KUTCH

KUTCH

Kutch is a district of Gujarat state in western India. Covering an area of 45,674 square kilometers (16,634 square miles), it is the largest district of India and about 2 million people live there. The Kutch district is home to the Kutchi people who speak the Kutchi language. Kutch literally means something which intermittently becomes wet and dry; a large part of this district is known as Rann of Kutch which is shallow wetland which submerges in water during the rainy season and becomes dry during other seasons. The Rann is known for its marshy salt flats which become snow white after the shallow water dries up each season before the monsoon rains. The district is also known for ecologically important Banni grasslands with their seasonal marshy wetlands which form the outer belt of the Rann of Kutch. [Source: Wikipedia]

Kutch is virtually an island, as it is surrounded by the Arabian Sea in the west and the Gulf of Kutch in south and southeast. The northern and eastern parts are surrounded by the Great and Little Rann (seasonal wetlands) of Kutch. When there were not many dams built on its rivers, the Rann of Kutch remained wetlands for a large part of the year. Even today, the region remains wet for a significant part of year. the district is well connected by road, rail and air. There are four airports in the district: Naliya, Kandla, Mundra, and Bhuj. Bhuj is well connected with Mumbai airport. Being a border district, Kutch has both an army and an air force base.

The border with Pakistan lies along the northern edge of the Rann of Kutch, of the Sir Creek. The Kutch peninsula is an example of active fold and thrust tectonism. In Central Kutch there are four major east-west hill ranges characterized by fault propagation folds with steeply dipping northern limbs and gently dipping southern limbs. The epicenter of the very destructive 2001 earthquake was in the eastern extreme of Kutch mainland fault.

History of Kutch

The history of Kutch can be traced back to prehistoric times. There are several sites related to the Indus valley civilization in the region, and it is mentioned in Hindu mythology. In historic times, Kutch is mentioned in Greek writings during Alexander. It was ruled by Menander I of Greco-Bactrian Kingdom which was overthrown by Indo-Scythians followed by Maurya Empire and Sakas. In the first century, it was under Western Satraps followed by Gupta Empire. By the fifth century, Maitraka of Valabhi took over from which its close association with the ruling clans of Gujarat started. Chavdas ruled the eastern and central parts by seventh century but came under Chaulukyas by tenth century. After the fall of Chaulukya, Vaghelas ruled the state. Following the conquest of Sindh by Muslim rulers, the Rajput Samma started moving southwards to Kutch and ruled the western regions initially. By the tenth century, they controlled a significant area of Kutch, and by the thirteenth century they controlled the whole of Kutch and adopted a new dynastic identity, Jadeja.

For three centuries, Kutch was divided and ruled by three different branches of the Jadeja brothers. In the sixteenth century, Kutch was unified under one rule by Rao Khengarji I of these branches and his direct descendants ruled for two centuries and had a good relationship with Gujarat Sultanate and Mughals. One of his descendants, Rayadhan II, left three sons, of whom two died, and a third son, Pragmal Ji took over the state and founded the current lineage of rulers at the start of the seventeenth century. The descendants of the other brothers founded states in Kathiawar. After turbulent periods and battles with the armies of Sindh, the state was stabilized in the middle of the eighteenth century by a council known as Bar Bhayat ni Jamat who placed Rao as a titular head and ruled independently. The state accepted the sovereignty of the British East India Company in 1819, when Kutch was defeated in battle. The state was devastated by an earthquake in 1819. The state stabilized and flourished in business under subsequent rulers.

Upon the independence of India in 1947, Kutch acceded unto the dominion of India and was constituted an independent commissionaire. It was created a state within the union of India in 1950. The state witnessed an earthquake in 1956. On 1 November 1956, Kutch State was merged with Bombay state, which in 1960 was divided into the new linguistic states of Gujarat and Maharashtra, with Kutch becoming part of Gujarat state as Kutch district. The district was affected by tropical cyclone in 1998 and the earthquake in 2001. The state saw rapid industrialization and growth in tourism in subsequent years.

Rann of Kutch

The Rann of Kutch is India's largest salt marsh. While the Great Rann of Kutch, sprawled across 7,500 square kilometers, is famed for its silvery landscapes, the Little Rann, spread out over 5,000 square meters, abounds in wildlife and salt farms. The latter is home to the Wild Ass Sanctuary, the only home of the wild ass in India, and attracts tourists from around the world who come to enjoy wildlife safaris.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “ The Rann is one of the most remarkable and unique landscapes of its kind in the entire world. It is a vast desiccated, unbroken bare surface of dark silt, encrusted with salts which transforms into a spectacular coastal wetland after the rains. The Rann can be considered a large ecotone, a transitional area between marine and terrestrial ecosystems. During monsoon, the Rann gets inundated for a period of about one month. It is dotted with elevated plateaus or islands, locally called 'bets'. [Source: Nature Conservation Foundation and Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecologyand Environment]

The Rann of Kutch bursts with glorious color and culture during the annual Rann Utsav, which is held from November to February. From playful performances to a feast of food and art, the festival transports you to a world of merriment.Another attraction situated close by is Kala Dungar or Black Hill. The highest point in the Kutch region, it offers sweeping and panoramic views of the desert. You can also visit a 400-year-old Hindu temple called Dattatreya on top of the hill.

