I had dreamed of a bike trip through the entire coastal Gujarat for the first time in 2007. I was working as a medical officer in Bharuch district (Hansot) and had planned to ride back to my native town in Haryana via coastal areas of Gujarat and the border towns of Rajasthan. However, as usually happens in life, good things have to wait and I had to skip the elaborate coastal trip and instead drove directly to Haryana using the national highway (NH 8).
I had to wait for 10 years.
Now, the year was 2017 and the life had undergone a lot of change.
- I was no longer a medical professional but a finance professional now.
- I was no longer a bachelor but a married person with a kid.
- The bike was no longer an Enfield Electra but a Yamaha FZ-16.
However, the biker spirit was unchanged. The trip was going to be a solo trip through Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Haryana.
The plan was to start from Mumbai and travel through entire Gujarat coast (Surat, Bhavnagar, Diu, Somnath, Porbandar, Dwarka, Mandvi, Narayan Sarovar, Lakhpat, Bhuj, Dhordo (Great Rann of Kutch, The White Desert), Kalo Dungar, and Dholavira) on my way to Haryana. In the end, the trip covered about 2,500 km over 12 days from March 14, 2017, to March 25, 2017.
Mumbai to Surat (Day 1):
The journey started from Mumbai at 11 AM. Saarthi (my bike and the trusted companion) was fully loaded and was eager to take on the upcoming challenges.
The day’s ride involved cruising on the Mumbai-Delhi national highway (NH-8). Saarthi had been with me for the last eight years and this ride was going to be a farewell ride for her as I had plans to leave it at my native place (Jind, Haryana) in order to buy a new bike in Mumbai.
Saarthi and I had traveled on this route five years back in 2012 on my way to Ladakh (Leh Ladakh Solo Bike Trip). Today, the journey was full of nostalgia as I was reminiscing one of my most memorable bike rides. I halted and ate at the same hotels where I had eaten five years back. It was like the reawakening of the biker in me who had been sleeping for last few years.
The ride was comfortable and Saarthi performed well throughout the day. The day ended at Surat where I stayed with one of my relatives.
Surat – Lothal – Bhavnagar (Day 2):
Day 2 involved an early start to beat the heat. However, I could cover only 100 km when the sun started shining in its full glory and I had to take frequent breaks to rest and drink water.
Every activity on a road trip is an experience in itself including finding the shade to rest. A rider can halt at hotels and rest in air-conditioned halls or she can find shade under the most basic sheds. I prefer the roadside sheds and in turn interact with the locals at these small villages, bus-stops, and road-sides.
I avoided the common route to Bhavnagar via Vadodara and instead took the countryside roads along the Gulf of Khambhat.
Now I was entering Kathiawar region and I was eagerly looking forward to eating the Kathiawari food. Soon enough, it was lunchtime and I could relish the local food with Shev-Bhaji and Chhaachh.
The journey continued through the countryside roads and meeting with the villagers on the way.
At one such stop, I met a person running a snack outlet (Saibaba Pakodi Centre). The man was from Bihar and was running this street food stall in rural Gujarat. He told me about the hardships at his home and his quest to find an earning in Gujarat far from his home.
He had to borrow money to get this custom made stall from Ahmedabad and in addition, he had to pay significant logistics cost to transport it to Varana (this village). He remembered all the financial details of the business by heart and he expected to breakeven in a few months. However, the recent decline in his sales worried him.
I wished him the best in his entrepreneurial venture and prayed that he earns enough to pay back his loans and then send some money to his family back home.
I was on my way to Bhavnagar when suddenly, I saw a signboard indicating the road to Lothal on the right side. Lothal was not on my original plans but now that I was so near to such an important Harappa civilization site, I was in no mood to skip it.
One of the benefits of traveling solo is that a rider can change her plans any moment. There are no chances of conflicting opinions. You enjoy the freedom of thoughts and the actions to the fullest.
Lothal was about 10 km from the main road and it was not a long detour. As we all had read a lot about Lothal in our history books in the schools, here was my chance to visit it and I did not skip it.
The evening was about to set in and I was lucky that the excavation site along with the museum was open. There was no guide though. However, the printed pamphlets provided by the Archaeological Society of India (ASI) helped me understand about the ancient city.
The highlight of this Harappan city was the huge dockyard/port in the city.
