Mandvi is a port town in the northern part of the Gulf of Kutch and was part of the Kutch empire. The kings have a summer palace here, and we stayed at the beach camp in the palace compound, and that place is nothing short of paradise.
Our ride to Mandvi has been our longest so far, but in those 8 hours the landscape changed from the cold dessert to a dry marshy coast at Lakhpat, to black soil with hardy crops such as cotton and castor towards Narayan Sarovar followed by red soil greener crops, then yellow soil with a whiff of coriander and finally coconut trees and very goa – isque landscape as we got closer to Mandvi. (refer previous post for a detailed account) .
Hot, dusty and tired with very sore bums we followed a sign and turned into a mud road. We weren’t expecting much. 2 KM later we reached a parking lot, under the shade of a few trees. There was no watchman, actually there was no one there, just a lot of birds chirping. We seemed to be in the right place. We trudged over a small bamboo bridge and to our right was a small pathway with 5 tents on either side and to the left was a tiny hut with no sign. That hut is the reception and the only place in the property where you will have access to wi-fi, so you will see a few guests sitting inside peering into their smart phones / tablets / laptops. I cannot be completely snobbish here as I was one of them as well for a while as I tried to put up a blog post. (sheepish smile – but it is really for the handful of you reading our adventures)
If you follow the path a little beyond the reception, it dips and then takes a little turn and then bang – the most beautiful view meets you – framed by the trees a pristine beach which melts into the blue sea. It takes your breath away, you can stand there forever and a day.
This beach is a private beach and as there are only 10 tents, you will at the most have to share it with 18 other people and a couple of children. That to me is a really good deal.
Due to its position in the gulf, there are no waves, the water is calm and knee deep for almost a kilometre (as per the hotel staff, we didn’t verify it, but we went in around 150M and the depth didn’t change)
The water begins to recede around sunset when low tide sets in and moves almost 200M inside, and is back in the morning. Unfortunately several jelly fish get stranded on the beach when the water recedes.
The water babies that we are, we were in our swimsuits and on the beach in a jiffy. In our excitement to get into the water, we ignored the dead jelly fish on the beach and jumped right in. It’s December, and the water is deliciously cold. I took my time, treading the water, getting in slowly, but the other dived right in. I think that is a better alternative to acclimatize your body to the cold, like ripping the band aid right off, but I like taking my time. As the water is not very deep, we couldn’t swim, but we floated around as the water changed many colours and watched another amazing sunset. As spectacular as the sunsets in Kutch were, I will always pick a sunset over the ocean, anyday.
The unique position of the beach also meant that the sun rose over the water. We are guessing the angle between the sunset and sunrise was close to 120 degrees as opposed to 180 degrees. So we were back in the morning to watch a beautiful sunrise. Luckily we were still in Kutch, so the sun is lazier than us, and slowly peeked out at 7:45 AM and we were ready with our chai.
Unfortunately in December it is too cold to swim in the mornings, you actually have to wear a jacket. By 11:00 am however the sun is blazing and we were back in the water. Our excitement had come down a notch by now, and we realised that dead jellyfish on the beach meant live ones in the water !! Once the realisation hit us, we kept an eye out for them and presto they were all around us !! We were swimming amongst them !! It must be the season, the temperature of the water.. we aren’t sure but there were all over the place. It is a miracle we didn’t get stung ! We waded around carefully and got some beautiful shots of the little guys. I have to admit I was far less braver than the Other. I did run to the shore a couple of times in fear and had to compose myself and wade back in.
And the night sky here once again is magical, a million stars in a dome over you – if you look closely you will see a shooting star or two. On our first night there, we were lying on the beach chairs post dinner getting our fill of the stars. A little ahead were another couple, and the girl was singing softly, she had a beautiful voice, this was the good life.
The beach is absolutely dark after sunset, but they very thoughtfully provide torches in the tents.
We spent the next two days at the beach, and this is the first time that we missed alcohol this trip, I would have loved to have an afternoon beer by the water. Gujarat is a dry state – out of respect to Mahatma Gandhi who was born here, don’t ask me how I lived here for three years, and why I keep coming back again. I guess there is something special here.
The tents look like basic canvas structures from the outside, but are quite modern inside, with a bed, some furniture, air conditioning, and a tiled toilet !! They also have a small porch outside where you can have a cup of chai and listen to the ocean in the distance.
