White diamonds under the Kutch sky
From the glistening sands of the world's largest salt desert to a rustic experience in its villages, the Great Rann of Kutch offers a heady mix of adventure, wildlife, soul searching and warm, homely food. It's an escape to paradise, literally!
Fresh from our spiritual bath at Koteshwar and the Kalo Dungar (the highest point in Kutch in Gujarat, close to the Indo-Pakistan border) and after securing the necessary permits from the Border Security Force, we drove northward, towards the Banni region, to reach the Dhordo village (approximately 90 kms from Bhuj), which is at the edge of our destination -- the Great Rann of Kutch.
The Great Rann of Kutch. Pics/Urmi Popat
Kutch is the only district in India where four distinct ecosystems (Desert, Coastal, Grassland and Upland) exists within a span of 100 kms. Europe may have the Arctic region while the Southern Hemisphere has Antarctica, but it is here in India where we are blessed with 16,000 sq kms of dry and desolate tabletop surface of salt crystals that dazzle like millions of diamonds under the shimmering sun.
We reached by afternoon. The sarpanch of the village, in which our resort (Gateway to Rann) was located, welcomed us warmly. Quickly, we dropped our baggage inside one of the artistic, traditionally crafted Bhungas (mud houses). In no time, and like many people who visit Dhordo, placed our feet first on the white desert to capture the varied moods and appearances of this enormous stretch of packed white salt, that changes its appearance from dawn to dusk.
Sands of time
Looking around this rustic, stunning landscape and its people, we noticed that its residents were behind world-renowned intricate hand embroidery. Even their breathtaking quilts and decorative home that are made of mud, stood out amid the white desert beyond. The rest of the people here subsist on livestock. Recently, the bromine industry and tourism, of course, have brought in alternate livelihood options.
There was something spooky in the silence of this place. A breath of fresh air pervades the space. After having soaked in the essence of the Great Rann, we begin to explore it entirely. As we moved further into this kingdom of white, we came across streams of blue ripples in the sand that we would run our fingers through. Everywhere we looked, a blanket of white greeted the eye, and the land beneath our feet felt like snow. It was tough to keep our shutterbug side under control as the sights of the ravishing Rann made for one spectacle after another.
Fantasising with the miracle of the surroundings, we kept walking further into the world’s largest salt desert, without turning back only to suddenly realise that the sun had started retreating at a distant horizon. We headed back to the resort, only to be greeted with the overpowering, albeit enticing aromas of cardamom and saffron.
Our meal whipped up at the resort’s restaurant, turned out to be a fragrant, authentic affair. Dinner was spread before us in a flash, and before we could blink, our plates were filled with rotla(flat breads) made of bajra (millet) with dollops of homemade butter, curry, vegetables, garlic chutney, dhokla and shrikhand. We wolfed down this meal, which is also the staple diet of people in the region.
Eye in the sky
Kutch doesn’t let one brood. You can make a visit to Hodko village nearby that is a 10-minute drive from the resort. The local bhomiyas or guides will give you a good insight of the village life, so ensure they accompany you for such trips. For souvenir maniacs, this makes for a nice place to not only watch artisans’ craft out some of the finest embroideries and leather works that our eyes have ever seen but also buy some of it. From Hodko village you could head out towards the wetlands of the Chhari Dand, (80 kms north west of Bhuj) to spot resident and migratory birds including the flamingo, pelican, cranes and many other species that fly from Siberia, after a good monsoon. Despite having spent a good time in this white wonderland, we were left wide-eyed, and planned for on another white sandy adventure.
How to reach the rann
Bhuj is the nearest big town. From this point, it’s advisable to hire a car to drive you to Dhordo.
>> BY AIR: Regular flights connect Mumbai with Bhuj.
>> BY RAIL: There are five trains that operate between Mumbai and Bhuj. Log on to www. irctc.com for the exact timetable.
>> BY ROAD: It takes between 12 and 15 hours to reach Bhuj, if you drive down.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The area is at its colorful best in December during the Rann festival where visitors can enjoy a variety of folk dances; camel safaris, can shop local handicrafts as well as have the experience to live in tents. However, the season from October to March is best time, overall.
NUMBER OF DAYS
Three-four days are sufficient to explore the area.
WHERE TO STAY
Gateway to Rann Resort
CALL 2803296181 / 9409475359
LOG ON TO kutchrannresort.com/
Toran Rann Resort
CALL 9374311880 / 2803255144
LOG ON TO www.hodka.in