I spent some time sitting at the dock imagining what a lively site bustling with activity it would have been. A dock full of wooden ships loaded with goods ready to sail to far regions of Africa, and Middle-East. It’s unfortunate that such a thriving civilization came to an end.
The detour to Lothal meant that I was running a bit late and it was not possible to reach Bhavnagar before sunset.
As I mentioned earlier, riding solo has its benefits in terms of instant modification of plans. I do not prefer to ride after sunset. As a guideline, I stop driving and look for a place to stay the moment the headlights on the oncoming traffic get switched on. Therefore, I stopped about 25km before Bhavnagar at a Kathiawari Hotel. As anticipated, the dinner was delicious.
Bhavnagar – Alang – Diu (Day 3):
I woke up early to a view of the fields with the ripe wheat crop. The Kathiawar region is fertile and grows wheat similar to Haryana and Punjab. As a result, many farming families from Haryana and Punjab to permanently have shifted to Kathiawar and grow wheat and other crops here.
The day started early and Saarthi & I were soon on the road enjoying the early morning breeze. The day involved riding to Alang, the biggest shipbreaking yard in the world, which has the record of breaking many of the largest ships in the world.
I reached Diu in the afternoon and had a Pomfret for lunch. A beautiful view of the sea with the cool breeze made the lunch a nice experience.
In the evening I drove around Diu and visited the fort, the beaches, and its coastal roads.
The small island garrison, which featured in the Bollywood movie “Qayamat: City Under Threat”.
A ride on the roads running along the coast in the evening sun was very relaxing.
The beaches of Diu were much less crowded than my expectations, which made it a very pleasant experience.
While it was a holiday evening time for me, some of the fishermen were preparing their boats to go fishing in the night in the deep seas. Ice was being crushed and loaded on the boats to preserve their catch (fish) on the way back.
Next, I visited the Naida Caves, which are very beautiful but underrated sites in Diu. Naida Caves are formed naturally by geological forces and were used as a shelter by Portuguese soldiers when the Indian army launched Operation Vijay to seize control of Diu.
Diu – Somnath – Chorwad – Porbandar (Day 4)
Today, I had plans to visit three Gods:
- Somnath: the divine God Shiva
- Chorwad: the birthplace of Dhirubhai Ambani, a God of his own kind
- Porbandar: the human God Mahatma Gandhiji
The day’s ride was supposed to be via coastal roads lined with numerous windmills. I could envisage the cool sea breeze giving me company throughout the day and therefore, I could not wait for the ride to start.
The roads were good and nearing sea shore frequently, therefore, it was a very pleasant experience to drive.
Soon, I reached Somnath, the legendary temple of God Shiva, which has been resurrected a number of times from the ruins. Somnath temple used to be one of the richest temples of India and therefore, it faced a record number of looting and destruction incidences by invading forces.
The temple in its current form was built in 1951 by the orders of Shri Vallabhbhai Patel.
I did not have any plans for overnight stay at Somnath. Therefore, I planned to pay a visit to the temple and move ahead on my journey. However, when you ride with a loaded bike, then the safety of the luggage becomes paramount as one cannot park the bike anywhere and leave. Moreover, until now, I am using saddlebags, which are made of cloth and therefore, cannot be locked like the metal hard cases.
As a result, I had to look for a hotel for a couple of hours to store my belongings and then visit the temple.
It seems it was a lean season for tourism and there were not a lot of devotees around. One agent approached me at the road and took me to a small lodge in the narrow lanes near the temple. The hotel owner agreed to give me a room for 2 hours at a nominal price and I could visit the temple in peace.
After this short stay at Somnath, I continued on my journey to Porbandar and reached Chorwad on the way. Chorwad is the birthplace of Dhirubhai Ambani, the founder of Reliance group. His home and a medical center are on the main road passing through the village.
From Chorwad, the road again started flirting with seashore and the ride was proving to be a reminiscence of the Konkan bike ride that I did with my wife in 2013.
I reached Porbandar in the afternoon and had plenty of time to visit “Kirti Mandir”, the birthplace & home of Mahatma Gandhi.
The home seems like a big mansion of multiple stories around a porch with twenty-two rooms. The place is kept clean and well maintained.
It was an amazing experience to roam around the house with ancient well-maintained infrastructure. The room where Gandhiji was born is kept clean and the area is marked.
The feeling that one is walking the same steps where once Gandhiji walked is priceless.
