Chapter 2 – Bhuj, Gujarat, West

October 28
The seats are not broken – that is a major plus to this bus – and it is overnight so we get some amount of sleep, but it stops so often and the guys on the bus will not stop talking to us. They cannot believe that I cannot take Indian Chai (milk and tea) and every time we stop they again try to make me drink some. We finally reach Bhuj around 6:00am and stumble through the city trying to find our hotel. We ask people on every corner and they give us different directions, pointing this way and that. Eventually a woman tells us it’s just down this little alley.

The City Guest House is much larger than I expected, three stories and built like a proper hotel with rooms overlooking a courtyard. We awake the workers sleeping on the floor of the office and they deliver us to our simple room on the first floor, then we sleep till sometime in the afternoon. We rent peddle bicycles and roam around the city, struggle up the road on the hill with a wall that resembles the Great Wall of China, and finally make it to the police station where we get permission to visit the outlying villages between Bhuj and Pakistan. I had the whole day been traveling around with my heavy backpack on full of photo gear, and I reached inside to pull out my camera. My lenses are there, my accessories, but no camera! I had forgotten that I took out my camera to repack the backpack and left the camera sitting on my bed. I carried all that weight all day for absolutely no reason!

Lots of photos! Read on –>

Bhuj is a nice city, very dry and hot. The people look and dress a bit differently than in Bombay. The men wear much more traditional garb with colorful headscarves and long dress-like garments. Some of the women’s colorful wraps and saris frame their dark, weather-lined faces accented by huge nose rings attached by chains to their earrings. Some women are much fairer and Persian looking. There is a large Muslim presence here as well as Hindu, but I do not recall seeing any churches.

October 29
The motorcycle is waiting in the courtyard for us to finish our breakfast, beckoning us to start our journey. The 125cc Hero Honda starts to life with a kick and I walk it out to the alleyway. Stephen hops on the back carrying a pack with my equipment and stuff for us to spend the night if we need to. We shakily make it out of the alley and into the busy road and I kill it. I try kick starting again and the engine sputters and dies. No amount of force will do the trick. The fuel gauge needle sticks very convincingly to the ‘E’. After picking up a couple of litres of petrol we start again, shakily making our way through traffic. Note. This is the second time I have driven a manual motorcycle. The first time I drove around the block killing it every time I stopped. Learning to drive this unsteady machine with another human being on the back is maybe more motivation to not fail.

Asking directions all along the way we pass through the little tiny villages marked on our map. The landscape in between is dry and desert, accentuated by a few trees and cactus. Medium sized brown hills lumber off on both sides. After some 30km we stop in a village called Kodai to get some drinks and get out of the sun. A group of boys surround us but to not barrage us with the usual questions, just sitting and observing. They laugh when Stephen and I hit our heads on the low door of the shop and I take some pictures, which they are reluctant to let me. Our map has photos of certain highlight of the area around Kutch and one of the boys points to a temple ruins. I think he says Lodai, which is the next village on, maybe 10km or so. They kept saying we had to go see this temple, so we get back on the bike and head on towards Lodai. Asking a group of boys preparing to play cricket where this temple is, they inform us its in Kodai, the village we just came from. We decide to keep on going, making our way over rough roads, around sharp turns, wading through water ways flooding the low parts of the road till we get to the main road leading towards Pakistan. This road is in great shape and we take off ‘flying’ down the road. While Stephen drives we stay at about 55km/h (34 mph) and many vehicles are passing us. A passenger bus goes by with a man trying to get our attention and to look at our rear wheel. Upon investigation we find the wheel a bit low on air.




We enter the next village and find a tiny booth with a man that fixes tires. He airs our tire for no cost while a man invites us to his house to look at local crafts his village creates. I say sure, why not…we might get lunch out of it. He leads us off of the main road and into what seems like a dried up creek bed filled with fine but deep sand. We choke through the dust of his bike leading us, our bike sliding this way and that. After about ten minutes we reach a collection of circular huts, colorfully painted thick mud walls with grass roofs. Children run up to inspect the newcomers and we’re asked to sit in a large hut. Inside a small fan hanging from the apex of the hut stirs the noticeably cooler air. Our host beckons us to sit and he brings us dal and rice with a very thick and delicious roti. He shows Stephen many intricately beaded and embroidered cloths, spreads, bags, hats, and dolls. I am not interested in the least by anything so I wonder around the compound taking a few photos. The women flat out refuse to let me take any photos of them, even though they are so beautiful and have such interesting characteristics. Stephen buys almost 1000/- worth of presents for his family and we return to the main road by way of the sandy creek bottom.





