Kutch, Gujarat : Bhuj to Vigakot | Horn please, OK?

Kutch, Gujarat : Bhuj to Vigakot

Day 5 : Bhuj -> Vigakot -> Bhuj
When : February 2014 | How far : 240 kms | How long : 5 hrs 

Our very own Area 51

You won't find Vigakot on any map. Its proximity to the India-Pak border keeps it off the grid

We read about it in a travel blog. There wasn't much to go on except that it was remote and didn't figure on tourist itineraries. A search threw up nothing. What was this mysterious entity that Google had nothing to say about? 

The blogger serendipitously turned out to be a friend who told us how to get to Vigakot. Never having been anywhere near the border we decided to make this our maiden visit. 

Words worth a thousand pictures

This post will be harder to write than most. 

Serious looking Border Security Force (BSF) men took away our cameras and phones at a checkpoint many kilometres from the border leaving us with no pictures to hold up our long, rambly, over punctuated sentences. 

You'll have to make do with our words and your imagination. 

The road to nowhere

SH45 from Bhuj to Vigakot is also the road that leads to the Rann Utsav, Gujarat's annual desert festival. Colourful flags and milestones dotted the highway urging us to turn off. 

The last civilian marker on SH45 is Khavda. Here, a road turning right disappears into a path submerged by the Rann of Kutch lake. Satellite imagery shows that it once connected Khavda to Dholavira.   

We drove on till we reached India Bridge.  

A bridge by any other name...

India Bridge is the farthest a civilian can go without a permit. 

The bridge in itself is not very remarkable, either for its architecture or for the views. White and concrete it spans a kilometre of dry, barren land. It has a modest looking sign announcing its name with instructions not to take photographs

Despite its plainness there was something special about it. It had the power to make you feel like you were at an inflection point. An entrance in to the unknown or an exit from the safety of the familiar. 

To be clear, the border is a long way from here.  

Travel Tip :  Visitors require a permit to pass through the India Bridge checkpoint. You can apply for one at the BSF Sector Headquarters in Bhuj. The permit requires a day to process so plan in advance for it. 

Destination Unknown

The permit issued by the BSF sector head quarters in Bhuj was our ticket across India Bridge. The surrounding land beyond was undulating with scattered, sparse foliage. We spotted mounds that looked like hobbit homes. On closer inspection they turned out to be bunkers! 

Some time later we reached a fork in the road. One led to Anda Bet and the other to Vigakot. Anda Bet is famous for migratory Pink Flamingos that lay and hatch eggs in the area. Our permit was unfortunately not an all access pass; a different one was needed to see Anda Bet and so we went on our way.

The landscape resembled the broken parched earth of the Little Rann, interspersed with salt patches. With the sun overhead, the drive on the broken tarmac through endless flatland felt like it would never end. There was nothing obstructing our view on all sides, all the way to the horizon. Two deer skittered alongside the car. It was hard to imagine that any creature could survive out here in the open with not a spot of water or a tree in sight. 

An hour and a half later we reached Vigakot, a desolate looking outpost. We sought out a jawan who pointed us in the direction of border outpost (BOP) Mohan 1111. Ten minutes later we were greeted by Captain Chittaranjan Das Moga and his Company (the group that protects a BOP). 

Captain Moga  and his men were excellent hosts. They organized a quick tour of the BOP and a lavish lunch for us. It was completely unexpected and very touching, an initiative that was credited entirely to Captain Moga. He said he wanted to create opportunities for civilians to interact with his Company and vice-versa. Something he hoped would lead to warmer relations between the two.

Border Patrol to Major Tom

A few kilometres from the BOP watchtower runs a boundary wall with electrified fencing atop. The wall has a gate which opens out to no man's land-300 yards of open space between the two countries. In the middle of that land stand concrete markers. These markers are maintained jointly by the border forces of both countries. Its hard to believe that there's something the two can collaborate on. 