On the upper floors, one finds the study room of Gandhiji, which is a well-ventilated room. A visitor is captivated and one cannot help closing her eyes and imagining Gandhiji sitting in the room and enlightening himself with numerous books from authors across the world to learn and form the philosophies that will lead the strong Ahimsa movement.
After visiting Kirti Mandir, one also gets the opportunity to go to Kasturbaji’s (Gandhiji’s wife) house, which is in a lane behind Kirti Mandir.
I ended the day with a local delicacy, Rajwadi Candy, which I found to be an average dish.
Porbandar – Dwarka (Day 5):
The day involved a short ride of only 110 km to Dwarka. However, the journey was very pleasant with the road adjoining the coast and then meandering through innumerable windmills. I must have seen at least a thousand windmills today. There are countless wind energy farms along this route.
I reached Dwarka in the afternoon and had lunch at a very traditional family-run restaurant “Annpoorna Bhojanalaya”. The family seemed very particular about who cooks the food as it seemed a critical factor in the primary target segment they catered to, the religious tourists and devotees of Dwarkadhish temple.
The food was simple, non-spicy and very delicious. Until now, in this stretch of my journey, I had become accustomed to drinking plenty of Chhachh (buttermilk) with food and Dwarka was no exception. The restaurant provided me plenty of buttermilk to beat the heat.
In the evening, I paid homage to Dwarkadhish (Lord Krishna) at the temple.
After the darshan of the deity and taking the Prasad, I visited the nearby attractions like the Sudama Setu and the camel ride on the adjoining beach.
However, I liked the best to sit on the beach and enjoy the sunset at peace and feel the calmness and the assurance that Lord Dwarkadhish is there to take care of everything in life.
Now, I was excitedly waiting for the next phase of this trip, “The Kutch”, which starts tomorrow when I take the ferry from Okha port (30 km from Dwarka) to Mandvi across the Gulf of Kutch in the Kutch province.
The ferry ride would cover the distance between Okha and Mandvi in about four hours across the Gulf of Kutch, which otherwise would be about 450 km by land through Jamnagar, and Gandhidham.
I am taking a risk that the ferry might not be able to unload the bike (Saarthi) at the Mandvi jetty as the infrastructure/facilities at Mandvi jetty is not excellent, unlike Okha. Therefore, the unloading of Saarthi would depend on weather/sea conditions.
If in case, the workers on the ferry are not able to unload Saarthi at Mandvi jetty, then I would have to come back in the same ferry to Okha. The ferry guys have assured me a free return pass with lunch in case, the weather conditions at Mandvi are bad and they are unable to offload Saarthi on the jetty and I need to come back to Okha. However, I will lose a day if that happens. So I am keeping my fingers crossed.
Dwarka – Okha – Mandvi (Day 6):
The day involved riding 30 km from Dwarka to Okha, the jetty point for the ferry to Kutch and then taking the ferry with Saarthi to Mandvi across the Gulf of Kutch.
The ferry to Mandvi was to leave at 11:30 AM and I had some time to spare and I could easily visit Bet Dwarka, an island in the Gulf of Kutch, 3 km from Okha. Therefore, I took a boat ride to Bet Dwarka, which is said to be the home of Lord Krishna and is a popular religious destination.
The short stretch of sea was covered by innumerable birds, who waited for the boat passengers to throw some food for them.
Soon, I was back from Bet Dwarka and saw that the ferry to the Mandvi had docked at the jetty.
Now, I had to search some help to load the bike to the ferry. There were very few loaders on the jetty and whomever I could contact, they would soon vanish as someone else will call them for work. Moreover, it seemed that the job of loading the bike at the jetty was not interesting enough so whatever few loaders were there on the jetty, they quickly slipped away. Finally, it was the ferry staff that came to my rescue and Saarthi was on board the ship for her first sea voyage.
The journey henceforth was comfortable with the sea all around where I saw a lot of ships going deep into the Gulf of Kutch towards the Mundra port.
The sea journey gave me some new experiences. I traveled in the control cabin of the captain!
The captain of the ferry showed me the sea maps, his way of localizing the position, avoiding shallow waters to prevent running aground and let me listen to the communications with the vessel traffic control (VTC) just like air traffic control (ATC) at airport.
However, I did not know that the Mandvi jetty was about to offer me the most adventurous experience of the day in the very last moments of this ride.
