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Travel tales

A royal retreat – Mandvi

The feature appeared in Financial Express online edition earlier. It has been reproduced here for a wider audience.

The link is : https://www.financialexpress.com/lifestyle/travel-tourism/visit-kutchs-mandvi-a-rare-combination-of-beaches-and-royal-retreat/1808877/

After having explored the amazing Snowy Rann in Kutch I was not very keen to go to Mandvi, as I wanted to offer prayers at the historical Ashapura Mata temple at Mata nu Madh. But almighty Mata had other plans for me; she wanted me to enjoy the beach and Vijay Vilas Palace at Mandvi on this trip and gave me an appointment for a meeting during the next visit.

And we reached Mandvi, a little town, an hour down the road from Bhuj, quite late in the evening and missed the sunset. But in the morning, since we were staying at the resort of the 20th Century red sandstone Vijay Vilas Palace built in Rajputana architecture style, we could access the sweeping glorious, long, clean private beach owned by the palace.

Mandvi, located on the Gulf of Kutch was founded by the Rao of kutch State, Khengarji I, the first Jadega ruler of Kutch in 1580 and was named after Sage Mandavya (from Mahabharata times), who lived here and is known today for its rich history, soft sand beaches, palaces, freedom fighters and legends, migratory birds and Dabeli.

Once a major port of the region and summer retreat for Maharao (king) of the Cutch State, the old city was enclosed in the fort wall and we saw the remains of the fort wall during our visit. Raoshri Bharmalji built the eight km long, 2.7 metres broad and three metres high with five gates, three windows and seven bastions (kotha) Fortress in 1549.

Of all the attractions I loved spending time at the eternally beautiful Vijay Villas Heritage Resort & the Beach Camp’s private beach. The best thing at the beach was that the sand does not stick to the feet and the water was clear and cool. The cool sea water acted as a soothing foot massagers Watch the windmills and birds, take a short camel ride along the beach or simply walk along the soft sand enjoying the foot massage with cool sea water.

You see, being a port and also with a river flowing through, most things in Mandvi revolve around the water and there are plenty of beaches around here. And apart from the private beach of the palace, I found Dhrabudi beach to be an unusual beach. Located  half an hour east of Mandvi, this beach is a kind of an open air museum displaying a collection of statues, broken pillars, and religious idols, collected from many old temples and homes that were destroyed during the earthquake in the beginning of this century. These un-restorable artifacts were thrown away and found their way to the beaches and eventually locals collected them and placed them in a central spot. Ans as a result this beach today has a makeshift temple dedicated to these bits of Mandvi’s past.

Apart from enjoying the sea and the sands, it was also very interesting to visit a lot of beautiful old buildings in the heart of town, and temples with wildly sculpted, cartoon-like facades. These buildings built by Mandvi’s merchants from yesteryears were influenced by their travels to faraway lands. The eclectic architecture of traditional Gujarati homes, larger-than-life with delicately carved angels, balconies with flowered trellises, extravagant motifs, and stained-glass windows were amazing.

The elegant Vijay Vilas Palace: Well, my stay was at the Vijay Vilas Heritage Resort only, and how could I miss visiting the palace. In fact I did that the first thing in the morning even before people of my group were sleeping. As the palace opens only after 9:00 in the morning and one can only enter after buying a ticket for Rs 50/-, I decided to come back after spending time at the beach, and came back to be amused by the amazing depiction of fusion architecture and a palace where block buster Bollywood movies like Lagaan and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam has been filmed.

The palace was built as a summer resort in1929 by Rao Vijayrajji. the then Maharao of Kutch, Vijay Vilas Palace is a beautiful red sandstone structure fusing Rajput architecture with a main central dome, Bengal domes at the sides, bastions at the corner, and colored glass windows.

The palace, a royal abode is set in the middle of well-laid gardens with water channels and marble fountains. The architect and craftsmen from Jaipur designed and the palace has all the elements of Rajput architecture and draws largely on the plan of palaces of Orchha and Datia.

The upper terraces and ground floor are open to visitors, and you feel like a royal guest as you walk through them. With the sea as the backdrop, the large terrace with jaali work with many exquisitely stone-carved elements and colourful tiles will surely compel you to pose with your beloved to re-enact a few romantic scenes from the movies that have been filmed here. During my visit too, I saw a Hindo song scene being shot here on the upper terraces.

Kutchy Dabeli: On our trip back to Bhuj, we tried Dabeli, Mandvi’s famous local double rotis. Dabeli is claimed to have been invented here by Keshavji Gabha Chudasama (Malam)(Kharva) in the 1960s. I have earlier eaten the classic roadside snack Dabeli in other parts of Gujarat but never knew that Kutch is the birthplace of this famous snack. I found several street vendors and shops selling the bestest versions. The dabeli is similar to a burger or a sandwich, containing potatoes mixed with spices, topped with chutney and roasted peanuts, all stuffed in a pao at a throwaway price of Rs 10/- each (this really stunned me when the dabeli seller asked me to pay for one plate).

Mandvi is supposed to be an excellent place for bird watching opportunities as during winters, hordes of migratory birds like flamingos, brown and black-headed gulls, demoiselle cranes, sandpipers etc. arrive in and around the Gulf of Kutch. But lack of time did not allow me to get pally with these birds and also to visit other attractions, but I guess I should list them out here for your reference. And they are –

Places to Visit in Mandvi

  • The 72 Jain Temple Complexes, Koday is just 10 km from the town and houses 72 separate shrines, and is also known as Bounter Jinalaya or Adiswar Bounter dedicated to 72 Deris of Lord Mahavir.
  • Shyamji Krishna Varma Memorial built to pay tribute to Shri Shyamji, who like many other freedom fighters took on the might of the British to free India.
  • Swaminarayan Temple at Mandvi: The old and real temple in main city, is about 157 years old.
  • Bandhni Bazaar: Mandvi is known for the production of its Bandhani (tie-dye) and other country crafts.
  • Traditional ship building: Mandvi is also a 400-year-old ship building centre, which was started by the caste of Kharva, and even today on the banks of Rukmavari River, master carpenters build fishing boats by traditional techniques. When you visit, you can see handmade wooden ships or the giant wooden Dhows at the still-active shipbuilding yard and watch craftsmen work on timber (hard sal wood) imported from Malaysia. 
  • Mandvi Port: Mandvi Port is a Port where loading & unloading of ships takes place.
  • Ashapura Mata Temple: situated in Layja, Mandvi.
  • Rukmavati River: The river in Mandvi, which flows between Mandvi City and Salaya.
  • Light House : Newly contracted Light House for Country Craft Sea Transportation, these structure newly contracted after earthquake.

Travel Tips

Best Time: All year round but October to March is preferred for sightseeing around Mandvi. The climate at Mandvi is tropical. The average temperature in Mandvi is 27.4 °C and the average rainfall is 1539 mm.

Mandvi is at a height of 15 m (49 ft) above sea level and people speak Kutchi, Gujarati, Hindi and English languages.

How to get to Mandvi : Mandvi is located in southwestern Gujarat. The nearest airport is Rudra Mata Airport in Bhuj, 60 km/1 hr. State Transport buses ply every 30 min. from Bhuj. Taxis can also be hired for about Rs 2000/- one way.  Because Mandvi has no rail transport, the nearest public airport and train station is Bhuj.

We stayed at Vijay Villas Heritage Resort which was a serene beach resort near the sea shores. Rooms are well designed and spacious and equipped with modern amenities and a large balcony to enjoy the view.  

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