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If there is one region that cannot be overlooked by those travelling to Gujarat, it has to be Kutch. We landed in Ahmedabad – the land of Gandhi, dhoklas, fafdas and a zillion colours – with a promise of the next four days being a plethora of culture. We were on the Gujarat trail of ‘Wheels of Wander’ by Maruti Suzuki Alto and Outlook Traveller. Three friends from Mumbai -Meisha, Diisha and Delna - were to drive for the next four days, experiencing the different hues of Kutch. The trip was planned to accommodate the Rann Utsav as well as craft villages, a little slice of Ahmedabad and other highlights in the region.
With only a couple of hours left in the day for sightseeing, we decided to visit the most significant places in Ahmedabad - one where a woman created history by building a monument, and the other where a man kick-started a nationwide revolution.
Situated on the outskirts of the city, Adalaj Ni Vav step-well transports you to the 15th century. With elaborate carvings and byzantine columns, the step-well is any architecture lover’s delight. Intricately carved balconies, perfectly symmetrical blocks and ornamental walls are the remarkable features of this five-storied step-well built by Queen Rudabai, wife of a Vaghela chieftain Veer Singh. The vav was a meeting place and spiritual refuge for villagers, who visited it for cooler surroundings and to worship the deities carved onto the walls. The octagonal well is at the end of the flight of steps, perpendicular to the opening on the top from where sunlight pours in. Every wall narrates a story: some of musicians, some of mundane life, some of dancers and some of mythology.
Our next stop was the Sabarmati Ashram. It was here that Gandhi Ji lived in a humble home called Hriday Kunj at the banks of River Sabarmati, and began the salt revolution, which led to the Dandi March in 1930. It was 5.30 pm when we reached the Ashram. A sense of calm enveloped me as I strolled through the garden and the photography gallery in the museum. We stepped into Hriday Kunj to see memorabilia like Gandhi Ji’s desk, the room he slept in and even the kitchen.
Having left in the early hours of the morning, we were able to see a stunning sunrise over the highway to Bhuj. The 330 km stretch is not an easy distance to cover in a day. But good company makes any journey a memorable one. Add to that the quality of the roads (not a single pothole), the countryside views, and it passed with ease.
Our first detour from the comfortable highway was Bhujodi, a crafts village that lies 10km before Bhuj. We headed straight to the Hiralaxmi Craft Center, also known as the Vande Mataram Memorial Park. A massive complex with manicured lawns, colossal fountains and monument lookalikes of India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan and other buildings dot the place. An over-bridge leads one to the shopping area where bright textiles and handicrafts adorn mud walls. This is a permanent set-up with proper signages explaining the origin and the details of the craft. Artisans from neighbouring villages use this space on a monthly rotational basis to sell their craft.
After spending ample time here, we turned the wheels to Bhuj to settle in for the night.
Before heading to Nirona village (40km) on this day, we visited the Prag Mahal and the Aina Mahal in Bhuj city. A 19th-century colonial styled palace, Prag Mahal has Italian Gothic architecture and an imposing clock tower. Corinthian pillars adorn the Durbar Hall. Adjacent to Prag Mahal is the dilapidated Aina Mahal, which was severely damaged in the 2001 earthquake. The exteriors of this 18th-century palace had intricate yet broken balconies, now home to flocks of pigeons.
Post breakfast we headed to the craft village of Nirona. What was on sale in the Hiralaxmi Centre yesterday was being demonstrated today in the simple houses of the craftsmen. We strolled in the village and entered a few homes for a quick lesson about copper bell art, lacquer art and Rogan art that Nirona is famous for. Here, we also got the chance to see traditional mud homes, or bhungas, from inside. Our next stop was Hodka, 53km from here, for a local meal and a peek into more bhungas at a hotel called Mehfil-e-Rann. Vivid colours splashed on the walls, mirror work on the windows, vibrant seating arrangements and a ceiling with radiant lanterns warmed us up for the bright colours that were to come later in the day.
The next stop was the famed tent city of Rann Utsav at Dhordo (17km), located at the white salt flats. The art installations, haat, live entertainment and food stalls offered a festive vibe. But the highlight was in the form of a mesmerizing sunset over the White Rann. Even better was the moonrise, washing the entire salt marsh with its gentle blue and white tinge.
We settled into a tented accommodation close by and called it a night.
We started the day with adventure. The best way to get a bird’s eye view of the tent city and the hypnotic White Rann is to try paramotoring, organized at the tent city. Meisha, Delna and Diisha soared over the makeshift city and the white desert with the help of trained professionals. Later, we drove 100km to the highest point of Kutch - Kalo Dungar. The landscape changed from barren flatlands to a rocky terrain. A winding road took us to the top of this magnetic hill, known for panoramic views of Kutch and another sunset to remember. It was time to head back to Bhuj, a distance of 90km from here.
New friendships forged and memories cached, we drove on the same highway back and reached the Ahmedabad airport.
Courtesy of Outlook Traveller
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