At Mandvi jetty, I saw how weather determines a lot of things that seafarers can do and cannot do on their voyage. Today, I experienced a total sea travel of over 5 hours out of which last 1.5 hours was at the Mandvi port with the ferry trying hard to dock to the jetty against turbulent sea and fast wind. On a normal day, the docking would take 5 minutes.
During this ordeal, I had lost all the hope that I would be able to take my bike from the ferry to the jetty a few feet away. I was running a huge risk of losing Saarthi by it falling in the sea.
The probability of the bet taken by me of not being able to offload the bike at Mandvi, going against me, now seemed near certain. I could imagine myself going back to Okha (Dwarka) by missing Mandvi by a few feet.
However, in the end, the relentless efforts of the crew paid off and we could get the bike on the shore in one piece. However, Saarthi got some scratches that will keep reminding me of today’s ordeal when I was holding the bike tight in a rolling ferry lest it fall off and I lose my dependable companion. Losing Saarthi would have also meant the end of this trip straightaway.
Finally, I could reach the hotel at Mandvi at 5:30 PM and therefore, I could not visit the Vijay Vilas Palace (where the movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was shot), which closes at 6 PM. Now, I plan to visit it tomorrow.
Mandvi is home to wooden shipbuilding industry where ships are built by hand. The hotel where I stayed, was overlooking the shipyard and I could see a lot of ships taking shape.
This trip has taken me from the ship breaking yard at Alang to the shipbuilding yard at Mandvi. Life has come full circle.
It was a very tiring day and now, I had plans to take a full rest.
By the way, the signs that we are nearing the border areas were visible in Mandvi when the hotel staff stressed on taking fingerprints before check-in. The reason: police instructions.
Now phase 2 of this journey, The Kutch, was about to start.
Next day’s destination was the westernmost town of India, Lakhpat, which earlier used to be a port until an earthquake in the 19th century changed the course of Sindhu (Indus) river from this town to further west in Pakistan.
Mandvi – Narayan Sarovar – Lakhpat – Bhuj (Day 7)
It was a busy day in terms of riding. I drove the bike for a significant time today, unlike last few days when I was riding only about 100 km daily.
The roads in Kutch are surprisingly good and much better than Bhavnagar where I had started doubting whether this is the real Gujarat that we all revere in terms of public infrastructure.
As a result of the good roads in Kutch, despite covering 3 different locations, I could move a day ahead in time in the terms of itinerary and I stayed in Bhuj for the night instead of the earlier planned night halt at Lakhpat. Anyway, that is the beauty of solo traveling. One can change the plans as one likes. Be it taking sea route instead of land or be it exploring entire Kutch instead of the original plan of visiting only Bhuj. Solo rides bring a lot of freedom. Actually, it is freedom at its peak!
The day started with a visit to the Windfarm beach in Mandvi in the morning. It’s a long beach, which is very beautiful and clean.
The beach is called Windfarm beach because there are a lot of windmills installed right on the beach. It is a different matter that all of them were out of order.
I could not help but pity the dead investment apart from wondering whether it is anyone’s responsibility to remove these useless monsters standing on the beach.
Next up was a visit to Vijay Vilas Palace about 8 km out of Mandvi.
Vijay Vilas Palace at Mandvi has featured in movies like Lagaan and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. The palace was very beautiful and the sea view from the terrace along with the cool sea breeze was wonderful. The fact that I was the only visitor there early in the morning, was an added bonanza. I could relax in a peaceful silence at the grand majestic terrace of the palace.
I had always wondered whether these palaces are self-sustaining or a cash consuming burden for their owners. Today, I got the answer.
An attendant at the palace who had volunteered to guide me through the palace, told me that the visitors’ fees (entry fees + camera fees + parking fees) are just sufficient to take care of maintenance. So, the palace is almost self-sustaining.
Next, the journey to the western Kutch started and the signs of remoteness started becoming visible. The first sign was the display of bottles filled with petrol at almost all the shops indicating that in this area the petrol pumps are far and few. The next sign was an absolute lack of traffic on the roads.
It seemed ages when someone crossed you from either end of the road. Village crossings started becoming infrequent. The signboards of “mines” became more frequent than the village boards. There were a lot of limestone, lignite, and laterite mines on the way from Mandvi to Narayan Sarovar.
