Just as we stepped out of the bus and got down in front of Gujarat Tourism Office in Bhuj on the 17th day, I was positively going the down the spiral of depression. This as we know, marks the end of one of the most eventful trips I had. Like I said, I sure did see much more spectacular stuff in Himalayas. But there is certain charm with the people and culture of Rajasthan & Gujarat. It was close to mid afternoon and three of us were wondering how to spend the day in Bhuj. Little did we know about how interesting it was about to get. A mysterious step well to lunch with giants to old dilapidated earth quake affected ruins of a palace to an evening spent ordering the famous mirrorwork craft of Kutch, the day packed it all.
It may sound crazy but I was here for 18 days and I did not see a stepwell. Really! I saw the longitudinal ones with many storeys and significantly embellished with intricate architecture ones but I also wanted to see that rectangular steps one where there are numerous small steps criss-crossing the entire steps everywhere – something like the chand baori of Abaneri.
It so happened that in Rann Utsav they had put up pictures of places of interest in Gujarat and apparently Bhuj housed one such small albeit square rank. Now I had to make a visit to this place called Ramkund. If I didn’t tell you yet, I did some crazy shopping in this trip and if the earliest backpacker would see my luggage, he sure would roll in his grave. With that entire luggage taken care of and a fight with the auto drivers for the first time on the trip, we set out on Bhuj exploration. I showed the photo of Ramkund as I could see in the picture and asked the hotel receptionist if he had any idea about this stepwell. He very nicely and wrongly directed us to the huge lake called Hamisar Talab and the Dhobi Ghat. The lake looks good with the waters reflecting the blue from the skies and the Prag Mahal stands pretty on one of the ends.
So we didn’t find Ramkund yet and the auto driver has no clue where or what it is. We thought of asking someone else and hence I went to a hotel nearby and asked a lady about Ramkund. She seemed to immediately recognize the place and directed the auto driver instantly. I was hopeful looking at that lady’s confidence in directing us but soon the hopes were drenched in stench of garbage and pee. We were wondering how in the hell can the road to a tourist spot be so pathetic. Just as our fears were taking shape, the auto stopped in front of a small tank and said this is it.
It was a tank alright with steps on three sides, murky green water and huge fishes. But the sad part was it looked nowhere close to the stepwell I saw in pictures. I told the auto driver this isn’t it. He said this is the only place he knew – take it or leave it. “You saw something which is not in Bhuj” was his retort.
Royally puzzled by its location, the small temple and a board saying it is one of the protected monuments put up the Archeological Survey of India, we couldn’t figure out if this was indeed Ramkund. A simple board describing the importance or history or a plain nameplate would’ve helped us with the misery but this is what we got – nothing and all left to our brilliant imagination and conjecture.
So the next task at hand was to validate if this was Ramkund indeed. We moved around here and there when I found a matching pattern on the edge on the stepwell in front of our eyes and the one in the picture. I told Daniel about this while Arti was busy trying to google the location of Ramkund. We both went around to the possible angle from where the pic could’ve been taken and tried to compare the two images. It looked similar to an extent. The only possible explanation could’ve been that the water levels have risen so high that the steps have all submerged. But the water was so murky stepping into it was out of question.
Now we needed more substantial proof to validate this was Ramkund indeed. We kept identifying similarities between the photo and the tank in front of us. Whoever was the photographer who had shot the images of places of interest in Bhuj had done a good job with good composition on all the other places in Bhuj save for Ramkund. The photo of Ramkund was compositionally unattractive and dull but showed the steps. So my explanation to that was, since he looks to be a good photographer, he would’ve taken a good shot of Ramkund as well if he could that is. The thing is, Ramkund was located in the middle of a housing locality. Every side there are domestic buildings rising up with the ugly painted cement walls enclosing the space. It was probably for this reason he had to choose such a composition for even I couldn’t see a better composition given the location.
By now, we had identified substantial similarities and came up with explanations for the anomalies. The only thing left was for someone to come and verify our validations. If not for that we were all set to go on a wild goose chase of the invisible. Just as we were about to leave two girls stopped amused by the foreigner among us. Jumping at the opportunity I asked them if this was the one in the photo, they confirmed.
Phew! This was Ramkund indeed. But the sad part was apparently heavy rains had flooded the tank causing all the steps to be submerged. So much for wanting to see a stepwell. With this exploration done I wasn’t too bothered to go anywhere else for sightseeing as this was the only thing that interested me. We retired for lunch and something interesting was about to happen to us again.
The auto driver said he will take us to a nice place for lunch. Before that, the flip flops that had endured 17days of wear and tear gave up notwithstanding the pressure anymore but for that we have our very skilled mochis on the road. Daniel found this to be very amusing. Later the auto driver took us to a Muslim Restaurant within the suburbs. As we entered, the staff asked us to go to the first floor which was a more of a family area but we refused and sat in the ground floor trying to act like the backpacker we intended to be. Now this was nothing new for Daniel as they were backpacking in the truest senses but for me and Arti this was certainly new. I was getting a little wary as we were attracting few unsolicited yet harmless glances though. I reckon Bhuj doesn’t see much tourist crowd.
It was a shabby place serving meals to locals and they all seemed to get their order at lightning fast speed while we were waiting for the food to arrive. Daniel said he is happy about the place. His explanation being if so many people are having food, he cannot serve stale food which is good news! Makes sense, I thought, live gyan on backpacking for my future use.
A man entered the hotel soon and I had to lift my head as high as I could to see his face, yes, he was that tall. With open mouth I was gaping at this man who looked like a pathan, as tall as 7 feet! I mean, do people like that actually exist?! Okay so one is coincidence but what would you say if 50% of the men walking in were taller than 6 feet 5 inches?! One after the other they kept coming in and leaving and all of them were the tallest lot I’d ever seen. I so badly wanted to take a photo with them but didn’t ask for the sole reason that their size itself was threatening. But later as I learned, the auto driver was saying taller the men here, softer they were. Maybe that could’ve been true - a missed opportunity. A possible explanation for the tall men again was they could’ve been descendants from the Sindh region of Pakistan. Made sense again but I saw no way of confirming it. What was baffling was that all the tall pathans had to come to the same hotel at the same time.
Later we sipped some delicious chai sitting in the auto and then Daniel had to leave to catch his bus to Ahmadabad and now it was just Arti and me after 17 days. I was already depressed now that the signs of a vacation ended were loud and clear. But the vacation was not coming to an end yet as we discovered. In the next post we’ll see the palaces and handicrafts!