Tuesday 12 February 2019

Wild Windy West

The ride route
25th Jan 2019, exactly one year after last ride in Kutch, we set sail for our coastal journey on a bicycle and in … Kutch, Gujrat, India! The deal was to go from Bhuj (Earth Quake fame) to Mandavi then on to Suthri via Pingaleshwar. From Suthri to Narayan Sarovar to Mata na Madh! Covering circa 400 KM.
Amit and I started on the evening of 23rd January from Pune to Mumbai to Bhuj by Train. This time we were little smarter, we took our ow n cycles couriered via Safexpress, shorter train journey and better class of travel ;)
On reaching Swami Narayan Vishranti Bhuvan, Bhuj, ate our lunch ( Vishranti bhuvan guys were not very impressed as we were late for lunch, no actually very late). Then we got on to assembling our bicycles with help of Neeraja, the Organizer and Nirav, the new rider. We took a spin till the airport to see if the cycles were assembled well. As it were, mine was not, so got it set by a local cycle shop. Small talk with locals help.

All the riders (5 of us) were now in Bhuj, after dinner, we got our tour T-shirts, Cookies from Cookie Czar and plan for tomorrow. It was ride to Mandavi, find some food there, take some rest (Why!) and go to see Mandavi Beach, a local Palace (Vijay Vilas Palace). The next morning, after singing our ‘morning raga’ we set the sails direction Mandavi. First stop on the route was not food or drink. It was flock of Pelicans, Painted Storks, Glossy Ibis, Lapwings, crocodiles and aah let me throw in a Black shouldered kite!
We stopped at one big pond, for tea and I was trying to get photos of common cranes, the tea fellow shouts and pointes to a crocodile at far distance, which meant it could have been just there where I was standing (pretty close to the water  ).
 We reached Mandavi, the stay was a Jain Dharmshala, dumped our stuff there (we carried our luggage in a Force Motors Toofan! And after vegetarian lunch at a Punjabi place! Had a siesta, nice. I dozed off in about 2 minutes. We then got ready, took our bikes and went to Vijay Vilas Palace, visited the beautiful building surrounded by indiscipline of the tourists. Sometimes (All the time actually) I feel these people should be locked in their house.
We went to Mandavi beach, Sunset was nice (though you have seen it a million times). Though on our way to the beach, I was stunned by the sight of ship building site. The wooden ships are not as big as cruises but, surely, they are 70-100 feet taller and much wider. I was ready to miss out the sunset on the beach. During this ride I always carried my DSLR camera with me.
Mandvi central
 I managed to reach the beach well within the time before sunset. Took mandatory photos and a time lapse of the beach. Only hitch was that my prop for the time lapse was my cycle and it was covering the sun :/

Vijay Vilas Palace

Terrace on Vijay Vilas Palace. Riders walking
Good thing about staying in Jain Dharmshala is that you will not eat dinner there (it is too early and does not have onions and garlic) , they close the kitchen at 1830 as per their religious tradition. Bad thing is that we could not eat breakfast the next day (I like my breakfast without onion and garlic)! Why? We were wearing cycling shorts this is also against their religious tradition! So, we found ourselves on the streets searching for food. Alas at 7 AM the Kutch folks don’t even warm up. 
Thankfully one place with one kind of breakfast and tea was the order of the morning. 

I almost forgot, when we were to retire for the day at Mandavi, a brilliant change of plan was made! Instead of going to Suthri and staying there, we stretched our ride by some 35/40 KM, to go to Naliya via Pingaleshwar! Why? Well near Naliya was the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) sanctuary, we could not have reached there early enough to have any possibility of sighting those birds had we stayed in Suthri. (FYA – These birds are on the verge of extinction as only 20 odds are left). Well the plan was good but it involved much more riding than our brain was informed of. At a point 18KM from Naliya, Pingaleshwar (Opposite directions) we decided to visit the Pingaleshwar beach and then go to Naliya.
A beautiful traffic free (Literally) road ensued for 18 KM of bliss. The area is covered with windmills so many of them. When you pass by them you can hear the sound of blades slicing though the blowing wind and shadows of the blades go over you! Did I say wind?, yes … I did. Windmills are good to see, feed our conscious with the thought of ‘save the earth with renewable energy’ but for someone on the cycles they also spell headwinds! Thought of save the earth? Gone with the Wind! #savetheearth
Pingaleshwar beach, there is nobody, no shops, no nothing. Blue water, Sea wind, white sand. It is actually around 3-4 KM from the Pingaleshwar temple. We had some nice group photos, individual photos, cycles photos. Time to hit the road. Before that we needed to hydrate ourselves with some clean normal tasting water. The shop at the temple had it!
I particularly get pissed off at the people who are managing religious places in India. They think all the dudes who visit them are in trouble and have come to this place to seek help from the divine. They are rude, impolite and many a times unhelpful to the visitors and seem to take pride in it. Part of the job profile I think.
I had a tiff with the guys at the temple as I was walking into it with my cycle. A guy very rudely told me to keep the cycle outside. I said okay, but you could tell me in nicer manner, as we are in a temple after all! Then after our visit from the beach, the same fellow was asking if we would like to stay at the temple for the night? I said plainly no! as people in this place do not know how to behave, won a point and took revenge … ha ha ha. At a temple when you should love all and be nice.
From Pingaleshwar to Naliya, the road was not as nice, but it was lonely, we reached after paddling around 25 Km to Naliya, On the way to Naliya we hit a pond  with a lone Flamingo, several spot billed ducks. After reaching Naliya, we were greeted by sight of Egg Bhurji which brought a sparkle in our eyes. Ooh it was nice!

