Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope

Tripoto
19th Jul 2014
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

The road is narrow but smooth

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Off-roading before Sirohi

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Hills of Mount Abu

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

The vegetarian Thali, omnipresent in the regi

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Hotel Way wait at Palanpur

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

highway from Palanpur to Mahesana

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

highway from Mahesana to Zainabad

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

False alarm sun temple

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Stairs leading to the Baoli (a wide well)

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Front/side view of the sun temple

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

These are called Chaggars

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

A poor oxen with one horn

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

A Salt farm near Jhijhuwada village

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Workers at the salt farm calling it a day

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Jhijhuwada

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

The entire family of Neelgai

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Aarti volunteered to climb up

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

To the open LRK lying hidden from us

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Khurs, also camera shy

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

This was the evening sun

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

A settlement of salt-farm worker

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Wide expanse of nothing

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Tyre tracks in the Little Rann

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Parched earth

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Sunset in the LRK

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Desert Coursers, Zainabad

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

A shot of the 'Bhunga'

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

A silhouette of a bird at sunrise

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Clouds at sunrise at Desert Coursers

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

parched land of the Rann

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

A settlement of salt worker family

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

A gorgeous bunch of khurs

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Twins!

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

A larger bunch

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

A happy family

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

A zoomed shot of one of them running

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

The tyre when it was pulled out of the mud

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

pelicans in the lake

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Bulldozer in action at a salt farm

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

The salt farm

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

An over-loaded Chaggar

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Crossing 23°26′N 68°23′E

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

A panorama of the Lakhpat Fort

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

The tomb of Gosh Mohammad

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

The straight road towards Koteshwar

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

The western-most temple in India

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Sunrise on Rudramata Dam

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

The straight road from Bhuj to Khavda

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

The vast Rann to the left

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Approaching Kala Dungar

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

A hazed panorama from Kala Dungar

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

The sign explains it all

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Missed the sunset over the Rann

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Tourists jeep-gliding in the Rann

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Rann Utsav 2010

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Natural Indigo

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Udaipur

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Udai Vilas

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

Sajjangarh fort

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

climbing Chittaurgarh Durg

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan
Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

The last shot of the trip.

Photo of Raiders of the Rann: A Kachchhi Kaleidescope by Harsh Vardhan

The decision to spend our last vacation of the year in Kachchh was not easy. We’re essentially mountain people, and for us to even fathom of a holiday not in the mountains is difficult. However, both of us knew deep in our hearts that we would like exploring other areas as well, and after much debate, decided to give Kachchh a shot. 

When we plan a holiday, we usually know our entire itinerary about 3 months in advance. However, for Kutch, probably because we did not have knowledge about the area, or maybe because we were still apprehensive about the whole thing, we did not plan at all! I still did read a few blogs, but Aarti did nothing at all. Finally, towards the mid of December, she took the initiative on a Sunday, opened the map, and made a rough itinerary. And that was it! So armed with some GPS markings made over google earth, Eicher maps and a good book about Gujarat, we were off on 25th December 2010. 