I reached Narayan Sarovar, which is on the western Indian coast, around the noon. Narayan Sarovar is a pilgrimage site, which has a temple and a lake. The lake is one of the five holy lakes of Hinduism, which also includes Mansarovar in Tibet on the list.
It was at the Narayan Sarovar that I had the first sighting of Border Security Force (BSF).
Gosh! I am near the international border with Pakistan!
From then on, BSF personnel, their green vehicles, and BSF posts were frequent. I spent some time in the Koteshwar temple on the beach in Narayan Sarovar before heading to Lakhpat.
Lakhpat used to be a rich port town at the bank of the Indus (Sindhu) river. The name of the city, Lakhpat, indicates that at its peak, the city used to earn a revenue of ₹1 lakh per day from the goods passing through its gates. However, in 19th century, an earthquake changed the course of Indus River and the river shifted its path westwards. As a result, the city lost its livelihood and slowly the population began leaving the city.
Lakhpat is a place where one cannot help but stand on the fort wall facing the mighty (empty) river channel with closed eyes and imagine how the place would have been when these walls formed one shore of mighty Indus and the other shore being out of sight.
The place greets you with a plaque at the Fort entrance: “Welcome to Lakhpat! You are entering just as camel caravans once did centuries ago, laden with goods destined to be shipped from the Lakhpat port to far corners of the Indian Ocean”. Can you beat that?
From that point onwards, I could imagine the crowds, the jostling, the haggling, the urgency, the rush that would have been the norm at this place in this fort a few centuries ago. The fact that now there are only about a few hundred people staying there seemed immaterial.
Standing on the fort wall and facing the sea (and the empty river channel/delta), one could even smell the wet wood of those countless ships docking, loading and unloading about 200 years back. The same ships which are still being constructed in Mandvi by hands.
Lakhpat is one of the most captivating historical places that I have visited, right after The Taj.
After spending considerable time at Fort walls and getting soaked in the sea breeze, I visited the tea stall at the entrance of the Lakhpat fort. The owner of the tea stall double shifts as a guide and maintains a diary of comments about Lakhpat from Indians and foreigners alike.
At the tea stall, I realized that I still have a lot of time in the day left! Whether it was the good roads in the Kutch or very low traffic or the fact that now I can immerse in a place quicker than before or a mix of all of them? Nevertheless, I thought that I should head to Bhuj now.
The hotel booking at Bhuj was done in a jiffy and the travel plans were updated. Now the night halt would be at Bhuj in a hotel and not in the Gurudwara at Lakhpat as I had thought earlier.
Next, I realized that Saarthi and I were cruising at beautiful roads in a sparsely populated and vegetated terrain on a very hot day. Though not before I also put in my views about Lakhpat in the memoir diary of the tea stall owner cum guide.
I have matured a bit as a biker now. I can fool my body into thinking that it is not as dry and hot as it seems by using a wet mask (in fact a soaked handkerchief) and as a result, the body remains calm and comfortable.
I can never forget that I had suffered a heat stroke while driving from Varanasi to Agra in June 2010 in 48 degree Celsius. It’s not going to happen anymore. A soaked mask helps a lot while driving in searing heat.
Today I neared Indian/Pakistani borders but did not need special permits. Tomorrow, I will. Because tomorrow, it is going to be a ride to “The Great Rann of Kutch”. The White Desert! The Black Mountain! The famous India Bridge! The Moonland Terrain! It’s all going to be there tomorrow.
With all the excitement of what’s going to come tomorrow, I take rest!
One last thing: I had “Kutchy” Dabeli in “Kutch” today and it was far delicious than any Kutchy Dabeli that I have ever had in my college days in Solapur or my current stay in Mumbai.
Bhuj – Dhordo (The Great Rann of Kutch, The White Desert) – Kalo Dungar (The black mountain) – Rapar (Day 8)
Today was the most awaited day of this trip when I visited “The Great Rann of Kutch”.
Nothing can beat the sight of the vast expanse of the white desert, which coupled with the “mirages”, fascinates you while simultaneously intriguing you. Movies, songs or Amitabh Bachchan can only show glimpse of what a majestic place it is.
The Rann hits you with surprise whatever way you experience it. Look at it standing down or rise up 15 meters (There is a viewing point designed as a salt crystal).
