The trip to Bhuj is a rickety one from Rajkot, from the hustle-bustle of a commercial center, to a town, mesmerized in some old world charm. But as you approach Bhuj and peep out of your car window, at the salt pans, you get to know how everything just sort of fits in. it’s a striking contradiction looking at the arid landscape of Kutch, with the shimmering six lane highway in the foreground. But, there is something tantalizingly beautiful in the nothingness of the landscape of Bhuj, India’s largest district and the center point of the Kutch region.
The first halt in Bhuj has necessarily to be the royal palace – the Parag Mahal, which seems a little out of place in this western edge of the country, looking more appropriate for some historic town of Europe. The Parag Mahel Palace boasts of the second highest clock tower in India, the highest being the Rajabhai Clock Tower in Mumbai. At the Parag Mahal you are allowed to climb up right at the top of the clock tower via a dangerously spiraled staircase and have an eagle view of the Bhuj city. The five massive balls of the clock tower weigh about 700 Kgs. Although some parts of the palace are closed for renovation, you can still go to the pompous Darbar Hall, where many shots of the movie Lagaan were shot.
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!
Its 4 am and I am driving on a surface that looks more Martian than that of our planet. The baked, grey earth over which we are driving is the Rann of Kutch. The stars are shining overhead in an ink black sky. We have no maps, no road signs or signals, no GPS coordinates and no roads to take us to the destined place. Our SUV, racing at a speed of 25 Km/hr looked like a space shuttle on the rugged surface of mars.
Being blessed with the beatific sight of huge flock of flamingos at Lake Neruru in Kenya, my yen for catching a glimpse of them in the Indian mainland was fuelled. This brought me to probably the most arid and tantalizingly beautiful landscape in the country – Rann of Kutch. I reached Bhuj with a set goal of capturing flamingos. From the beginning of my trip, the omens were bad. I had landed in the wrong season and this being a dry year hadn’t attracted many birds. But situations like this, often compel you to take the less travelled by route. A grand revelation came when I learnt that the manager of the Royal Orchid resort, Mr. Neeladri Das, was himself an avid birder and adventurer. It didn’t take me much time to rope him in this booty business. And that brought me, at 4 am, in a completely unknown surface with no landmarks, in search of flamingos. I am at Chaari Dhaand, a lesser known wetland in the midst of Rann. It does find a mention in the travel map of Kutch, but looking at the desolateness of the place, one can spot, that it is a less travelled by place.