Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Where once the Indus Flowed - Narayan Sarovar, Koteshwar Mahadev, The Great Indian Bustard and Mandvi

The Great Gujarat Road Odyssey – Day 7: Kutch to Saurashtra

Today, the plan is undertake a long drive that will see you leave Kutch and reach Jamnagar in the night. The drive is going to be 500 kms long and it is imperative that you fuel up on the fulfilling and wholesome staple breakfast of fafda and jalebi. 

The Gujarati breakfast of fafda and jalebi - of course, the tea has to be slurped from the plate

The fafdas are coming out hot just outside the gates of the dharamshala you stayed in for the night. 

Shree Kutch Narayan Sarovar Annakshetra ane Bhojanalay - The dharamshala to stay in Narayan Sarovar

The Shree Kutch Narayan Sarovar Annakshetra ane Bhojanalay Dharamshala in Narayan Sarovar is a quiet and clean affair to stay for the night. They charge nominally for the rooms and offer free meals. Of course, you are welcome to make donations.

The fortification walls and the spiked gate that protects the temple complex
Okay, now that you notice, there are fortification walls where you are eating. You finish up the last of the jalebis. A spiked gate leads you inside the fortified complex with number of temples and residences. 
The Narayan Sarovar Temple Complex

This is the Narayan Sarovar temple complex. The main courtyard has seven temples. Maharani Vagheli Mankunvar, wife of Rao Desalji (1718-1741), had an unpleasant experience with the priest of Dwarkadhish (but then who doesn’t have unpleasant experiences with pandas) at Dwarka and decided to create another pilgrimage centre that could rival Dwarka. She first built two temples of Lakshminarayan and Trivikramray. In addition, she built five temples in a row. These five temples are dedicated to Lakshmiji, Dwarkanath or Ranchhodji, Govardhannath, Adinarayan and Lakshminarayan. The shikhars of the temples glow in the early morning sun.

The gate on the left leads to the Narayan Sarovar just outside the fort walls
On the other side of the courtyard, a door pierces the wall. Steps lead down to the waters of the holy Narayan Sarovar. Bhagwat Puran mentions a great lake called Narayan Saras visited by devotees and Siddhas. Once upon a time the Indus would feed this lake before the river’s course was changed by the earthquake of 1819. The earthquake created a dam called Allah Band to the north of Lakhpat that shifted the Indus west, turning the Rann dry. Alexander too recorded seeing the huge lake in 325 BC. (Some of the Greeks later settled in Vadnagar). Now the huge lake has disappeared leaving a small tank with steps leading to the ghats on three sides. Temples dot the ghats.

Narayansar or Narayan Sarovar - one of the five holy sarovars
Narayansar or Narayan Sarovar is one of the five holy sarovars of Hindus. The other four are Mansarovar in Tibet, Pushkar in Rajasthan, Bindu Sarovar in Sidhpur, Gujarat and Pampa Sarovar in Anegundi, Karnataka. You are pleased to realise that except Mansarovar, you have now seen them all.

It is cold in the morning discouraging any devotee to take a dip. There are not many devotees here this morning and the priests are eyeing you expectedly - the trick is to avoid eye-contact and keep walking!

The Trivikramray Temple at Narayan Sarovar, Kutch Gujarat
View of the Narayansar or Narayan Sarovar from the fort walls
You come back into the courtyard to find the steps that will take you on top of the battlements. This time you will walk your way out taking the aerial route. Now that you realise, the Trivikramray Temple does look like Koteshwar Mahadev Temple from your vantage point on the wall.

Checking out of the dharamshala, you decide to go back to the nearby Koteshwar Mahadev Temple to have another look, this time in the daytime.
This is how Koteshwar Mahadev looks like when coming from Narayan Sarovar about a km away
Koteshwar, the Ten Million Gods, is built at the mouth of the Kori Creek. Once upon a time, the town was probably cut-off from the mainland by tidal creeks but now a causeway is built from Narayan Sarovar. Last evening, you were enchanted by the dreamy sunset over the lapping waves. The setting sun cast its golden light on the Koteshwar Mahadev Temple, the western-most Temple in India. 

Who says photography is easy - here you stand at one spot for 12 hours to catch these two moments
This is how it looked last evening - Kori Creek at Koteshwar Mahadev Temple, Kutch
Mythology has it that Ravan built this temple when the ling he was carrying shattered into crores of pieces. Hsuan Tsang had visited Koteshwar in 640 AD when he found 80 monasteries, 5000 devotees and about a dozen temples.

