THE GREAT RANN OF KACHCHH
Kachchh is a fascinating land and no visit to Gujarat is complete without a sojourn to this peninsular district. Its remoteness has kept it a place apart for centuries. The state's biggest district and most sparsely populated one, Kachchh is a sandy, barren area over half of which is desert and marshland. Like so many other regions of Gujarat, Kachchh has its own distinctive character. It has a remarkably heterogeneous population belonging to 18 different tribes, each with its own language and culture.
The Great Rann covers an area of about 7,000 sq miles (18,000 sq kms) and lies almost entirely within the state of Gujarat, along the border with Pakistan. The Little Rann of Kachchh extends northeast from the Gulf of Kachchh and occupies about 2,000 sq miles (5,100 sq kms) in Gujarat state.
Originally an extension of the Arabian Sea, the Rann of Kachchh has been closed off by centuries of silting. During the time of Alexander the Great it was a navigable lake, but it is now an extensive mudflat, inundated during monsoon seasons. Settlement is limited to low, isolated hills.
Aina Mahal: This is a beautiful museum, built in the 18th century as the palace of Maharao Lakhpatji. It has a Hall of Mirrors with white marble walls covered with mirrors and gilded ornaments. The floor is lined with tiles with a platform above it surrounded by a series of fountains. The room also has a chandelier of Venetian glass. It lies in the old part of the city, in a small, fortified courtyard and houses some very rare idols.
Kachchh Mahotsav: The Kachchh Mahotsav aptly called the 'Mahotsav' (great festival) is a guided tour of the life and times of Kachchh, its beauty, nostalgia, ethos, traditions, culture and spirit. Kachchh Mahotsav is usually organized during February and March each year. The festival organized by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat, is a six-day tour into the heartlands of Kachchh.
Prag Mahal: Constructed in 1979, the Prag Mahal is a magnificent building made of ornate Italian marble and sandstone. Its Corinthian pillars and 'jali' work depicting European flora and fauna are worth observing.
Cenotaphs Complex: Built of red stones, the Cenotaph Complex is a popular site at Chattaradi. Of all the tombs here, the largest and the finest is the one of Rao Lakha built in 1770. It is polygonal in shape with balconies and an intricately carved roof. Other impressive cenotaphs are the ones of Rao Rayadhan, Rao Desai and Rao Pragmal.
Mandvi: Mandvi, founded in 1581 AD is an ancient seaport. It is well known for its production of handicraft items particularly its relief, filigree and enamel work and its virtually unspoilt sea beaches. The Rukmavati Bridge is the longest stone bridge, built in 1883 AD and the Vijay Vilas Palace are the major tourist spots in this destination.
Dhrang Fair: held every year during February - March in Dhrang, 40 kms from Bhuj at the Samadhi (tomb) of Menkan Dada who served the community with great dedication.
Ravechi No Melo: Ravechi fair is held on every Bhadrapad end i.e. August-September in Rav village at Ravechi Mata Temple.
Anjar: Anjar is mainly known for the tomb of Jesal Toral, and the bungalow of James Mcmurdo, which is a veritable museum of Kachchhi Art. Places worth visiting are the Ajaypal Temple and the Holy Shrine of Pinjora Pir. Anjar is also famous for its block printing work, nutcrackers, scissors and penknives.
Dholavira: Known for its large Indus settlement, Dholavira, discovered in 1967 lies in the northwest corner of Khadir, a large island surrounded by the Rann of Kachchh. Dholavira is situated about 445 kms from Ahmedabad , via Mehsana/Radhanpur/Rapar.
Vijay Vilas Palace: Situated across the Mandvi Beach, the Vijay Vilas Palace was once the summer resort of the Maharaos of Kachchh. The sandstone structure is surrounded by many fountains and gardens and has a unique design to ward off the fierce desert sun.
Lakhpat: This ghost town is 151 kms from Bhuj airport and boasts a beautiful landscape. Cenotaphs and memorial stones outside the town add a charm to it. Due to the harsh climatic conditions, most people have deserted the town.
How To Get There
Air: Flights are available from Mumbai and Ahmedabad .
Rail: New Bhuj Railway Station is 1 km north of Bhuj. Direct trains ply on the metre gauge line from Ahmedabad and on the broad gauge line for Mumbai.
Road: State transport, luxury coaches, auto-rickshaws and taxis are available to all centres in Gujarat.
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WHERE TO STAY
Kachchh does not offer five-star deluxe accommodation. However some hotels offer fairly comfortable accommodation.
Kachchh produces some of Gujarat's most exquisite crafts like embroidery, tie die fabrics, enamelled silverware and other handicrafts. The 'Bandhani' (tie and dye) hand printed sarees, embroidery and exquisite gold and silver ornaments are some of the traditional crafts of this region.
Visitors to Kachchh can shop for handicrafts in Bhuj Bazar, at Banni village for exquisite hand embroidery and also in Bhujadi for shawls and embroidery.
Best Time: The best time to visit Kachchh is between October to March every year. However it is ideal if a visit to Kachchh can coincide with the Kachchh Mahotsav. This is a tourist festival organised by the tourism corporation of Gujarat between February and March every year.
Climate: Hot summers and mild winters. However the vast opens of Kachchh make winter nights colder.
Clothing: Light woollen or cotton.
SOME IMPORTANT TOURIST DELIGHTS
There are quite a few famous tourist circuits to explore the land of Kachchh.
Circuit One: Begins with Bhuj - the 400 year old walled capital city of Kachchh. From there to Bhirandiyara the biggest village of Banni. It is famous for the exquisite embroidery of its Harijan communities. From Bhirandiyara it is the Kalo dungar (Black hills of Kachchh), 125 kms from Bhuj. You can then move on to Banni, the grasslands of Kachchh.
Circuit Two: In the second route, you will again begin with Bhuj and move on to Punareshwar, 35 kms from Bhuj. It is a 9th / 10th century temple raised on a high plinth. From Punareshwar, it is Mata No Madh about 138 kms from Bhuj. Here is a 1200 year old temple dedicated to the goddess of the ruling family of Kachchh. You then journey on to lakhpat the deserted fort town 170 kms from Bhuj and thence to Koteshwar and neighbouring Narayan Sarovar.
Circuit Three: On the third route from the starting point Bhuj we move on to Kera famed for its 10th century shiva temple and also the Muslim shrine of Ghulam Ali Shah. From there to Bhrajmer and onwards to Tunda Vandh, the Rabari village with about 125 exquisitely designed huts, the interiors of which deserve the attention of visitors to Kachchh. The final destination will be Mandvi.
Circuit Four: The fourth circuit route will take you from Bhuj to Anjar, famous for the shrine of Jesal and Total besides its exquisite block prints, nut crackers, scissors and pen knives and delicate silver filigree work. From Anjar it goes to Gandhidham, the city built specially for displaced persons after the partition of the Indian subcontinent. Kandla, a major port and the country's first free trade zone of the country is very close by from gandhidham on to rapar and finally to phalaviara.
However you can choose to chalk out your own route and visit some other exotic locale in mysterious Kachchh. For assistance while in Bhuj you can contact the Bhuj Tourist Office at 416, Bahumali building and also at Aina Mahal.