By Pradeep Chamaria
The literally Snowy Rann in Kutch made me feel nostalgic as the vast expanse made me feel as if I was standing on an identical Ice Chadar (White Sheet) in Ladakh. It was difficult to leave the hypnotic Salty white chadar at Rann, but we have to move on... And so, we reached Mandvi, a little town, an hour down the road from Bhuj, quite late in the evening. Mandvi, located on the Gulf of Kutch was founded by the Rao of Kutch State, Khengarji I, the first Jadega ruler of Kutch in 1580 and was named after Sage Mandavya (from Mahabharata times). It is known today for its rich history, soft sand beaches, palaces, freedom fighters and legends, migratory birds and Dabeli.
Of all the attractions I loved spending time at the eternally beautiful Vijay Villas Heritage Resort and the Beach Camp's private beach. The best thing at the beach was that the sand did not stick to the feet and the water was clear and cool. The cool sea water provided a soothing foot massage as we walked along the soft sand. You see, being a port and also with a river flowing through, most things in Mandvi revolve around the water. And among other beaches, I found Dhrabudi beach to be an unusual beach. Located half an hour east of Mandvi, this beach is a kind of an open air museum displaying a collection of statues, broken pillars, and religious idols, collected from many old temples and homes that were destroyed during the earthquake in the beginning of this century. These un-restorable artifacts, thrown away were collected by locals and placed in a central spot to make a makeshift temple dedicated to these bits of Mandvi's past.
Apart from enjoying the sea and the sands, it was also very interesting to visit beautiful old buildings and temples built by Mandvi's merchants from yesteryears which are influenced by their travels to faraway lands. The architecture of traditional Gujarati homes, larger-than-life with delicately carved angels, balconies with flowered pots, and stained-glass windows was amazing.
The elegant Vijay Vilas Palace: Well, my stay was at the Vijay Vilas Heritage Resort only, and how could I miss visiting the palace. In fact I did that the first thing in the morning even and was amused by the amazing depiction of fusion architecture where block buster Bollywood movies like Lagaan and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam has been filmed.
The palace was built as a summer resort in 1929 by Rao Vijayrajji, the then Maharao of Kutch, and is a beautiful red sandstone structure fusing Rajput architecture with a main central dome, Bengal domes at the sides, bastions at the corner, and colored glass windows. The palace, a royal abode is set in the middle of well-laid gardens with water channels and marble fountains.
The upper terraces and ground floor are open to visitors, and you feel like a royal guest as you walk through them. With the sea as the backdrop, the large terrace with jaali work with many exquisitely stone-carved elements and colourful tiles will surely compel you to pose with your beloved to re-enact the romantic scenes from the movies that have been filmed here. During my visit too, I saw a Hindi song scene being shot here on the upper terraces.
Kutchy Dabeli: On our trip back to Bhuj, we tried Dabeli, Mandvi’s famous local double rotis. Dabeli is claimed to have been invented here by Keshavji Gabha Chudasama in the 1960s. The dabeli is similar to a burger or a sandwich, containing potatoes mixed with spices, topped with chutney and roasted peanuts, all stuffed in a pao at a throwaway price of Rs 10/- each.
Mandvi is supposed to be an excellent place for bird watching opportunities as during winters, hordes of migratory birds like flamingos, brown and black-headed gulls, demoiselle cranes, sandpipers etc. arrive in and around the Gulf of Kutch. But lack of time did not allow me to get pally with these birds and also to visit other attractions, but I guess I should list them out here for your reference. And they are –
Places to Visit in Mandvi
⦁ The 72 Jain Temple Complexes, Koday is just 10 km from the town and houses 72 separate shrines.
⦁ Shyamji Krishna Varma Memorial built to pay tribute to Shri Shyamji, who like many other freedom fighters took on the might of the British to free India.
⦁ Bandhni Bazaar: Mandvi is known for the production of its Bandhani (tie-dye) and other country crafts.
⦁ Traditional ship building: Mandvi is also a 400-year-old ship building centre, which was started by the caste of Kharva, and even today on the banks of Rukmavari River, master carpenters build fishing boats by traditional techniques.
⦁ Mandvi Port: Mandvi Port is a Port where loading & unloading of ships takes place.
⦁ Ashapura Mata Temple: situated in Layja, Mandvi.
⦁ Rukmavati River: The river in Mandvi, which flows between Mandvi City and Salaya.
⦁ Light House: Newly contracted Light House for Country Craft Sea Transportation, these structure newly contracted after earthquake.
Best Time: All year round but October to March is preferred for sightseeing around Mandvi. The climate at Mandvi is tropical. The average temperature in Mandvi is 27.4 °C and the average rainfall is 1539 mm. Mandvi is at a height of 15 m (49 ft) above sea level and people speak Kutchi, Gujarati, Hindi and English languages.
How to get to Mandvi: Mandvi is located in southwestern Gujarat. The nearest airport is Rudra Mata Airport in Bhuj, 60 km/1 hr. State Transport buses ply every 30 min. from Bhuj. Taxis can also be hired for about Rs 2000/- one way.
We stayed at Vijay Villas Heritage Resort which was a serene beach resort near the sea shores. Rooms are well designed and spacious and equipped with modern amenities and a large balcony to enjoy the view.
(The author is a well-known travel writer. All images provided by the author. Views expressed are personal.)