Everyone loves a beach holiday. And what about when you can afford a private pristine white sand beach for yourself. And if you think, it’s incredulous, make a trip to Mandvi beach in Western Kutch and book for yourself a private beach owned by the Royal family of Kutch in the Vijay Vilas Palace. Now, we know what ‘happy holidays’ can really mean!
Thanks to the good roads in Bhuj, you can cover this entire leg of Mandvi in just a half a day. Mandvi is just one and a half hours (including a recommended halt at the 72 Jinalay) from the city of Bhuj and is indeed a lazy day break during your trip to Kutch. The silent sea and pristine, less visited beaches are perfect for long walks; a minor delight and a treasure trove all cuffed for you.
And if you feel ready to embark a seabound voyage, this historical town brings you closer to the ages, when large wooden ships used to move around the globe. To travel across times, one can go to the Tower of Wagers, where shipowners and traders used to gather and scan the horizon, waiting for their ships returning from Africa, betting on whose ship would return first. Stand there and be a part of the conversation that happened between traders, the stories of voyages, of unseen lands and riches, of sea-pirates, spices, gold, emeralds, gambling, betting and beauties. Once the region’s leading port for entry, Mandvi still boasts of a 400 year old ship building yard, where even today ships are manufactured. Large wooden blocks still float on the silent waters, like a fairytale woven on frozen times.
This is Mandvi, Gujarat’s well-kept secret. The first sights of Mandvi, as you enter it through the wooden Rukmavati Bridge, which is one of its kind in India; are probably of a forgotten ship building yard, reminding you of that forlorn era, when it used to be a trade city. Move another 5 kilometers into the city to the royal Vijay Vilas Palace, where the royal family of Bhuj moved in from Bhuj after the 2001 earthquake. The palace exemplifies an eclectic mix of cultures, an amazing fusion of depictions. It stands as an eclectic blend of umbrella shaped domes as seen in palaces of Bengal, cupolas coming from Mughal architecture, cenotaphs, jharokhas from Rajput architecture and columns and arches signifying the Victorian Gothic style. Nestled in an area of 450 acres, with a 2 km of private beach and a well-maintained sanctuary, Vijay Viwas palace was built as a summer retreat of the king. It is said that craftsmen from every corner of the country were invited by Maharao Shri Khengarji III, the Maharao of Kutch to build this summer palace, and hence the splendid mix of different architectural designs. The love for riches of Maharao is also evident in the fact that the first Mercedez Benz in India rode on these very streets.
The palace rose to fame when Bollywood movies Hum dil de chuke sanam and Lagaan were shot here. With imposing red sandstone structure with beautifully carved stone meshes, the graceful curves of the Bengal domes with exquisite artwork with coloured glass and rich stone work on the walls; Vijay Vilas Palace has every element that can keep your eyeball rolling. The sheer grandeur of the palace is well complemented with uninterrupted 360 degree view of the surroundings from the roof-top. At the horizon, you can see the Arabian Sea merging with the green of the surroundings.
Mandvi had always been known for its sailing prowess. Centuries ago it used to be a trading center between India and Middle East and Zanzibar in Africa. It is said that even Vasco De Gama took help from Mandvi sailors in his voyage to Zanzibar (archipelago off the coast of Tanzania). The ship building techniques that developed in Mandvi comes to live even today with every new ship that gets manufactured here. Today, the ships manufactured here are used as fishing boats. The usual carrying capacity of these ships ranges from 250 tons to 1000 tons. When you are there try climbing one of the ships to be a part of centuries old history that still stands.
The environmentalist and traveler in me found Mandvi to be one of the places to be in for birding. After travelling across Gujarat, I got some of my best birding shots in Mandvi. The quiet beaches provide an excellent spot for birders and photographers to camp for the perfect shots. The delta area of river Rukmavati is also a lesser known halting grounds of lesser flamingos.
But the finest jewel in the kitty of Mandvi, is undoubtedly, the pristine white sand beach, an empty place where you can walk for miles without getting tired, catch the golden hues of the setting sun in the clear waters and get mesmerized by the fine silhouettes created on the white sands.
Mandvi is a unique tryst with the ancient skill of handcrafted shipbuilding, the cultural history and pristine beaches. All made for a perfect day-break.
One can choose to stay in the Vijay Vilas Heritage rooms or can cover Mandvi as an extended part of the Bhuj trip where options are more.
To eat and shop
Try Osho, it is probably the best place to eat in Mandvi. This small restaurant serves a kutchi cuisines and Gujarati snacks. Also try the Mandvi’s famous local double rotis, also known as dabeli (similar to vada pao). Mandvi is also known shopping halt for Kutch handicraft, especially the famous bandhani tie-dye craft.