It was 8:46 in the morning on the 26th January, 2001, in the desert region of Kutch.
India's 52nd Republic Day, a national holiday. People may have been lazing in beds contemplating whether to start the day when tragedy struck. Loud cries rent the air. Men, women ran out of their homes dragging their children with them. Many still trapped under the rumble of their crumbled homes and many cries muffled out completely. Homes and businesses collapsed within minutes.
This was the scene when the devastating earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale struck Gujarat in India. The epicentre of this devastating earthquake was nine kilometres south-southwest of the village of Chobari in Bhachau Taluka of Kutch district of Gujarat, India. The statistics of the damage left behind was painful to record. 20,000 people dead and many times that were left homeless and jobless.
Immediately after the devastation, Vastu Shilpa Foundation stepped in to resurrect the damaged villages. Theirs is truly an inspiring story of how they overcame all odds through sheer resilience and determination.
Gandhi nu Gam at Ludiya was one of the sixteen villages that received major help and support that brought the lives of those who survived the tragedy back on the right track. It was not an overnight development, but slow and steady efforts keeping in mind the fragile ethnicity of the place and preserving the same.
Authorities worked in tandem with local people to provide 455 dwellings complete with facilities such as sanitation, water-supply, water-harvesting ponds and check-dams. On the community front civic amenities such as schools, medical centres, grass banks for cattle, administration offices and community centres promoting the local crafts were established.
The rehabilitation was done in a very sustainable manner implementing water harvesting ponds, solar energy, smokeless stoves for kitchens and traditional architecture with local resources.
Fast forward a couple of decades.
During my recent tour of the place, in December 2021, nothing appeared amiss. A colourful flourishing village dotted with circular homes, the bhungas, their residents rolling out their art and handicraft work, luring all to stop by and soak in.
We arrived at the outskirts of the village. We piled out of the bus and made our way past circular houses, with walls painted with colourful murals and thatched roofs, till we reached the centre of the community.
The circular houses are called Bhunga. These resilient circular houses dotting Gandhi nu Gam’s terrain, built using locally available materials, embody the fluidity of life. They are the ones that stood strong during the disaster. When the village was planned and rebuilt, they used the same architectural plans for their homes as it is earthquake-resistant as well as climatically sustainable. Users could carry out the maintenance themselves.
A couple of bhungas are open to tourists. You can walk in and take a look at how well they have segregated the single circular room by stacking up different utility items against the wall.
At the community centre, women had displayed their vibrant handicraft. But wait, the traditional attire of Kutch women is certainly worth a mention. They were in their traditional costumes, donning kanjari (backless) blouses, large nose rings, vibrant ghagra choli (long skirts with embroidered blouses), and their wrists were enveloped with bangles.
Their intricate art and textile work reflect their talent. Men here excel in carpentry and chip out amazing woodwork. It is a visual treat in the dry parched stretch of land in the westernmost state of India.
Tourists indulge in shopping here to their heart’s content. Anyone who loves ethnic and traditional designs is sure to be satiated here. Some of the handmade items that took my breath away are: colourful quilts with kaleidoscopic designs, dress materials, bags and purses, ethnic jewellery, skirts with mirror-work, Ghagra and Cholis – the kind they wear, and more. Gandhi nu Gam is a shoppers’ paradise.
What delighted me more was that I actually saw the craftsmen at work. Women hunched over the textiles, dragging the needle and thread, creating wonderful designs. Men focussed on carving out the forms and figures in wood and metal. Traditional wooden furniture made here is very famous and much sought after. They are called chowki with khatli work.
Buying straight from the village benefits the craftsmen as it keeps the middlemen, who often pocket a major share of the profit, out of the loop, so it is a direct contribution to the sustainable income of the village.
This beautiful village, Gandhi nu Gam, which translates to Gandhi’s Village, is the culmination of the efforts of the government, Vastu Shilpa Foundation, local community and other stakeholders. Like a phoenix, it has risen from dust. Determined efforts to flourish have attracted curious travellers from other parts of India and around the world. Much of Kutchi resilience is steeped in understanding the power of nature and working with – not against – it.
“Was this place ever under rubble?” I mutter to myself in disbelief as I exit Gandhi nu Gam. The disguise was complete.
Distance of Gandhi Nu Gam from Bhuj is 71 km.
Distance from the Tent City of Dhordo is 27 km.
Nearest railway station and domestic airport is in Bhuj.
Nearest international airport is in Ahmedabad at a distance of 409 km.
Places to stay: best options are hotels in Bhuj or homestays in Dhordo that suit various budgets.
How to reach Gandhi nu Gam: By road from Ahmedabad, Bhuj and other cities. There are plenty of rental cars and state transport buses that will drop you off at the village.