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Nearly four centuries ago, a tiny village nestled in the Naliya grassland region of Kutch was sold for tera hazaar (thirteen thousand) koris (an ancient currency of Kachchh). It was an important port during that time and along with the other ports like Mandvi and Mundra, it contributed to much of the maritime trade between India and the Middle East, Africa and even the West. It was home to rich Hindu, Jain and Muslim merchants, who patronized the construction of beautiful havelis and marketplaces, temples and stepwells, tombs and mosques that adorn the streets.

This little village came to be known as Tera which means thirteen in Hindi.
Today, a walk through Tera reminds you of a once flourishing medieval town, retaining much of its symbolic power and grandeur in its architecture. The streets are straight and narrow, with an imposing fort wall dressed in stone known as the ‘Alampanah’.

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If you happen to catch the chatting villagers during their afternoon tea time, they will proudly tell you what is perhaps the most unique feature of their village. The manmade lakes. To the North-East of the village, along its periphery lies this fascinating example of traditional water management systems. They are called the Chhatasar, Sumarasar and Chatasar.

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Rainwater collected from the hills about 15-20kms away is brought to the village through a small canal. It flows first into the Chhatasar whose banks are sealed against erosion and the bed against percolation. The water from this lake gets filtered through a wier on the opposite end and flows into the second lake, the Sumarasar. When this gets filled up, it automatically flows into the third, Chatasar and eventually into the river Tera. This interlinking and sequential filtering of rain-water is remarkable.
The use of the three lakes was segregated into bathing and washing clothes, for animals, for drinking and other needs respectively.

Imagine the engineering skills of these people back then!

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Mandvi or “Mandavie” as it was known to the British, was a principle sea-port town in Southern-Kachchh. It was intimately connected with the ports of the Red Sea as well as Zanzibar on the African Coast through maritime commerce. Many people travelled through the sea to reach Kachchh from Afghanistan and beyond after the borders were closed on the western frontier due to the India-Pakistan war. Today Mandvi is a melting pot of people and old businesses of much diversity.
Spared from several earthquakes that have hit the Kachchh region over centuries, the town of Mandvi is full of quaint buildings, narrow winding streets, a charming old market and a people who are kind, curious and enviably talented.
Here is a photographic tour of the people I crossed in this beautiful town.

In the book called “Random Sketches of Western India”, Marianna Postans, a british traveller to the region in 1839 writes about the people of Mandavie; “The inhabitants seem busy, cheerful and industrious. They are a peculiarly handsome race, and much more indebted to nature on this account than the inhabitants of the interior (Bhooj). I think climate must produce this enviable distinction, the air is agreeably soft and cool. Another material advantage to the health of the people of Mandavie is a change in their diet : Fish of good quality!”

Maritime trade and commerce flourished for centuries in Mandvi. The exports consisted principally of cotton cloth and spices; and in return it received dates, coffee, dried grapes, antimony, senna and colored mats from ports of the Red sea, and from Zanzibar; elephant’s teeth and rhinoceros horn.

Today, the town is no longer an active port, but stories and remnants of a once thriving business in trade can be felt when one visits the old market and through conversations with the spice merchants.

The town of Mandvi has a 400-year old ship-building industry and craftsmen who continue to use traditional techniques to build ships for domestic and international clients. A creek from the sea, which runs skirting one side of the town for about a mile inland, has its mouth filled with ships, building, mending. These enormous wooden ships are a remarkable sight! They look quite primitive in nature but the ship-builders will swear by their strength and stability and they continue to believe in their building techniques as their forefathers did.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise in Mandvi is the palace. It was also used as a traveller’s bungalow. It is double storied and is built of white stone with a wonderful terraced roof having an extensive view of the surrounding land. The architecture is curious and beautiful; seems to be a mixture of the east as well as european influence.

It is not surprising then to hear of the legend that the architect, RamSingh, having been as a child stolen from the coast of Kutch by pirates, was taken by them to Holland, where he became initiated into the knowledge of the fine arts, and returned to decorate his native land. He was the servant of one of the early and most wealthy princes of Kutch (Rao Lacca), and at whose command he ornamented the province with many specimens of architectural beauty.

The people of Mandvi are very skilled. From ship-building to cloth weaving, several hand-made crafts continue to exist. Amongst them, one of the most popular ones is the art of “Bandhani”. Bandhani, or tie and dye, is a technique by which fabric, either cotton, silk or wool is decorated with tiny dots by simply tying a small portion of it in a tight knot, so that once the cloth is dyed, the tied portion retains the original colour of the cloth. Mandvi has a rich Bandhani market.

Bandhani is worn by women as sarees and dupattas, while men usually wear turbans made of Bandhani cloth. It is almost always the “wedding dress” of the Indian bride from this region.

Bandhani is everywhere in the town of Mandvi.

The artisans who practice this craft have settled in this town, whose communities can be traced back to have originated from Sindh, Pakistan. The community is called “Khatri” and includes both Hindus and Muslims, the latter are larger in number. Mandvi is well known for tie and dye owing to the commonly known fact that the water in this town brings forth the brightest colours!

Cloth dyers from Mandvi work with chemical dyes that have largely replaced natural colours due to the huge demand from the market.

Mandvi is known for its serene stretch of beaches and blue waters. Camels are a common scene on the beach, painfully pulled around by little boys and slowly tagging the people for a couple a metres along the stretch of the Main beach (it is a difficult sight).

I met Veer, the camel, and I introduce him to you here.

I will leave you in the end with a panorama of the Mandvi vegetable market, full of people and shopkeepers that love to be photographed!

Update : We just came across a beautiful photo essay on the shipyard in Dhaka by Pavel Gospodinov, Check it out – http://pavelgospodinov.com/dhaka-shipyard-dhaka-bangladesh/

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