As I wrote earlier, Kutch it is freezing in the morning.. it is quite an effort to get out of bed. But the biggest plus point is that the winter sunrise in this region is my kind of sunrise. you can watch the sun rise lazily over the horizon with a cup of warm chai in your hands at 8:00 am and here is my next tip. If you are a South Indian, and if you are a South Indian attached to your morning filter coffee, be prepared to run on chai. My last cup of good coffee was on the 19th of December, before we left. But when in Rome…
To be fair to the local masala chai, I am growing quite fond of it, especially the cutting chais on the street ..but looking forward to drinking some good coffee in Bombay in a few days.
We left Hodka at 8:00 am, and it was still freezing, thank god for our gear! And here is my next trip – invest in good jackets, gloves and knee guards, it protects and keeps you warm. We also bought thermals but have used them only once so far.
Our plan was to ride to Lakhpat, the north-western tip of the Gujarat and hug the coast all the way down to Mandvi – the entire ride was 350 KM long, our longest so far. Good luck bums !!
If you take the highway Lakhpat is 144KM from Hodka, but we decided to take the longer route through the desert and it was worth every extra second it took. This route is not yet on the map but you need to ride upto the ugly tent city at Dhordo, I guess it was fate, I had to look at that monstrosity once more before leaving. You take a left after the tent city and ride through the desert to Hajpir. This road is newly laid, and there is just beautiful desert on both sides. It is also a favoured habitat of the common crane and every few seconds we would pass by a flock pecking at the ground, sometimes they would get startled by us and fly a little further away. This is the second most beautiful road we have ridden on this trip after the road through the lake of Kutch to Dholavira.
In the middle of this pristine desert, we also passed a giant pile of Styrofoam plates, some of them had flown quite far into the desert. And the Rann Utsav strikes again! I know I have ranted and raved about the Utsav here, but my only problem with it in reality is that it completely un-responsive to an ecologically sensitive zone. If they had kept the lights and noise to a minimum, educated the visitors about the Rann and the creatures that live there, used leaf plates and urged people to reduce their trash, it would be a stellar example of eco-tourism.
That is one of my favourite things about Sham – E -Sharad, there are no bottled drinks available, no ice creams or anything in cartons. The food is made with easily available ingredients and the desert with every meal is a home made sweet like kheer or kesari.
The pile of Styrofoam plates on the pristine dessert has been the most heart breaking sight of the entire trip so far.
Once you reach Hajpir, you leave the desert behind, the vegetation increases and you are on a typical village road for a while which then joins the highway and takes you all the way to Lakhpat. The biggest difference is that as you go closer to the coast, you start seeing women out on the streets, working in the fields, and the pathan suits of the khachhi men are replaced by dhoti pants and frock like tunics.
We reached Lakhpat around 12 and stopped for tea right outside the fort. It was really good chai, and the tea seller was talkative too. His family is one of the few who still live inside the fort.
Lakhpat was once a town of millionaires, a bustling port at the mouth of the Kori Creek which joins the Arabian Ocean. But the creek dried up / changed course and the town lost its fortunes. The fort wall is 7KM long and encloses a gurdwara and a couple of tombs, apart from many crumbling structures. According to our tea seller 500 people still live here, though we didn’t see anyone. The tombs are beautiful historic pieces of architecture but are not accessible to the public and the Gurudwara has been recently rebuilt – a typical modern concrete building. They do serve food to hungry travellers apparently, but we didn’t go inside.
Legend has it that Guru Nanak stopped here on his pilgrimage to the middle east. The local boatmen agreed to ferry him across but kept putting it off as they were busy. So he apparently cursed them saying that soon they would have nothing but time on their hands, and presto, the kori creek dried up. True or not, I love these historic legends, my other favourite is the curse of the Thala Cauvery, which has rendered every king of Mysore heirless to this day.
You can climb the fort wall from several places and it offers amazing views of the dried up creek and the ocean in the distance. As hot as the sun was, there was a strong cool sea breeze atop the fort wall, the temperature difference, the change in the microclimate is quite fascinating.
From Lakhpat, we then rode down parallel to the coast, you cant really see the ocean, but you feel its presence, there is a constant sea breeze which really alleviates the sun overhead. We were on a single track road, less than 3M wide to Narayan Sarovar 30 some KM away. Narayan Sarovar is a temple town and BSF post at a small lagoon in the Arabian Ocean. It is also a wildlife sanctuary for Chinkaras and used to be a nesting ground for flamingos, one board also announced the presence of the great Indian Bustard which is critically endangered. Unfortunately, the temple is booming now and we saw no wildlife at all. We did see some wild pilgrims though. They were very excited to see us on buttercup and insisted on talking to us. Through this trip people have been congratulating us and passing vehicles slow down and give us a thumps on the road – it feels really good. One lady we met at Lakhpat even asked us why we didn’t get sponsors for our trip. I was stumped and speechless. I didn’t know if she was suggesting we be advertisement boards through our journey or … so I smiled and nodded, the best response in these situations.
I find the obliviousness of some people extremely endearing, one middle aged man came and congratulated us for doing a bike tour in Narayan Sarovar and then just assumed we were as religious as he was. He heartily patted the Other on his back and said – so Dwarka and Somanth next ?? Very good very good. Once again we were stumped so we smiled and nodded.
At the tip of the town is a small peninsula called Koteeshwar from where you can see the ocean all around, our first glimpse of the coast. We are sea people, and the vastness of the blue ocean always makes us happy.
The little town has gujarat tourism – toran guest house where you can stay if you want to oreat. It was around lunch time, but when buttercup is fully loaded we need to eat at roadside open dhabba type restaurants where we can keep an eye on her. So we powered through.
From Narayan Sarovar, we deviated a little away from the coast to the town of Naliya 70 KM away . This is your next big fuel and food stop. Maybe it was because we were coming from Khachh where the people are so warm, but we both found Naliya a little strange. The place we ate at was called Sheetal, a small joint of the road, but it was full of travellers and I felt like I was in one of the taverns from Pirates of the Carribbean. As usual I was the only woman in the Dhaba, but the weird part was that no one smiled, there were some shifty eyed staring but everyone would avert their eyes when we looked back. Even the guy who shared the table with us refused to look at us, he didn’t even look at the waiters, just mumbled his orders. It was one weird place, but the food was good – so well fed and watered we set off to Mandvi 85KM away.
This stretch of the road is a typical highway, not exceptionally scenic but within a couple of hours we were at our beautiful beach camp – just in time for another spectacular sunset.
More on Mandvi tomorrow