Kutch is where my family hail from, my ancestral home. It took me time to learn to truly appreciate the Indian parts of me. By which I mean it took me time to stop convincing myself I love it and actually appreciate it.
Kutch is a district of the state of Gujarat, India, near the India-Pakistan border. It has a very unique culture and it is beautiful. You can see the Great rann salt marshes, numerous caves, the black hills, the hidden trails, small off-road mandirs, Vijaya Vilas Palace where Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Lagaan were partly filmed… Visiting the vibrant cities of Gandhidham and Bhuj can feel like a whole other world…
My favourite place to go is Mandvi. It is a small beach town that feels like a bubble, safe, no high rise buildings, good old street shops and beaches. If you have never been to India or a beach in India, I would say it is worth going to the public beach to see the coconuts, the donkey rides, the families in traditional Kutchi wear playing in the water and other very culturally interesting sights. I love seeing the variety of unique toys on sale.
If you have experienced that before however, I would recommend just driving until your GPS takes you to the coast, obviously with a group and your wits about you. You could also go to a hotel’s private beach or something but I find the wandering till you see the ocean is a great way to find a truly empty beach. Sadly, it isn’t entirely pristine because rubbish from the ocean comes in with the tides. But it is still better than many places these days.
If you choose this path, you don’t get the benefits of a lifeguard, someone to fetch you towels and refreshments or even anywhere to change. But you have space almost entirely to yourself. Whenever my mother and I go, we are almost always alone apart from some stray dogs who won’t leave us be until we bring the food out, at which point they want to steal our chilli filled dabeli (a yummy local speciality). Yes, the dogs there can eat serious spice! We also always encounter some dude who loves to speed up and down the empty space on his motorbike. (it may be different dudes, I don’t know.) Regardless, he/they have never bothered us in all the years we’ve been going. Oh, and I’ve seen a deer or two and plenty of peacocks in the woodland around there; they definitely won’t bother you.
We somehow manage to pass hours, full days, on these empty beaches. I sit and listen to music, have fun and insightful conversations with my mother if it’s just us. If we bring others, we munch on Lays Magic Masala (best crisps in the world, fight me), other amazing Indians snacks and drink chilled coke zero. When my cousins came, we played some Kabadi and ran around aimlessly. You can play around and paddle in the water but going for a proper swim is out of the question due to the choppy waves and the uneven ocean floor of the Arabian sea.
When we go, we stay in a small guesthouse called Rukmavati guest house, cheap, clean, comfortable and not too far from the sea. In the mornings, we often get the kind owner to bring us jalebi, ghantiya and some piping hot chai. We sit on the swing in the open space and have a relaxed munch with the refreshing coastal air. You won’t get luxury beach chairs or cocktail waiters but some good Indian food, a vibe you won’t find anywhere else, and peace.
The way we do Mandvi is truly an example of a non-touristy holiday; a great getaway, from the world, from other people and from what you know.