I recently cycled from Delhi to Dandi, Gujarat. During this journey, cycling across Kutch was among the most memorable moments, and hence, penning (typing) them down here.
The name takes me into a different world as soon as I think of it,
Larger than half of the countries on the planet,
including notable ones like the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Bhutan, Belgium and Taiwan;
and still, administratively, a single district in the state of Gujarat,
geographically, linguistically, historically and culturally diverse within itself, and from outside,
and full of its less known treasures that one serendipitously finds,
this barren- looking landscape has a lot to tell about,
just that one needs to have some patience and time,
which I had in plenty;
destiny brought me here,
and the soil of Kutch took me in its arms,
showing me all the treasures that it held close,
serendipitously, of course.
The story begins in a strange manner though,
but some background information before the actual characters come in.
One may call Kutch an island,
as on all the sides,
it is either surrounded by the Rann- Lesser and Greater,
or the sea, named by humans as the Gulf of Kutch, of the Arabian Sea.
Not long before, the Indus emptied itself here,
and this was a green land;
which, with time, and after upliftment caused by many earthquakes,
has turned into a semi-arid island surrounded by a marshy salt pan- the Rann,
The Rann is not the only characteristic of Kutch,
as there are hills which are ubiqutous,
alongwith grasslands, wetlands and alluvial plains.
how can one forget the coastline,
studded with ports from where sailed ships to Africa, Arabia and beyond.
Crossing the Rann proved perilious for many invaders,
and this land developed its own ways of dealing with the challenges that the nature put on it,
Thus, came up a different way of life,
a different 'breed' of not just cattle and camel, but also people,
who took difficulties to their stride,
and excelled wherever they went.
Half of the population resides outside Kutch,
and what remains,
has the last remaining colours of the Kutch of yesteryears.
here is an attempt to present before you,
by His grace,
a journey that make me fall in love with this beautiful land,
and its people,
Kutch, by cycle.
The sun had set, and the stage was set,
not through a man made road-bridge or a railway track,
but on two wheels driven by me,
I entered the Rann of Kutch,
and thus, the Kutch district.
The last village that I had left behind was called Vouva, in Patan district, Gujarat.
From here, Mohana, in Kutch was 24 kms, across the Rann, which had now dried up.
I left Vouva well before the sunset,
only to loose my way among the many tracks that enter the Rann,
I came back again,
in hope to find a soul,
and after 2 hours, and well around sunset,
was showed the right way.
There was a BSF post at 7 kms, and I was sure of spending the night there,
but I reached there after sunset, and was denied refuge.
So, alone, I had to cross over to the other side, into Kutch, passing through the Rann, in darkness.
The BSF post on the other side was after 15 kilometres,
and I started cycling in that direction.
Now, I had entered Kutch,
and the first soul to welcome me resided in the body of a wild ass,
too shy to stay anywhere near me,
but also curious, thus turning around many times to give repeated glances to me.
soon, it was dark, and I started to hear all sorts of sounds,
and getting fearful of existent, but more than that- non-existent fears;
I was there alone, and the next post was still at a distance.
there was no option but to continue cycling, which I did.
The cycle sometimes encountered unridable terrain,
and since there were many tracks made by previous vehicles,
I followed the one that led to a light which I guessed came from the BSF post.
The light disappeared soon after,
obstructed by a bund,
and thus, I called the previous BSF post to inform the next one about me,
and my arrival.
the light reappeared as I crossed the bund,
and finally reached the woodland that occupies this island named Bela.
Soon after, as I kept moving,
I heard a farmer keeping vigil at his land,
protecting the crop from herds of Nilgai,
we had a conversation but could not see each other,
being separated by the bushes,
two BSF men came there,
and I rung my cycle bell to signal them,
my arrival was a suspicious incidence, and I was taken to the commander.
My identity was to be verified,
and my family was called, on the number that I gave.
With my credentials verified,
I was treated well, and we talked about the 'yatra'
I saw the way the Jawans live in Border areas,
for months altogether, far away from families, from 'normal' life.
