Not So Little Rann of Kachchh

19th Mar 2014
Photo of Not So Little Rann of Kachchh 1/15 by Karandeep Mehra
Cranes, Little Rann of Kachchh
Photo of Not So Little Rann of Kachchh 2/15 by Karandeep Mehra
Halvad Castle Tower
Photo of Not So Little Rann of Kachchh 3/15 by Karandeep Mehra
Halvad Castle
Photo of Not So Little Rann of Kachchh 4/15 by Karandeep Mehra
The Samantsar Lake
Photo of Not So Little Rann of Kachchh 5/15 by Karandeep Mehra
Hawa Mahal, Wadhwan
Photo of Not So Little Rann of Kachchh 6/15 by Karandeep Mehra
Jeep Tracks, Little Rann of Kachchh
Photo of Not So Little Rann of Kachchh 7/15 by Karandeep Mehra
Jogasar Lake, Dhrangadhra
Photo of Not So Little Rann of Kachchh 8/15 by Karandeep Mehra
Raj Mahal Palace, Wadhwan
Photo of Not So Little Rann of Kachchh 9/15 by Karandeep Mehra
Entry to Raj Mahal Palace
Photo of Not So Little Rann of Kachchh 10/15 by Karandeep Mehra
Salt Huts, Little Rann of Kachchh
Photo of Not So Little Rann of Kachchh 11/15 by Karandeep Mehra
Ajit Niwas Palace, Dhrangadhra
Photo of Not So Little Rann of Kachchh 12/15 by Karandeep Mehra
Ajit Niwas Palace, Dhrangadhra
Photo of Not So Little Rann of Kachchh 13/15 by Karandeep Mehra
City Gate, Dhrangadhra
Photo of Not So Little Rann of Kachchh 14/15 by Karandeep Mehra
Mirage, Wild Ass, LROK
Photo of Not So Little Rann of Kachchh 15/15 by Karandeep Mehra
Wild Ass, Little Rann of Kachchh

Beauty can be inspiring, it can be relaxing or in the case of the Rann of Kachchh, it can be haunting. A dry and desolate landscape that extends beyond the eyes can see, unimaginably hot in the summer months, and apart from the wind rustling against the dry ground, quiet during the day. This land is unmistakably cruel to live in, for animals and humans alike, but for strange eyes that see it for the first time, it is an assault on the senses.

The Little Rann of Kuchchh was a shallow of the Arabian Sea, actually a part of the ocean, but which now because of changes in the land has become dry, only to fill up with water during the monsoon months. And then it dries up again to become a salt marsh, a feature of the land that the people here base their livelihoods on, on salt panning to process large quantities of salt. This repeated drying of the earth is what gives the Rann its distinctive parched, wrinkled look. But as parched and lifeless it may appear, especially under the overhead sun, the Rann plays home to a startling array of life that can sometimes explode around you.

As soon as the sun begins to dip into the horizons, the birds that lay quiet during the day, pipe up, and take flight from their shelter in the wetlands of the Rann. Even during the day, if one is lucky one can see Wild Asses, blackbucks, gazelles and Nilgai. No wonder that the Little Rann of Kachchh is the territory of India’s largest sanctuary, the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary spans over 5000 square kilometers of this stark land.

We entered the sanctuary from Dhrangadhra, and although one can enter from the other surrounding areas too. Around Dhrangadhra, apart from the sanctuary there are numerous places one can visit, so it becomes a road trip that encompasses wildlife, people and history.  So when you do plan a trip to the little Rann of Kachchh, make sure you travel to the surrounding places too. The best time to go here is in the winter, because of the weather and also the Rann Mahotsav that is organized by the Gujarat Government in the months of December and January. The Mahotsav is organized to coincide with the festival of Shivratri when it is celebrate here in Gujarat, and the festivities of music and dance bring out a life of color and joy in the desert. Nevertheless, even during other times, though this culture may not be spilling over like it does during the Mahotsav, one can see it reflected in the everyday life too.  One can see obviously the elements of Rajput history, but also the culture of the nomadic tribes like the Rabari who inhabit Kachchh. 

The Little Rann of Kachchh lies across the districts of Surendranagar, Rajkot, Patan, Banaskantha and Kutch, and there are different points of entry. Dhrangadhra made sense for us because it had guesthouses, hotels and other things we would need, especially since ours was a budget travel and we couldn’t afford to splurge on the larger resorts that are in Dasada or Range Bajana. We hired a local jeep for a day long safari into the sanctuary twice, the first time we couldn’t see the Wild Ass and we were willing to give it another shot. And we were glad we did! Though making a trip to see a Wild Ass might attract a few sniggers, this animal is more a horse than a donkey, a shy and fast animal that is now endangered. Though our Safaris did set us back by about Rs. 2000, local jeeps are cheaper than the resort Safaris which charge the same for a few hours! Not to mention, that when you hire a jeep its more flexible! We saw more birds than I had thought possible, we could barely keep up with the names! Especially when we approached a marshy, wet tract, where every direction had a flock of different birds. The Rann was in many ways a dreamlike experience, in many ways this was because looking keenly out into the desert for an animal and instead being greeted by mirages can be disorienting. But the quality of a strandedness, that travelling through the Rann gives you is thrilling.
Photo of Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat, India by Karandeep Mehra
Another reason for choosing Dhrangadhra was its own history. Part of the capital of the Jhala Rajputs, Dhrangadhra has its own share of Havelis and Mahals, especially the Ajit Niwas Mahal. Numerous other old havelis exist, but now have been refashioned into schools and centers. We visited the Jogasar Lake and the Falku River too, and seeing water bodies in the middle of a this dry arid landscape has its own charms! Something we found even when we came across the marshy wetlands and the flocks of birds gathered around the water inside the sanctuary.
Photo of Dhrangadhra, Gujarat, India by Karandeep Mehra
Just a little way ahead of Dhrangadhra, is another Jhala Rajput capital – Halwad. A remarkable little town, Halwad is on all of its sides protected or guarded by Shiv Temples! We visited only one – Sharaneshwar as we had taken a bus and were there only for a day. Sharaneshwar was located besides a pond and also had a stepwell. There are 7 temples and perhaps on a later trip to Halwad, I’ll be able to get to all of them and also get to know more about what they do, but for now visiting one was all I had time for! We did not, of course, spend the entire day at the temple, a large part of our day was spent at the Halwad Palace, located on the banks of Samatasar Lake. Its Jharokhas overlooking the water and the expanse of the desert landscape, the palace cuts an impressive figure with its intricate façade cut into the yellow sandstone, virtually the same color as the land it is on, as if it grew out of the earth itself.
Photo of Halvad, Gujarat, India by Karandeep Mehra
The third in the trio of capitals of the Jhala Rajputs. Wadhwan is another fortified town situated on the banks of the now dried out river Bhujavo. This place is a considerable distance and we didn’t have a lot of time to visit a lot of places, the main attraction that we could surmise from a few conversations was the Raj Mahal Palace. What we didn’t find out was that this palace was now a heritage hotel, but in a way this worked out well as one doesn’t often run into palaces that one can explore from the inside. The Rajmahal palace compared to the forts and palaces in Gujarat is still a babe in the arms, built only just in the 19th century, nevertheless it is quite stunning! The other place we visited was the Hawa Mahal, another palace with intricately carved Jharokhas, pillars and a façade, and older than the Raj Mahal. We couldn’t find out more about this place, apart from the fact that it was damaged in the 2001 earthquake, something quite apparent since it was missing a considerable chunk of its roof!
Photo of Wadhwan, Surendranagar, Gujarat, India by Karandeep Mehra