We spent three days at Hodka this time, taking a break before the next leg of our journey which involves some intense riding.
As always, I am staying at Sham – E – Sharad in one of their tents. They also offer bhungas but you need to book really early to get either. The resort is open from October to March. The entire resort is built out of local building materials – so mainly mud – including the furniture which is then covered with locally made fabric. It is one of the most beautiful places I have stayed in.
The Hunnarhshala Foundation (refer previous post) helped them run the place for two years since inception in the early 2000s and since then the Hodka Panchyat / Sangam has been running it very successfully. The local community build the structures and maintain it – dismantling what is temporary and patching up the permanent ones every year, and have even added two bhungas and a family cottage recently. For 3300 Rs a night for the tent and a little more for the bhunga, you get a roof over your head, 3 simple DBRS meals (obviously vegetarian – but cooked by the villagers, do its healthy and simple, even the desert will be a homemade sweet like kheer or kesari) and every evening the local villagers (all male again) perform folk songs or do the garba. They are not professional performers, and sing like they would in their village. It is rough but beautiful. You sit on a charpoy around a low fire, under a starlight sky and listen to gruff folk singer accompanied by a sitar, a drum and two jin chaks (clanging bells )…and you are transported…
As I sat there one night, I was imagining what it would be to live here in one of the villages.. to be a shephard, graze my buffalo.. gaze at the stars all I want…
Unfortunately the one change in the place is that it is crowded thanks to Utsav, a lot of the guests use this as a base camp to get there and back – they have no idea that it is a community run initiative, do not appreciate its uniqueness in design and architecture, and some of them are downright boorish and loud. They get offended as there is no bottled drinks / ice creams and snacks for sale, and hot water is available only in the mornings and they completely miss the point. On our last evening we sat around the fire post dinner listening to the villagers play a double flute (two separate flutes blown by one person) and some instruments we had never seen before including what looked like a cooking vessel, when three fat oldies pulled up chairs and sat around the fire, forming an inner ring completely blocking the warmth and the view of the musicians for the rest of us who were on the charpoys, on the outer ring. The worst part is they didn’t do it on purpose and just lacked civic sense. I was ready to start a fight, but the other suggested I come back to the tent and finish the blog… sigh…. So I typed away furiously till I felt better.
We reached Hodka around sunset on the first day from Bhuj, and I was already upset with the traffic on the roads, and the banners announcing the Rann Utsav every few feet plastered with the faces of all the politicians. But I was glad to see that Sham – E – Sharad had not changed much except for the addition of a few photos of Amitabh Bhachan, (it is a compulsion in this region as he was the mascot for the tourism department a few year ago ) and it was a little bit more run down but the people were the same. Phew !!
I could recognise some of them, but none remembered me. The most characteristic of them all is the seemingly 7’-0” tall guard, who fiercely guards the place with a tall stick and a flashlight. He is like the symbol of the place and I was very happy to see him again.
My eyes however was searching for a young chap I had met in 2012, he has either left or grown to be unrecognizable. When I was here with my cousin and best friend a few years ago, we had a series of moments… he would look at me intensely and I would look back at him… there was this connection.. we shared these looks repeatedly from different corners of the campus – through the duration of my stay. It was like a forbidden love story from the movies.
At that time, we wanted to try the local beedi, you cannot smoke or drink inside the premises so we decided to do it on our way back. I went and asked Him for a beedi, and He gave me a couple shyly. We went on our way, and I thought that was the end of the love story.
When I came back in 2013, I recognised him in an instant. He however pretended not to know me, and I was heartbroken. The next morning, I was pottering about by myself and I heard a ‘psssst pssst’ – He was passing by, and he winked at me at offered me a beedi. I declined gracefully but with a soaring heart ran back to the tent to tell my mom that He recognised me !!! My mom and aunt felt that he was weary of talking to me in front of them, and were probably right. This was such a perfect movie plot for a forbidden love story – except that after they beat the odds, the girl would be confined inside a house for the rest of her days. That night he kept offering me an extra phulka, and I was really full so I declined it several times. Perhaps I was rude, I don’t know but that was the end of our story. He refused to look at me after that, and would turn his face away when I tried to catch his eye. When I told my cousin the story later, she poignantly said “ it was the dessert, he couldn’t probably give you a rose, he could only give you a phulka and you turned him down ” !!
Anyways he isn’t here anymore, my nameless pathan, with khol lined eyes and a checked scarf …
The temperature at Kutch right now varies, it is the coldest in the mornings, and it takes several cups of tea sitting in the sun to warm up. By mid morning the sun is blazing and the afternoons are uncomfortably hot and sun is quite harsh. The evenings are a little cooler, and the temperature drops as the sun sets, and the night get cold. So please pack warm clothes, scarves, woollen hats and socks as well as summery clothes for the day.
We spent our first evening wandering around the resort. The next two days we spend visiting the craftsmen around the area. Luckily the utsav concentrates on the Rann, and the villages are mostly left alone. One our first day we set off in the morning towards Khavda, where Abdul Bhai the potter lives. Travelling away from the utsav, it was the Khach of old, a twisting road through the desert, shephards with their buffaloes, small water bodies with flamingos, ducks and other birds.. a beautiful dessert landscape.