They were also happy to have me there,
a change in the routine that occupied their daily lives.
Thus, passed another day,
and this is how, my first few hours passed in Kutch
Entering into Kutch was eventful,
passing through this land had surprises to unfold.
Early morning, I left the camp of BSF where I was sheltered the previous night,
and yes, I was well fed before I left.
During my journey,
I have been fed, and sheltered, invited and welcomed,
by the people, and I can safely say-
this journey was powered by the people of India.
Today, I had to reach Dholavira, 86 kilometres away.
And powered by the BSF breakfast,
I started to cycle towards the next major village- Balesar, at a distance of 25 kilometres.
The 'yatra' had been into a mature stage by now.
I had learnt to unlearn many things- including the use of mobile, money and motor.
The morning breeze, and flocks of crane were my companions now,
and as I slowly passed through the landscape,
I saw things that I could never observe before-
birds of various hues and colours tending their plumage,
cranes feeding voraciously,
egrets riding buffaloes,
so on and so forth.
Thus, one with the surroundings,
I reached Balesar, after 2 hours of cycling.
Enroute to Balesar, there is a famous temple at a place called Vraj Vani, which one may visit,
the legend attached to it goes as this:
The ladies of a village started dancing when a man started beating his drum,
this continued for two days,
and the menfolk of the village, enraged, beheaded the drummer,
the sound did not stop though,
and all the ladies gave their lives in grief.
The temple today is in the memory of those who died.
There are many such legends spread across Kutch,
folklore is still alive here.
I was approaching Balesar,
and was Hungry again- my hunger somehow made itself evident as I passed any town or village of a sizable populace.
Two schoolchildren raced with me, as I was entering the village,
and I befriended them with whatever little Gujarati I knew.
This was Christmas Day, as I can now recall-
the kids had a holiday;
I let them ride my 'geared' cycle, and then, they were mine. :)
They escorted me into the village, where I met a local doctor (BAMS)
and had tea.
It was still morning, but 58 kilometres were to be covered.
In the local market, I had two 'dabhelis'- with tea,
I was warned that I would find nothing to eat for the next 40 kilometres,
so I should be prepared.
Ready I was, for the challenge,
and for Dholavira...
The White rann of Kutch attracts people from far,
and is the main attraction at the popular Rann Utsav. Only on the way to Dholavira, does a Metalled Road cross the Rann,
and driving on this road is an experience.
These were empty roads,
long stretches passed before I could see a vehicle coming from the opposite end.
I came across a Rabari- a person belonging to the shepherd community-
Rabaris constitute a significant chunk of Kutch's population,
and I captured his un-usual image, without him knowing.
Alone on the road,
I reached a point from where I could feel the approaching Raan,
and soon, I was there,
looking at the vast endless expanse,
and the beautiful road that cut through it.
So, in solitude, and awestruck, I continued.
At a distance,
I did see some chinkaras.
Birds of various colours flew by me,
and I could resist no more.
I left the road, and both of us- me and my ride,
were on the flat white terra in-firma- The Rann.
There was little that I could do,
apart from clicking various shots of my ride, and the vast endlessness.
So, I had to get back to the road, and continue cycling.
Dholavira was still away.
Dug dug dug dug- came the familiar sound,
and I turned around to find two bikes, and four bikers.
'Aapke baare me bahut suna hai- we have heard about you'- said one of them.
I smiled, as he told be that the BSF men told them about me.
THey were from Delhi, and moving towards Dholavira.
Time to get tired, but nothing could take away the pain,
no option but to move ahead.
I saw the island of Khadir at a distance,
and the island approached me, slowly, and steadily,
with every turn of wheel.
On my right, there was a continuous water pipeline,
and along with it, some scarecrows,
their purpose is still obscure for me,
some of them stood erect,
some fell down, like the one here-
I reached Khadir, the island which had 12 villages settled on it.
Amarapar is the first village,
and also a famous birding site.
This year, it had rained little,
and few birds came,
so, I continued ahead.
The terrain was rocky, with small hills,
and I continued.
