After spending a day in Bhuj exploring the local restaurants, temples, the ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam‘ famed Bhuj Chattardi, the city palace and adjoining Sheesh Mahal, we had a day to ourselves to explore the area surrounding the city of Bhuj in the Kutch district of Gujarat, a state in the western India. I had prepared an elaborate plan to visit a 1000 years old Shiva temple at Kera village 20 km away from Bhuj, and then to the Roha fort another 50 km away. We were to start early in the day by 8 AM and were supposed to reach Mandvi at around 2 PM for lunch and so that we can use the sunlight to explore the summer palace at Mandvi as well as dive into the ocean at the Mandvi beach and return back to Bhuj by night. A few rides were also in order. But, oh, a but was obviously coming! But I was traveling with my family. Everybody had their own wishes and I was trying to drive the day according to what I wanted to see in the region according to my wishes. Dad definitely didn’t want to roam around in the wilderness of Kutch in the December heat. Oh, it didn’t feel December in Kutch, it felt more like Delhi’s April in the day, and February in the night. He was of the opinion that there is nothing good about going to see the ruins of old buildings, so we should rather visit the beach and spend our time there. But it was my day and I didn’t let him win over my mother and my brother with his arguments. They were on my side and we rolled into the Kutch wilderness at around 9 AM after a small mishap with the driver. He was somehow nowhere to be seen and had gone to have breakfast without informing us. Such things always happen and there is no point spoiling the mood because of them. So, we waited for half an hour and then left for the super old Shiva Temple I had so much heard about.
The Shiva temple was not easy to locate. We reached the Kera village, only to found ourselves lost. Google didn’t help either. The temple was wrongly located on the maps. Where it should have been the marvelous temple in ruins, there was a farm. But then like always, we found a gentleman on the scooter. He was going through the same way and took the pain to guide us to the temple by asking us to follow him.
The first sight of the temple gave me goosebumps. It was built sometime between 9th-11th century under the rule of Chalukyas (Solankis). It survived all these years and was probably a famous center of worship that involved yearly religious congregation until it suffered the severest attack on its structure in the form of an earthquake in 1819. Later it lost more to the Bhuj earthquake of 2001. Yet, it stands tall today and is a history enthusiast’s paradise. The square shaped inner sanctum of the temple and its spire survive to date. The sculptures on the back wall of the temple sanctum are beyond a rarity, a beauty to behold. Also, climbing to a nearby wall, I realized I was standing on one of the walls of the Kapilkot fort, now in a run-down state. Only a few feet high walls have survived the test of time, rest remains engulfed in a bushy jungle.
Kapilkot is said to be the great city of the Kutch region, the capital city of the local legend, Lakho Phulani. The man who introduced bajra to the people of the Kutch. There are many Gujarati couplets on him, showering immense love by the people of the region. He was slain in a battle against a Solanki King. There are a couple of Gujaratvies on him as well, produced in 1928 and 1970. Oh, and there is a novel on him as well in Gujarati, titled ‘Lakho Phulani’ by Shri Hari Lal Upadhyay. He is some legend of the region and it is rather a tragedy that no preservation work is in the process to save whatever that is left of his capital city.
After spending more than half an hour at the temple, clicking photos, trying new angles, even making videos of each other, celebrating life and togetherness, we moved back into the car. My dad asked me about where we are going next. Without telling him exactly how many kilometers off the road we would have to go to reach the Roha Fort, I informed him that there is an amazing fort nearby and we would go there next. He warned me of the need to reach Mandvi on time for lunch. He also questioned the point of visiting monuments on a family holiday. A battle ensued between us. Everybody jumped in with their viewpoints, including the driver. And we became the family all strive for, keeping each other’s back while shouting at each other, and being most illogical when logic demands a presence.
Kutch is sort of a desert, a barren land with bushes here and there, sporting a variety of plants of the cactus family and the type of plants super rare to see for the city animals like me and my family. Looking at everything from inside the car easily passed my time, but my dad didn’t like the wilderness either and my brother seemed to support him on this. It is obvious that most of the people would hate it and that was visible because we saw no one for kilometers. People were a rarity.
