Statue of Unity will do for Kevatia what Rann Utsav did for Kutch

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Statue of Unity and Kutch
  • Based on my travels this article tells you how people of Kutch have benefitted by making it a popular tourist destination. It is easy to us to find fault with a government decision but it only when we visit tourist destinations, in this case Kutch, does one get a sense of the vision that drives their action. 

 

Ever since the Statue of Unity was inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi there has been an unending stream of criticism esp. on social media. Money on statue could have been spent better is the constant refrain.

 

What is being missed is that the tribal dominated Kevatia region is being promoted as a tourist destination.

 

Visitors can stay at the Tent City close by and also see Shoolpaneshwar Temple, Rajvant Palace, Valley of Flowers, go Crocodile spotting at Sardar Sarovar Dam and Hiking, enjoy cultural programs and Gujarati, Indian and continental cuisines.

 

The Statue of Unity is a magnet to attract you to this backward and scenic part of Gujarat. Since Vadodara is the closest well connected city tourists can visit Sri Aurobindo’s home and see the awesome Lakshmi Vilas Palace as well.

 

Tent City Narmada is being positioned as a perfect nature retreat and an oasis of peace for those who want a break from hectic urban lifestyles. Its tents cater to various price points through Standard, Luxury and Deluxe ones. Those who stay overnight can enjoy cultural and entertainment activities.

 

When I browsed the tent city web site what struck me was its similarity with Tent City Dhordo that I visited in February 2018. It is worth recalling how Rann Festival and Salt Desert have become popular tourist destinations.

 

Eight-six kms from Bhuj and at one end of Kutch is Salt Desert Dhordo.

 

‘The low-lying mudflats of the White Rann fill with water during monsoons and then dry out over the rest of the year. By December, post evaporation, the saline crust hardens to form a luminous white colour. By January, the marsh is unending white desert’, writes Abhijit Dutta on Mint.com

 

Earlier village Dhordo was hardly visited and had poor infrastructure. Main occupation was animal husbandry and handicrafts. Inadequate employment forced migration. People lived relatively insulated lives.

It was in 2005 that a plan to develop the area was made. Tent City came up in 2008. To let people know the state government, in 2009, organised Chintan Shivir (a three day brain storming camp) for IAS officers and entire cabinet. 

Next in 2010 the BJP Working Committee met at the same destination. This raised the profile and increased awareness. Amitabh Bachchan’s advertising campaign added much-needed glamour quotient. 

So even before the start of Rann Utsav, the area got quality roads, regular power supply and water.

Tent City Dhordo Kutch February 2018

 

Today Rann Utsav runs for about 107 days starting November every year (it is too hot rest of the year). A bus takes guests from Bhuj railway station/airport to Tent City Dhordo. Tourists can chose from 1, 2, 3 night packages that cater to various price points.

 

According to its website a host of adventure sports and recreation facilities are available. The restaurant serves good local cuisine as well. There is a cultural event every evening. Shops sell local handicrafts. Tent City is managed by a private party.

 

Guests can take a double-decker open air bus to visit Salt Desert at sunrise and sunset.

 

During the day conducted tours take you to Kalo Dungar (at a height of 462 metres it is an excellent viewing and the highest point in Kutch) and crafts village Gandhi nu Gaam.

 

On return to Bhuj enroute, see Kutch Museum and Hiralaxmi Craft Park at Bhujodi, a must see.

 

Family at Salt Desert

 

Now some personal observations.

 

Baring the Tent City it is sand and sand all around. The tent city is like a developed area in a no-go zone. Facilities in tents are good. The dining hall is huge and loved to see local women make bajre ki roti.

 

On the evening that I visited the cultural program was unimpressive.

 

Early mornings and evenings at Salt Desert were awesome. Colour of salt was snow white. I saw tourists of various age-groups. Some go for long walks, others play cricket or dance to the dholak. Atmosphere is festival like and tourists happy to be there.

 

At village Gandhi nu Gaam met with Puna Sumar Marvada who specializes in making wood furniture, mud painting, and sells kutchi textiles. He told the author that Rann Utsav was a boon. To buy call 91 70693 71081 or 91 94298 80077. Puna Bhai is a very good carpentar too.  

 

During peak tourist season he did not have time to breathe. His wife cooked a nice Kutchi meal for us which I paid for. His enterprising neighbour offered me a home stay in their Bhunga @ Rs 1,000/ a night. Call 91 94277 68224.

 

Bags for sale by Narsingh Bhai Sanjot. 

 

Enroute to Kala Dungar visited village Dhrobana and met Narsingh Bhai Sanjot. He sells bags, patch works, kutch handicrafts, textile embroidery etc. He too said that Rann Festival had given locals like him a platform to sell and realize a better price. To buy call Narsing Bhai Sanjot 91 99133 95481 or Deva Bhai Sanjot 91 87583 54016.

 

Since I visited his village and it was end of season he grudgingly sold bags at a discount. The friend whom I gifted a bag cannot thank me enough.

 

Note that Marvada and Sanjot belong to the very talented and creative Meghwal community, declared as scheduled castes by the Government of India.

 

Mian Hussein Sarpanch Dhordo, Kutch 

 

I also met with Mian Hussein, the Sarpanch of Dhordo village, who said Tent City brought roads, development, electricity, Wi-fi, water, tourists and resort facilities. With pride he added that Dhordo village also had a helipad.

 

In 2015 the government made 20 Bhungas (traditional Kutchi mud hut with thatched roof and decorative hand-painted motifs) and gave it to the village Panchayat for management.

 

Madhu Kishwar, academic and founder of Manushi, a journal about women and society wrote in 2014, “The contract signed by the panchayat stipulates a 40- 30- 30 model of profit sharing- that is, 40 per cent of the income of this resort has to be spent on village development work, 30 per cent is to be put in the Government treasury by way of loan repayment and 30 per cent to be used for running the resort. 

 

Hussain says that they constituted a Dhordo Gram Vikas Trust for its management and put all the income into that account.” It is a unique form of public-private partnership.

 

All through the drive from Hodko to Dhordo numerous resorts have come up, all traditional Bhungas. Of these Shaam-E-Sarhad at Hodko is very popular with foreign and Indian tourists. It is operated and managed by the local community of Vodka village. Whilst shopping in Hodka village came across another resort run by locals.

 

Based on a ten day visit to Kutch can confidently say that the infrastructure development due to Rann Utsav and the government’s attempts to boost tourism have benefitted the local population in a positive way. It has enhanced incomes, provided a market for artisans and livelihood to lakhs. 

 

When a tourist reaches Bhuj, enroute to Salt Desert Dhordo, one suddenly realizes the region has so much to offer. In Bhuj a must visit is Prag Mahal. About one hour’s drive is the very scenic Mandvi Beach and Vijay Palace (featured in many Bollywood movies). About 15 kms away is Bhujodi, a shopper’s paradise for women. 

 

Some 135 kms from Bhuj is Lakhpat. A gurudwara commemorates Guru Nanak’s stay enroute to Mecca. Did you know that till the earthquake of 1809, the river Indus flowed to Lakhpat from where it entered into the Arabian Sea, as against flowing through Sindh?

 

If it were not for the government promoting Salt Desert I might not have ventured into Kutch.

 

It is easy to us to find fault with a government decision but it only when we visit tourist destinations, in this case Kutch, does one get a sense of the vision that drives their action.

 

Will Statue of Unity and Tent City Narmada have as much of a transformational effect on the local economy as Salt Desert/Tent City Dhordo is something that only time can tell?

The author is an Independent Columnist.

 

First published here  . Official website of Rann Utsav is https://www.rannutsav.net/

 

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