BSF Post at Kori Creek, Koteshwar Mahadev Temple, Kutch Gujarat
This morning the water has receded leaving some boats beached on the mud. A jetty leads to the BSF border post where the jawans are scrutinising the documents of fisherman who probably landed overnight from their fishing expeditions. Later the jawans will sift through the cargoes just to be sure.

Koteshwar Mahadev Temple - the westernmost temple of India in Kutch
The Koteshwar Mahadev Temple built on a hillock rises over the waters. The present temple was built by two merchants or Seths, Sundarji and Jetha Shivji in 1820, after the 1819 earthquake that might have destroyed the original temple. The temple has a swayambhu or self-born ling that has iron nails driven into it by Alauddin Khilji, according to a local legend.

Leaving Narayan Sarovar
To Naliya and Beyond
Taking one last look, it is time to bid goodbye to Kutch as you make your way south towards Kathiawad. But before you do that, there are few more places you want to check out on the way.

Heading into the Terminator movie set
A road trip cannot be more beautiful than this - Narayan Sarovar to Naliya in Gujarat
'Woolly' Clouds
The skies continue to delight as the white woolly clouds hover over the road. The presence of Indus here two hundred years ago is a mighty interesting idea and you think you have found the proof.

Did Indus once flow here in Kutch?
Dry stream beds continue to intersect the road until it is time for you to get down and investigate. Here, standing under the overhang of earth and rock shaped by waters that probably flowed long ago, does give credence to Indus flowing here in Kutch, about two hundred years ago with green paddy fields all around, instead of the sandy scrubland characteristic of Kutch today. 
This is how it all began:

The Great Gujarat Road Odyssey

This trip is about visiting places that you long ago read about in the school textbooks - places like Rann, Porbandar and Diu. You had also read about the endangered Great Indian Bustard and luckily there is a sanctuary that falls on this route.

On the way to Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary, Jakhau Kutch
Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary at Jakhau in Kutch Gujarat
Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary Kutch Gujarat

Scrubland and wind mills in the distance - Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary - but no luck spotting the birds!
Near Naliya, you make a detour going towards Jakhau port. Few directions later, you are driving towards the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary. The sanctuary is few acres of scrubland with the wind mills rising in the distance. You need permission from the Forest Division to enter the premises. It's okay - just being here feels good; just like you felt good standing at the entry gates of Sriharikota last year. From the gate you scan the grass all around but no luck. The camera lens strained but all you could get were some cranes. Well you tried!

Camel and Horse Rides at Mandvi Beach - Gujarat

Next stop will be Mandvi via Kothara. You have been to Kothara before taking in the raging waves of Pingleshwar Beach. You will give it a miss this time around and will go straight to Mandvi Palace and Mandvi Beach. As across the state, Gujarat does not have signs for attractions and it is when you enter the Mandvi city you realise that you have missed seeing the Mandvi Palace. Well, you don’t have the heart to go back.

Horse Riding at Mandvi Palace
This is the only view you could get of the Mandvi Palace
The day has turned hot and you are making your way to the popular Mandvi beach. The scene at the beach is similar to what you have seen at Mumbai’s Chowpatty. Well Mandvi, in addition to the bhelpuri stalls, also has horse and camel rides. The wind farm built on the beach gives another dimension to the beach here. The fafdas have long disappeared in your belly and it is time to have some ‘peeja’ (that is pizza for everyone else – don’t you love Gujarati accent!) and bhelpuri for lunch.

You are negotiating the lanes of the old city on your way out of Mandvi. You make another tight left. And then as it always happens, the sight leaves you thunderstruck. In the tumble of traffic you manage to park and leap out. It seems you have just stepped out of the time machine. You are in the Biblical era and Noah’s Ark is being built, ready to sail away. You are sure this is a make-believe Hollywood movie set. India gives you wonderment around every corner.

But then the constant honking on the road pulls you back into the present. On the dry Rukmavati river bed, dozens of wooden shells that look like ships lay sprawled. The ships are in different stages of construction. Planks of sal wood are being assembled together. You are not sure what to make of all this – sometimes the ships look like the skeletons of some magnificent sea beasts and sometimes it looks like a sunk ships of long ago have been salvaged.