Little Rann of Kutch

The Wild Ass Sanctuary and Little Rann of Kutch were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006.According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The present saline desert of the Little Rann (saline desert-cum-seasonal wetland) of Kutch is believed to have been shallow sea. The variety of the geomorphic facets of Kutch such as the present surface configuration, its landforms, drainage characteristics and relief pattern clearly reveals a complex interplay of tectonics, sea-level changes and lithology as also erosion and deposition. During monsoon it is dotted with about 74 elevated plateaus or islands, locally called 'bets'. The largest plateau called Pung Bet has an area of 30.5 square kilometers and the highest island Mardak is 55 meters. [Source: Nature Conservation Foundation and Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecologyand Environment]

“The vast cover of saline mudflats in the Sanctuary has no vegetation, except on the fringes and bets. Vegetation is largely xerophytic with the ground cover predominated by ephemerals. Their active growth is triggered by the advent of monsoon rains. Although the islands and fringes both have been colonized by Prosopis juliflora, the islands have a richer floral diversity than that of the fringes. 253 flowering plant species have been listed, out of which the number of species of trees was 18, shrubs-23, climbers/twiners-18, herbs-157 and grasses-37. Bets and fringe area of extensive marine saline flats of the Little Rann of Kutch mainly support a variety of indigenous plants like Suaeda spp., Salvadora persica, Capparis decidua, Capparis deciduas, Calotropis procera, Tamarix sp., Aeluropus lagopoides, Cressa cretica, Sporobolus spp., Prosopis Cineraria, etc. The dominant families representing more than 10 species are Fabaceae, Asteraceae, Cyperaceae and Poaceae. Herbaceous taxa are predominant over shrubs and trees. 107 species of algae are present in the water bodies of the area.

“The Sanctuary is habitat to about 93 species of invertebrates, including 25 species of zooplanktons, 1 species of annelid, 4 crustaceans, 24 insects, 12 molluscs and 27 spiders. Totally 4 species of amphibians (frogs and toads) and 29 species of reptiles (2 species of turtles, 14 species of lizards, 12 snakes and 1 crocodile) occur. The mixing of tidal water from the Gulf of Kutch with the freshwater discharged from the rivers takes place in the Little Rann of Kutch, making it an important spawning ground for prawns. Metapenaeus kutchensis is the most dominant and important prawn in the area. The sanctuary provides an important feeding, breeding and roosting habitat for a large number of birds due to its strategic location on bird migration route and its connection with the dynamic Gulf of Kutch. According to an estimate about 70,000-75,000 birds nests in an area spread over 250 acres. Nine mammalian orders with 33 species/subspecies have been reported from the Little Rann of Kutch, including the world’s last population of the khur sub-species of the wild ass.”

Bhuj

Bhuj (330 kilometers west of Ahmedabad, near the Pakistan border) is the capital of the Kutch region and home to about 235,000 people. Enchanting and eclectic, it is a lively places despite its located in an area that is either drought-ridden or flooded and serves as a jumping off point for the Great Rann of Kutch. Bhuj was near the epicenter of a massive earthquake in 2001 in which 20,000 people were killed.

Visitors can enjoy this cornucopia of art, craft and food, by staying in luxurious tents and concrete cottages. To get a more intimate experience of the rich culture of Kutch, tourists can enjoy homestays at various villages strewn across the region: Dhamadka for its block printing, Nirona for beautiful castor oil Rogan paintings, Dhordo for its banni hospitality and exquisite embroidered articles.The Kutch region is sprawled along the Tropic of Cancer, from Rajasthan to the edge of Pakistan, and Bhuj being its capital is the fulcrum of all the excitement. Dotted with grand palaces that overlook bustling streets, Bhuj is a melting pot of spirituality, wildlife, culture, tradition, rich food, an illustrious history and the charms of the sea and the desert.

From the 8th to the 16th centuries, the region of Bhuj was ruled by the Samma Rajputs of Sindh, who eventually conceded the region to the Jadeja Rajputs. It is said that the name of the city was inspired by Bhujiyo Dungar, a 160 meters hill that looms over Bhuj. The Mughals took control of Bhuj in the late 16th century. From 1741, under the leadership of Lakhpatji I (king or Rao of Kutch), Bhuj saw the installation of some of its most gorgeous architectural structures that stand even today. All of these factors ensured that Bhuj and the rest of the Kutch had a heterogeneous mix of language, culture and religion.