We again lost the way and had to even face the dilemma of the trip, whether to drive the car through an apparent ditch on a non-concrete desert road or not. We didn’t go, took a u-turn and decided to go to the final location through a different route. It was noon and the roads were as barren as the land. There were no cars either, as we were deep in the Kutch district, miles away from the Highway connecting Bhuj to Mandvi.
From a distance, I saw a giant hill and a dilapidated gate, a cheery on the top of a cake. It appeared like the entry to the fort. I assumed it to be the Roha fort, the one we were looking for. The gate may have been the grand entry to the fort when it was operational, but no more. Another man on scooter told us that we would have to go inside through the back side. So, we drove a few more kilometers, and then took a left turn on an obscure kuchha road that led us to a place where the kuchha road ended and hundreds of stairs could be seen leading to the fort. Still no one could be seen. No car parked, no security guard. That scared us a bit. But we decided to climb the stairs nevertheless. Except my father, he wanted to rest in the Ac of the car and had no intention to climb so many stairs to just see a fort in ruins. My mother, my brother and I moved. Clicking selfies, we reached the top, a small entry to the fort, only as big as the gate of our home back in Delhi. A temple welcomed us, but still no man was to be seen. It rather frightened me at this point, but I managed to keep it to myself. My mother was most excited and the boldest of all to say nothing will happen. We followed her. It appeared that temple had been recently restored; the sculptures on its pillars and on all walls were all exquisite. Since the gates of the temple were closed, we moved ahead. The fort looked like a perfect place to shot a horror movie. The spookiness factor peaked even when light ruled the sky under the vibrant sun.
I had earlier watched the episode of Ekaant by Alok Tripathi on Epic Channel in which he talks about the history of the Roha fort at length. This is what had at first place inspired me to visit here, but I was definitely not expecting to not see a single soul in the entire fort complex. I had also read whatever few articles were available about the Roha fort on the internet.
As we walked ahead, we saw glimpses of the Victorian architecture like we had seen in the Bhuj palace. We walked through the small path with wild bushes on both sides, occasionally hoped on to some of the fascinating structures and even climbed stairs to reach the terrace of one of them. The fear that they may collapse anytime was another emotion that stopped us from venturing further. But we moved, slowly, to see many historical wonders, built with love putting together exquisite art. The one thing that absolutely made me fall in love with them was the balconies of the palace. They were superlative, easily noticeable for their beauty from a distance. At some point, the small walking path with bushes all around seemed closed. There was a lot of stone rubble which must be because a wall may have fallen off recently. I dared to climb on it to lead the family delegation ahead. This time my mother was hesitant and I was at peak of my inquisitive self. We walked ahead to see another temple, again closed.
After spending some time in the fort, looking here and there, cautious of the dangers of walking in a fort in ruin with no one around, we started walking towards the direction from where we came. A leafless tree came on the way, looking as scary and morbid as it can, alongside a wall of the fort, with our path only a foot wide, it was as spine-tingling as it could get, and we ran towards the temple we could see from a distance, only to have a mirthful laughter when we reached there safely.
Roha was one of the biggest jagirs in the Kutch district. It was so powerful at a time during the 18th – 19th century period that the Kutch King was said to be envious of the Roha Jagirdar. Roha had more than 52 villages under it. It was specially permitted by British East India company to operate a police station, a jail, and a court. The Jagirdar was allowed to punish people for their crimes. He could give any punishment according to the crime expect capital punishment. And the Kutch King was not to interfere in the matters of Roha jagir. It was an unusual system in India, for jagirs were always under their respective King and were not allowed to have jails and courts themselves.
When we came down, my father was exhausted sitting alone in the car with no one around except the driver. He asked us to hurry so that we can finally have our lunch at the super famous Osho Dining Lodge which I had found as unequivocally the best restaurant in the entire city of Mandvi. They usually let me decide when it comes to food, but not always. We told him that no one was there in the fort as well, and he brushed it off as another one of our perilous expedition to see nothing but old buildings ready to die any second. I wondered if he would have joined us to the top of the hill to see the fort, he may have thought differently about it, but no, that’s not possible! For him, ruins are ruins, dying structures bring nothing but morbid thoughts, and I am sure thousands with agree with him.