Timber ship building on the banks of Rukmavati river in Mandvi Gujarat
Noah's Ark - The 400 year old shipbuilding yard of Mandvi
This is the shipbuilding industry of Mandvi or Mart which has lasted for over 400 years. Mandvi has a rich maritime history and was known for its intrepid seafarers many of which were the Siddhis. was an important maritime trading centre of Kutch. At one time the Mandvi merchants owned up to 800 ships. One of the ships went all the way to England and came back to Malabar. Trade was conducted with Arabia, Africa, Sind, Bombay and Malabar. Inland, there was this Desert Camel Caravan trade relations with Marwar and Malwa. Did the Bohras, owners of the magnificent Siddhpur havelis, made their way to Zanzibar from Mandvi? Another possibility to explore! Yes they did but that will be another story.

Rukmavati Old Bridge in Mandvi Gujarat
You cross the old elegant bridge over Rukmavati river to come back to the NH 8A highway on your way to Jamnagar.

Mandvi to Jamnagar on NH 8A Extn
If you don't want to make the 500 km journey from Mandvi to Okha, then you can hire the luxury yacht to get to Dwarka
In Malia, you are pulled over by the police for the second time. This is a routine stop where the cops note your name and registration number. It is already dark and you need to get to Jamnagar before midnight.

The shack like road-side dhabas have been replaced with these palace like eateries spread over acres
The road from Malia to Jamnagar is a breeze. You are surprised that there is not much traffic going westward with you. As you reach the outskirts of Jamnagar town, a motorcyclist volunteers to lead you into the city and to your hotel. Did you say the people of Gujarat are the best?

The journey will continue. 

Travel Tips
  • Shree Kutch Narayan Sarovar Annakshetra ane Bhojanalay is the best option to stay in Narayan Sarovar. There are no hotels here
  • Prior permission is needed for the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary at Jakhau - please look up the relevant Gujarat state websites for info (Kutch Forest West Division, Bhuj)

Day's Stats
  • Route Taken – Narayan Sarovar to Naliya (slight detour towards Jakhau for the Bustard Sanctuary) to Kothara to Mandvi to Malia by NH 8A. From Malia to Jamnagar NH 947
  • Distance covered today – 503 kms
  • Total Distance covered so far - 2294 kms 

Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency - Cutch

Related Links on this blog
The Great Gujarat Road Odyssey

Day 1 - Viratnagar

Day 2 - Pushkar

Day 3 - Vadnagar
Day 4 – Siddhpur
Day 5 - Dholavira
Day 6 - Lakhpat


  1. No place in Kutch can be rushed through Nirdesh, as it is full of delights and stories ! One could easily spend 10 days here and still feel left out. See, you went to the bustard sanctuary and missed spotting the birds but did not go the chinkara sanctuary just across the kori creek. Known popularly as narayan sarovar chinkara sanctuary it is one of the most unique ecosystems in India. The only area where cheetah were reintroduced and survive along with caracal, bengal florican, bustard and such rare species. This sanctuary is also a hlaring example of man - animal conflict or environment versus development. The area is rich in limestone and bauxite and so the sanctuary was denotified in the favour of open cast mining . Plans were afoot to construct India's biggest cement factory there without giving a second thought to the havoc that the cement clouds could wreak on the fragile scrub forests ! But environmentalists were up in arms and after a media blitzkrieg and a prolonged legal battle the sanctuary was again notified but with a much reduced area (almost half)

    Mandvi is another place that you need to go back to someday.

    But what a blessed day, what lovely skies and what a region to bid adieu to ! Waiting for day 7 now !!

    1. Hi Zehra,

      Even though I thought I did some research but Kutch is almost entirely a state on its own with so much to see and experience. But then leaving out things, mean you will find your way back here again. Next time, yes I will spend 10 days here, looking up the Wild Ass Sanctuary, maybe living in rabari villages, seeing the locals doing Rogan art. I did not know that Cheetahs were introduced here - wish the project had been successful. Yes the entire Narayan Sarovar area looked like a sanctuary – missed seeing the chinkaras here but did see them in Gir! Bustards are not easy to sight but its okay. There are some Harappan sites here and yes Mandvi needs a full day including talking to the workers building those beautiful timber boats.

      Yes, you can see the road leading to the cement factory in one of the photos. I think i saw signs for lignite mines too. I know economic compulsions are there but some places like Kutch and Western Ghats need to be left alone. There has to be an end to the greed.

      Kutch is beautiful and so is the land, the people and the blue skies here. Hope to come back here soon.

      Thanks for reading.