Day 1: New Delhi - Nasirabad - Pali - Abu road - Palanpur (810 km) The day before we were supposed to leave finally arrived, and Aarti woke up with a terrible cold and cough! At that moment it seemed as if this trip was not meant to be. Still, we were determined to go, and Aarti took the day off to rest and be in a shape to travel the next day. As is tradition with us, we left early morning the next day at 4:15 am. We’d been warned by friends who’d left for a holiday in Rajasthan a few days before about early morning jams near Manesar. And half an hour after leaving, we found ourselves stuck royally in precisely such a jam right after IFFCO chowk. We tried to bypass some of it by taking a detour into the by-lanes of Gurgaon, but were unfortunately able to avoid only about 3 kms of the jam, the reason for which was a very long truck’s unsuccessful desire to take a U-turn in the middle of the highway! We managed to clear the jam by 6:15 am, and decided to stop at McDonald’s for breakfast before we actually started our journey. Finally, at 6:45 am, with our stomachs full and the jam behind us, we zoomed away! The NH 8 is in a terrible state, with work on in full swing to make it a six lane highway. Also, traffic was a lot, and thus our average speed was pretty less. We reached the cut for Ajmer at 9:45 am, and thereafter the road was as smooth as butter! To reduce time, we took the cut for Nasirabad instead of going through Ajmer. The left for Naisrabad goes further towards Chittaurgarh, which is currently the fastest way to reach Udaipur. After that, we took the right towards Mangaliyawas, and the State Highway was fantastic albeit narrow. With 4 laning of NH8 in progress, our average speed till Beawar was quite slow. As we took the right towards Pali, our stomachs started growling unbearably, and we broke for lunch at the Sendra Valley Resort. All in all, the 450 kms took us about 10 hours with only a half an hour break for breakfast. While our average speed initially was pathetic, the wonderful road after the Jaipur bypass more than compensated for it. All this while, Aarti was still feeling quite unwell, and hence had not driven at all. After we took a left from Barr towards Pali, the road till Sirohi is a decent two-laned highway with average speeds of 80 to 100 kmph. We reached Sirohi at sunset, and were bored of driving on straight roads since morning. Hence, we off-roaded a bit to settle our nerves, and carried on. As it started getting dark, the highway too turned beautiful as we approached Mount Abu. We’d scoured the map, and decided against our initial plan of staying the night at Mount Abu, and zeroed in instead on Palanpur as our night halt. When we finally caught the expressway at Jhadoli, we were in for a total treat! What roads! World class is an understatement. As we whizzed past several sleepy villages, we realized that we should have caught this expressway long back, and that even though it would have been a much longer route, the drive would have been effortless. We reached Palanpur, the diamond district, at 7:45 pm, and went straight to check out the two hotels Aarti had read about in the super book on Gujarat we’d bought – the India Guide on Gujarat. In half an hour, we’d checked into a decent hotel called Way Wait, and then proceeded to have a colourful, although average, Gujarati thali for dinner. As we ate, a disturbing thought that had occurred to me before the start of the trip suddenly became a harsh reality - chicken would definitely be in short supply on this trip! Thus our first day on the road came to an end. Aarti was still not feeling well, so we decided to rest properly the next day and leave late by about 11 am. In hindsight, I think we had taken a sub-optimal route. Upon our return, during a discussion in a thread with Tanveer (tsk1979) and Ramky (ramky1), it turned out that the best route towards the Little Rann of Kachchh would've been Delhi - Chittaurgarh - Udaipur - Ahmedabad - Little Rann of Kachchh. Although the distance would have increased by about a 100 km on this route, but better roads would've lead to eventually some saving on time and lesser risk of getting stuck in a bottle-neck.
Photo of Nasirabad, Rajasthan, India by Harsh Vardhan
Day 2: Palanpur - Zainabad - Little Rann of Kachchh - Zainabad (175km) We got up pretty late the next morning, thanks to our decision not to set an alarm. But it was good that we slept late since we got up fresh. More importantly, Aarti was feeling much better, and that was a relief! After a quick breakfast and tea at the hotel, we left around 11 am. We were expecting several photo-ops during the day, and hence I’d cleaned the lenses in the morning while Aarti was still getting ready. We decided to head straight towards Desert Coursers, the resort where we were booked for the night in village Zainabad, and abandoned our earlier plan of going to Suigam and Nadeshwari temple in the Greater Rann, since that would have become hectic, and moreover, we may not have been allowed to enter the Rann in the first place by the BSF. In hind sight, that was a good decision. Of course, reaching Zainabad early also meant that we could catch the sunset in the Little Rann, which was very tempting. Our planned route for the day was to reach Zainabad via Mahesana, Modhera and Dasada. An hour into the drive, I was trying to capture the