Getting There: By Air: Bhuj has an airport which is connected to Mumbai via flights. The other airport that is located close by is in Ahmedabad which is connected by regular flight services to Mumbai, New Delhi and Bengaluru. Ahmedabad is about 330 kilometers away from Kutch. By Road: State and privately-run buses ply to and from Bhuj in Kutch. Some of the cities that are connected to Bhuj via bus services include Mumbai (about 859km), Ahmedabad (about 331km), Surat (about 595km), and Baroda (about 448km). By Train: Bhuj can be reached by train as it has its own railway station. This is connected by regular rail services to cities like Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, and Pune.

Shopping, Food and Entertainment in Bhuj

The Kutch region is famed for its diverse handicrafts and handlooms. Bhuj is a good place to shop because most of the stores are located here. Bandhini style tie-and-dye fabric can be purchased at stores lining the markets. Woven Mashru-printed cloth, cotton garments and other indigenous textiles can be bought as well. Many stores also create traditional as well as modern interpretations of Batik (wax-resist dyeing) prints. A 15-minute drive from Bhuj takes one to Ajrakhpur, which is the home of Ajrakh artisans. Stoles, saris, skirts, jackets, and kurtas with Ajrakh prints can be purchased here. Visitors can also buy textiles, lacquer, brass and leather work, and home dcor items. About 50 kilometers east of Bhuj lies Dhamadka, which is also known for the Ajrakh block-printing technique. One can head here to but more delightful products.

A traditional Gujarati thali is an all-vegetarian feast (it doesnt contain eggs either). It usually comprises dal (lentils), kadhi (yoghurt-based gravy), shaak (a variety of vegetable preparations), bhaat (rice), roti (Indian bread), farzan (savoury bite-sized snacks like samosa and sev), chutneys (sweet, spicy and tangy), buttermilk, sweet treats, and other condiments. The individual dishes vary depending on each restaurants menu. The state has a long coastline and offers a variety of seafood but due to Jain culture and philosophy, the cuisine is predominately vegetarian. Different styles of cooking and a unique combination of spices are used in the preparation. Also, people of the state prefer one or more types of curries along with rice and roti in every meal. Most of the dishes of the thali are sweet and jaggery is commonly used an an alternative to sugar.

The Rann Utsav is a fun festival that takes place annually at the Rann of Kutch. A vibrant carnival that brims with song, dance, culture, adventure and art, it is said that during it, the beauty of the pristine land of Bhuj is accentuated on full moon nights. Golf carts, ATV rides, paintball, camel safaris, game cart excursions, paramotoring, and horse and camel rides are also a part of the celebration. Those looking for peace and relaxation can participate in various meditation and yoga sessions conducted during the festival. Several aspects of Gujarati culture are on display as performers roam about in their colorful clothes, vendors sell tasty local dishes and folk shows are conducted. The festival dates may vary every year, but it is usually organised from November to February. The celebrations begin in the city of Bhuj and move on to other towns in the region.

Sights in Bhuj

Hamirsar Lake is a great spot to swim, take a walk or have a picnic. Aina Mahal, Prag Mahal, Kutch Museum, Swaminarayan Temple and Alfred High School are all located on the eastern side of the lake. This entire walk-through takes about a half hour. The lake is situated in the heart of a 450-year-old rainwater management system, which has been sustaining the city of Bhuj for centuries. According to legends, when Bhuj became the capital of Jadeja Kingdom in 1549, Rao Khengarji I decided to build a pond at this site. The pond is named after his father Rao Hamir and was expanded over an area of 28 acre. A network of canals and channels was built here to divert fresh water to Hamirsar Lake. To conserve the overflowing water, a network of 43 reservoirs was also constructed. The city was supplied drinking water from the large wells connected to the lake.

Aina Mahal was built during the reign of Rao Lakhpatji of the Jadeja Rajput dynasty, in the 18th century. Also called the Hall of Mirrors, the palace is a flamboyant structure that is lined with mirrors and pieces of glass. Shimmering and shining, the palace flaunts a mixed Indo-European style of architecture. It is said that its creator Ramsinh Malam built it after training as an artisan in Europe for 17 years. Malam personally made the beautiful fountains, mirrors, glasswork, doors inlaid with gold and ivory as well as a pendulum clock in sync with the Hindu calendar.

