Rann Utsav is here and everyone is heading to the Rann of Kutch. I never knew of this place until Amitabh Bachan said ‘Kutch nahin dekha tho kuch nahin dekha’ (if you have not seen Kutch, you have not seen anything worthy). The white salt that shimmers in the full moon as he walks by and the colorful lehenga clad Gujarati women running around the safed Rann made Kutch to immediately climb up the list of things to see. We had toured 12 days at Gujarat by now and were at the last leg covering Kutch. After exploring the ruins of Bhuj and buying loads of handicrafts from villages around Bhuj, our journey began towards Rann of Kutch.
Also Read: Handicrafts from Bhujodi, Bhuj
An hour or a little more than that we were already approaching Kutch. As we proceed the landscape changes into acres and acres of barren land. A little bit of cattle grazing here and there on the thorny bushes of the arid desert. Men were in comfortable Peshawari salwar Kameez and women were in their traditional backless choli. I have read a couple of books on Pakistan and the description of men very much matched with the people I saw here. Only then did it also strike me that Rann shares border with Pakistan. After acquiring the permit at the entrance for a day’s visit, we drove into more barren lands towards Hodka.
Tip: Take a vehicle from Bhuj. Very handy to roam around Kutch. I saw a couple of backpackers trying to hitchhike a ride from the checkpoint but you will get to visit only Rann then.
Hodka is 20km away from Dhorda where the tent city is put up during the Rann Utsav. Since we found that tent city was not in our budget we opted for a stay at Hodka. The traditional Bhunga aka mud houses of Kutch region welcomed us. I was in awe to see that so much artwork and mirror work was done on the walls and windows of the Bhunga. Not just for the cottage stay but even the houses that people normally live in was decked up with colorful paintings and mirror work. The cottage owner was also a simple guy in salwar kameez with loads of kajal cladded eyes. Curious Kutchi girls were behind us to know what two girls were doing in the desert and why we did not have any male company. I was taken aback with how in such a young age the thought of marriage and the need of male company has already been seeded.
There was still a lot of time before sunset and our taxi driver insisted to see Kalo Dungar. Having not researched on the destination, we were game for anything that would fill time and driver was ready to take us. Kalo Dungar literally means black hills. Was it the small shrubs or the color of sand or just the hallucination of the name, I don’t know but it did have a tinge of black. At one point the driver asked us to get out of the car. In the middle of nowhere, I and my friend got out of the car bewildered! He got out too and the car just rolled back at top speed. I was like whaat is he doing and screeched ‘bhaiya pakadiya’! He dived into the car quickly, stopped it and looked at us with amusement, “do you want to see that again?” he asked with all excitement. Apparently, there is a ‘probable’ magnetic field at that particular point in Kalo Dungar and the car moves by itself. So we rolled down the car for a couple of more times for fun and a whole bunch of vehicles joined us in the game. A little away, a line cuts across the road with a board that read, ‘Tropic of Cancer’ passes through here. Hmm
Kalo Dungar is the highest point in Kutch and you get an aerial view of it. Vehicles reach up to a point, camels go a little further up and then walk up to the viewpoint. Suddenly an army van approached and armed young Jawans got out and walked up the hill! I for a moment got worried that something was wrong but the fact was Kalo Dungar is the last point and hence BSF have pitched tents here and guards the place. Up we passed through the temple of Dattatreya who is the Trimurti, a God with three faces, one of Shiva, one of Brahma and one of Vishnu. It is said that the temple is of 400yrs old but maybe the walls are newly constructed so it looked brand new. Standing on the viewpoint literally took my breath away. It is a 360-degree view of Rann. This place made me feel like a tiny speck. To my left I could see the white streaks of safed Rann, to my right I could see mountains and land stretching into the coast, to my front was the sea and somewhere out there was the border with Pakistan. It felt like standing at the edge of the earth and you have seen it all! The feeling was amazing. I would have actually loved to watch the sunset here but Rann was calling us. As I walked back a BSF guard was sipping his tea. I asked, “it is sea, mountain and a salt desert, so vast that you will get lost. How can one cross over from another country!” He gave a smile which translated to, “you ignorant girl!” and continued sipping his chai.