The rent (7500rs per day) includes three meals, but any tea you order in the evenings is an additional 40rs per cup. The restaurant is a beautiful shed on the beach and all three meals are served there – buffet style. Lunch and dinner once again is the DBRS with an Asian soup. ( don’t ask !) I am a food snob who is not fond of mixing cuisines, but the night was so chilly that I swallowed my smirk and enjoyed a bowl of warm lemon coriander soup followed by roti – sabji :). The food here is more Punjabi than Gujrati, so there will be a paneer dish and everything was a little greasy and spicy but very yummy. They also serve one chicken dish but this is not part of the buffet, It will be served in a small dish at your table on request. I guess this is not to offend the vegetarian majority in the state, but this was a little ridiculous ! I am a vegetarian (for non religious reasons) and I for starters was offended at this weird food separation, I really don’t know why everyone accepts it. On our second day, by some strange coincidence the meat eaters out numbered the vegetarians, so the chicken dish was part of the buffet, but on a separate table faaaaaaaaaaaar away!!
The hotel staff are very helpful and sweet. They will build a bonfire for you on the beach on request and help you with anything else. We had missed the lunch on the first day, so they gave us packed sandwiches to eat on our way out and tried to help the Other pay his phone bill . Mr. Anil who I was corresponding with via email to the do the booking, sent us a map of the Kutch region and was very helpful with his suggestions for the rest of our trip in Gujarat.
I have three issues with the camp however;
- The showers sucked and the water was salty – however you get hot water 24/7 and the bucket and mug were clean so bucket bath it was.
- No one cleaned our tent, I don’t know if we were supposed to ask them, but we had to make the bed ourselves, and that is shabby service when you are charging 7500rs a night.
- There was a young boy who would clean the beach chairs and move them back to position every morning. Moving a beach chair is not a one person job, he would drag it by the top and then run around and drag it by the bottom and it would have taken him a couple of hours to finish the job. The Other went and helped him out and it still took them 15 minutes.I don’t know if he is someone’s son just helping out or actual child labour, he was very evasive to my questions on his name, age etc and would look down and walk away. We didn’t see him do anything else though.I would like to believe he is the cook’s son, and is helping out during his holidays. (wishful thinking maybe)
But I would still rate the camp a 4 out of 5.
If you are staying at the beach camp – stay there. There is not much to do at Mandvi town, and the Mandvi beach is very very crowded. But if you do feel like stepping out here are my top three things to do;
- Mandvi has a 400 year old ship building industry, and you can walk around and watch rough men do their rough work and take a lot of pictures. The creek where they work is also where the town’s sewage is let out so it is a little smelly. The sewage however attracts a lot of birds who are oblvious to humans so you can observe pelicans, flamingos and other water bids up close. If you go in the mornings, people feed them from the bridge, and the gulls put on a show.
- If you are going to town, then you have to eat a gujrati thali at Osho, it is a bustling joint with excellent fare.
- The Vijay Vilas palace – was the summer palace of the kings of Kutch and built as recently as 1929. The palace was used extensively to shoot Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam so gets very crowded in the evenings, and you will have to jostle around a 100 selfie sticks to get one good picture and will inadvertently be a part of everyone else’s . So use your proximity of staying in the beach camp to your advantage and go as soon as it opens in the morning. The ground floor has a bunch of random photos including the customary one of Amitabh Bhachan’s visit and pictures of all the animals the erstwhile royalty shot down, with them beaming over it offcourse as well as a stuffed leopard and tiger. Every palace you go to in India, royalty stand over dead lions, tigers and leapords proudly. You shoot a great predator with a gun, where is the pride?? So walk around the ground floor quickly and head to the terrace. This place is beautiful and worth the 50rs entrance fee, the palace grounds stretch out all around you, and can wander around the chajjas, canopies and domes to your heart’s content. The palace grounds is around 750 acres according to the watchman, and is a forest which supports nilgai, jackals, wolves and a whole host of birds. It is however walled off an you can’t enter – we did hear jackals howl on our last morning from our tent and the other managed to spot a tree snake sunning himself / herself next to our tent but didn’t see any other wildlife.
So that’s it from mandvi, we are finally leaving magical Kutch and heading to Kathiyawar, the peninsula between the Gulf of Kutch and the Gulf of Khambhat. Wonder what awaits !