When I asked the parking lot attendant last night for directions to hit the highway to Koteswar he told me that he would ask a driver to explain it to me in the morning. He was true to his word. When he found me loading my luggage into the car at 7 am he brought me a person who explained the route in such lucid detail that I could not have taken a wrong turn. For better, he reiterated it twice. I had traveled from Ahmedabad to Viramgam on business early last year. However, I could appreciate the beauty of the road only this time when I drove myself. This is arguably the only state in the country where the speed limit on a state highway is 100 kmph. The distance of 65 kms to Viramgam was covered even before I had ‘warmed up’. However, I spotted Jyoti Hotel on the highway and decided to have breakfast there. I had in mind some typically Gujarati fare for breakfast. But I was offered idli, vada and dosa! I settled for a plate of ‘desi’ bonda. Hunger still not sated I gave in to an order of idli and vada. When I took a bite of the vada I knew I would not be able to finish it. “Yeh theek nahin hain (this is not right)”, I told the waiter. I ordered another plate of bonda and tea. All the while the manager of the restaurant was watching my interaction with the waiter. When the bill was presented the waiter told me that the idli/vada had not been charged, courtesy the manager. Customer Service, super style.
The 200 km road from Viramgam to Bhachau was as much a beauty as the one to it was. The SH was all through at 100 kmph. In comparison the 80 kms from Bhachau to Bhuj was inferior! Bumpy and narrow. The highlight of the road to Koteswar was the sign board which said “Tropic of Cancer is passing from here”. Stopped a few minutes there to take a few pictures, but it is part of a vast waste land. I was warned to look out for Nilgais (blue bulls) that dash out of the bushes and cause many accidents on those roads. I was fortunate not to have encountered any.
Suddenly out of the barren landscape of Kutch appeared a vast lake – the Narayan Sarovar Lake – on the left as I was driving past the tall gate proclaiming the entry into Narayan Sarovar and Koteswar. It is among the five holy lakes of Hinduism, the others being Mansarovar (Tibet), Pampa Sarovar (Karnataka), Bhuvaneshwar (Odisha) and Pushkar (Rajasthan). The holy lake is associated with Vishu (Narayan) who mitigated a drought in the Puranic age by touching the land with his toe, in response to fervent prayers of sages. Though the lake is revered enough to bathe in, the same is not recommended by the tourist guides. Those on pilgrimage will find many temples of interest in Narayan Sarovar. Koteswar is just 4 kms from Narayan Sarovar on the Kori Creek and is the last outpost of human construction at the westernmost limit of India. It is said that the glow of lights from Karachi, Pakistan can be seen on a clear night from Koteswar. The sunset, I witnessed, was glorious and gave me incredible photo opportunities. The Koteswar Temple also witnesses pilgrims in large numbers, particularly during Sankranthi. The Shiva temple is associated with Ravana and there are at least two versions of them.
Cherian Abraham, an erstwhile colleague from DP World Cochin, who was now with Adani Ports in Mundra had make a booking for my stay in the Jain Inn. I checked into the Inn after visits to Narayan Sarovar and Koteswar. Many fishing boats were aground in Koteswar; I was told that fishermen were on strike, protesting against a few of them incarcerated in Pakistan. The next task was to visit the police station and make arrangements with the Station House Officer to attest the departure the next day morning from Koteswar. I walked across to the PS and met the ASI who was in charge. The young inspector agreed to do the honors at once after attentively listening to the details of my expedition. He also took the initiative to summon two correspondents of newspapers, who were stationed there. They came, despite the late hours and took an interview and many photographs. Through them I also came to know of a group of four who had set out from Koteswar to Tezu with a view to set a round trip record, as part of a Toyota sponsored effort.
On the way to Gujarat I had got in touch with an old friend, Manoj Sasidharan, IPS. He promised to make arrangements for attestation of the log sheets in ujarat in police stations. Before retiring for the night Manoj, who was in Gandhinagar for the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ bandobast arrangements, rang up to confirm that police stations from Jakhau to Diu have been alerted for the attestation. It was a great relief for I considered attestation as the trickiest part of the record attempt.
Thus, all was set for the Coastal Expedition – 6600 kms in 8 days; daunting no doubt, but exciting too, for I had not traveled most of the coastal roads I was to traverse in the next few days. The challenge was of the unknown.