The vastness and the emptiness and the infiniteness take time to get sunk in. And the fact that there is not a single soul between you and Pakistan at the other end gives goosebumps. Looking at the camel safaris taking people only a kilometer inside fires up your imagination. How would it be to cross the Rann on foot? How it feels like getting lost in the Rann with not a living person in sight?
It starts feeling scary. Ok. Let’s come back to reality.
Rann again surprises you when you put your first foot on it. There is no soil!! It’s all salt. Hard crystallized salt; limitless, sprinkled over all the land.
Where is the sand, where is the dirt! Oh, yes! You see some.
But does it belong to the Rann? Gosh no! I brought this dirt with me here under my feet. The Rann is pure. It’s pristine. And you feel guilty for putting a blot on it.
One can only admire the beauty of what surrounds you and grasp for more. I should stay here till sunset (It was 11 AM then). I should come back on a full-moon night. I should come back here not in March but in December. I can bet, the Rann will captivate you.
The people. Yes, the people are welcoming, and full of energy.
One guy showed me the entire video of the Bollywood song “Sari ke fall sa kabhi match kiya re!!” which was shot in this white desert here.
The other guy pointed me to the camel, which carried the actress in this song, Sonakshi Sinha, to the shooting sight. The camel owner shyly told about the pic that Sonakshi took with him.
How could I leave this place?
So it took about 2 hours for me to have my heart’s fill of the White Desert. Numerous families came to the Rann and went back during this time. And it was only when the guys asked me, “Do you wish to stay here today?” that I realized, “No”, I need to go further.
Driving through the Rann is unique. A vast flat land with straight roads.
I had read about Jim Rogers “The Investment biker” losing his tires by driving on endless straight roads in Australia. In India, only the Rann can match that terrain.
Next sight, the India Bridge was a comforting one. To see the piece of engineering, which allows our men to cross the Rann and defend our borders. You think what will happen if it was not there and we needed to reach our men stuck in battle. You realize the importance of such pulse points. No wonder, the photographing India Bridge is prohibited.
After India Bridge, I headed for Kalo Dungar, the black mountain.
Kala Dungar is a beautiful place. The Sunset point here is the highest point in Gujarat. A cool breeze awaits you even on a sunny hot day.
You can see the India Bridge in distance from here and see what importance the bridge has for our forces. Can one ever cross the swampy salt channel on foot and be safe?
The situation became further engrossing when a Border Security Force (BSF) officer pointing towards the white desert told me, “It was here that we fought Pakis in 1965. Had we not won that battle, Gujarat would not have been the same today! The very place where we were sitting now, would have been Pakistan”. It makes you feel a chill down the spine.
Such was the day and I would always remember it.
Once again, Gujarat exceeded my expectations for roads and I found myself running ahead of my itinerary despite having my heart’s fill of sightseeing.
I had 3 hours to spare when I came back to Bhuj. There was no better use of this time than to head straight to tomorrow’s sight “Dholavira”. And that’s exactly what I did.
I stayed in a non-descript hotel “Suvidha Guest House” in a non-descript town “Rapar” but much nearer to Dholavira than Bhuj (exactly 125 km nearer).
I had visited Lothal, the famous Harappan site, on the second day of this trip. Dholavira is the big daddy of Lothal. Let us see what it has in store for me. One thing I know for sure that it has far more Rann (White Desert) for me tomorrow.
I am going to ride through the White desert to reach Dholavira tomorrow.
Tomorrow might also mark a milestone on this trip. I might finish Chapter One “Gujarat” and start chapter two “Rajasthan”.
P.S. No one knows the importance of buttermilk more than Kutchy people. They will never finish taking your meal order unless they ask you thrice whether you want Chhaachh (buttermilk) or not. Therefore, now, I order chhachh as the first item whenever I halt to eat. Chhachh helps in this intense heat.
Moreover, I got to eat freshly prepared “Mava” by a local just next to India Bridge. Without any chemical additions, the Mava seemed better than the milkcake of Mumbai. I guess that the cows in Kutch eat a special diet.
Rapar – Dholavira (Harappan Site) – Radhanpur (Day 9):
It was a very tiring day today. I had never expected that within Gujarat, there would be areas where one could say that the nearest petrol pump or the nearest ATM is 100 km away. That’s how remote Dholavira is.
The only gateway to Dholavira is Rapar, where I had stayed last night. One has to drive 100 km to reach Dholavira and retrace the same 100 km road to Rapar to connect to the rest of the world.
