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1030 in the morning and I am on a lonely sand swept broken road, camouflaged desert bunkers are all around me and I can imagine sharp eyes peering at me through the slits. This is the region of harsh reality far long away from the touristic hordes that visit Kutch advertised by Mr Amitabh Bachhan. This is where the camels and chitals roam free and unbashed , where men are suspicious of any and every movement , where the winds flow without any barriers and change the topography of a place season to season , this is Vighokote and my destination – Border Outpost Vighokote manned by BSF right on the barbed fence of the Indo-Pak International border.

Join me on yet another foray, this time on the Western extremities of this country. Join me for a trip to wildlands of Kutch.

# DAY I : Mumbai –Gandhinagar

For quite some time I was interested in a trip to visit the famous temples that are located in Gujrat. The original plan involved visit to few of the world famous temples and a drive along the coast of Gujrat.  As I delved deeper into the world of web  places like the Little Rann , Great Rann come alive. Further digging in to the deep recesses  and names like Kalo Doongar , Zainabad , India Bridge and Vighokote emerged. The names were there but nothing more than that except few accounts by individuals.

Accordingly the route was worked out and the first day involved a ride till Gandhinagar. The route was on NH 8 after a few hundred kilometers it was time to marvel the beauty of The Narmada Bridge which connected Ankleshwar and Barauch. The bridge has been one of the iconic yet underrated tourist monuments among all bridges built in India.

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Lunch was a simple affair at one of the numerous joints that are spread right after Barauch. It is not necessary to cross over to Barauch using the Narmada Bridge , one can also take the bridge on the NH 8 itself but my suggestion is to take the detour and do visit this bridge.

My favourite spot for a break on the super fast NE 1 is near the exit to Anand, there is sufficient road width to park on the kerb, though it is not recommended to stop. However considering the width of the road at that point and the diversion, it is a nice option. I had a cup of tea out here from my flask and just sat for some time to soak in the feeling of the drive , with no other thoughts running thru my mind.

 By 1900 I was at Gandhinagar , my destination for the night. I immediately went to see the Akshardham Temple where entry is permitted till 1930 in the evening.The temple is one of the most securely guarded temples that I have visited , there is in fact no scope to see the temple from outside the perimeter and with a two tiered security barrier in place , one is totally sure that nothing unauthorized is taken inside and by this I mean no mobiles , cameras, bags , etc .

The main avenue leading to the main temple reminded me of the victory path leading to grand Roman Temples. The width of the avenue lined with pillars projecting soft light and shady trees stretched on both sides intended to project an image of imposing grandeur. Beautiful gardens nurtured on both sides with mini water fountains having submerged lights created a beautiful atmosphere.

The main temple was simple enough from the exterior and had subtle hidden lighting all over. The interior contained idols of Lord Laxmi narayan and Guru Gopala krishnan. There is also an inner sanctum one level down which contains items and artifacts related to life of Lord Laxmi narayan himself. All these are hermetically sealed and maintained in a very scientific manner.

# DAY II : GandhiNagar-Zainabad

Early in the morning I turned the INDOMITABLE westwards on the State Highway that transverse throughout the countryside connecting one region with the other. The National Highways are meant to cross over from one end of the country to the other but it is the State Highway that is the lifeline for the local population.

The destination for the day was Zainabad, a desert town on the fringes of the Little Rann. However early in the morning I was on my way to visit the Panch Dev temple within Gandhinagar. The visit was very rejuvenating as early morning visits to temples are very soul stirring. The first stop was Adalaj, I heard about this place when I was just browsing through what all are unique for Gujarat. Adalaj village is famous for its Step well which is one of the largest in this country.

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Step wells were built in the erstwhile era for storing water as well as were a source of congregation of the royalty for their recreational/religious purposes. They were built on old trade routes in the earlier era.The architecture was very detailed and intricate and depicted themes related to those times. The temperature is cooler inside the bowels and in the case of the step well at Adalaj , it comprises of five levels and each level depicts fine architecture and carvings.

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From Adalaj I turned on SH 41 towards the dusty town of Kalol which was a few kms away. Post Kalol I was truly wandering on interior state highways passing through small towns called Kadi, Rampura, Mandal etc. The Narmada which is a lifeline for agriculture in Gujarat and feeds the hungry fields was never far as the Narmada Canal pumped water into the interiors. Lush green fields bear testimony to this vision.