excellent roads we were driving on, when I realized that something was wrong with the lens. It was completely fogged out. After fiddling around a bit, the problem still persisted. And it was not one lens, but both. I got pretty anxious, and called our friend KD who is our "go-to-guy" while on the road. He advised us to keep the lenses in the sun, and said that they will start de-fogging immediately. I also called Doc Pushpinder (pushpinder) who advised that I should call Tanveer (tsk1979) for all technical related matters. Tanveer too advised me to keep the lens in the sun, although not pointing directly at the sun, and to get some silica gel and a zip lock bag. Keeping the lens in the zip-lock bag with the Silica gel acting as a dessicant would help remove the moisture within the lens and reduce the problems in the longer run. The challenge was now to get my hands on these items in rural Gujarat. For now, I kept both the lenses on the dashboard in the sun and hoped for the best. The de-fogging started immediately, and I cannot express how relieved I felt! I later realized that some moisture must have seeped in into the two lenses while I was cleaning them, and swore to be more careful the next time onwards. With the lens fog behind us, we moved further towards our destination for the day. Till Mahesana, the expressway is fantastic, and beyond that the state highway till Zainabad too is awesome, despite being two laned and undivided. When we reached Modhera, I was super excited to see the Sun Temple, and took Aarti to the wrong one, despite her saying repeatedly that this temple couldn’t possibly be the Sun Temple. She was right (as the better halves normally are ), but I did manage to get a couple of decent shots there! Anyway, we did finally reach the real Sun Temple, and it turned out to be quite charming. It was difficult to shoot at the location though, since the Sunday picnic crowd was difficult to get rid of in each frame. A short while later, we decided to move on towards Zainabad.
Photo of Palanpur, Gujarat, India by Harsh Vardhan
Day 2: Palanpur - Zainabad - Little Rann of Kachchh - Zainabad (175km) We reached Zainabad around 3:30 pm, just as the owner of Desert Coursers, Mr. Dhanraj, was getting ready to take the people staying there for a desert safari. He said that the jeeps were leaving in 12 minutes, and that if we wanted to join them, we’d better hurry up. We gobbled our lunch, and wondered whether we could take our own car along with their jeeps. However, he insisted that a permit was needed to take our car in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK), and that there was no way that we could get it then. He added that even if we did manage to somehow enter the LRK, the babul (shrubs) there would ruin the paint on our car. We’d seen shots of people taking their car into the LRK, and weren’t totally convinced. Also, none of the logs I had gone through mentioned anything about permits to enter the LRK. We decided not to join the safari, but instead to take our car and try our luck. Of course, we kept this to ourselves. Once the jeeps left, we checked into our cute ‘bhunga’ shaped hut, freshened up a bit, and then took off, armed with the directions marked on our GPS. Bhungas, for the uninitiated, are mud huts with a peculiar architecture found in the region. The huts at the resort are quite nice and comfy. There are also big, clean bathrooms attached to each hut. We headed towards Jhijhuwada, a village 15 kms away, and then after that proceeded toward the LRK after crossing a salt farm. We spotted a track going west, and consulted our GPS markings from Google Earth. It seemed to be the correct direction, and my gut feeling said that this track would definitely lead us to the LRK. We took the cut, and followed the tyre marks. We were hardly 10 minutes into our off-roading when we spotted a beautiful, brown animal family, and were lucky enough to capture them on camera. We first thought that they were Neelgais, but then ditched the idea since they were not blue at all. However, thanks to friends back home, we now know that they were in fact Neelgais, and that a female Neelgai is not blue and has white marks on her ankles. After clicking the Neelgais, we tried to go into the actual Rann by going pure west, but could not do so thanks to the shrubs blocking our path. As several shrubs scraped Kiyang, I was sure glad that I’d taken the extra effort to get the second round of Teflon coating done just before leaving. A word of advise to people entering the Little Rann - stay on tyre marks while entering the Rann as there are few tracks which allow cars to enter. There are just too many shrubs to deal with otherwise. The same goes while exiting the Rann too. However, while one is in the wide open, make your own road. As we went further towards the Rann, we met some Khurs, and were thoroughly delighted at having spotted them, more so because they look almost identical to Kiangs found of Ladakh! We chased them a bit, but could not get good shots. We thought not to disturb the Khurs any more and headed further west deeper into the LRK. Finally, after another 10 minutes of driving, we found ourselves in the wide open. It definitely was a sight to behold! Dry, parched land stretching in all directions, with not a soul around, and the sun waiting to set. I had a shot in mind – Kiyang