The drive to the Dholavira Island was tough with rough roads. But the entire pain vanishes when all of a sudden one sees the Rann exposing itself and accompanying the rider for a good 12 km.
This long bridge across the white desert is one of the most beautiful stretches that I had driven until now, next only to the Moore plains in Ladakh.
The remoteness of this place (Dholavira) gets reflected in peoples’ practices as well. Restaurants at Dholavira (there is only one restaurant) will not accept spot orders. You have to intimate them two hours in advance and only then you will get food. Nothing is kept ready. This is because just like the small number of native people, even the tourists that here come are very few. An abandoned resort stood as a testimony to this.
And in such a remote location lie the ruins of an ancient civilization, which were first excavated across 250 acres and then partly reburied to preserve it.
The reason for reburial: the lack of funds for ensuring proper preservation of artifacts. So, there is no point in exposing an underground, safely hidden asset to rain, sun and people, which we otherwise cannot protect and maintain.
But whatever part of Dholavira is exposed, is very exciting & insightful.
As per Namji, my guide at Dholavira, this Harappan city was a home 12,000 people at its peak. Some aspects of the life of people who lived here thousands of years ago were great.
We could see parts of a buried amphitheater, like the Colosseum in Rome. The city had an 18 m wide wall to stop tsunamis as, during that period, the Rann used to be the part of the sea. There were 16 reservoirs to filter and store water for the city.
It was amazing to see that even today, thousands of years later, we use the same filtering techniques in hydropower projects to remove silt.
Archaeologists have found a huge signboard containing the title and the name of the king of Dholavira city, which is the most important artifact excavated from this ancient city.
Let’s pray that Dholavira gets some funding soon so that the entire city (an ancient metropolis) can be presented to the world.
Namji (my guide) was very knowledgeable. He is a local who had been associated with a lot of institutes of excellence in India. He assists Archaeology students for their one-week assignment at Dholavira. I was lucky to have such a knowledgeable person as a guide.
He guided me to the remotest corner of Dholavira Island to a fossilized/petrified wood. These pieces of wood lying on the edge of the White desert, are proved to be from Jurassic age about 18 cr years old.
So after learning a lot about our ancestors, seeing a lot of BSF posts and after appreciating many more stretches of the white desert, I was ready to leave and take the arduous 100 km journey back to the world, again.
The only words that came out of my mind after seeing the petrol pump at Rapar were “Tank Full”.
The drive ahead to Radhanpur was a breeze. I was now driving on a national highway and all the development of the nation and Gujarat were glaring in front of me. It was in stark contrast to the lack of resources & infrastructure that I had seen only a few hours ago at Dholavira. But that’s how the Rann is. That’s how Gujarat is. It encompasses a huge variety of landscapes and people within itself.
With the trip of Gujarat finally drawing curtains, I asked myself: Would I be able to do the same justice to Rajasthan the way I had explored Gujarat? Would I be able to explore the nooks and corners of Rajasthan the same way as I did for Gujarat?
I found myself reluctant. With my mind still full of Gujarat, it seemed unfair of me to erase the recently ingrained memories of Gujarat and make space for Rajasthan on my memory slate.
So, sitting in a hotel room in Radhanpur, I felt that the sightseeing on this trip needed to get over today. I would ruminate on what I saw in last nine days for many weeks to come. The experiences that I was carrying from here were causing a nostalgia already.
Gujarat is a state, which has something for every kind of traveler. Be it religious tourists (Dwarka, Somnath), history (Dholavira, Lothal), beaches (Diu), natural landscapes (The Great Rann of Kutch, Kalo Dungar) etc. and not to mention the sites that I did not include as a part of this trip like the Gir forest national park.
I did not expect this trip to be so rich in experiences. I got insights more than my time’s worth in the state. The last few days were very well spent. The wait of over 10 years from 2007 to 2017 in making this solo bike trip to Gujarat has been worth it.
Dear Rajasthan, I will come back with a fresh slate to be written by you, to get enamored and awed by you.
It was still a ride of over 1,000 km remaining to my native place in Jind, Haryana until Saarthi and I take rest. We covered this distance in three days and the full trip of about 2,500 km from Mumbai to Jind was completed in 12 days on March 25, 2017.
See you soon with the travelogue of my next bike trip.