Dholavira is an archaeological site at Khadirbet in Bhachau Taluka of Kachchh District, in the state of Gujarat in western India, which has taken its name from a modern-day village 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) south of it. This village is 165 km (103 mi) from Radhanpur. Also known locally as Kotada timba, the site contains ruins of an ancient Indus Valley Civilization/Harappan city. Dholavira’s location is on the Tropic of Cancer. It is one of the five largest Harappan sites and most prominent archaeological sites in India belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization.It is also considered as having been the grandest of cities of its time. It is located on Khadir bet island in the Kachchh Desert Wildlife Sanctuary in the Great Rann of Kachchh. The 47 ha (120 acres) quadrangular city lay between two seasonal streams, the Mansar in the north and Manhar in the south. The site was occupied from c.2650 BCE, declining slowly after about 2100 BCE. It was briefly abandoned then reoccupied until c.1450 BCE.
About a 20-minute walk southwest of Hamirsar lake, through open areas that no longer seem like you’re in the city, are the royal cenotaphs (memorials to those not actually buried there and, in this case, not buried at all but cremated). Many of the monuments are in ruins due to earthquakes, but those of Lakhpatji, Raydhanji II and Desarji are still quite intact. The site is very quiet, out in the middle of a field, not surrounded by buildings, and is very peaceful in morning or evening, though in the middle of the day it can be quite hot under bright sun.
Sharad Baug Palace
The king’s residence right up to 1991 when the last king of Kachchh, Madansingh died, the palace is now a museum. With beautiful gardens of many flowering and medicinal plants, the palace grounds houses many migrating birds as they stop for a rest on their way.
It was built by Rao Lakhpatji in 1761.The chief architect and designer of Aina Mahal was Ram Singh Malam,who was assisted by local builder community (Mistris of Kachchh) in construction. It was constructed with marble walls adorned with gold lace and glass. The walls of the palace are of white marble covered with mirrors separated by gilded ornaments with shades of Venetian glass.
The palace was damaged in the 2001 Gujarat earthquake. However, a portion of the palace which was not so badly damaged has been restored and it houses the museum, displaying the bedroom, music room, court room and other old pieces of arts, paintings, arms, palanquin etc
Next door to the Aina Mahal, in the same walled compound, is the giant Prag Mahal, which may at first seem slightly out of place at the far western edge of India, looking more appropriate in France. But then again, globalization is not a new phenomenon. This is a palace commissioned by King Pragmalji in the 1860s, designed by Colonel Henry Saint Wilkins in the Italian Gothic style and built in the middle of Bhuj next to the Aina Mahal. While little about it may seem Indian, there are elements; see if you can find them. In the courtyard behind the palace, there is a small Hindu temple with very nicely carved stonework; the caretaker is sometimes available for more information.
Inside the palace, you can visit the main palace halls as well as climb stairs of the 45m bell tower for an exhilarating view of the city. After coming down (not before, for your own peace of mind!), check out the cracks between the stones in the wall, visible from the courtyard, caused by various earthquakes over the years. Then stop for a glass of fresh sugarcane juice on your way out of the compound.
Perhaps one of the most under-appreciated sites of great significance for India’s religious history is Bhadreshwar, barely a kilometer from the coast, 69 km east of Mandvi, past Mundra, and 75 km south of Bhuj. The Jain religion, like other religions of Indian origin, places considerable importance on the act of pilgrimage and Bhadreshwar is one of the major centers of Jain pilgrimage in Gujarat. Unreliable reports claim the city was founded in 516 BC, and oral accounts state that the first temple was built “2350 years ago, about 45 years after the death of Lord Mahavir,” but there is no evidence to either support or debunk that claim. The main temple is strikingly beautiful, in all white marble with majestic pillars. Around the central one are 52 smaller shrines, one of which reputedly holds the original Parshavanath idol from 350 BC Non-Jains cannot spend the night in the temple complex, but other lodging is available in town.
In addition to the Jain complex, there are also two mosques which are reliably dated to the late 12th century, meaning they predate the well-known Islamic architecture of Ahmedabad by 250 years or so, making them in all likelihood the first mosques built in India. Their existence indicates that Iranian seagoing traders arrived on the coast of Gujarat at least 50 years before Islam swept into Delhi by land. As such, they are much more stark, austere, constructions, without the flowery embellishments of the later period, but they are also the first mosques to incorporate Indian architectural elements into Islamic constructions. According to at least one researcher’s extensive study, the style indicates that this blending was not done because they plundered Hindu temple ruins for parts or only employed Hindu craftsmen, but was a more deliberate incorporation of design elements according to the tastes of the builders.