By 5 pm we were at the salt desert and got dropped at the gates. Some VIP cars drove further down 2kms and there are camel carts which take you down too. At first, I panic looking at four buses full of people entering the gate and walking further down I get an anxiety attack looking at the beeline of people walking down the ramp into the salt desert. A lot of people! It is late December but it is still a little wet. The water has not completely drained. At some places, it is a thin layer of salt and black marshy land beneath, at some places, it is crystallized salt that cracks as you step on it. People were standing on the ramp and were taking the important decision of life, ‘Should I get my shoes wet by getting into the desert or just stand here and watch!’. God, you have traveled so far just get in!
After a couple of excuse me and pushing and shoving me and my friend entered the desert. It was white, like white white, like eye blaring white! Everywhere there was white! As far as your eyes can see, as far as the land kisses the sky, it is just white salt desert. I turned into a small kid and was running away from the crowd further and further to touch the horizon. To see if it ends at all. To see what is on the other end of the whiteness. To let the white desert engulf me. To be surrounded by nothing but the rising moon and vast empty desert. The thin salt broke and my feet dunk into the marshy land, out came my foot covered in black sludge. And then I left a footprint of black mud over the salt. I walked and walked and walked until I heard a faint whistle. I turned back and saw a security person gesturing me to come back. I didn’t retreat but neither did I move forward. I let the moment sink in. The sun was setting the other side and the salt was reflecting the colors. I seldom take pics of mine and here I was taking so many pics of mine in the desert.. It was an evening to remember.
The security guy whistled again and this time he was moving everyone out of the desert. Must have been 6.30pm or 7pm by then. We walked as slowly as possible towards the ramp. Now there were four jawans looking at us and were waiting for us to get out of the salt. We then stood at the multiple viewpoints available and watched as the moon lit up the desert. It was a couple of days away from full moon day but still beautiful. Reluctantly we got out of the gates late night. We skimmed through the tent city area shops and headed to the cottage where Kutchi meal was ready. I had acquired a liking for Bajra roti with jaggery and ghee. I requested bhaiya ji for ghee and he came with a hot katori of ghee. As he poured it on my plate, it solidified midway itself 😐 Coldddddddd night!!
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Also Read: Dont miss visiting Little Rann of Kutch on your visit to Great Rann. Click here to know more.
The morning was even colder! I got into my jacket and shawl and stole and no socks, if that dunks in mud gone case.. The mist had a circular formation hovering over the light of the bhungas and looked like angels had come down to protect the bhungas. The dawn was just breaking as we entered the gates of Rann and people were ready with tripods and huge DSLR cameras at the viewpoints. I and my friend decided to walk into the safed Rann again. It was the best thing we did! Nobody entered the desert. I don’t know why, was it the cold or they wanted to leave quickly or whatever. The desert was for us, just us. Thank you, God, for the wonderful gift! A tinge of rosy orange was seen on the horizon, followed by which the orangish ball of Sun rose up. With the cold wind stinging our face and feet feeling slightly numb, I froze for some time watching the Sun creating magic in the desert. And then I realized, oops didn’t take pictures! That was how much mesmerized I was, listening to the sound of wind and watching the daybreak. The Sun was up and the desert was now a bright white difficult for the eyes. It had also become the time other tourists started to arrive and we decided to leave. As I walked back it felt like my soul was still standing there and looking at the desert. People say Rann is known for full moon night. I would say it is best to watch the sunrise.
Great Rann of Kutch should be on your bucket list however touristy the place is. Along with Rann of Kutch you can visit Little Rann of Kutch, Mandvi, Bhuj and if time permits peek into the Indus valley civilization at Dholavaria. If you want a complete package then the tent city is best. If you do not want to splurge, stay at Hodka. Plenty of stay options available and it is not too far. Rann is not exactly like seen in the advertisement. The land is wet, mushy at places. So don’t expect colorful lehenga clad ladies to perform or camels strut or folk musicians to sing in the desert. There are designated areas for that. Wear proper footwear and expect it to get salt stained. Best time to visit is October to March and Rann Utsav is from November to February. Also look out for Kite festival that happens in January. If possible plan around the full moon or just after the full moon, a fading moon is bigger than a growing one. Enjoy your trip and let me know your experience.
Also Read: Ten Must try Food from Gujarat