Another village- Gadhada approached,
and without much thought, I turned towards the building of the POlice station-
the only one on Khadir.
Now something about this area, and its police.
Few people live here,
and few crimes occur.
There is little work to do,
and passing time is a challenge.
So, a pack of cards, and liquor come to the rescue.
The meal that I had in Gadhada was among the most memorable in my journey.
The home-guard's son there was particularly happy to see me,
and embarked on a mission to bake some bread for me.
He made Gujarati kadhi- which needs little apart from some flour, butter milk, onions and spices.
Butter-milk is a constant companion of Gujarati food,
and I enjoyed it wherever I went.
Good for a traveller like me,
as it kept me hydrated.
There was a long conversation between me and my host,
and I took a short nap as well.
Though this was the height of winters,
still, riding in the afternoon sun in Kutch,
This journey of mine could not have been imagined in any other season.
I looked at the watch,
as I was having my food,
and realised that I would have to hurry,
If I desire to reach Dholavira in time.
I had little money in my pockets, and could not afford to stay in Dholavira for more than a night.
So, with renewed vigour,
and energy from the food that I had,
I covered the last 24 kilometres in 90 minutes.
My target was to reach Dholavira before Sun-set,
and I managed to be there by 5 pm.
some snapshots of Kutch:
Indus Valley Civilisation-
When the citadels of Harappa and Mohen-jo-Daro were unearthed,
the History of India shifted 2000 years back,
and Indians realised that civilisation was not a western concept.
It was not the Aryans who brought with them the way of life, to this sub-continent,
but the fertile plains of Indus supported the most advanced civilisation of its times.
Mohan-jo-Daro was the largest city that its contemporary world had seen,
and during those days-
the area from Suktagendor in Iran, to Burzahom in Kashmir,
and Daimabad in Maharashtra was part of a single administrative unit,
which is now known as the Harappan Civilisation.
After partition, the large cities of this civilisation went to Pakistan,
and what remained in India, was not too grandiose, until-
Until- the Kot ie: Fort in Dholavira was discovered.
What is now a remote corner of the remote island in the Remoteness of Kutch,
was a sprawling metropolis 4000 years ago,
the secrets of which still await excavation,
and what has been un-earthed,
in itself is sufficient to make oneself wonder,
about the people who created this wonder.
Co-incidence brought me here,
and there were many co-incidences that were awaiting me,
as I was pedaling fast towards Dholavira,
to catch her before sunset.
As I reached the village,
without stopping, I continued towards the 'Kot',
which was still a couple of kilometers away.
The staff at the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) museum was amused,
when they saw me.
What amused them further was that I was coming from Delhi,
and the caretaker there told me-
'visit the museum and I'll take you to the site as a guide,
my charge would be Rs 150 only.'
I went in to see a collection of beads, seals, weights and measures, and pottery,
made 4000 years back, and conserved in this 'on-site' museum at Dholavira.
The concept of on-site museums by ASI is a good initiative,
so that the antiquities recovered from ancient sites are kept in close association with the remains to which they belong.
There are 44 such museums and Dholavira has one.
After a quick walk-over at the museum,
I came out, for the more interesting part,
and told the caretaker-
I am short of money, and won't be able to hire you as a guide.
Would you still like to accompany?
He said, there would be more visitors soon, and we'll go together, taking them.
And, a car with a family came,
and began the tour of Dholavira.
The remains are divided into a citadel and the lower town-
We entered the citadel through what had been a gate,
and climbed up the stairs.
At the entrance, there was a smoothly polished, round, beautifully made,
base of a pillar, made of stone.
Dholavira was made in stone,
and not in burnt bricks,
which were used to build Harappa and Mohan-jo-Daro.
Around 50,000 people lived here,
and while I was moving through the lanes of the citadel,
I could not help imagining how were the people who had built these lanes, and walked through them,
Below the citadel, there were many parts of the city-
the area where the officials lived,
the area where bones of slaughtered cattle were dumped,
and the magnificent series of reservoirs used to store water.
