Yoda and Dalek train in using the force

Exploring Kutch: An India travel gem outside the Golden Triangle

If being on the r/travel subreddit is any indication, The Golden Triangle (Delhi-Agra-Jaipur-Delhi) is by far the most popular itinerary for visitors from the West visiting India. Even though we are both Indian citizens, India is by far the least documented country on this blog. That said, we have individually seen a fair bit of India outside the Golden Triangle and this post focuses on our 2017 trip to the region of Kutch in the Western part of India.

Top tip: If you’re strapped for time, make a trip to the White Desert (esp during the winter Rann festival) and Dholavira a priority. Both sites provide rich experiences that will make a trip to this faraway part of India worthwhile.

Map of Kutch location within India

Kutch is pretty much the western-most part of India

A classic Kutch traffic jam featuring camels

Classic Kutch traffic jam

Contents

  • White Rann of Kutch: A natural wonder
  • Dholavira: A 5000-year-old gem
  • Cultural highlights
    • Chattardi
    • Bhuj Mandir
    • Aina Mahal
    • Prag Mahal
    • Dhaneti village
  • Local food and drink
  • Getting in and around

White Rann of Kutch – A natural wonder

The vast salt flats of Kutch, also known as the ‘White Desert’ are second in area after the world-famous Bolivia salt flats and are the #1 reason to visit Kutch. We took a detour to a scenic viewpoint called Kala Dungar which took us right to the western edge of Gujarat as can be gauged from the ocean views from the spot.

Views of the Arabian Sea from the top of Kala Dungar, Kutch

Sweeping views of the Arabian sea from India’s western extremity

After driving from this point for a couple of hours through a road with vast emptiness on both sides, we reached the White Rann site. As you can see, it is a sight to behold. Similar to Bolivia, if it rains a bit, there is a mirror-like effect but the state is too dry to get these often. We were also extremely lucky to see a small herd of flamingoes on our way to the site.

Tip: Do take the camel transportation or the scheduled toy train to tbe White Rann viewpoint rather than attempting to walk in the heat.

The expanse of the salt flats of the White Rann, Kutch

Mesmerizing sea of white up until the horizon

Dholavira: A 5000-Year-Old Archeological Gem

Visiting this site was bittersweet. On one hand, it was a dream come true to see so many artefacts from the Harappan civilization that we grew up reading in history books IRL, some from almost 5000 years ago. Plus, we also got to see the famed drainage system that the Indus Valley civilization basically invented. All these sights bolstered by our guide’s knowledge was an eye-opener.

The first view of the Dholavira site

The vast entrance of the Dholavira site

Foundation of Harappan dwellings at Dholavira

Strong foundations set millennia ago

A large stepwell cut out at Dholavira

Prime example of a large stepwell used to store water

Harappan seals featuring animals

Another seal of approval

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Shale fossils! Embedded circa who knows

On the flip side, only 20% of the whole site has been excavated till now and it has just been left to rot since. We literally stepped on urn fragments thousands of years old because they are just lying on the ground. We were also shown fossils by our tour guide (pictured above) which was really cool. This site visit was the most enriching for us and we very highly recommend getting a guide to show the site around.

Tip: It is also possible to glamp near the Dholavira site. The unpolluted night sky would be quite spectacular to view from here.

Cultural Highlights of Bhuj

Map of attractions

Chattardi

This epic mausoleum was left destroyed by the 2001 earthquake but remains an architectural marvel in the heart of the city. Each of these mini-buildings is a tomb and all of them are accessible for exploration. This was also a shooting location for a scene in a popular movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. We loved chilling out in this area and taking lots of pictures.

Location: Next to Lakhparo Lake (TripAdvisor)

The beautiful architecture of Bhuj's Chattardi mausoleum

Film location worthy architecture

Swaminarayan Temple (Bhuj Mandir)

Just as in any other Indian city which has a Swaminarayan Temple, the Bhuj location is an urban oasis. Sprawling grounds, intricate architecture to gawk and comfortable seating on marble floors are some of the features of this temple. We didn’t drop in during scheduled prayers but would recommend that experience to imbibe the local culture.

