Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Perhaps one of the most under-appreciated sites of great significance for India's religious history is Bhadreshwar, barely a kilometer from the coast, 69 km east of Mandvi, past Mundra, and 75 km south of Bhuj. The Jain religion, like other religions of Indian origin, places considerable importance on the act of pilgrimage and Bhadreshwar is one of the major centers of Jain pilgrimage in Gujarat. Unreliable reports claim the city was founded in 516 BC, and oral accounts state that the first temple was built “2500 years ago, about 45 years after the death of Lord Mahavir,” but there is no evidence to either support or debunk that claim. The main temple is strikingly beautiful, in all white marble with majestic pillars. Around the central one are 52 smaller shrines, one of which reputedly holds the original Parshavanath idol from 500 BC Non-Jains cannot spend the night in the temple complex, but other lodging is available in town.
In addition to the Jain complex, there are also two mosques which are reliably dated to the late 12th century, meaning they predate the well-known Islamic architecture of Ahmedabad by 250 years or so, making them in all likelihood the first mosques built in India. Their existence indicates that Iranian seagoing traders arrived on the coast of Gujarat at least 50 years before Islam swept into Delhi by land. As such, they are much more stark, austere, constructions, without the flowery embellishments of the later period, but they are also the first mosques to incorporate Indian architectural elements into Islamic constructions. According to at least one researcher's extensive study, the style indicates that this blending was not done because they plundered Hindu temple ruins for parts or only employed Hindu craftsmen, but was a more deliberate incorporation of design elements according to the tastes of the builders.
Another port town on the south coast of Kutch, Mundra was well-known for salt and spice trading in the past and now more for tie-dye and block-print textiles. The harbor is virtually unusable today, and only small local fishing craft navigate its silted waterways up the river.
The Mahadev temple has memorials to famous Mundra sailors, including some who advised the Sultan of Zanzibar and guided Vasco da Gama to India. Darya Pir, the patron saint of Kutchi fisherpeople, arrived here from Bukhara (now in Uzbekistan) in 1660. He was well-loved by the locals, introduced them to Islam, and they built the shrine that bears his name here when he died; this site still receives visitors of many religious backgrounds seeking blessings. The Mughal Emperor built a gate in his honor, which still stands and is known today as the Mughal Gate. Interestingly, the walls of the old city fortifications have a religious origin, as they were dragged from the ruins of the Jain city of Bhadreshwar.
This healing centre, based on naturopathic remedies and M.K. Gandhi's ideas of “nature cure”, offers treatment for a wide variety of conditions, using everything from ayurvedic and herbal remedies to panchakarma, acupuncture, meditation, prayer, and yoga asanas.. On the Bhuj-Mandvi road near Punadi Patiya village, the centre also maintains 40 hectares of organic farmland on which they grow fruits, vegetables, and medicinal plants.
On the banks of the Rukmavati River, just south of the bridge, you can visit the still-active shipbuilding yard. Craftsmen still assemble ships out of wood, for local or international clients, and you can feel free to watch them work. If you have never seen handmade boats being built, it will make you truly appreciate craftsmanship--the process is long and elaborate and shoddy workmanship means risking sailors' lives.
Boards must be painstakingly crafted, planed and fitted by hand, for a watertight fit along the long curves of the hull line. You will likely encounter legions of craftsmen working hard amidst giant piles of sawdust. Also, because of the shipbuilding industry, there is a heavy timber trade in Mandvi.
Built in 1929 by Rao Vijayrajji, this palace is very well-maintained, and often the scene of filming for Bollywood productions. It was built of red sandstone in the Rajput style, with a main central dome, Bengal domes at the sides, bastions at the corner, and colored glass windows. The balcony at the top affords a superb view of the surrounding area, and the king's tomb can also be seen.
The first thing most people think of when they visit Mandvi is visiting the seashore. Mandvi Beach is the closest to the town center, across the bridge to the east side of the river, then down the road past a place called Salaya, accessed from just near the Kashi-Vishvanath Temple (sometimes the beach is called Kashi-Vishvanath Beach.) Wind Farm Beach is 7 km west of town, named for the windmills that line it to generate electricity for the area. You can get fresh coconuts and other snacks, swim in very pleasant water, and enjoy a nice view of the coastline.
The Maharao's private beach, behind Vijay Vilas Palace, is 8 km from town, and requires a small fee (the other beaches are free and open to the public). More secluded than the others, the Vijay Vilas Beach has nice white sand, lovely places to swim and accommodation available in air-conditioned tents along the shore.
In the 21st century, most people travel by land in fast-moving buses or trains, and to reach destinations further away, many even travel in airplanes. Sometimes it is hard to remember that until the mid-1800s, overland travel was done by horse or bullock-cart. That human technological flight began only a century ago, and flying only became available to average travellers in the last 50 years. Until the middle of the 20th century, for the several millennia of human history that came before us, people voyaged on the seas. How many of us today have traveled on the open ocean?