The palace is a two-storeyed building that has a Durbar Hall and suites for members of the royal family. Aina Mahal, which is a part of the Darbargadh Palace, also houses a museum. There are paintings, photographs, royal possessions and some of the finest samples of Kutch embroidery on display. Overlooking the picturesque Hamirsar Lake, the palace looks like a work of art, surrounded by intriguing patterns of fountains and water bodies. It is said that Ramsinh Malam sourced materials for the construction locally. He established a glass factory at Mandvi, made cannons in an iron foundry, and manufactured china tiles in a factory in Bhuj.

Prag Mahal (next to Prag Mahal) is made of Italian marble and sandstone and has spacious halls and a 45-meter-high bell tower. The clock tower in the palace, which is considered to be the second-highest tower of its kind in India, is another attraction. From the top of the tower, one can get sweeping and panoramic views of the city. There are a variety of classic statues and chandeliers in the grand Durbar Hall of the palace. Prag Mahal also houses a museum that exhibits remnants and personal collection of the royal family. This palace was commissioned by king Pragmalji, of the Jadeja dynasty, in the 1860s. It was designed by Colonel Henry Saint Wilkins, a noted architect and a British army officer, and showcases a distinct Italian-Gothic style of architecture. There is a small Hindu temple in its courtyard.

Kutch Museum was set up in 1877 by Maharao Khengarji. The oldest museum in Gujarat, it was built to exhibit the wedding gifts of the king and is constructed in the typical Gothic style of architecture. The museum houses 11 galleries, namely, picture gallery, anthropological section, archaeological section, textiles section, weapons section, music instruments section, shipping section and stuffed animals section. Moreover, there are sections devoted to the tribal community that exhibit ancient artefacts, folk arts, crafts and information about tribal people, who are a major part of Kutch's history and culture. It is famed for housing the largest collection of Kshatrapa inscriptions that can be traced back to 1st century. The museum is also home to remnants of the Kutchi script text, which is now extinct, along with a collection of coins that includes the 'kori', which was Kutch's local currency. The museum also showcases exhibits relating to embroidery, paintings, arms, musical instruments, sculpture and precious metalwork. As you enter the two-storeyed building, you are greeted by an 18th century statue of 'Airavata' (a mythological white elephant who carries the Hindu god Indra).

Ramkund (across from the Kutch Museum and behind the Ram Dhun Temple) is a square stepwell, about 56 feet on one side, whose walls have carved miniature idols depicting the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu and sculptures of Lord Rama, Devi Sita, Lord Lakshmana and Lord Hanuman. The architecture of the stepwell is geometrical and leaves one in awe of the skill of that time. As you descend down the steps to reach the water, you are engulfed by a sudden coolness that is not to be found above the stepwell. While going deeper into the well, one can almost be transported to the ancient times when it was a place of water storage.

Rao Lakhpatji Chhatri (south of Hamirsar Lake and close to the Ranjit Vilas Palace) are built in red sandstone with exquisite carvings. These cenotaphs with umbrella-shaped domes, belong to the royal family of the Raos of Kutch. They were built by Rao Lakhpatji, a Jadeja ruler, in the 18th century. Among all the funerary monuments, the cenotaph of Rao Lakhpatji is the largest, and includes sati stones denoting the sites where 15 of his consorts gave up their lives after his death. The walls of the cenotaphs have been inscribed with sculptures of deities, couples in local costumes, animals and hunting scenes. These cenotaphs feature a strong Islamic influence, with geometric-patterned jaalis (screens), Mughal arches and a turquoise blue hue that fills their roofs.

Near Bhuj

Pingleshwar Beach (75 kilometers west of Bhuj) has pristine waters and golden sands. The wetlands near the beach is visited by many migratory birds. The beach is a nice spot for birdwatchers and sports enthusiasts who like boating, surfing, and parasailing. Lined with numerous windmills, the beach presents a serene sight. A popular attraction nearby is the ancient Pingleshwar Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. The beach is located close to Mandvi, between Bhuj and Mandvi Kutch. The best time to visit the beach is from November to March, when the weather is pleasant. Some other nearby attractions include Koday, a quaint hamlet in Mandvi; Bandhni Bazaar; Mata No Madh, known for a temple dedicated to Goddess Ashapura; Narayan Sarovar; Topansar Lake; Chinkara Sanctuary and the Koteshwar Temple.

Mundra Port (on Kutch's southern coast, 53 kilometers from Bhuj) is a hub for tie-and-dye fabric and block print cloth. The Mundra Port is a popular attraction here as earlier the town used to be a center for the trade of spices and salt. Mundra is also home to the Mahadev Temple, which bears memorials to celebrated sailors of the region. It is said that some of these sailors advised the sultan of Zanzibar and even guided the famed explorer Vasco da Gama to India. Tourists can also visit to the shrine of Darya Pir, who is the patron saint of Kutchi fishermen. It is believed that the saint came to Mundra from Bukhara in 1660, and was much-loved by the locals, who still come at his shrine to seek blessings. The Mughal Gate, which stands tall to this day, was also constructed in his honour.