Kavda (Kowda) lies about 70km from Bhuj and 30 or so from the Pakistan border. We follow the points and gestures of men to what appears to be the center of ‘town’, which is busy with activity. Men sit around everywhere watching us as we pull in. Stephen just wants a break from sitting on the bike. I need some water and go off asking for “Thanda Pani?” They lead me to a cement cauldron with a long metal ladle. Eh why not? We’re so far from any major city, shouldn’t be contaminated. I start taking pictures of some men with henna in their beards, which leads to everyone in the area to want their photo taken. I am lead from one group of men to another, each asking me to take a photo then show them their face on the screen. I love when this happens; it’s a lot of fun.
















We ask a group of men sitting on a wall which way to Kuran and they point off following this road to the northeast. We go along this deserted road that slowly dwindles down to nothing. We ask at least three people along the way which way to Kuran and they all point the way we are headed. We come to an intersection and two men on a tractor tell us it is the opposite direction. We head back 5km or so back to the main road and take some extra petrol to be safe, then head out for sure in the right direction. The scenery gets even more desolate and desert-like the further from Bhuj and the closer we get to Pakistan. A sprawling mountain with black sides forms the mass of the view to our right, and in the distance there seems to be a lake of some sort to our left, though I cannot get a good view of it. We get close enough to this great body to find it completely void of water, only the white of salt reflecting the light and the heat giving off the impression of water. The road continues on crossing over a section of this leading to a military post. A man with a machine gun steps out of a hut letting us know we are not welcome past this point. We ask him where Kuran is, having not seen anything resembling this village, but he uninterestedly points back the way we came.

We find we passed a sign that says Kuran in the Hindi script that was partly covered by a bush. As we make the turn and see the village I feel the back end of the bike swaying unnaturally. Are you serious? We have a flat tire? Stephen gets off the bike and I cautiously make my way into the village to ask for help. There is absolutely nothing there except a few huts; nothing resembling a shop of any kind. The nearest tire shop with an air pump is 20km in Kavda. No one in the village seems to have a vehicle besides a motorcycle. I go back to Stephen and inform him of our predicament. Several goat herders had joined Stephen and were trying to communicate by some sort of sign language, the goat herders knowing no English at all and Stephen knowing an equal amount of Hindi and Gujarati. In my little knowledge of Hindi I was able to communicate the problem and what we needed, etc. They used my phone to call some people they knew in Kavda, pulling out little address books from somewhere in their full length man-dresses. They tell me someone will come in 15 minutes to help us. Sweet. The sun begins to fall from the sky, it being around 4:00pm at this point. The shepherds offer us chai and make a small fire next to the road, pull out pots and pans from somewhere I didn’t see and make a delicious cup of tea, so says Stephen. Since they only make it with milk, I cannot have any. An hour and half later I ask when their friends are coming. Ten minutes. Alright. Another tea session, but this time with flutes! The orange glow of the fading sun just makes the scene seem even more unreal.





The flat flat tire









This picture cracks me up everytime.


After some more time the shepherds start pushing the bike back towards the main road, hoping that we will catch a passing lorry or motorcycle rickshaw. A few minutes into our wait a large Indian Army truck rumbles past. I flag it down and run after it, explaining that we need a ride back to civilization because our bike has a flat. I ask where they are headed.

-“Bhuj.”
-Oh great! We’re going to Bhuj too.
-“We can drop you off in Kavda.”
-Thank you, but we’re going to Bhuj too.
-“We’ll drop you at Kavda. We can’t take you all the way to Bhuj because we are the -Army.”
-Oh, ok…that makes perfect sense.

