The White Desert : Rann of Kutch
January 1, 1970
by Gauri Argade
Quick Facts About ‘Rann‘ of Gujarat, India :
I was tempted to plan a visit just immediately when I came to know about ‘Rann’ (meaning salt marsh in Kutchi language) through one of my friend. The initial research prompted me and my husband to book the holiday 4 months in advance. Persistent geological boost closed off the connection with the Arabian sea, once this region was a part of. It created a vast lake that was still passable during the time of Alexander the Great. The white desert of Kutch region, played a very important role during trade and commerce of the civilizations that once flourished around here at Lothal, Dholavira, few of the prominent cities of the ancient Indus valley civilization.
Scenario now :
Due to geological changes, the sea enters this arid land during the monsoons & turns the desert into salty clay and mudflats. It vanishes with the heat and turns into a shimmery shiny white beauty during other seasons. In the month of November till February the white desert opens to the tourist and can be easily accessible for a lifetime experience. One of such initiatives of Gujarat Tourism is the ‘Rann Utsav’ (Desert festival). A self contained ‘Tent city’ is put up here on the same place once filled with standing water. Around 350-400 well furnished tents of various sizes and budgets are planted in this empty land. Every minute detail is well taken care of. Transportation, Food, Shopping experiences, Folk dance and music is perfectly planned in these days. The festival is extremely colorful, vibrant and has the essence of Indian culture in it.
Day 1: Experiencing the white beautiful desert for the first time
After having a night train journey from Mumbai to Bhuj, we had our pickup arranged by the Tent city from Bhuj station. It was approx. 2 hour drive to the Tent City Dhordo, where we were welcomed by traditionally adorned arches, colorful fluttering flags, huge front elevation of series of columns and ‘jharokhas’ artistically painted. Rajasthani artist playing an old instrument ‘Ravanhatta’, and beautifully decked up and modified auto rickshaw was enough to build the excitement. Tents were allotted to us, the luggage was arranged to be dropped and thus our journey to experience this magnificent festival began. With delicious vegetarian Lunch followed by deserts, we headed to see the reason why we were here -the white beautiful desert. Standing on the white salt desert, I could feel I was on another planet. Whiteness spread all around, we wondered what would happen if we got lost, only a compass might save you, I guess. But the place is well guarded by the India’s ‘Border security force’. They don’t let you stray as the desert shares the border with Pakistan. The desert had decorated camel cart rides and performers singing traditional Kutchi songs. Slowly the sun started to go down the mood completely changed. The Dusk was falling rapidly. The sky turned crimson and the moon popped out, out of nowhere. We left the desert halfheartedly for dinner, only to come back post dinner to see something we had never seen in life.
The ‘heavenly’ experience:
After watching some great Traditional performances we headed back to where we left ourselves in the evening. What we saw amazed us, inspired us, thrilled us, and made us realize that we and our problems are extremely tiny in front of this enthralling beauty. Fully bloomed Moon was up in the sky, so were the twinkling stars. There was absolutely no light around. The place looked as if we are on some other planet. Coming to white Rann on the full moon day is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. We did nothing, just sat on the white sand, gazed at the full moon holding hands and making promises of coming here every full moon. They say – ‘somewhere something incredible is waiting to be known’, we couldn’t agree more. We would have missed something so big, so spectacular if we hadn’t planned this trip. We dint talk for quite some time while walking back to our tents. Such was the magic of the place! The tents were extremely peaceful and warm and had all the comfort we needed.
Day 2: The first light of the day, Black hill & its fascinating history
A soft announcement woke me up. I had to make great efforts to come out of my cozy blanket, to unzip our tent, and see what that was for. There was a bed tea arranged for us and for all in my cluster-‘I’ of about 50 tents. I sat outside the tent on this relaxing chair kept outside each tent. There was nothing in my mind. I was just inhaling this awesome new air and exhaling all the worries in my head. There was very little noise around as people were just trying to wake up. And here, i could see the first light! How often we see this in our super noisy cities and busy life. That morning was extremely serene and peaceful. Within minutes there was complete light everywhere.
The encounter with jackals :
After getting ready we set off on our day trip to ‘Kalo Dungar’ or black hill to see the highest point in Kutch. After a small climb we reached a point from where we could see the Panorama of the Great Rann of Kutch. This is the only place in Kutch where we can see such a view. There is an Army post here as it is very close to the Pakistan border and the place is well guarded. There is a big Map of the Kutch region in the premises. Kutch region is in the shape of a tortoise (it’s called ‘kutchwa’ in hindi, that’s why the name Kutch). We came to know that in earlier times when people used to travel from Pakistan to India , they would understand that they have entered the Indian region when they would spot this hill from a distance. It used to appear black and thus the name Black hill. But Legend has it that Lord Dattareya when walked on earth, halted at Black hill. He saw few hungry Jackals and offered his body to them, as he was a God. But as the Jackals ate his body, it rapidly regenerated itself. There is Dattareya Mandir on the top and a pedestal in the premises where, post the evening Aarti , the priests in the temple chants loud mantras and keeps rice cooked with dal and jaggery as ‘prasad’ on it. Within seconds the pedestal was surrounded by hungry pack of jackals. Even on the day we visited, we patiently waited to see the group of jackals as were told by the villagers, but we could only spot two, and all thanks to our slow reflexes missed clicking them. Quite funnily, it is said that the villagers have kept the jackals vegetarian as otherwise found elsewhere.
Experiencing Rich Kutchi artwork :
On our way back we visited a small village ‘Gandhi Nu Gaam’ which had lot of handicrafts. We bought few well crafted hair accessories, Embroidered shawl, mirror adorned Bags, decked up dolls, Bed sheets, Kutch-work shrugs, Kurtas, miniature Kutch sword. Day 2 ended solving few mysteries and creating many more.
Day 3: Good bye Rann , see you again!
After having our breakfast we boarded our bus and left Rann utsav, the great white Rann, our little tent with a heavy heart. It was a magnificent and memorable experience of our lives. On our way we visited another pretty little hamlet – Bhujodi. A well laid Handicraft Village and must see for Textile and art lovers.
Summing it up :
It is not just an ordinary, unadorned white Desert, there is so much more about it. There is a mystery about it, history into it for generation to cherish. There is a grandeur to it, we Indians are proud of. The colors of sunset mesmerize you, and the enchanting nights turn you on. Be ready to drench yourself into this epic wonder, set in a perfect Indian background, and Gujarat tourism being the perfect host. Wait till you experience it!
There is a famous saying in Kutch – ‘Kutch nahi dekha toh kuch nahi dekha’ (If you haven’t seen Kutch, you haven’t seen much) we can’t agree more !
Quick tips & Summary:
Time of visit- 4- 5-6th Jan 2015 (best time is winter- late December to early January)
Full moon visit is highly recommended.
Tent city and almost all parts of Kutch region has only delicious, full course Vegetarian cuisine, you wont regret though!