Shipbuilders at work building a giant wooden floater at the Mandvi Beach, which is one of Gujarat’s most popular tourist locations © Igor Plotnikov
Most people have a fascination with the high seas, sailing ships, and other things maritime. If you fall in this category, Mandvi, one hour away from Bhuj, will captivate you. Mandvi has a 400-year-old shipbuilding industry and has served as a seaport since its humble beginnings in 1574 at the hands of the kings of Kutch. Located at a junction of two major trade routes, the camel route through the desert, and the sea spice route, Mandvi saw ships from East Africa, the Persian Gulf, Southeast Asia, and further afield during its heydays. During the 1700’s Rao Godiji, the ruler of the region presided over a total of four hundred ships, and Mandvi was the most important harbor in the region. In its early days, this was a fortified town with a massive stone wall of which very little remains today.
Mandvi soon became a rich, prosperous town with numerous religious centers. The first to be constructed was Sundarwar Temple, after which the Lakshminarayan Temple and a mosque, the Jama Masjid followed, in the 17th century. Although Mandvi has been replaced by Mumbai as the major harbor of the region, its famous shipbuilding industry is very much alive and still thriving. A visit to the shipyards next to the River Rukmavati is a revelation; every ship is constructed by hand, with timber from Malaysia’s tropical forests, like it has been done for centuries.
A shipmaker looks into the framework of a wooden boat under construction, traditionally these boats are known as Dhow in Gujarat © Mridulablog
How the so-called Tower of Wagers got its name, is an amusing story. Apparently, the wealthy ship owners of the town would start to inspect the seas from this lookout point during May every year, awaiting the return of their ships. While on watch, they would place bets on whose fleet would be the first to arrive back from their voyage to distant lands. Climb the steps for a wonderful view and imagine the bygone scenes as numerous wooden ships laden with merchandise approached the port. Vijay Vilas Palace constructed with red sandstone in a mixture of different architectural designs is a true reflection of the cosmopolitan trends brought to the city from afar. The palace, built-in 1929 by Vijayrajji, the Rao of Kutch, as his private residence, has featured in many Bollywood films, like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Lagaan, and is a popular tourist attraction. Inside you can view an interesting collection of objects from around the globe, and the scenery from the balcony is superb. A walk through the town center is a must; there are beautiful old pastel-colored buildings near Mochi Bazaar with facades extravagantly decorated with sculptures and other decorative designs.
Rural women walk through the desert to carry water in earthen pots to their houses – several kilometers every day – due to the drought which plagues the area Being close to Kutch, Mandvi is a good place to experience the colourful costumes and unique lifestyle of the rural pastoral communities © CRS PHOTO
How to get there: Take a flight from Mumbai to Bhuj, from where an hour’s drive will bring you to Mandvi. If you want to do a road trip from Ahmedabad, take the NH 947, and then the NH 41. This is a 6-hour trip.
Where to stay: Try the luxury beach tents at Vijay Vilas Palace if you feel like indulging yourself. Otherwise, Serena Beach Resort also offers comfortable accommodation.
Where to eat: Mandvi will make any food lover’s heart race with pleasure. The traditional Gujarati food is especially tasty. Thalis are delicious anywhere you try them and do not forget to sample a few Dabelis, Kutch’s twist on the vada pav.
The beautifully carved marble pillars of the popular Jain temple called Jinalaya temple, in Mandvi Gujarat © Dakshesh Tailor
✿ Walk along the River Rukmavati and watch how wooden ships are constructed in the shipyards. The amazing skills of these workers will captivate anyone, even if you are not drawn to things of a maritime nature. For centuries craftsmen have implemented the exact same shipbuilding skills their ancestors did to create these wooden oceans-crossing vessels.
✿ You are not in Goa, but that does not mean you cannot have a wonderful time on the beach. Mandvi has a few charming surprises, like the wide, pristine beach next to Vijay Vilas Palace. Mix with the locals on Kashiwshvanath Beach, and partake in the fun. Stay until sundown, wander among the beachfront stalls, sample some delicious street food, and take a ride on a camel.
✿ Put on comfortable shoes, wind down the pace, and explore this ancient town on foot. Go on a leisurely walk through the charming streets, enjoy the architecture of the buildings. Take pictures of the once affluent homes that show the city’s prosperous past with their windows of colorful stained glass, and beautiful carvings. Notice the European influences brought with the fleets of ships during the years of plenty.
✿ Go souvenir shopping at one of the city’s many bazaars. Look out for bandhani textiles and other local items. Sample some of the local dishes at the market food stalls.
✿ Visit the incredible salt desert at the Great Rann of Kutch, only two hours away by road. The salt desert turns into an expanse of salt marshes during the rainy season and is well worth a visit.
Mandvi has some surprisingly lovely beaches, including the Kashi Vishwanath Beach Tourists take the popular camel ride at the Mandvi Beach in Gujarat as the camel herder guides them through the sand © ImagesofIndia
Some Images From Our Trip To Mandvi
Once the summer palace of Jadeja Maharao of Kutch, the Vijaya Vilas palace is set amidst tropical vegetation in Mandvi, Gujarat This palace has been the setting for Bollywood films such as Lagaan and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam © Michele B
The main central dome of the Vijaya Vilas Palace glows in the sunlight – one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Gujarat © renu chittora ray
The regal balcony of the Vijay Vilas Palace is made with a carved Red Sandstone, looking over the vast spans of vegetation that surround the palace © Mridulablog
Tourists visiting the Vijay Vilas Palace on the outskirts of Mandvi admire an impressive recreation of a tiger © CRS PHOTO
Hindu scriptures carved onto traditional sandstone mark the ground that is considered a Hindu temple at Mandvi Gujarat © CRS PHOTO
A shot of the colonial-style houses in Mandvi with painted doors that were once bright but have now turned pastel with wear © CRS PHOTO
A bright flamboyance of hundreds of flamingos spotted crossing the sandy Modhva beach near Mandvi in Gujarat © hp_clicks
An inviting beach chair sits in the sands of the Mandvi beach of Gujarat, looking over the blue horizon © Mridulablog
Leveraging the raging winds, windmills at the Mandvi beach of Gujarat produce clean energy that powers parts of the region © ImagesofIndia
Tourists enjoy a ride at the ocean on a speedboat at the Mandvi Beach of Gujarat as the ocean wind blows fast © Coralreefart
Wooden boats float atop the blue waters of the Arabian Sea as spotted at the Mandvi Beach at Gujarat © CRS PHOTO