They are very nice and buy us tea in Kavda after a very bumpy ride in the massive truck, which somehow made me appreciate how smooth the motorcycle ride was. It’s funny to me seeing these large buff army men wearing their intimidating fatigues and delicately sipping tea from tiny blue and white porcelain teacups. The inner tube of our tire is shredded and we pay 180/- for it to be replaced.

By now its mostly dark and I am a little anxious about driving the 70km back to Bhuj in the darkness, but we have little choice (plus if we get the bike back tonight, we don’t have to pay for a second day). We decide to go for it, and take off through the night. For the most part we are alone on the road, which is nice, but whenever a vehicle comes from the opposite direction I lose all sight of the road. It is lucky the road is almost perfectly straight and in good condition. When I am unopposed by on coming traffic I travel at an average speed of 70km, a breezy 43 miles per hour, but I feel like I am absolutely flying. I can’t imagine hurtling down an interstate in the US at 70mph, but also the 125cc bike was straining to go that fast, so that could have something to do with it.

We get back to Bhuj with an abundance of petrol and not quite sure where in the city the road brought us, so we zipped around for a while on the deserted streets, enjoying the freedom. We eat dinner at a super cheap, super good non-veg restaurant then return to the hotel to beg for a room at 11:30 at night.

My feet were so dirty from all the dirt and dust on the motorcycle ride.

October 30
We have no plans for today, I spend time reading and working on my Hindi, just waiting till our A/C Sleeper bus leaves at 10pm. We eat a couple more times at the same non-veg restaurant and talk with our waiter from Nepal. While walking around I take some more cultural portraits. The women frustrate me by absolutely refusing to let me take pictures of them. They get angry if I even ask. They have such interesting characteristics that just beg to be captured. Meh.








Loved this just sitting in an alley. I thought of my friend Katie right away.



Donkeh!





The bus is super comfortable and we fall asleep with little problem on our way from Bhuj to Ahmedabad. I will definitely travel like this in the future.

October 31
We arrive in Ahmedabad around 6am and make our way to Gandhi’s ashram he ran for some 15 years. It was interesting and peaceful. Gandhi had some strange ideas about what made him stronger, like not eating meat and abstaining from sex, even with his wife. And he always squeezed his lips together so tight in pictures…it gives the image of self-righteous prude.

Stephen sleeps as I walk around as he already saw the place before. We catch a bus back near the train station and walk around for a bit. It’s 10am. Our train leaves at 10pm. What to do, what to do? We eat a big lunch and waste as much time as possible there then head out in search of an internet cafe. We pass a theatre and decide that its not a bad idea to waste three hours of our lives in air-conditioning, even if we do have to endure a Bollywood film to do that. We pay 30 rupees to get in and try to sleep through their new rendition of Aladin. We sit in the very last row and try to curl up on the seats, but nothing is comfortable. I wind up staying awake through it all. The movie is entertaining at the least, but laughable in many parts (not as in comedy). The plot seems to have little motive to move, and they don’t fully explore much of the story even though they have three hours to do so. They jump from one scene to another, a loosely tied together story. They don’t explain why one character is afraid of another just by his name or how this one gets his super human strength. Over all the quality of filming is quite good, but they use quirky techniques that belong to the Disney Channel’s afternoon productions. The film would be so much stronger with out the fast forwarded running and silly running sounds, etc and pure silliness in general. They have a good story they could have told; they had good production team and actors; I just don’t understand why it has to be silly stupid.

Halloween passes without incident with us passing the evening on the train. I surprisingly cannot wait to be back at my apartment. We get in about 5:30 and get back in time for Stephen to sleep before we head off to church.

This was my first real chance to travel around India even though I have been here twice and lived here for four and half months. It was great. I loved it. And it is much cheaper than flying all the way to Indonesia…I look forward to getting to see more of India. Also it was good traveling with Stephen. He was a great traveling partner.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 2 – Bhuj, Gujarat, West”

  1. Hi Scott :

    Brilliant portraits. I have never seen so many striking portraits taken in such a short time frame.
    Are you a magician or what ?

    Regards

    Ratnabh
    Delhi

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