As the heavy , solemn voice of Amitabh Bachhan urges you to smell the “Khushboo Gujarat Ki”, it is image of endless sea of white which first comes to mind. The Rann of Kutch perhaps the biggest draw of Gujarat Tourism is best celebrated in spirit and style by the highly extravagant Rann Utsav
Spread across an area of 5,00,000 sq meter, Rann Utsav boasts of being the largest tent-city in India. The tent city has a lavish dining area, recreation area, spa, cultural shows, local bazaar and what not. The place is designed to give you a touch of luxury wrapped in the vibrancy of Gujarati Culture.
I got a chance to visit Rann Utsav in February this year and here I would be elaborating my experience on what to expect from the two day retreat at Rann Utsav.
The day one begins as you are ushered to the vast wilderness of Great Rann. Amidst the miles of nothingness lies the tent city. The city is designed to be a replica of a village and bric-bracs in every nook and corner of the setting create an ambience of an eclectic Rajasthani/Gujarati town. It might not be very fascinating for the domestic traveller but yes for the international crowd which flocks the place in December and January it is a major draw.
As the scorching afternoon sun gives way to a cooler dusk the camel carts get ready for the ride to white desert. Yes, you get to visit the white desert on the very first day for the majestic sun set that has been captivating the minstrels and laymen alike. The ride from the tent city to white desert is going to be perhaps the highlight of this visit. As the camel gracefully leaps under star-lit desert one can feel the time slowing down into an endless eternity of stars and salt.
On the return a sumptuous meal with cultural performance awaits you at the tent. The cultural show was average at its best and can be given a miss for cycling, long walks or some shopping. The tent city in itself is huge and requires atleast 5-6 hours to be explored. The best time to do is in the night after dinner as the mornings and nights are hot.
Day 2 –
The next morning you have the option of going to white desert for the sun rise too. The carts and bus come back by 10 and you have the next 3-4 hours for all the recreational activities offered in the tent city. But almost all of the activities are paid and do not come with the package. Around 2 pm the bus leaves the tent city for highest peak of kutch that is Kala Dungar. About 2 hours from Dhorado Kala Dongar offers a bird-eye view of the kutch. As one stands and gazes towards the various hues of orange in the sky, the endless stretch of white below sparkles in magnificence. At about seven in the evening the bus returns to tent city and by the time you reach it’s already dinner time. The time after dinner is all yours and you
It is the final leg of the journey and by 3 pm the bus drops you back to Bhuj . In the way we stopped at artisan village of Bhujodi . Bhujodi is one place where the arts and crafts from all corners of kutch come under one roof. The crafts park here is a home to several artisans who work and sell the local craft. It’s a great place to shop for curios and souvenirs. The next and the last stop of the journey is Aina Mahal. Built alongside the very derelict Prag Mahal, Aina Mahal is one of the major attractions of Bhuj. A brainchild of a highly extravagant ruler Rao Lakhpatiji , Aina Mahal is home to royal opulence. However the museum is now famous for its hallway of mirrors, the resplendent “pleasure room “ of king and a portrait of real “Mastani”(of Bajirao Mastani). Contrary to its next door neighbour ‘ Prag Mahal’ Aina Mahal is has been restored after the earthquake and is well-maintained.
As the tour of Aina Mahal ends, it’s time for the final journey towards Bhuj railway station. Looking back as I reflect on the whole experience of Rann Utsav, I realize that despite the grandeur of settings and hospitality, a price of Rs 14000( for 1N/2D package and premium tents) does not really give you the bang for your buck. The experience is amazing for the international travellers or if you are from far south or east. But for the regulars of Maharashtra, Gujarat , Rajasthan , Delhi the colors, cuisines and culture would not exactly be a thing of some extreme novelty. Moreover comparing the individual experiences you will realize that leaving the ride to white desert, all the points covered are mediocre.
The major drawback of staying in Rann Utsav is that the beach of Mandvi and the very famous Vijay Vilas Palace( of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam fame ) becomes cornered as it is at the other end of Bhuj and it is not covered in this package of Rann Utsav. So if you will have to shell out extra money and time to cover that.
For my journey I concluded that the whole itinerary could have been planned better if I had stayed in Bhuj which is a central point beween Mandvi and White desert. But saying that I would like to clarify nothing can beat the experience of camping in the white desert and staring at glistening skyline. At the end of day the silent, empty nothingness of the white desert seems to haunt one forever.