We heard stories of war and tales of bonhomie. Exchanging sweets on Eid and Diwali and executing counter insurgency tactics are all in a day's work for this BSF team. 

We asked if there had been instances of unrest or tension in the area. It was peaceful they said, since the India-Pak war in 1965. The Pakistan Army had captured all the land around us right up to Bhuj but were pushed back by the Indian Army. That explains the presence of the bunkers we'd passed earlier. 

Chatting with the BSF folks opened up a window into the lives of the men who protect our borders. It helped us appreciate the hardships they endure every day and the personal sacrifices they make to serve the country. 

Commenting on the tough terrain and challenging living conditions, one of the soldiers said something that stuck with us. "Its not men we fear but the forces of nature that are our biggest enemy". 

It was an afternoon and an experience that made us feel more empathy for Col Jessep

Rann Riders

The single broken road between BOP Mohan and India Bridge had wreaked havoc on our car and our backs. It was almost shocking that we hadn't suffered a puncture yet. Oh wait, we had, we just didn't know it.  

Looking for a better route we spotted tyre tracks on the Rann.  An image of car wheels spinning uselessly in sticky mud flitted through our minds. We quickly dismissed it and veered off the road on to the white dessert. The tracks ran parallel to the road and we followed them for as long as we could. 

It was the ride across the Rann that we had been dreaming of this entire trip. And this time without incident. 

Across the salt desert

Rann Utsav is an annual desert festival organised by the Government of Gujarat to promote and celebrate its cultural wealth. Its a 3 month long orgy of musical performances, folk dances and showcasing of local handicrafts. Guests get to stay in billowy white tents under starry skies and go for long walks on the impossibly White Rann.   

The festival is set up near the villages of Hodka and Dhordo, an hour's drive from Bhuj.

Travel Tip : The Rann Utsav starts in December and lasts through February. Plan your trip during the earlier part of the festival to experience it at its best. If you want to stay overnight (in the billowy white tents), make reservations in advance, here. 

We made a quick stop to check it out. The main Utsav area was accessible only to people booked into the tents and staying overnight. Preparations were abound for a moonlit performance the same evening. The common areas which were open to non-resident guests had some food and handicraft stalls. Nothing that we hadn't seen in Bhuj. 

Driving around we reached a point that opened on to the White Rann. Our adventures from two days ago had acquainted us quite intimately with it and curiosity did not get the better of us this time. 

Days 6&7 : Bhuj -> Surat -> Mumbai
When : February 2014 | How far : 880 kms | How long : 15 hrs 

The next day we packed our bags and started on the long drive back to Mumbai. It was too long a distance to cover in one day so we broke it up with a stop at Surat for the night. 

We treated ourselves to a night at the Taj Hotel after 5 days of roughing it out in Kutch. It happened to be Valentine's day and our hotel was the city's epicentre of all activity. We took refuge in our room which overlooked the Tapi river and made a toast to our trip with a chicken leg and a fillet of grilled fish. 

They say its quite an experience spending a night on the Rann under a full moon. It remains on our to do list along with spotting a Pink Flamingo. 

For that and that alone, we'll be back!

Stories from the entire trip
Day 1 -> Mumbai to Zainabad
Day 2 -> Zainabad to Patan
Day 2 -> Patan to Modhera
Day 2 -> Little Rann of Kutch
Day 3 -> Dholavira & the Great Rann
Day 4 -> Bhuj to Lakhpat
Days 5-7 -> You just read it

Next Post Newer Post Previous Post Older Post Home


Narendra Sheth said...

Very good description. It inspired me to take an excursion on my own! Thanks...

Trip-a-doodle said...

So happy to hear that Narendra! To many more excursions!

Kutch travels said...

Now more tourist wish to meet our brave soldiers who are awakes so that we can sleep peacefully.
mahendra bhedda
cel.:097268 19740

SG said...

Very well covered. We are planning a moth long road trip to Gujarat. Any itinerary and other tips?

Post a Comment