Mandvi (58 kilometers from Bhuj) is one of the principal ports of Kutch and Gujarat and has a long history, established as a port town by the king of Kutch in 1574. Here, one can visit the shipbuilding yards along River Rukmavati to see wooden ships being built by hand using techniques that are hundreds of years old. The ships are called dhows and are completely made by hand. Another place of interest is the Tower of Wagers, where wealthy ship owners once waited for their fleets to return. Vijay Vilas Palace was built by Rao Vijayrajji in 1929. Its unique antiques and exhibits are quite amazing. In fact, many Indian movies such as Lagaan and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam have also been shot here. Mandvi is also blessed with quiet beaches where one can spot flamingos and other migratory birds. The popular Mandvi Beach is located at a point where the Rukmavati river joins the Arabian sea. Tourists can also sample the tasty double rotis or dabelis (a delectable snack) that are quite popular here.

Temples and Religious Places Near Bhuj

Koteshwar Temple (on the westernmost tip of India) is an ancient Shiva temple built where the dry land meets the vast desert. What breaks the skyline is the flat brown horizon on the east and blue horizon on the west. This is also the last outpost of human construction at the westernmost limit of India. Koteshwar finds mention in the Puranas and the Ramayana. According to legends, Ravana got a boon from Lord Shiva, and as gift he received a lingam (phallic symbol honoring Shiva) of great spiritual power. But in his arrogance, he accidentally dropped the gift on earth at Koteshwar. As punishment, the lingam multiplied into thousand identical copies due to which Ravana was unable to pick the original. He picked a copy and left the original one on the site where Koteshwar Temple was later built. Here, while walking along the beach on a clear night sky, one can see the glow of light from Karachi city of Pakistan on northwestern horizon.

Narayan Sarovar (100 kilometers drive from Bhuj) is a unique pilgrimage spot — a pristine lake in the middle of the desert — almost at the westernmost tip of India. According to Hinduism, the Narayan Sarovar is one of the five holy lakes of Hindus. The others are Mansarovar in Tibet, Pampa in Karnataka, Bindu Sagar in Odisha and Pushkar in Rajasthan. Close by the lake lie temples dedicated to Sri Trikamraiji, Lord Laxminarayan, Lord Govardhannathji, Lord Dwarkanath, Lord Adinarayan, Lord Ranchodraiji, and Goddess Laxmiji. These were built by the wife of Maharao Desalji (1719-52). According to legend there was once a drought during the Puranic era. To end it, the sages prayed fervently, causing Lord Narayan, a form of Lord Vishnu, to appear and touch the land with his toe. This is believed to have created the lake.

Siyot Caves (in Siyot village of Lakpat Taluka of Kutch district) are also known as Kateshwar Buddhist Caves. Dating back to the A.D. 1st century, these caves are five cut-rock structures. The cave system is believed to be one of the 80 monastic sites that 7th century Chinese travelers reported about. Siyot Caves consist of an east facing sanctum and an ambulatory that give a Buddhist connect to them. These caves exhibit beautiful inscriptions and architecture of the ancient time. An excavation of the cave in 1988-89 revealed clay seals engraved with Buddha images in various mudras (postures), along with engravings in late Brahmi and Devnagari inscriptions. Some of the other findings of the excavation include, copper rings, Gadhaiya coins, terracotta Nandi (bull god) with bell and chain, earthenware, including surahi (a long-necked pot).

Craft Villages and Towns Near Bhuj

Dhamadka (40 kilometers east of Bhuj) is a small village in Gujarat that is known for block printing. It was a major center for the artisans engaged in ajrakh block-printing technique. There are many printers using madder roots for printing red color, rusty iron solution for black color and indigo for blue color. These fabrics are called ajrakhs and the designing on these fabrics is geometric in shape. Many workshops in India use chemical dyes to do ajrakh block-printing. However, in Gujarat there are many artisans who use natural dyeing technique with old recipes and local plant material. The village is located approximately 50 kilometers east of Bhuj. It is believed that 400 years ago, a group of Khatris settled in Dhamadka and started practising their craft. This is said to be the roots of the art form that has taken over the region now.

Nirona (40 kilometers from Bhuj) is known for Rogan art. The art travelled to India from Persia and has been kept alive by the Khatri family in the village. The word 'rogan' in Persian language means oil and the paint is made using castor oil. Earlier, the local communities used to buy Rogan art pieces for wedding ceremonies.

