by rail, road, and air. Despite its glorious sunsets, fashionable esplanade and delicious sea food in the restaurants, tourist bungalow and hotels running along the sea front, the Chowpatty beach at Porbandar is primarily for those who are not too fastidious about beaches.
A beach is a geological landform along the shoreline of an ocean, sea or lake. It usually consists of loose particles which are often composed of rock, such as sand, gravel, shingle, pebbles, or cobblestones. The particles of which the beach is composed can sometimes instead have biological origins, such as shell fragments or coralline algae fragments.
Wild beaches are beaches which do not have lifeguards or trappings of modernity nearby, such as resorts and hotels. They are sometimes called undeclared, undeveloped, undefined, or undiscovered beaches. Wild beaches can be valued for their untouched beauty and preserved nature. They are found in less developed areas such as Puerto Rico, Thailand or Indonesia.Beaches often occur along coastal areas where wave or current action deposits and reworks sediments.