Mandvi located on the Kutch coast is a potpourri of maritime history, scenic beaches, migratory birds, colourful markets, an old town with beautifully ornamented homes and authentic Kutchi cuisine. Located on the banks of the Rukmavati river Mandvi is not as famed as its sibling city of Bhuj but in the bygone era, it was a thriving port and at the helm of trade and commerce. If you happen to be in Bhuj set aside a day to explore this coastal town and enjoy its unhurried pace of life, pristine sandy beaches and get seeped in its rich history as you dig into a Dabeli or the Kutchi burger.
Dive into heritage at the Vijay Villas Palace
Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Lagaan are some of the Bollywood movies which have been filmed in this palace which was built in the 1920s as a summer retreat of Rao Vijayrajji. Stroll through the numerous rooms of the palace and marvel at the regal furniture, décor and impressive collection of collectables that were gifted or brought by the royals from around the world. The walls lined with photographs will provide a sneak peek to the lifestyle of these aristocrats, their hunting expeditions and connections with the erstwhile heads of states and other dignitaries. Do take the spiral staircase and head to the terrace from where you can get a panoramic view of the neighbourhood. The Vijay Vilas Palace has its own private beach which can be visited if you chose to shell out a couple of extra rupees.
Visit the Shipbuilding Yard
Visit the shipbuilding yard and museum for a dose of maritime history. Mandvi is home to a shipbuilding yard more than 400 years old signifying its rich maritime history. It was the primary port of Kutch and Gujarat before Mumbai superseded it. Even today on the banks of the Rukmavati river you will find craftsmen building dhows/wooden ships by hand. In the long-gone era, Mandvi was a buzzing port as ships sailed to and from Africa, South East Asia, Middle East and South India.
A little ahead of the shipbuilding yard near the Customs Office is the Sagar Ship Museum wherein all likely hood you will find octogenarian Shivji Bhuda Fofindi hunched over a model of a ship. The small museum has ship models, vintage photographs, marine instruments and other paraphernalia. A newspaper clipping proclaiming that Shivji was instrumental in building a replica of Vasco Da Gama’s ship is proudly displayed on a shelf along with several other curios. Do strike a conversation with this wise old man who will gladly share some of his experiences and stories from his travels.
Eat your heart out at Osho Dining Hall
If you are a foodie and like a fusion of varied tastes, then savouring a Gujarati thali at this simple no-frills dining hall is a must-do. At Rs.130 the sumptuous thali here is a steal and more than compensates for the stark interiors. A large steel platter with four small bowls will be laid in front of you in which dal or lentils and vegetable dishes will be served. For starters, it will be a spongy dhokla or some bhajias/fritters. Fried puffed puris and rice will be the cereal options to go along with the veggies and dal.
For accompaniments, you will typically have fried slit chillies, chutneys and a colourful salad which is a medley of assorted vegetables like grated beetroot, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. Jalebis or sweet yellow pretzels which are juicy, crisp are simply irresistible if you have sweet tooth. A glass of chaas or buttermilk to wash it all down is an essential element too.
The place can be overcrowded during the meal times, but it will be well worth the wait and you will soon forget about it once the appetizing meal is served. This dining hall is in a by-lane of the old city, so you may have to ask a couple of shopkeepers for its location or better still use your mobile phone GPS.
Take a camel ride at Mandvi beach
Mandvi beach is the picnic spot where both tourists and locals flock in large numbers and spend a day at the beach swimming in the sea, doing water sports or what the locals like doing most eating. The stalls on the beach serve the Kutchi Dabeli which will remind you of the burger of the West or the Maharashtrian Wada Pav. The beach can get very crowded during holidays and peak seasons. Just hop on to a camel which has been beautifully decorated with bells and embroidered saddles and hold on tight as the camel lifts itself up. After the initial fleeting feeling of having butterflies in your stomach just relax and enjoy the ride along the beach watching the windmills, the sand and the sea.
Admire the flamingoes at Mothwa beach
If you are a nature lover, ornithologist, a wildlife buff or photographer then head to Mothwa beach in Dhrabudi, located 13 km from Mandvi. Away from the hustle-bustle of Mandvi beach, this secluded, pristine beach with sand that just slips through your feet will charm its way into your heart. You will see locals mending their fishing nets, drying some fish or just going about doing their daily chores. Winters are especially great as you will spot migratory birds like flamingoes, brown and black-headed gulls, herons among others.
Enjoy the spectacular sunset when the sky changes into several shades of flaming red, yellow and ochre. Watch flamingoes gracefully wading through the waters in search of fish. Or simply sit on the beach and enjoy the gentle breeze wander over your face and spend some moments reflecting on life, nature and the beauty around you.