Bhujodi (eight kilometers from Bhuj) is a 500-year-old village in Kutch, Bhujodi where a variety of art forms are practiced here. From block printers and weavers to tie-dye artists, over 2,000 workers are engaged in creating beautiful handicrafts. Lying a stone's throw away is the Ashapura Crafts Park that was set up to give artisans a platform to display and sell their works. Shrujan,a non-profit, helps women sell their crafts. Embroidery exhibits, a production center and local architecture can be admired here.

The weavers of Bhujodi are believed to be Vankars or Mughal migrants who came 500 years ago from Rajasthan. They were initially engaged in weaving woollen blankets and veil cloths for the Rabari community.

Dhordo (80 kilometers from Bhuj) is known for its rich culture and banni hospitality. Handicrafts are an important part of the life of people here as the village is home to the Mutwa community from Sindh, which specialises in thread and needlework. This style of embroidery is called Mutwa embroidery, and includes a chain of stitches inset with mirrors, silver jewelry and leather embroidery. Tourists can buy beautiful articles and items featuring Mutwa embroidery. On visiting Dhordo, make sure to learn about the exquisite mud craft from Miyabhai Hussain Mutwa and Mehmoodbhai Elias Mutwa, noted artisans of the region. The mud craft is usually found along the walls of the huts (bhungas). The White Desert is one kilometer from Dhordo village.

Hodka Village (63 kilometers from Bhuj) attracts visitors with its rich art and crafts and strong cultural backgrounds. The village is home to the Meghwals, who are traditional craft and embroidery artisans from further north. Tourists get a chance to live with the communities in Hodka's Village Resort called Shaam-e-Sarhad or sunset at the border. The village is also known for birdwatching opportunities. One can take an excursion from Hodka Village to the wetlands of the Chhari Dhand, where they can spot a variety of resident and migratory birds. Chhari Dhand covers an area of around 10 square kilometers and is home to almost 50,000 waterfowls and birds such as Dalmatian pelican, Oriental darter, black necked stork and Indian skimmer. There are 32 species of raptors and a large number of cranes in this area.

Wildlife Areas Near Bhuj

Kutch Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary (50 kilometers west of Bhuj) is amongst the best places in India, where visitors can spot the great Indian bustard, one of the heaviest birds in the world. Additionally, visitors can see black and grey francolins, spotted and Indian sangrouses, quails, larks, shrikes, coursers, and plovers. Rare species like Stolicskas bushchats and white-naped tits can also be found here. During winter, a walk up to the north coast area of Jakhau will reveal large groups of flamingos, herons, egrets, sandpipers, and other birds that are usually found in salt reservoirs and creeks. From the sanctuary's watchtower, it is common to spot Indian gazelles and wolves.

Another way to explore the sanctuary is to drive around its verdant landscape. This can bring visitors face-to-face with several nilgai that live in the region. The best time to visit is from the rainy season to the end of winter. The sanctuary is sprawled over an area of two square kilometers and is considered the second-largest conservator of the Indian Bustard. The place is considered ideal for the great Indian Bustard as it is home to varied vegetation, semi-arid grasslands and marshy swamps. It is also called the Lala-Parijan Sanctuary and was declared a sanctuary in July 1992 to protect the great Indian Bustard.

Narayan Sarovar Wildlife Sanctuary (80 kilometers northwest of Bhuj) covers 444 square kilometers. Due to the desert climate of the Narayan Sarovar Wildlife Sanctuary, many animals that are spotted here have adapted themselves to the arid landscape, making it tough to spot them elsewhere. The main species that can be found here is the chinkara - an Indian gazelle. The sanctuary's vegetation includes desert thorn forest and scrub forest along with seasonal wetlands and dry savannah-type vegetation. Moreover, the sanctuary is home to about 252 flowering plants. It is a haven for birdwatchers who can sight more than 184 species of birds, including three types of bustards. Other animals that can be spotted include the caracals (African or Persian lynx), desert foxes, the endangered Indian wolf, spotted deer, wild boar and ratel or honey badger. The sanctuary takes it name from a village and a lake by the same name in Lakhpat.

Wild Ass Sanctuary

Wild Ass Sanctuary (100 kilometers west of Ahmedabad, 500 kilometers east of Bhuj) is home of the endangered India wild ass. Also known as the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary and Wild Ass Wildlife Sanctuary and formerly known as the Little Rann Sanctuary, it covers 4,920 square kilometers (1,900 square miles) in the area called the Little Rann of Kutch. The Indian wild ass is only found in Little Rann and the deserts of Kutch in western India. In 1976 only about 720 of these animals remained. During the monsoon season when the Little Rann plains are transformed into a giant lake, the wild asses live on patches of higher ground known as bets that become islands during the seasonal flooding. During the dry season they migrate to the edges of the desert to forage. Demoiselle cranes and huge swarms of dragonflies are found here in the dry season.

