Kutchh — The Holy Grail of all things Art!
Now we know what you’ll are thinking — Kutch? Gujarat? What the eff guys, why would you go there and all? There are so many better places to go to and explore. And you know what, you guys probably could be right, even our Chef thought what could Kutch possibly offer in terms of anything! But the phrase ‘Where have you been all my life’ comes to mind, as you people are in for a bloody treat of all things Art, Craft, Food and Travel. The Chef and his group of gal friends headed to the region of Kutch for a “Bachelorette” party and it did not disappoint!!
Kutch or Kachch(chachachacha) is the largest district of our country, most famous for the White Rann ( Dessert.) All that changed in 2001 when an earth quake ripped through this region causing extensive damage to the remotest of villages and halting all life! Slowly they have gotten back on their feet, but the destruction still haunts a lot of the people who reside here. The Gujarat Tourism dept. has really stepped up its efforts and is boosting tourism and its beautification which is seen when we went through this district. Enough of this history and Geography lesson these are the places we visited (in order): Bhuj, Khamir Handicrafts Village, Ajrakhpur, Bhujodi, Gorewali, Rann of Kutch, Nirona, Kala Dungar, Kala Raksha, Mandvi and back to Bhuj (Map here)
We reached Bhuj by train and headed straight to Khamir, a Craft resource and lodging area about 20 minutes away from Bhuj Station. As its out of the city limits, its quieter, the air is cleaner and definitely cooler than the city. After resting for a bit, we headed straight to buy alcohol, because ‘Daroo ke bina kya Bachelorette!!’ Now one can buy alcohol in Gujarat contrary to what people say, but its only for people who don’t reside in Gujarat. So tourist can head to any 5 or 4 starer hotel, go their permit room, sign a couple of pages, give your finger print for proof and viola!! Alcohol will be given to you in batches of either 10 beers, 3 bottles of wine or a 1 liter bottle of hard liquor. We bought ours from Hotel Prince, a 3 star hotel in the heart of the city. Then we went to savor some street food of Bhuj — Dabelis, Mutton Kebabs, Chicken fry and our favorite Mutton Samosa!!! Yes meat is served in Gujarat, again contrary to beliefs, we had some of the best Mutton Samosa here!
After breakfast, we headed to the small town of Ajrakhpur, where the famous Ajrakh Block printing originated. The entire village is into one thing and that is block printing, we went to one of the warehouses and got to see first hand block printing happen. Its quite a tedious process as every block is hand printed and the dye used is all natural. With over a thousand blocks and various colors, they can print an amazing number of different designs and not have to repeat a single print. They also print designs to blocks that are designed by you, might cost you extra, but its going to be your design.
Next stop was Bhujodi another village full of artists and craftsmen who excel in making Shawls, Saris and other clothing items. They are also creating a huge park which has a model of the Parliament and Red Fort in Bhujodi to increase tourism. After this, we got into our car and drove to Gorewali, which is about 12 kilometers from the White Rann of Kutch (Kachchchcha!!) Our stop for the night was at the Rann Homestay, Kutch, which had tents and a few mud houses called ‘Bhunga.’ With 2 full beds, one Bhunga could accommodate 4 people and had an attached bathroom which is always a good sign. After having a simple dinner we passed the f*ck out!
Early morning, we headed to the White Rann for sunrise and what a sunrise it was! Vast white salt plains, of course when we went there was still lots of moisture in the sand so lots of places weren’t as accessible as the ad with Amitabh shows. Heading back to the home stay,we had our breakfast and headed out to check out some of the artwork of the nearby villages. Starting off at Nirona, we went first to a Traditional Rogan Work Artists house Mr Gafur. Now this is the only family in the entire world that does this kind of work, their pieces are one of a kind and they don’t sell cheap. The paint base is made by boiling castor oil for two days and then adding natural vegetable colors. A single piece of art can take anywhere between 1 month to 6 months! Here’s a picture of what the Chef bought.
Next we went to a Copper Bell maker who doesn’t use any form of welding to make his bells. All the pieces are hand made, hand hammered and joined to form some amazing bells of different size and each having a distinct sound. They actually made us hear what mass manufactured bells sound like and then gave a gong of their own bell and it was amazing! Just a 5 minute walk away was another family full of artists and most notable was their kitchen utensils maker! From a Roti roller to a wooden ladle, puppets to jewelry everything was available between 200 and 600 rupees. We were way passed our lunch time so decided to just munch on some road side vegetarian treats and then headed to Kala Dungar, or Black Rock for sun set! This is the second highest point in Kutchh and the view from here is splendid.
This was our last day as we were heading back to Bombay in the evening, but I think we kept the best for last. After having breakfast we left the Rann Homestay and headed for Kala Raksha. Now the Kala Raksha Trust, a grassroots social enterprise, is dedicated to preservation of traditional arts.
They envision this broadly, as holistic encouraging of the creative capacity of the artist. Comprising artisans, community members, and experts in the fields of art, design and museums, Kala Raksha was founded on artisan initiative in 1993 and really picked up after the 2001 earth quake. Their art is based on their real life experiences and the things they went through during and after the quake. While we were there, they were stitching a shawl (and have been working on it for the last two years) which will sell for over a lakh of rupees. As all the things here are hand made and made over a period of time, its one of the higher priced places to visit in Kutch.
We headed to Bhuj for a quick but sexy thaali meal, and then went towards the beach town of Mandvi. Mandvi is coast town, known for the Vijay Vilas Palace, clean yet crowded beaches and Dabelis. Its where the Dabeli was made first.
The Palace is a fairly new structure, had great domes, open gardens and a good view of the sea. The beach which is just another 10 minutes away from the palace was crowded with horses, camels, water sports enthusiasts and families. Another sunset was witnessed by us and this was the perfect way to end our trip. We hopped onto our ride and headed back to Bhuj station for our over night train back to Bombay.
For all of us, the entire Kutchh district has been a complete discovery. The art and craft of the district is a notch above what we’ve seen anywhere else in our country and maybe even around the world. The food has also been surprisingly amazing with the various Thaalis and street food items that were on offer. With its breath taking views, the white Rann as far as the eye can see, vibrant colors and people, home to the Harrappa Civilization, Kutchh can best be sum up as something our of a fairy-tale book; Remote and Strange yet full of life, color and energy.