If you don't feel ready to embark on a seabound voyage anytime soon, visiting a historical port town may at least bring you closer to understanding the way people and goods used to move around the planet (and 95% of world trade still does!). Here in Mandvi, the principal port of Kutch and of Gujarat for hundreds of years until the rise of Mumbai, visit the shipbuilding yards along the Rukmavati River where wooden ships are still built by hand. Stand at the Tower of Wagers, where wealthy shipowners would gather in May to scan the horizons, awaiting the return of the trading fleet from East Africa, and bet on whose would arrive first. Wander around the Vijay Vilas Palace and marvel at the items brought from far-off ports, and the architecture itself that shows a global awareness in its mixture of styles. Or recreate your favorite scene from Lagaan or Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, both of which have scenes filmed at the palace.
Try Mandvi's famous local double rotis, also known as dabeli. Or, if you simply want a place sit at the ocean, let the salty breeze wash over you, and swim in the warm waters of the Arabian Sea, Mandvi's several quiet, clean beaches with flamingos and other migrant birds will surely do the trick.
Friday, June 17, 2011
Stand in the middle of the stadium, close your eyes, breathe in the dry air, imagine what events might have taken place there and who might have stood at exactly that spot 4000 years ago. Move to the edge of the stadium and imagine the excitement a spectator sitting in that very seat might have felt.
At the height of our civilization, our technological development, our social and material complexity, all signs point to progress, we often think. And yet, all is not as it seems and once in a while it occurs to us to look into the past to discover our future.
Dholavira is the larger of the two most remarkable excavations of the Indus Valley Civilization or Harappan culture, dating back to 4500 years ago. While the other site, Lothal, is more exhaustively educated and easier to reach, a visit to Lothal only complements, rather than replaces, a visit to Dholavira. What this site offers you, in the intense environment that comes with being surrounded by the Great Rann of Kutch, is a unique insight into the pioneering Harappan mind, with one of the world’s earliest and best planned water conservation systems and what might be the world’s first signboards, written in ancient Indus script.
The excavation also tells the story of the 7 stages of the civilization, from development to maturity to decay, the last of which hints at a strange piece of history, with more questions than answers. After the peak of the civilization Dholavira was temporarily abandoned, after which it seems that the settlers returned with a markedly de-urbanized culture. There are hints that they willingly chose to simplify their lives, rather than try to ride the collapse of their once glorified civilization. Here, on the ruins, you will have a chance to contemplate what progress and civilization mean and what, if anything, is truly permanent.
Rainy season to the end of winters is the best time to enjoy this wondrous sanctuary. The most ideal way to enjoy this retreat is, taking a walk around the natures cradle while befriending various species of the Bustard family. Look around for the Black and Gray Francolin, the Spotted and Indian Sangrouse, Quails, Larks, Shrikes, Coursers and Plovers. And if you are lucky, you might catch fluttering glimpses of rare species of Stolicska’s Bushchat and White-naped Tit. If you keep walking northwards towards the coastal area of Jakhau during winters, you might get greeted by large flocks of flamingos, Herons, Egrets, Sandpipers and other birds dwelling in the salt-reservoirs and the creek.
A climb up the watchtower and vigilance will surprise you with flocks of Indian Gazelle and wolfs spotting the entire landscape, while a drive around the sanctuary will acquaint you to the friendly nilgais.
Being a responsible nature lover is our way of showing reverence to Mother Earth, a few tips for you to remember-
No smoking whatsoever (cigarette butts cause many forest fires.)
No flash or intrusive photography (for example, don’t pluck leaves to clear a better view; reposition the camera instead.)
Do not carry any music system or sound making device along with you and remember to keep them switched off if you are driving around.
Picking plants or insects prohibited; do not remove anything from the park.
No quick or sudden movements to scare off wildlife.
Do not try going to close to the animals.
No pets should accompany you.
No littering. Trash is only to be disposed of in proper receptacles.
No hunting devices or other weapons should be carried, as well as used.
Carry lots of water.
Great Indian Bustard is a large ground dwelling bird with long neck and ostrich like elongated legs. This endangered species with its neutral colored coat blends with the semi-arid grassland, and provides a visual surprise to the visitors. Lesser Florican Bustards breed here while the flamboyant Macqueen’s Bustard is a winter visitor of this region. The sanctuary is considered a unique dwelling for these birds which are almost becoming extinct in other regions of the country. Other rare species of animals and birds are fellow habitants who make this sanctuary a treat for nature connoisseurs. Chinkaras, jungle cats, Nilgai and many other mammals inhabit this area, along with the Indian wolf which proliferates in this untamed retreat.