The Wild Ass Sanctuary and Little Rann of Kutch were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Wild Ass Sanctuary is located in the Little Rann of Kutch of the Gujarat State in India. It covers an area of 4954 square kilometers. The Sanctuary is named after a sub species of wild ass (Equus hemionus khur), the last population of which it harbours. [Source: Nature Conservation Foundation and Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecologyand Environment]

Tourists can find around 3,000 wild asses in the sanctuary today. Locally called the ghudkhar, Indian wild ass can be easily identified by dark stripe along their backs. During the mating season in the dry season the wild asses roll on their backs a lot to relieve their pent-up desires. Occasionally the dominant male will charge a herd of females, select one, set her in the right place with his head, and mount her. Bachelor males will sometimes charge the herd only to be driven off by the dominant male before they have had a chance to mate. Often, even the dominate male ends up with a kick or two to the face by a female instead of a successful encounter. The Rann area is prized for its salt deposits. During the dry season the herds of wild asses are disturbed, upsetting their mating behavior, when workers come to dig wells and pans for salt extraction. The asses are very skittish and they get nervous even when the salt workers are over a quarter of a mile away.

Due to its location in the Gulf of Kutch, which is on the migration route of many birds, the sanctuary is an important site for birds to feed and breed in. About 75,000 birds nest here annually, including those from Egypt, Siberia, Europe, Iran and Iraq. Other fauna found in the sanctuary include 32 mammals like chinkara (Indian gazelle), two types of Desert fox (Indian and white-footed), jackals, caracals, nilgais (the largest antelope of Asia), Indian wolves, blackbucks and striped hyenas. The place is also home to migratory birds including coursers, stoneplovers, shrikes, ducks, geese, ibis, spoonbills, godwits, stints, sandpipers, shanks, moorhens, saras cranes, Indian flamingos and pelicans. There are also 93 species of invertebrates including crustaceans, insects, molluscs, spiders, annelids and zooplanktons.

The sanctuary covers portions of urban areas including Sundernagar, Rajkot, Patan, Banaskantha and parts of the Kutch district. The best time to visit the place is between October and November. There are many tribes in the sanctuary and among them Rabari and Bharwad tribes have a a sizeable population. Opt for a jeep safari tour if you wish to explore the sanctuary. It is believed that the place is home to one of the largest salt pans in India.

Dholavira

Dholovira (50 kilometers south of the Pakistan border, 100 kilometers northeast of Bhuj as the crow flies) is a 5000-year-old, Indus-Valley-linked city in the desolate Rann area of Kutch in far western India that once stood on an island in a marsh, periodically flooded by the Arabian Sea. Dholavira was occupied between 2900 and 1500 B.C. with evidence of decline around 2100 B.C. Around 2000 B.C. the site was abandoned and the reinhabited around 1500 B.C. Tokens, seals and figurines that have been unearthed that are like those found at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, the two main ancient Indus Valley civilization cities..

Dholavira is the second-largest Indus Valley site in India and fifth-largest overall. Locally called Kotada Timba, it is situated on a piece of land that becomes an island when the Rann of Kuch lake forms during seasonal monsson flooding. The city contained stepwells to reach water in artificially constructed reservoirs. One of the most famous examples of Indus Valley writing is the Dholavira Signboard, ten Indus characters from the northern gate of Dholavira. Scholars believe that Dholavira may have supplied salt to the Indus area and was once connected to the Arabian Sea by a channel or canal though no evidence of such a waterway has been found. Other large non-Harappa and non-Mohenjo-daro Indus settlements include Lurewala in the central Indus valley, Ganweriawala in the Cholistan desert and Kalibangan and Lothal in India. Some have suggested that these were independent city states. Other have argued they were provincial capitals under Harappa and Mohenjo-daro.

Dholavira: A Harappan City was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The City of Dholavira located in Khadir island of the Rann of Kutchch belonged to matured Harappan phase. Today what is seen as a fortified quadrangular city set in harsh arid land, was once a thriving metropolis for 1200 years (3000 B.C.-1800 B.C.) and had an access to the sea prior to decrease in sea level...No one theory can explain the eventual abandonment of Dholavira. The urban order gradually ruralised and the eastward shift of habitation at a period of time when geo-climatic conditions challenged life in Khadir Island. The site seen today is the partly excavated area of a settlement abandoned for more than four millennia. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The excavated site of Dholavira demonstrates the ingenuity of Harappan people to evolve a highly organised system of town planning with perfected proportions, interrelation of functional areas, street-pattern and an efficient water conservation system that supported life for more than 1200 years (3000 B.C. to 1800 B.C.) against harsh hot arid climate. Its scale of enclosures, the hierarchical street pattern and defined spatial utilization i.e. land for industries, administration etc, as well as infrastructure like waste water disposal system, show the sophisticated urban life enjoyed between in this metropolis. With its acropolis or citadel within the fortified area Dholavira remains the most expansive example of the Harappan town-planning system where a three-tier zonation comprising of a distinct upper (citadel, bailey) and middle (having a distinct street-pattern, large scale enclosure and a ceremonial ground) towns enclosed by a lower town (with narrower streets, smaller enclosures and industrial area (suggested by articles recovered)) – distinguishes the city of Dholavira from other metropolises of the Indus Valley Civilisation.”