By 1340 I was at Zainabad. My stay was at the Desert Coursers, a remarkable setup right at the fringes of the Little Rann managed ably by My Moulik the resident manager of the entire place.I was explained in crisp instructions how to enter the Rann and more importantly how to come out for as night falls , the Rann acquires a different feel altogether.

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Accordingly I left at around four in the evening and the next few hours were one of the most prized memory of the trip as I found myself in the company of various kind of migratory birds who visit the place as well as the Khurs ( Asiatic Wild Ass) .

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The feeling of having the entire Rann to oneself take some time getting used to but I made most of those moments and watched one of the most brilliant sunsets that I have ever seen as the day drew to a close with me in the middle of the nothingness.

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The drive back was one of utmost concentration as darkness had fallen quickly and I realized that it is definitely no joke to be out in the Rann all alone , the probability of getting lost are immense and I took my time getting out of there.The lights of Desert Coursers were a pleasure to approach at the end.

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#  DAY III : Zainabad-Dholavira

Today I was going to move further into the Rann and my destination for the day was the island of Khadir Bet surrounded by the salt plains of the Rann, Dholavira the site of the Harappan excavations ; fifth largest exhibit of the erstwhile Harappan civilization , discovered in 1968.

 The first main town coming up was Radhanpur followed by  Adesar. The scenic vistas spread all along till Radhanpur shone with an array of early morning freshness that was extremely rejuvenating.

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At Adesar I left the NH 15 and turned right towards Bhimasar from where I took the route to the next big town called Rapar.  Rapar is the last stop where one can get decent food or fuel prior to the run till Dholavira. Dholavira is around 85 km from Rapar itself. At Rapar I turned right onto SH 51 and continued ahead on a lonely road in the afternoon heat.

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After a small village called Balasar one has to cross the white desert which stretched across on both sides of the road as far as the eye can see and it truly is a magnificent sight to the eyes especially for a newbie. I just stopped the INDOMITABLE and in the silence of the afternoon day looked in awe at the sight spread out in front of me, the white desert coupled with the blue sky and the black tarred road cutting in between , it was a portrait worthy of appreciation.

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I reached Dholavira village by 1400 hrs and soon checked into Toran GH where I was the only one it looks like. After a delicious lunch I met my guide Mr Jamal who was to take me on a guided tour of the excavation site and of I trooped off with him .

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The excavation site , 5000 years old is something that is to be seen even by people like me who have very little knowledge in this subject. In the afternoon I had the entire place to myself as I met no other soul in the vast site. The knowledge of Mr Jamal was excellent and he explained to me each and every aspect of the lost city built at the time of early civilization. The walled city was atleast seven generations old and the greatest feat of those who conceptualized this city was availability of water all round the year in the absence of any river. There was no river which was a source of water for those who stayed in this city and one can see the vast network of tanks and wells coupled with innovative canals that were built to store rain water and utilize them all through the year.

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It remains a mystery as to why was this city was abandoned, for it is established that it was abandoned and not conquered for everything is intact, no signs of destruction, what caused the people to just abandon what they built for generations, if one just sits back and thinks on what could have been the compelling reason it sends shivers within.

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Anyways after the detailed tour I said good bye to my guide and turned towards Border Outpost Karni built on the edge of the great Rann which forms the gateway to our neighboring country. There is also a temple dedicated to Lord Datttatrey who walked on this earth even before the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

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After a visit to the temple I was directed to visit an astonishing miracle of nature, an old tree whose age has been established with radioactive dating and which has transformed into a fossilized creation with time. The age is around.. and remarkably the tree has not self destructed with the passage of time but converted in something that will remain for ages to come. I was appalled to see that there was no major efforts to showcase such a unique creation in nature and it was existing in solitude at the edge of the white desert away from prying or interested eyes.

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Evening dusk was approaching and I wanted to capture the sunset over the Rann , hence I quickly made my way back to the BOP post and settled down to capture the glory of a sun set over the white desert , there was no other soul in that barrenness other than the BSF jawans and it was definitely a moment to remember in a series of moments .

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A perfect end to a day as I bid adieu to the sun sitting on the edge of a barren white desert in the presence of a powerful civization of the bygone era.

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The concluding part of the tale comes in the second sequel , do stay tuned for the next couple of days …..


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