A land replete with pilgrimage sites, Narayan Sarovar is a different kind of holy experience. At almost the westernmost point of land in India, it can only be reached by traveling over 100 km from Bhuj across the barren scrubland of Kachchh. A journey after which the appearance of a vast lake will surprise you even though you have come to see it and its spiritual significance will be tangible.
Narayan Sarovar Lake is one of the 5 holy lakes of Hinduism, along with Mansarovar in Tibet, Pampa in Karnataka, Bhuvaneshwar in Orissa and Pushkar in Rajasthan. The lake is associated with a time of drought in the Puranic area, when Narayan (a form of Lord Vishnu) appeared in response to the fervent prayers of sages and touched the land with his toe, creating the lake, now revered as holy to bathe in (though this is not recommended).
There are temples to Shri Trikamraiji, Laxminarayan, Govardhannathji, Dwarkanath, Adinarayan, Ranchodraiji and Laxmiji, built by the wife of Maharao Desalji. These are of more interest to those on religious pilgrimage here; other visitors are likely to find Koteshwar a more interesting option.
Dated around the first century AD, Siyot Caves have an east facing sanctum and an ambulatory. Siyot must have been on of the 80 monastic sites that the 7th century Chinese travellers reported at the mouth of Indus River.
After traveling over the expanse of desert in western Kachchh, you find the Koteshwar Temple, at a place where the immensity of dry land meets the incomprehensible vastness of the sea. After so much arid ground, the sight of the ocean will awaken your spirits; though the sea is even less hospitable to humans, a sobering thought. The only point that breaks the skyline from the flat brown horizon to the east and the wide blue horizon to the west is the point of the Koteshwar Temple, the last outpost of human construction at the westernmost limit of India. Not overrun by tourists like the temple at Dwarka, Koteshwar is conducive to contemplating emptiness, pondering the place of humanity on earth (and ultimately, isn’t that what spiritual traditions are about?).
The story of Koteshwar begins with Ravana, who won a boon from Lord Shiva for an outstanding display of piety. This boon was the gift of a Shiva linga of great spiritual power, but which Ravana, in his arrogant haste, accidentally dropped and it fell to earth at Koteshwar. To punish Ravana for his carelessness, the linga turned into a thousand identical copies (some versions of the story say ten thousand, some a million; suffice to say it was quite a lot.) Unable to distinguish the original, Ravana grabbed one and departed, leaving the original one here, around which Koteshwar Temple was built.
Mata No Madh
Mata no Madh is a village in Lakhpat Taluka of Kachchh district, Gujarat, India. The village lies surrounded by hills on both banks of a small stream and has a temple dedicated to Ashapura Mata, the household deity of former Jadeja rulers of Kachchh State. She is also considered patron deity of Kachchh.
At the far northwest corner of Kachchh, facing north across the Great Rann towards Pakistan, stands Lakhpat, once an important port city but now virtually abandoned for almost 200 years. A place where you can imagine the rise and decline of a great port city, and simultaneously contemplate the vast emptiness of the desert and the sea.
When the 1819 earthquake sent the Indus River on its present course to the west and the Great Rann dried up, so did Lakhpat. It was left a humble town around the ruins of its former grandness, now only with Kori Creek that still flows into the Rann . Though it requires a long journey to reach Lakhpat, the intrepid traveler will be rewarded. The 7 km fort walls, erected in 1801 by Jamadar Fateh Muhammed, are still nearly intact, and offer tremendous views out over the Rann. Due to the extremely clear desert air and remote location, the night sky is spectacular (visit near the new moon for best stargazing) and sunrise or sunset in a landscape of such endless horizons are not to be missed.
Lakhpat has religious significance for three of India’s most populous religions: Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, reportedly camped here on his journey to Mecca. The site later became a gurudwara, which holds some of Nanak’s possessions; Pir Ghaus Muhammed, a Sufi mystic who from the age of twelve devoted himself to spiritual practice and reportedly practiced half as a Hindu and half as a Muslim, is buried here in Lakhpat. His tomb is a stone construction with very complex carvings and a water tank that is said to have healing properties for skin problems; Sayyed Pir Shah’s nine-domed mausoleum has intricate carvings, doors, windows and jaalis.