They had steps through which one could descend in,
and a ramp for the movement of bullock carts.
The longest 'signboard' in the undeciphered Harappan Script was discovered in Dholavira, and lies 'in-situ' but covered.
The sun was bidding a good-bye,
setting into the Rann of Kutch.
And we returned to the museum.
I was told that Dr RS Bisht, who had served as the Joint Director in the ASI,
and was instrumental in excavation of Dholavira,
was in Dholavira,
and I should get in touch with him.
When we reached back to the museum,
a car stopped and I went forward to ask a gentleman-
Sir, are you Dr Bisht?
'yes', came his reply, with a smile,
and I told him that I had arrived in Dholavira on a bicycle.
he was glad and asked me where I was putting up.
I replied, 'with you'.
The next few hours were among the most memorable in my journey.
Dr Bisht, with whom my acquaintance was of a couple of minutes long,
asked his helper to shift my luggage to a guest-room near his halting place,
and soon, three of us- Dr Bisht, me and Dr Srikumar Menon,
were in a conversation.
Dr Menon teaches architecture in Manipal University,
and has published books on Megaliths.
We gelled up well together, and our talks were not confined to history alone.
The ideas of Dr Bisht were not 'conventional' while explaining various questions that 'haunt' our historians,
one example being the reasons for the decline of Harappan Civilisation,
and regarding who the Aryans actually were.
I got to know a lot, in a short time.
recalling what I can remember,
regarding Dholavira, Dr Bisht was very enthusiastic,
because here in Dholavira, were discovered two different series of weights,
and all the weights in the series were found,
ranging from less than a gram,
to more than 50 kgs,
and those weights were made of stones as well as metals.
The weights were verified for their accuracy, and the correct weights were punched.
'sir, why did this civilisation cease to exist?', I asked.
and his reply was among the most comprehensive answers that I have got on this subject.
According to him, this was a trading civilisation,
the Harappans were traders par-excellence,
they had different people assigned for each step of manufacturing merchandise-
from sourcing stones and raw materials,
to sorting them, cutting them, polishing, weighing, packing and exporting.
It was a civilisation that had evolved itself into a complex one,
and thus, in this complexity,
the cities were of primary importance,
where these activities were co-ordinated.
Mesopotamians were the chief trading partners,
and if trade happened with the Egyptians,
it was via Mesopotamia.
During what is called the Late Phase of Indus Valley Civilisation,
and this was around 1900 BCE,
there were internal disturbances in Mesopotamia.
This led to reduction in trade between Meluha (as this land was known) and what we now call Mesopotamia,
This was a blow to a trading civilisation.
But these were no ordinary people,
they were far ahead of their times,
but even nature was against them.
There were a series of drought years, with little rainfall.
Climate was changing,
and mighty rivers ran dry.
Thus, the agricuiltural produce also lessened.
Agriculture was a rural activity, while trading happened through cities.
So, when trade declined, people moved back in smaller settlements,
which are now seen as Late Harappan Settlements,
these settlements, though small sized, fairly outnumber the large cities.
This migration led to the apparent decline of Indus Valley Civilisation.
A fair explanation.
The curious guy in me asked about what those people ate, how they lived,
whether they shaved or kept beard, and things like that.
And, Dr Bisht answered them all.
He is an impromptu poet, and we relished his couplets in Urdu,
accompanied with their explanation in the language that we understood.
What an evening it was,
as it slowly receded into the night.
And bidding him a goodbye,
I continued the conversation with Dr Menon,
telling him that I would leave the next day,
and receiving a book written by him.
Thus, passed another day,
but this particular day was among the most eventful ones during the journey.
Kutch was indeed turning to be a surprise package,
and my love for this land deepened with every passing day.
The plan was to get up at 5 and catch the 6 am bus to Rapar.
Dholavira lies in Bhachau taluka of Kutch,
Bhachau lies 141 kilometers from here,
and I wonder if there is any other similar example where such distances exist to the nearest seat of administration.
The district headquarters is at Bhuj,
230 kms away.