“Among antiquities recovered during excavation, an inscription measuring 3 meters long had been recovered from the chamber near the northern gate of the castle. Though its content is yet to be deciphered but based on the size of the incised letters, its conspicuous location and visibility, it has been identified as a sign-board. This is an exceptional find unlike any other sites, also suggesting that common people were versed in letters.

“The expansive water management system designed to store every drop of water available shows the ingenuity of the people to survive against the rapid geo-climatic transformations. Water diverted from seasonal streams, scanty precipitation and available ground was sourced, stored, in large stone-cut reservoirs which are extant along the eastern and southern fortification. To further access water, few rock-cut wells, which date as one of the oldest examples, are evident in different parts of the city, the most impressive one being located in the citadel. Such elaborate water conservation methods of Dholavira is unique and measures as one of the most efficient systems of the ancient world.

“The importance of Dholavira`s planning was furthered with the excavation of Kampilya (the capital of South Panchala of Mahabharata), Uttar Pradesh, a city considered of mythical origin in the Gangetic plains. Belonging to the Gangetic Civilization, which is considered the second phase of urbanization of the Indian, sub-continent, Kampilya adopted the town planning principles (in terms of scale, hierarchy of space and road network) established in Dholavira. Kampilya, transformed under continued habitation, the importance of Dholavira remains lie in its ability to illustrate planning and urban life in two distinct subsequent cultural phases of the Indian Subcontinent.”

Ruined City of Dholavira

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “ The ancient site of Dholavira covers an area of about 100 hectares (247 acres) and is surrounded by two water channels called Manhar and Mansar. Dholavira is a great example of a planned city. At its heart is a central citadel where rulers or high officials once lived. In the middle town, there are spacious dwellings and in the lower town, one can find markets. The fortification of the city is in the form a parallelogram. Surrounded by the Great Rann of Kutch, it offers a peek into the minds that made this settlement so great for its times. Among the ruins are some of the earliest expert water conservation systems. There are also remains of what seem like the world's first signages and they are all written using the ancient Indus script. Dholavira is a great spot to learn about the Harappan culture. It portrays the seven stages of civilisation. Terracotta pottery, beads, gold and copper ornaments, seals, fish hooks, animal figurines, tools, and urns have been excavated from here.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: This 47 hectares quadrangular city lay between two seasonal streams, the Mansar in the north and Manhar in the south, and had three distinct zones-the Upper, Middle and Lower Towns and shows the use of a specific proportion, considering the basic unit of measurement as 1 dhanus equivalent to 1.9 meters. First, the citadel, consisting of enclosures identified as a castle and a bailey (by excavators), having massive mud-brick walls flanked by dressed stones. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“To the north of the citadel was the quadrangular middle town having an area identified as the ceremonial ground or stadia. The latter served as a transition from the citadel to the middle and was accessed from the citadel through a grand gateway on its northern wall. Measuring 283 meters in length and 47.5 meters in width, the stadia had four narrow terraces possibly as seating arrangement. The middle town was characterised by a network of streets with defined hierarchy, intersecting at perfect angles. Beyond the middle town and enclosing it and the citadel was the lower town where commoners or the working population lived.”

Dholavira Construction and Water Conservation

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Dholavira shows large scale use of dressed stone in construction. Few rooms have been found to have been built of dressed stone and in some cases show segments of highly polished stone pillars of square or circular section having a central hole. To create a pillar, such segments were piled to attain requisite height and a wooden pole was inserted to ensure stability. This method of constructing a column was an ingenious alternative to a monolithic column. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“Water conservation of Dholavira speaks volume of the ingenuity of the people who developed a system based on rainwater harvesting to support life in a parched landscape, with scanty sweet water. Relying partly on rain-water and little from the ground a complex water system comprising of large rock-cut reservoirs, located at the eastern and southern fortification and rock-cut wells were developed.

“Huge stone drains can be seen in the city the directed storm water to the western and northern section of the lower town separated by broad bunds, creating in-effect a series of reservoirs. The most imposing well was located in the castle and is possibly the earliest example of a rock cut well. The city also drew water from the seasonal streams flowing on the northern and southern faces of the fortification. The water from these streams was slowed by a series of dams and partly channelized water into the lower town. Every drop of water was conserved to ensure survival.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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