Kera Shiv Temple
Just 22 kms south of Bhuj on the road to Mandra, Kera houses the ruins of a Shiva Temple that dates to the era of the Solanki rulers. Only part of the temple remains, as much was destroyed in the 1819 earthquake, but the inner sanctum is still there, as well as half of the main spire. The Fort of Kapilkot, also in a rather rundown state, is next to the temple.
The Black Hills
25 kms north of Khavda, the top of the Black Hills is the highest point in Kachchh, at 462 m. From here, the entire northern horizon vanishes into the Great Rann, the desert and sky often becoming indistinguishable. It is one of the few non-coastal locations where you feel like you are at the edge of the earth, on the brink of incomprehensible vastness that fades off towards infinity. Looking out from the Black Hills, you can understand the tremendous effort that those who undertake the crossing of the Great Rann have to make. Since this is one of the places where a civilian can get closest to the Pakistan border, there is an Army post at the top; beyond here, only military personnel are allowed. The hill is also the site of a 350-year-old temple to Dattatreya, the three-headed incarnation of Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva in the same body. Legend says that when Dattatreya walked on the earth, he stopped at the Black Hills and found a band of starving jackals. Being a god, he offered them his body to eat and as they ate, his body continually regenerated itself. Because of this, for the last four centuries, the priest at the temple has prepared a batch of prasad that is fed to the jackals after the evening aarti.
Reaching the hilltop by public transport is difficult; the only bus travels there from Khavda on weekend evenings and returns in the early morning. Hiring a jeep from Khavda is your other option. Visiting in the early morning or late afternoon is recommended, though with a few more hours there are nice hikes to do around the hill. Be sure to take your own food and water and if you want to stay the night, there is a dharamshala next to the temple.
Kotai Sun Temple
Kotai has the remains of an old city and several ruined temples of perhaps the earlier part of the tenth century.
The Sun temple, known as Ra Lakha’s and ascribed to Lakha Phulani, facing the west is, without cement, partly built of yellow and partly of red stone. The aisles are covered by groins like the aisles in some chaitya caves ; the nave is roofed the same way as at the Amarnath temple, the central area being covered with massive slabs hollowed out in the centre, in which a pendentive has been inserted. Outside it has a slanting roof divided into four sections of slightly different heights, that next to the spire being the highest, and tho remote end the 1owest. The door of the temple is neatly carved. Over the lintel are Navagraha, the nine patrons of the planets, and the jambs are carefully sculptured. In the entrance hall,mandap, are four pillars with a square block sculptured below the bracket, and six pilasters. The shafts support a plinth, on which stands a block carved with colonnettes at the corners. The faces of the block are sculptured with figures of men and elephants. Of the four-armed figures on the brackets of the column, one is a female and one has a face on the abdomen. In the window recess are pilasters with four-armed figures on the bracket capitals. The pillars and pilasters are all of the Hindu broken-square form. The shrine door is elaborately carved with two rows of figures on the frieze, Ganpati on the lintel, and the jambs richly ornamente
Vijay Vilas Palace
Built in 1929 by Rao Vijayrajji, this palace is very well-maintained, and often the scene of filming for Bollywood productions. It was built of red sandstone in the Rajput style, with a main central dome, Bengal domes at the sides, bastions at the corner, and colored glass windows. The balcony at the top affords a superb view of the surrounding area, and the king’s tomb can also be seen.
Pir Ghaus Muhammad Tomb
Pir Ghaus Muhammad, a Sufi saint and Syyed of Lakhpat, half-Muslim and half-Hindu in his customs, who was believed to have supernatural power. Dying in 1855, his brother Bava Mia or Sa Saheb, from contributions made by Gosh Muhammad’s followers, began to build a tomb locally known as Kubo. This tomb, of black stone, on a platform fifty-four feet square and seven high, rising in a conical dome 63 feet 3 inches high, is octagonal in shape, with four side doors arched and richly carved, and the walls decorated with patterns of flowers and leaves. Inside, the floor is paved with white and black marble, and the grave is covered with a white marble canopy. On the walls are passages from the Quran. It is still unfinished. The water tank opposite the tomb is believed to have healing characteristics for skin diseases.