Rapar is the nearest town,
at a distance of 90 kilometres,
and instead of cycling back on the same route,
I decided to take the early morning bus to Rapar.
But, neither did my alarm ring,
nor did my body wake up automatically.
And, I woke up around 7 am on that December morning,
to find Dr Menon smiling.
The previous day, I had told him that we would not be meeting each other,
as I would have left by the time he woke up.
Happy I was,
to see him and Dr Bisht again.
The bus journey back to Rapar was not un-eventful.
But yes, distance did pass quickly,
and even this slow bus,
that returned back to pick-up a missed passenger in Dholavira,
that stopped wherever and whenever we encountered someone by the road,
and that took three tea-breaks and 4 hours in a 90 km journey;
appeared quiet quick to my 'cycle habituated' mind.
At 1 pm, I unloaded by ride from the roof of the bus,
and was standing in the middle of a small town.
There was no destination that I could think of for today,
but I knew that I had to proceed towards Bhuj- 150 kilometres away.
From 1 pm to 6 pm, I had 5 hours of daylight remaining,
and my lunch was still due.
This day, in retrospect,
would turn out to be a difficult one.
After a quick lunch,
and a repair of my cycle by an obliging mechanic in Rapar,
I decided to proceed towards Bhuj via Ramvav.
The state highway went via Bhachau,
but I decided to go via a road less travelled,
Thus, I did not get entangled in the traffic of a highway,
and continued my journey in remoteness.
But in remoteness,
distances appear longer,
and I had just half a day remaining.
Ramvav was around 20 kilometres,
and that distance was covered easily.
I talked to a tea-stall owner,
trying to convince him to educate his younger child further;
rested besides a beautiful farm,
but ultimately, continued cycling.
Kharoi was the next big village,
and from here, I realised that I could take a short-cut to Bhuj,
but through unpaved roads.
I took that chance,
but got lost somewhere in the middle.
I tried to ask for directions,
but the people who I could find around were migrants,
having little idea of the place.
I continued, and realised that this was not the right way.
There was nobody who I could ask,
and I encountered the biggest enemy that I faced as a cyclist in my journey-
Prosopis juliflora- commonly called as Kikar, gaando baaval, baawar, angrezi babool or vilayati babool.
All the punctures in my cycle tyres can be directly attributed to this enemy.
Both the tyres were punctured by now,
and in the darkness,
in the middle of no-where,
I was dragging my cycle,
knowing that where I was going was not the correct way.
I met Govindbhai, while he was returning with his buffaloes and children after a day's work.
I told him the story, and he took me to his home.
His brother-in-Law came,
and repaired the punctures,
which took more than an hour of continuous work.
We inflated the tube thrice to find that always,
there was a puncture left to be repaired.
Finally, we abandoned the work, for the next morning.
It was an untold truth that I could go no-where else,
and Govindbhai was to be my host.
He was worried that his place was not appropriate for me,
and I assured him, that I was indeed happy to be with him and his family.
Thus, once settled, be began our conversation around the bonfire that kept us warm in that December night.
Govindbhai came from the Koli community,
and cultivated a piece of land that he got in inheritance.
Two buffaloes supplemented his income,
and half of his produce went to the Patel,
who provided him with water for irrigation.
The Patel had monopoly over water,
as getting permits for new bore-wells was impossible for a person without resources.
The prices of land in this area have gone up substantially over the past few years,
and NRIs, who never visited their ancestral villages,
were now looking at their ancestral lands with regained interests,
at times to find that people have sold those lands by fraudulent papers.
Kutch, being a princely state, did not have proper land records,
and there are ample cases of illegal possession by forged papers.
Anyways, I am narrating this because Govindbhai also had issues with his land,
and explained them to me for a suggestion.
Our talk continued till late,
and after a hearty dinner,
with rotlas of Bajra, tomato curry and lots of milk and curd,
I retired in his hut,
with his son giving me company.
The day was a hard one,
but had I not encountered the hard part,
there was no chance of me landing into this remoteness,
close to the heart of the real India.
