Once upon a time there was a flourishing port town by the name of Lakhpat. Situated at the mouth of the Kori creek, overlooking the Great Rann of Kutch, it is believed to have been so named because of its daily revenue of one lakh (million) koris (the then currency of Kutch). As I approach the now deserted town, a hushed breeze redolent with countless stories—some fact, some legend—sweeps over the crumbling ruins …
Lakhpat was founded by Rao Lakhpatji (1752-61) the ruler of the State of Kutch. The settlement was later fortified in 1801 by Jamadar Fateh Muhammed, a Kutch General, to defend the kingdom from the Sindhis across the river. The 7 kilometre long fortification, much of which still stands, was at one time manned by 50 Arabs and 150 Kutch soldiers. Within it was a populace of millionaire merchants, predominantly Muslim, with a spattering of Hindus, trading in opium, rice, ghee, silk and perfumes with Sindh.
And then, when it was merely half a century old, an earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7.7 to 8.2 occurred on the evening of 16 June, 1819. And everything changed. The 1819 Rann of Kutch earthquake changed the course of the Indus River on whose banks the town had been built, moving it 150 kilometres away.
Lakhpat’s fortunes, as both a port and fertile land, dwindled almost overnight. The town was abandoned to be replaced with thorny acacia trees and dusty desert sands. Where formerly over 10,000 inhabitants had lived in luxury within the fortified walls, the number dropped over the following centuries to a few hundred struggling to subsist.
Snuggled within the crumbling fort walls at present are the descendants of the merchants, and a handful of mausoleums that have survived the ravages of nature and time, covered in lattice stone and topped with fairytale domes: Pir Kamalshah Dargah, Ghaus Mohammed no Kubo, and Sayyed Pir no Kubo. The Pir (Saint) Kamalshah Dargah has a rather fanciful legend to its credit. Pir Kamalshah’s body had been brought to Lakhpat to be buried, as per his wishes, but was refused entry. So he came back to life, lived in Lakhpat for a month, died again and was buried here, as per his wishes.
Lakhpat’s mausoleums and pirs:
Pir Kamalshah Dargah, where the Pir’s wishes came true
Ghaus Mohammed no Kubo, mausoleum of the mystic Pir Ghaus Mohammed, who became a fakir at age 12; Right: Detail of the ornate carvings on the walls
The closed door at the top of the mausoleum’s stairs, which when I opened
… Led me to a chamber full of tombs where the Pir and his family slept peacefully in death
The grandest of all—the nine dome roofed Sayyed Pir no Kubo with its exquisite jali work
A Shiv mandir (temple) and Gurdwara where Guru Nanak is considered to have camped on his way to Mecca, complete the secularism of Lakhpat.
I cannot resist wandering on my own through the ghost town. There are shells of mansions and meeting halls. Half forgotten lanes. And every now and then a smiling face greets me, inviting me into his or her home for a meal. I am finally tempted and walk into a rambling edifice to be proudly told that it was where the film Refugee was shot. I take out my camera and ask if I can take a picture of the lady and her children. By this time word has spread about my visit and the next thing I know cousins and neighbours start poring in for the photo opportunity. 🙂
It is late afternoon, and I am starving by now. I walk into the Lakhpat Gurdwara Sahib to pray and feast on the langar. Dal, roti and piping hot sweet tea, served with so much love by the sardarjis doing seva.
I found millionaires in Lakhpat today, but of a different kind from their ancestors—millionaires in warmth and generosity.
Note: My road trip to Kutch was done with Breakfree Journeys.