Location: Tirth Dham, Shree Swaminarayan Road (TripAdvisor)

Aina Mahal (Mirror Palace)

This museum gets a lot of visitors for its ‘Room of Mirrors’ but most of the artefacts inside are really interesting in our opinion. Right next to the palanquin pictured below is a really long and contiguous painting of a royal procession. It is hard to imagine how many artists it must have taken to painstakingly compose the piece. The architecture is more Indian as well, this is our pick of the city museums.

Location: Maharav Of Kutch, Darbargadh Chowk (TripAdvisor)

The interiors of Bhuj's Aina Mahal

Note the long, contiguous painting on the back wall

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Pigeons rule the roost

Pragmahal

One of two museums in the historic centre – Pragmahal (TripAdvidsor) is built in Gothic architecture and has a striking resemblance to St. Pancras station in London. The collection is ok at best but the architecture is the real reason to drop by. Best paired with a visit to the Aina Mahal next door.

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Artefacts of an era gone by at Pragmahal

Dhaneti Village

Dhaneti is a small village close to Bhuj (location) which we recommend visiting for two reasons:

  1. A specific type of embroidery where glass is intricately inlaid into the colourful fabric. In terms of skill, this is similar to Harris Tweed where only this area of India has weavers that pass this embroidery skill down through generations. There are a couple of stores in the village visitors should check out!
  2. A couple of beautiful temples with colourful ceilings – something that is rare within typical temple architecture. The contrast with the Swaminarayan temple is striking.
Colourful ceiling at a Dhaneti Temple

Stunning mixed media art on the local temple ceiling

Sample of the clothes stacked in a Dhaneti store

A sample of fabrics at the local store

Local Food and Drink

Kutchi Thali

One unmissable food experience in Gujarat is having a thali – unlimited portions of what you see in the picture below ending with rice and dessert. The Kutch thali was quite fiery in its spice which is unusual for Gujarati cuisine. No complaints, we loved it!

Location: Umiyaji Dining Hall (TripAdvisor, it’s in a basement)

Kutchi thali at Umiyaji Dining Hall Bhuj

Always up for seconds..and more..

Kutchi Dabeli

Kutch is the home of Gujarat’s biggest street-food export ie. the Kutchi Dabeli (Wiki). The closest western description for a Dabeli is having a spicy potato mash and peanuts cut by pomegranate-based sweetness served in a bun. Our local driver recommended this stall in Bhuj as the city’s exemplary vendor and the taste did make us ‘Dil khush’ 😊

Location: 201, Hospital Rd, Vijay Nagar, Bhuj, Gujarat 370001 (Google Maps)

Authority vendor of Kutchi Dabeli in Bhuj

Home of the yummiest Kutchi Dabeli

Kutch Village Dinner feat. White Butter

During our visit to Dhaneti, we were kindly invited to a host family’s home for a traditional dinner. Home-cooked local food always tastes better than restaurant food but the star of the plate was the white butter churned in the traditional manner which leaves every other kind of butter in the dust. We can’t show our gratitude to our hosts enough!

A typical Kutch village dinner of rotla, dal, sabzi and sheera

White butter on the rotla is heaven!

Getting in and around

Getting In

The best way to get to Bhuj is either driving from Ahmedabad or taking a train/bus which should take between five to seven hours. Here’s a list of all trains between these cities.

Getting Around

We based ourselves in an AirBnb in Bhuj which was exceptionally spacious and clean (£15 discount for first-time Airbnb users) and a great central location to explore the above areas from. We had pre-booked a driver for around 3,000 INR a day IIRC. Sadly, I don’t have contact details for the driver but the internet/locals should be able to help arrange for one.

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We are enjoying using the force at the White Rann 🙂

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