We stopped and Gandhi – nu- Gam on our way. This village is more about commercial craft and not very artisan – I haven’t liked anything here during my previous visits either, but do like the decorated mud houses and wanted to see it again. It is a Hindu (Dalit) village, but they practice a pardah for their women too. In some families women cover their faces if any man except their husband enters their home, in others they are more open but do not leave the house. Be careful not to take pictures of the women, it is strictly forbidden. Despite the pardah system, the head of the family is a screeching matriarch in her traditional finery, and runs the place with a watchful eye over her sons daughters in law and their brood. She will forcefully urge you to buy bright colourful things. You will not be offered tea here, and I have decided that is the distinction between a crafts person and a business person – when you are offered tea, you are in the right place.
We then reached Khavda and asked for Abdul bhai’s house. After a series of wrong turns we ended up in the middle of nowhere again. Luckily a youth on a bike offered to lead us there and we reached the shack I remembered. Abdul bhai and his family were warm and welcomed us immediately. Within 5 minutes we were sitting on a charpoy with steaming mugs of tea, talking to a bunch of raggedy children. Abdul Bhai was apologetic that the clay wasn’t prepared yet and so he could not make stuff for us to see. We said that was fine, and all of us proceeded to chat about our trip, my previous visit, the 15 day old woolly lamb that was stumbling about etc. And then I asked him if we could see his wares and he took us to a room with all his beautiful goods. He makes household goods ( mostly kitchenware with clay, paints over them with white and black clay based paint and then fires them at 800 degrees Celsius. I have bought plates and bowls from him last time, but could not resist buying a jar and a water bottle this time. Trusting the khachi way, we paid him and asked him to courier it to Bangalore, he offered the Other a beedi and the deal was settled. Now we will in know in 15 days if we were right to trust him or just romantic fools.
We then headed Back to Hodka to freshen up and then leave to the Great Rann which was a different experience (read previous post).
We spent a good part of the next morning warming up and then headed to Ramu Bhai’s house in the village of Hodka itself. Once again his house is not on any road and is impossible to find without local help. We were lucky enough to stumble upon his nephew on the main road, so once again we had someone to follow through the dessert, there are no dirt tracks even to the house. I have no idea how Usman Bhai brought us here the first time. Ramu Bhai and his family live in a several buildings and huts inside one big compound, he is a jovial large man with a wife and 5 daughters. Their craft is to use pieces of ajrak and block printed fabric to make the most beautiful patchwork bedsheets, cushion covers and quilts. The also stitch kurta’s for fabindia, and sell the rejected pieces due to minute faults for 300 bucks. I still have the ones I bought last time and was not going back empty handed this time either.
His wife is illiterate, and we all had a laugh as I taught her the symbol for medium and small and she would try to learn it and sift through the piles of kurtas to get me my size.
Once again we knew we were in the right place, as we were given chai first and were shown pictures of various exhibitions across India Ramu Bhai had participated in an he introduced us to his daughters and said they were all mad ( in an affectionate way). The youngest one, a thumb sucking beauty is the first one to go to school, but she apparently eats the free meal and runs back home everyday. He seemed to remember me and my family from the previous visit, as I told him he had couriered bedsheets to us then as well and requested him to do the same again. Once again the other and I ended up shopping. It has been a very khachhi Christmas for us this year.
One of our wedding gifts from my other best friend is a polaroid camera and we are trying to take one good picture from every place to create a souvenir when we go back . We took one of the family and us for us, and one of just them to give to them as a keepsake. Ramu Bhai was delighted wit the polaroid as Abdul Bhai was before him and had a childlike curiosity as to how it functions.
When we were leaving Ramu Bhai asked us to visit again next time we come to Khachh. I said we would, but he would not recognise us. He smiled and said, some people’s paths are meant to cross again and again and then smiled. It was a beautiful goodbye.
It was our last evening in Kutch and we decided to ride up to khala Dongar ( the black hills ) for the sun set . This is the highest point in the Kutch and provides for great views of the lake of the Rann of Kutch on one side and the entire Great Rann on the other. The desert landscape suddenly changes to a rocky scrub jungles as you climb up. Harsh as it is, it is one of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen. A canyon like dry river bed runs on one side, and you get amazing panoramic views as you climb up. The top once again has become commercial with shops selling bhaijjyas and tea. The utsav sends buses of people for a short day trip – so there were aound 4 bus loads of people. I need to resign to the fact that there is no escaping the utsav.
Once again where there is a will there is a way – and we climbed up some rocks, and enjoyed the spectacular view it, you can see the Rann on all sides till the horizon, and it was another spectacular sunset.
Legend also has it that a saint passed by here 400 years ago and met a bunch of starving jackals. He offered his body to the jackals and to commemorate that we have an ugly concrete temple in his memory, and every day food (Prasad) is left for the jackals. We were hoping to see the jackals but I guess they were waiting for the crowds to leave. As we were on a bike we wanted to climb down the hill before it was completely dark, we had to forego looking out for them. I anyway doubt that we would have seen any in the dark.
By the time we reached the main road it was dark and if you are riding in the dark in this area, you need to watch out for two things – buffaloes, they merge with the roads and suddenly appear out of no where and fools with their headlights on high beam, it is blinding and the road is full of treacherous curves. We cursed ourselves for waiting for the jackals and heaved a sigh of relief once we reached Hodka.
And with my last tip of the year– Avoid night riding like the plague, I wish you all a happy new year and will be back soon with the rest of our adventures.