Next morning, we set out to find Great Indian Bustards as we are not sure if we will see them ever again, we could not! It was a sorry state of affairs. The sad irony is that the windmills and electric cables (who are saving the environment) and the main reason the Bustards are disappearing! At 11 AM, we set out for Narayan Sarovar, Headwinds, rolling roads, great vast spaces, sometimes green vegetations slowly took us to Narayan Sarovar. With no rains since 2011, Sarovar (lake) has not a drop of water. After negotiating with the hotel manager, we could get our rooms even before our tour leader with right paperwork arrived. After freshening up, we went to see the light house, the Shiva Temple and some nice photographs. Our tour leader and I were last riders coming back to the hotel and it was pitch dark. She told me she saw foxes, I thought I saw buffalos, it is a dry state, none of us were drunk.
Koteshwar Mahadev and light house on the far end

Dry Narayan Sarovar in the background
Nice Toran Hotel from GTDC, we left it the next morning, after Pohe, Tea. The next stop Lakhpat, fortified village, facing the gulf of Khambat. BSF soldiers with machine guns patrolling the territory. We were asked not to cross the walls towards the beach.

bicycle on the wall

walking up

This place was fairly empty as most people were out for a funeral or cremation of some one around the village. Lakhpat village is called Kot Lakhpat (Kot -= fort) and it is beautiful. Lakhpat is also very important Sikhism place as the Guru Nanak (Founder of the religion) stayed here was 32 days and his footwear is still kept there. The Granthi (one who reads the holy book) was gracious enough to allow us in the sanctum sanctorum though we wore cycling shorts. He could make a difference between, sports persons wearing shorts and someone who lost his way en route Goa. Believe you me, we had nothing to eat, had we not had food at the Gurudwara, the next food stop was, say, 35KM away on a bicycle. We ate the langar at the Gurudwara. At the Gurudwara, we met a group of motor bikers from Mumbai. We exchanged greetings and left for Mata na Madh.
It was a new hotel in Mata na Madh, dumped our stuff, quick shower, ready for the temple run! Ashapura Mata, the goddess of Kutch, this town is the headquarters. Thus, the name, Mata na Madh.
Quick Darshan, Kutch special Dabeli, we are ready for dinner. Gujrati man, running a Punjabi restaurant, speaking Marathi to us, was a living example of the unity in diversity! One of the ethos of Indian Republic.
When back at the hotel, we asked for morning tea to be served at 5:30 AM, the expression on the face of the dude was how about 07:00 AM? We settled for 6:30 AM but still we were unsure if he would give us the tea. We offered to make the tea ourselves and he agreed to give us the ingredients.
After making two rounds of teas and two rounds of morning raga! We set sail in the direction of Bhuj our last leg. 100 KM or something. Small stops for the breakfast we never got and numerous tea breaks, we reached Nakhatrana and we hit first restaurant which sold non vegetarian food. At 11 AM we were offered biryani. Though it is seemed odd to eat biryani then but it was very beautiful and tasty. So much so, I was riding my bike extremely slowly. I gathered some steam after about 15 KM, then there was nothing to hinder. We took small stops as dismantling the cycles and packing before sunset was playing on our mind. During one of the small stops we saw a soft drink place which was all new and shiny. They were to open for business tomorrow, officially. We ordered 4 fruit drinks and they were on the house. We wished them good luck!
Common cranes

Fafda and Jalebi
    Empty roads

Packing cycles 

We were back in the saddle, sailing towards Bhuj. We reached, had a celebratory cheer, photographs. We had clocked ~450 KM. At the place, Swami Narayan Vishranti Bhuvan, where we were staying, there was a wedding party, all dressed up, glossy and sparkling. We were greasy, sweaty and dusty in our cycling wear. It looked odd but we were victorious and happy and it showed in our body language. We, hoping for some attractive beautiful sightings in the wedding crowd, went to the wedding party area. Alas … there was absolutely nothing to cherish.
We just got on with packing our cycles, took shower, packed bags and ready for celebratory dinner involving proteins.
The ‘wild, windy, west’, second time in the row, gave me long lasting memories, experiences. 450 KM cycling along with beautiful company, extra ordinary nature, the BSF and sense of being near Pakistan border, the food , the colors, all mesmerizing. It makes me walk taller, happier, wiser and not to mention, balder, grumpier and tanned!
Thank you for stopping by! #wanderer #travelphotography