Nothing excites you like the prospect of heading to a barren land - vast stretches of nothingness. More so, if the place in question is one of the largest salt deserts in the world. Kutch – the marshy-barren, saline land is more than just that. An air of enigma pervades every nook and corner of the spatial land that epitomizes barren beauty. Little did we know that we would find the deepest voids and subliminal trenches of our existential selves being channeled and charged all the same in lands far-far away. It was like food for fodder.
After having transversed a distance of approximately 400 km from Ahmedabad, traces of the local culture came alive with the line of eco resorts at a distance’s view. The culture and essence of everything that is Kutch were typified in the huts featuring intricate designs of mud paintings on the walls, the typical food served, and a campfire creating the perfect backdrop for Kuchhi melodies sung by the locals that revived and celebrated every inch of the Gujarati folklore that we knew of.
The mystic and magic of the Great Rann
The real adventure began with the Great Rann of Kutch in sight. We parked our vehicle and set afoot on the vast array of unending, barren landscape. Situated between the Gulf of Kutch and the Indus River, the Great Rann stretches about 30,000 square km. It is a rare combination of salt desert and seasonal marshland. On close inspection, I was surprised to see thick deposits of salt all over the moist-marshy land, covering it like a layer of ice. Realizing that the ‘white’ Rann is pure salt (edible too!) in the wintery December, was quite a revelation.
The Great Rann beckons you to bare your authentic self much like the bare yet marshy lands foretell existence with a soul. For brief moments, I lost track of time and all I wanted was to sit and absorb every inch of the scenic portrait that the landscape unfolded before my eyes. The horizon gleamed with the sun in all its roundedness set against the azure skies like a fireball. The crimson-hued shades canvassed the sky with bright golden light emanating as if to mark divine intervention. We saw the sun drop slowly and make way for the dazzling night skies. I had never witnessed a play of colors as surreal.
The charm of lost lands, far away from human inhabitation - The Great Rann is a living testimony. The spectacular marshland comes alive under the moonlight. Magic let loose amidst the sparkling and enchanting white desert so pristine. Add to that the camel cart rides, the glitzy Rann Utsav with stalls promoting local art and craft, artists’ dance performances, the local food, and the stage is set for ‘perfect closure.' It’s interesting to note how the food, in particular, is cooked in the huts of the locals and served in resorts– an assortment of bajra rotla (millet flatbread), pulses and lentils, kadhi-rice, and buttermilk, served with utmost warmth – pure indulgence! Dhordo and Hodka villages are particularly known for mud-mirror, and exquisite embroidery work performed by women.
A run-up to the Little Rann - Wild Ass Sanctuary
A follow-up to the Great Rann, we toured about the Little Rann of Kutch with a visit to the Wild Ass Sanctuary. The sturdy, open air jeep cutting across the banni grasslands of the Little Rann acquainted us with varied species of migratory birds, and the endangered Indian Wild Ass. Being the only place on earth where the Indian Wild Ass can be seen in its natural environs, the sanctuary is an environmentalist’s delight. Migratory birds from across the world flock around the water bodies. From the commonly found ducks, Siberian cranes, vulture to the rare blue-tailed bee-eater, spoonbills, lark, shrikes, Saras cranes and pelicans; we successfully engaged ourselves in guessing games around bird-spotting. The sanctuary is pretty underrated for its expanse and grandeur in terms of the gamut of wildlife thriving in the desert land. It is utmost leisure to witness wildlife in lands devoid of the lush greens, and sheer surprise to unravel beauty in even the most desolate of places.
The most enthralling of experiences was when we drove close to a lake amidst the dry desert land, and found what seemed like a huge carpet of pink. Stepping off the vehicle and a couple of steps ahead, the view was nothing short of spectacular. An entire colony of flamingos dotted the lake for as far as we could see. The cracked barren land, the pink waters, and the sparse greens - the horizon was a split of shades. With the image fixated in our eyes, we jumped onto the jeep, and zoomed ahead for the next spotting. This was equally exciting, as we ventured further ahead into the interiors where there is a likelihood of spotting the wild ass. A turn of wheels, and there they stood, gazing right back at us a pair of wild asses - handsome, wild and free. A few kilometres ahead, we saw an entire herd – a captivating mix of white and brown, running away as we neared our vehicle towards them. The guide later informed us that wild asses could run long distances at speeds as high as 50 km per hour, a fact easy to digest then, given how agile it was in its movement. Little Rann was a welcome surprise being an unplanned leg of our trip. But very often, unplanned journeys turn out to be the best bet.
Such plans were interspersed by exploring the way upto Kutch and beyond. We took a halt at Bhuj on the way to Kutch. Bhuj was a revelation in terms of the rustic Aina Mahal, the beautiful Prag Mahal and the spotless, architectural marvel that is Radhaswami temple. Other checkpoints included Koteshwar (the western most point of India), Kala Dungar (the highest point in Kutch), and a drive across one stretch of India Bridge (a run-up to the shared borders with Pakistan). On our way back, we stopped by village Bhujodi, a community of artists close to Bhuj. The small area was lined with shops on either side, selling mirror-work bags, embroidered material, shawls, to jewellery and colourful chappals (footwear). Particularly known for block printing, it is amongst the most frequented areas for shoppers alike. A lot of local artisans from Bhuj working there also sell their goods in the Rann Utsav at Kutch.
And the saga ends...
With a suitcase full of memories from the mystical lands of Kutch and the exotic array of wildlife at the Wild Ass Sanctuary, we couldn’t help reminiscing the beauty that barren lands can offer for days to come.
This trip was originally published on Travelogues: A traveller's revelations