An Aman ki Asha traveller from Kolkata chances upon the road to the country she dreams of visiting
By Ruchhita Kazaria
Fascinated by the ‘travel to Rann of Kutch’ adverts flooding my email inbox, I decided to take the plunge and head to where my heart was calling. Along with my close friend Saira Shah Halim and her family, our party of six (including a nanny) began our nine-day trip in Bhuj, on the Rann of Kutch.
The iced salt of the marsh glistened in our eyes as we walked through it on December 31, and planned ahead for 2015, sharing our dreams. The first thought cloud to blink before my eyes was “Pakistan” — a country where I feel my soul rests.
Thinking about the possibilities, I began planning with Saira. To our surprise, her husband Dr. Fuad Halim introduced us to the “India Bridge” from where we could feel closer to our dream destination.
We learnt that the India Bridge in Kutch, Gujarat, is an outpost of India’s Border Security Forces (BSF). We headed there the very next day, after obtaining a special permit that is required to enter the area. In between the territories of India and Pakistan, looms the No-Man’s Land which is wilderness. One can travel up to the culvert bridge that separates Sir Creek and the India’s ‘last post’.
We were soon exchanging notes with the BSF jawaans who seemed delighted to trade tales with their unexpected visitors. Photography is strictly prohibited but I was allowed to take a couple of photos, including one a little before the bridge past which one could see the pristine white salt desert. With the aid of binoculars one can see Sir Creek and spot the local fishermen from both India and Pakistan who fish there under surveillance.
What ensued was an hour of deep spiritual connect involving the virtual other side. Tales mingled with tears began pouring out, more from their hearts and less from their lips. Over a cup of hot tea, they narrated how they patrol together with the Pakistanis at No-Man’s Land.
They told tales about how they distribute mithai (sweetmeats) from across both sides and share savories. Of how they smile together and even wipe each other’s tears depending on the occasion. They told us how, despite and in spite of the desert and wilderness, they manage to harvest flowers of love and respect between them.
“Sookha pada hai yahan madam ji, par pyaar ki kami nahin,” said jawan — it’s a drought-struck area here, madam, but there’s no dearth of love.
Wish List: To be able to go up to Sir Creek and talk to the fishermen clan.
The next day, we were off to Dholavira, 250 km from Bhuj. This is an archaeological site at Khadirbet, Kutch, where ruins of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization have been excavated. Dholavira is one of the five largest Harappan sites and the most prominent archaeological site in India from the Indus Valley Civilization. The other great sites of the period are in Pakistan.
After soaking in the ancient ghost town that was inhabited some 5000 years ago, we headed to our guesthouse in Toran, a State Government initiative.
From there, we drove up to the Rann of Kutch. As we walked along the salt desert, the setting sun began to cast a bewitching spell upon us.
“Pakistan is closest from here Madamji,” chuckled our guide, well aware of my undying love for our neighbouring country. As my eyes widened, , he smiled and added, “Only 16 gaavs from here” (1 gaav = 3 km).
Hugging Saira in delight, I probed for more details.
Pakistan is barely 48 km from Dholavira. I was told that after dark, lights from Pakistan brighten the horizon. How lovely! Locals know the cross-border shortcuts that abound the arid wastelands but there is heavy patrolling by the BSF sentries, their smiles notwithstanding.
“There are a lot of ways to cross over, but don’t even try it,” warned our guide. “The BSF will mistake you for someone from the other side.”
Temples dot the area, adding to the charm of the mystical, ancient land. Nearby, we chanced upon one dedicated to Karni Mata. I could hear the evening aarti being hummed spiritedly. Making my way to the mandir, I found that the devotees were BSF jaawans. I sat down with and broke into the “Om Jai Jagdish Hare” bhajan along with them.
As they distributed the prasad, I smiled and found myself asking for tea. Sipping hot tea in the freezing arid region, our talk turned to their Pakistani counterparts.
“Badhey achhey log hai woh… hamari tarah hi hai,” one of them said — the Pakistani’s are very nice people… just like us.
I smiled at the warmth in his tone. Catching my smile he asked “Aapke koi Pakistani dost hain?” (Do you have any friends from across the border?).
When I nodded, it was their turn to smile and probe further, “Rishtedaar bhi hai?” (Do you even have relatives that side?).
Breaking into a wide grin, I replied; “Dost they … ab rishtedaar jaisey hi ban gaye hai” (They were friends … and now are more like relatives).
As I told them about Aman ki Asha, they held onto each word. Then one young sentry spoke up, narrating how his leave had got cancelled even though his wife had just delivered. He said he had shared the grief mingled with joy with jawaans from the other side, and talked about how they gave duas (prayers/blessings) for the baby. They also cautioned him against letting his child join the BSF.
“Usko insaan rehne dena. Aam insaan. Wardi wala mat banana. Kehna, tourist ki tarah Pakistan aaye… Hum uski raah dekhenge”. (Let him remain a human being, an ordinary civilian. Don’t make him a uniformed man. Ask him to visit us like a tourist, … we will wait for him).
Feeling quite choked up, I blinked away my tears and saluted them before walking away. The moon was up, casting a soft light on the wild horses and donkeys sauntering across the wastelands.
Overall, this was a most soulful vacation because we were so near, and yet so far, from my dream destination Pakistan. I had heard of mammoth weather balloons (hot air balloons) at the Rann of Kutch festival. How I longed to hop onto one of them and just fly away, into the country where as I mentioned, my soul rests! I hope destiny is kinder in 2015 and I get an opportunity to visit Pakistan.
Wish List: To don my pink sneakers and sprint the 50 kilometers distance. Pakistan, wait for me… I have found the road that leads to you!
The writer is a former journalist with The Asian Age and Times of India.
She lives in Kolkata. Email: [email protected]