My day began at sun-rise,
and we went to visit Govindbhai's father,
he was a religious man,
and the only room in his house was turned into a 'worship place'.
and with Govindbhai's brother-in-law,
I began my journey back towards a metaled road.
We passed through a kutccha road with gaanda baawar on both sides,
and though I was very careful,
both the tyres got punctured again.
Repairing punctures is something which I have now become expert at,
and this expertise was gained mainly while repairing consecutive punctures on this kutccha path.
I still remember looking at the thorny twig of angrezi babool stuck in my front Tyre,
I knew removing the twig would lead to opening a new puncture,
but having no option,
I pulled it out,
to an unpleasant sound, 'phusshhh...'
All I wanted to see now was a paved road,
and after a three kilometer walk,
we reached a village named 'Nehar', from where I could resume cycling.
Bhuj was still 80 kilometers from here,
and the road that led to the highway was desolate.
Again, this was a road seldom taken,
and I continued in the barren territory.
Flocks of sheep owned by Rabaris, but fed by nature, passed me,
and so did herds of neelgai fed by man, but owned by nature.
I stopped at a primary school,
to find it well equipped with a computer lab,
but not a soul, including the teacher, knew how to operate these electronic boxes.
This road joined the highway at a village named Budharmora.
And now, this highway- State Highway-42 would lead me to Bhuj.
Enroute, I stopped at a large village,
the purpose being to meet a doctor at the Primary Health Center.
Till now, I had visited 4 Primary Health Centers after entering Gujarat,
and found doctors at none of them.
This was to be no exception.
Regarding the health needs of the local population,
a BAMS doctor stayed here.
I went to his residense,
and told the lady of the house that I too was a doctor,
and wanted to meet the local doctor.
She offered me tea, and called for the compounder who treated patients when the doctor was away.
I was told by the compounder that the doctor was in Bhuj,
and he (the compounder) started his daily OPD.
A lady came with two children,
the younger of them had cough.
The compounder prescribed some medication,
and then, focussed his attention to the elder child,
who was apparently alright.
The elder child was also given some medicine.
The lady went to the drug-store,
and the pharmacist (by profession, not by degree), who was till now sitting by the compounder,
went to open his shop, and dispensed the medicines to the lady.
thus, the elder child was also given medicines which were not needed,
by a person who was not entitled to prescribe them.
Moving on, I saw a cart loaded with local block-printed dress material being taken to a shop,
and expressed my desire to be taken to the shop, which was readily fulfilled.
The shop was a decent one, looking at the size of the village,
and fabric from here was sent across India.
I bought a ladies' suit,
and this was among the few items that I had purchased in this journey.
Bhuj was still 45 kilometres away,
and this highway was not conducive to cycling,
actually none of the highways are.
The road was under construction,
and the traffic load was substantial.
Somehow, I managed to continue,
frequently leaving the road to avoid being knocked down by an approaching truck.
Enroute, there were villages reconstructed after the Kutch earthquake of 2001.
the state government or NGO that helped in reconstruction of a particular village was credited by making a doorway in its name,
at the village entrance.
And I felt happy to see that there were many by the Rajasthan government,
and others by Mata Amritanandamayi trust, etc.
The sun was not going to wait for me to reach my destination,
and I saw it leaving me in darkness.
The remaining 30 kilometres were difficult,
on this highway.
My stay was arranged at the SP's Bungalow, who I knew through a friend.
Thus, all I had to do was to continue cycling, and reach Bhuj.
The road got busier as it joined the national Highway that connected Bhuj to Gandhidham,
but by now, when the distance was reduced to single digit kilometres,
I pedalled harder, and reached the outskirts of Bhuj.
I had to cross a hill before entering the city,
and from the top of the hill,
the whole city was seen, in its evening glory.
My attire and appearance was inappropriate for meeting a senior official,
and a quick shave at the barber's shop was the only palliative measure that I could adopt then.
Around 8 pm, I reached the SP office, to meet another interesting and affectionate person of this journey-
Dr Bipin Ahire, Superintendent of Police, Kutch (West).