In this Mrinal Sen directed film, Utpal Dutt is a bird watching railway officer posted in Gujarat. He sets off to watch the flamingos, trekking through the local villages, with an absolutely charming village belle (played by Suhasini Mulle) as his guide. Their conversations, the rapport they develop and their different reactions to finally seeing the flamingos made a delightful story. And that final scene, with thousands of flamingos rising from the marsh has always stayed with me. And ever since, every time I see the pictures of the Rann, I have been wanting to make a trip.
The desire to make the visit was further motivated by a recent discovery that one of the largest Indus Valley sites was at Dholavira – somehow my schoolbooks, only Mohenjo- dara and Harappa which are in Pakistan, featured. The long awaited trip finally happened this week – a friend and I setting off for a 5 day tour, starting on a Monday morning.
The trip started on a wrong note – we spent 4 hours sitting in the IndiGo flight to Ahmedabad – delayed due to the heavy fog in Delhi. The 6 hour drive took us to Bhuj too late that day to really do anything. So the original program of seeing the local sites in the evening had to be discarded.
Bhuj is a small town with very little to remind one of the devastation of the 2001 earthquake. Of course, very few old buildings are seen and almost all the construction is post-2001. The next morning we made an early start – but got to Prag Mahal before it opened. So we wandered around the local market, before it came alive for the day. In the middle of this street, was a lovely old market building, still being used for the purpose. One hopes that ‘development’ will not lead to its demolition as in so many other towns.
We were the first into the Prag Mahal and briskly went through this and other sites in Bhuj, as we had to do the 200 Km to Dhordo before sunset. The Prag Mahal was the official seat of the durbars and built in 1865 in the neo-Gothic style. Its clock tower is one of two in the country (the Rajabai Tower in Mumbai, being the other one and taller. The climb to the top provided a marvelous view of the town. Parts of the building have suffered damage in the 2001 earthquake and only parts of it are maintained at all. It has an impressive large Durbar Hall.
The Aina Mahal is a beautiful palace with elaborate decorations of colored glass (hence its name), a lovely music room and other rooms which are well maintained and full of beautiful objects.
The next stop was the Kutch Museum also built by the Mharaja Khengarji in the 1870s. It has a large collection of ancient inscriptions, dating to the 1st century ACE and examples of the extinct Kutchi script. We saw the interesting collection of coins, Indus seals, Kutch paintings and textiles. It has many other sections which we did not visit due to lack of time. The exhibits are well displayed with good lighting and the staff were proud of the collection. It is a Government museum and is a great improvement on many such museums at other locations.
After a brief visit to the more modern palace, where the Royal family lived in more recent times, we headed to Dhordo with a few stops at the craft villages en route. But more of that in the next post!