Dadu Aur Madak

Bhuj and the Kachchh
Our initial intention was to bypass the State of Gujarat, but we had met a couple from New Zealand that operated Enfield tours at our hotel in Udaipur who said that it was really quite beautiful. Gujarat is another of India's westernmost states that borders Pakistan. Our first evening we laid over in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's capital to top up our Rupees. The first thing that is evident is the vast divide in wealth. Gujarat is a relatively prosperous state from farming and ship building among other things. While Ahmedabad had a thriving University area with upscale shops and wide expanses of green space, it also had river front hovels right below pricey upmarket hotels. We later were approached by an American of Indian descent from Boston while we were in Bhuj. He was about 35, and recognized us as Americans. His accent was completely American, and he said he had not been back to India in more than ten years. Karen asked him what he found the most changed. His answer was that "...the haves have gotten hav-ier, and the have-nots have not-ier."

I was able to get this quick snap at one of India's rare traffic lights in Ahmedabad. It's a family of six on a Vespa size scooter. In the background you can see an individual on the same size vehicle to give you an idea of scale.

Bhuj is located in a area of Gujarat known as the Kachchh, alternately spelled Kutch (rhymes with Dutch). In 2001 it was the epicenter of an earthquake that devastated the town, killing more than 15,000, and leaving countless thousands more of its population of 150,000 homeless. The signs remain everywhere still, and many chose to leave, yet there are also signs everywhere of rebuilding (below), a tribute to the indomitable spirit of these people.

The damage extended to two of Bhuj's most popular tourist attractions, the Prag Mahal left, and the Aina Mahal right. While the Prag is unsafe to enter, there is a small portion of the Aina Mahal that remains open. It is reduced to a few rooms, but the magnificence of this Palace remains evident. The curator here arranged for a car and driver to take us up into several villages near the Great Rann of Kachchh. The most obvious thing about Bhuj, though, is the rarity of tourists here. It is home to some of the most friendly people we have met anywhere. There is never an initial request from a tuk-tuk driver for ten times the value of a fare, the price you are quoted is the actual price. But more importantly, everywhere we went people said hello to us. They asked our names and where we were from, and it was not the typical "...come visit my shop." People even shouted hellos from passing vehicles. It was really refreshing, and although we had planned to stay a day or two, we ended up staying for five days.

Bhuj sits on a lake surrounded by ghats. Along its edges are some of the temples beautifully restored following the quake.

We had to get Police permission (a relatively simple process) to visit several of the villages near the Great Rann of Kachchh. This shot is from the hilltop village of Kalo Dungar a little over a mile from what looks like the "sea's" edge. This is as close as foreigners are allowed to get. It is not because of danger to the fragile ecosystem, but rather it has to do with the fact that the border with Pakistan is only seven miles away. What looks like a frozen lake stretching to the horizon is a actually a table-top flat piece of salinated land. It is low lying land that fills with water during the monsoon season until it mixes with sea water. After the monsoon it dries, as it is here in this photo, and becomes as hard as rock.  On the way to Bhuj we did get to cross the Little Rann of Kachchh (below) where tribesmen divide portions near the roadway into these small catchments where they can harvest the salt. The Little Rann seperates Gujarat into its to main parts, the Kutch, and the lower peninsula known as Saurashtra.

The Kutch itself is a spare but beautiful landscape, but its real beauty is in its people.

This mother son team of potters welcomed us to their home in the village of Khavda, another of the villages we needed police permission to visit. He hand shapes clay bells while she paints designs on cups, rotating them by hand on a small wheel. Fired in a low temperature kiln, they make simple but beautiful pottery (below).

But it is not just those with something to sell that make you feel welcome in these tiny villages. Here this very talkative woman approached Karen, and then gradually her husband also drew near.

In another village you see the Kutch's real wealth above, while below you find homes ornately decorated inside and out, and women laying out their exquisite needle work for the tourists they hope will come.

Here a Harijan woman shows Karen her wares inside her home. Every inch of the walls are decorated. These people not only make these wares but it is part of their everyday garb. The Kutch is home also to some very simple white-clad farmers, who do quite well raising vegetables and cotton. They are seen frequently in Bhuj's numerous gold shops purchasing ornaments for themselves and their wives.

On our last day we visited Kala Raksha, a collective of women artisans in the village of Samrasar. Started by an American woman who has devoted more than thirty years to assist local women in self-improvement and to promote their art, it attempts to take some of the profits that normally go to middleman shopkeepers, and put it back into the hands of the women who actually do the work. They produce designs on items that are more sought after by tourists, and the workmanship is of museum quality. The two young ladies at left, Garima and Tanushree, are interns from a University in Baroda who were spending some months assisting at the collective. The girl at right, Shikha, is a friend of theirs from school. Herself an intern in a project elsewhere, she was here visiting her friends for the weekend. They hitched a ride with us into Bhuj for some R & R.