Mandvi - Kutch
In the 21st century, most people travel by land in fast-moving buses or trains, and to reach destinations further away, many even travel in airplanes. Sometimes it is hard to remember that until the mid-1800s, overland travel was done by horse or bullock-cart. That human technological flight began only a century ago, and flying only became available to average travellers in the last 50 years. Until the middle of the 20th century, for the several millennia of human history that came before us, people voyaged on the seas. How many of us today have traveled on the open ocean?
If you don't feel ready to embark on a seabound voyage anytime soon, visiting a historical port town may at least bring you closer to understanding the way people and goods used to move around the planet (and 95% of world trade still does!). Here in Mandvi, the principal port of Kutch and of Gujarat for hundreds of years until the rise of Mumbai, visit the shipbuilding yards along the Rukmavati River where wooden ships are still built by hand. Stand at the Tower of Wagers, where wealthy shipowners would gather in May to scan the horizons, awaiting the return of the trading fleet from East Africa, and bet on whose would arrive first. Wander around the Vijay Vilas Palace and marvel at the items brought from far-off ports, and the architecture itself that shows a global awareness in its mixture of styles. Or recreate your favorite scene from Lagaan or Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, both of which have scenes filmed at the palace.
Try Mandvi's famous local double rotis, also known as dabeli. Or, if you simply want a place sit at the ocean, let the salty breeze wash over you, and swim in the warm waters of the Arabian Sea, Mandvi's several quiet, clean beaches with flamingos and other migrant birds will surely do the trick.
Things to do
Most things in Mandvi revolve around the water. A visit to the beach, exploring the shipbuilding area, a walk along the river; all these are indispensable. But the town is also easily explored on foot, and it is well worth wandering the narrow streets to check out the mix of old architecture. Many wealthy barons during the city's heyday had flamboyant houses built, with lots of European influence; it is not uncommon to see carved angels, or stained-glass windows. The many bazaars, where all kinds of goods can be found, from bandhani textiles to tasty fresh produce, should not be missed. Specific points of interest are as follows:
Mandvi was founded as a port town by the Khengarji, the king of Kutch, in 1574. The first temple to be built was the Sundarwar temple, followed by the Jama Masjid in 1603, the Lakshminarayan Temple in 1607, the Kajivali Mosque in 1608 and the Rameshwar Temple in 1627. For all of this to have been built in the first 50 years of the towns existence is a clear indicator of its importance to the kingdom. Indeed, at its peak, Mandvi's wealth easily surpassed that of the capital at Bhuj, and it was only after ships grew too large for its harbor and began to prefer Mumbai that Mandvi started fading from the scene.
For 400 years, the shipbuilding industry has been the center of life in Mandvi. It was once the principal port of Kutch and of Gujarat. At its peak, exports were said to outnumber imports fourfold, and their revenue reflected that. Ships came and went from East Africa, the Persian Gulf, the Malabar Coast (now called Kerala, in south India), and South-East Asia. During Rao Godiji's reign in the 1760's, he built and maintained a fleet of 400 ships, one that sailed as far as England and returned. The city used to have 8 m. fortified walls around it, but only small portions remain.
In 1929 the Vijay Vilas palace was built by Rao Vijayrajji, and is maintained in excellent condition today. The British Political Agent based in Bhuj had summer quarters at Mandvi, and the British cemetery attests to the extended presence of the British in the area.
As ships grew larger and Mumbai became an ever-more-powerful center of commerce, fewer and fewer vessels would moor at Mandvi, preferring Mumbai or Surat. Today, with a harbor far too small for modern supersized shipping operations, it is no longer a major shipping port, but shipbuilding is still done by hand on the banks of the Rukmavati River.
How to get there
By road: ST buses and jeeps depart from Bhuj about every 30 min. from the central transportation area. For local excursions, jeeps can be hired in town.