with the setting sun in the background – and made sure that Kiyang was in position when the moment came. Our plan for the next day was set – we intended to drive through the Rann, making a east to west run, and probably come out north, crossing about 100 km of the LRK in the process. That meant that we would probably be in the middle of the LRK during lunch, and hence asked the resort guys to pack some lunch for us the next morning. Also, I noticed a bird-enthusiast with a 400mm lens hanging in front of him at the resort, and he unbelievably had a ziplock bag and silicon pouches to spare and the heart to give it to me. We had dinner, which was average, and then called it an early night since the day had been long. The bed was not too comfortable, but the room was overall nice and clean, and the whole place had a good vibe about it.
Photo of Zainabad, Gujarat, India by Harsh Vardhan
Day 3: Zainabad - Through the Little Rann of Kachchh - Adesar - Bhuj The next day began early before sunrise. The excitement was palpable, and both of us very quickly got ready. If everything went well, we would be through the LRK to Adesar in no time and would reach Bhuj quite early. However, the possibility of turning back after doing quite some distance in the Rann was also huge. We left for Jhijuwada at about 8:30 am after a hearty breakfast at Desert Coursers and armed with a packed lunch of sandwiches for the road. A word of advice for those entering the Rann - plan for the worst, and carry some drinking water with you. We entered the Rann through the same cut in the road we had discovered the previous evening. The entry points into the Rann are limited because of a thick vegetation of shrubs. We were quite aware of the fact that it would be difficult to exit the Rann too, if we were able to cross it somehow in the first place. Our hypothesis was that if we reach a salt farm on the other side of the Rann, there should definitely exist a track leading to a village on or near the highway to Bhuj. Keeping this in mind, I'd marked a village called Varnu Wandh near the highway which also had several salt farms near it, which we were able to clearly see on Google Earth. To make things further interesting, we had marked an oasis as seen on Google Earth on our GPS device, so the first target for the day was to reach this oasis. We followed the initial tyre marks which apparentely were headed straight towards the oasis as our GPS indicated. The shrubs disappeared, and soon all we could see was the parched land of the Rann. As we went deeper, the Rann started to get marshier and I shifted to 4H just to be safe. I’d heard that sometimes the upper crust just gives way all of a sudden and the chances of getting stuck in mud are quite high. At least with 4H on, there was a (false) sense of security that in case it happens, we stand a chance to get out of the rut. The tyre marks now seemed to go in a different direction, so we had to leave them and move in the general direction of the oasis. After driving for another 10 minutes or so, we found another set of tyre marks which were moving towards the oasis. In the Rann, it makes sense to stick to existing tyre marks, lest one intends to get stuck anywhere. These tracks led to a salt farm, and as the farm came nearer, the tracks became marshier. We decided not to head straight towards the salt farm, but skirt it to avoid the marshier patch around it. I parked the car near the house at the corner of the farm and walked towards it. The man working there came towards me and gave me the bad news that it would not be possible to cross the Rann. He was speaking in Gujarati, so we were both unable to comprehend each other completely, but as much as I could understood from him, there was some river ahead which was impossible to cross. It had been 1 hour 15 minutes since we'd taken the cut from Jhijuwada, and after coming so deep into the Rann, we were in no mood to go back. Disheartened, I gave the news to Aarti, but we both decided to at least see this river and maybe catch some interesting shots near the water body. Somehow the concept of a river through the Rann did not make sense, and we were hoping against hope that it was not true. We moved ahead. The tyre tracks soon disappeared, and we were left on our own, heading towards the village Varnu Wandh based on the directions the GPS gave us. We'd chucked the idea of locating the oasis, since it would definitely be marshy there. The drive during the next 45 minutes can at best be described as exhilarating. Cruising at 60 kmph through the Rann with nothing as far as the eye could see was a fantastic experience, difficult to describe in words. Some sets of tyre tracks came up, but disappeared soon, and seemed to head in a different direction. With nothing to see at the horizon, there is little reference frame to give a direction sense to the driver. All this while, we were waiting to hit the edge of a river or a huge water body, but nothing came up. We were filled with mixed emotions, the deeper we went, the greater chance we had of crossing the Rann, however the greater the risk of turning back at the last moment. We also found a set of stone pillars erected one after the other at equal distance forming markers of a path through the Rann, although there were no tyre tracks next to them. This gave us further confidence to move ahead, and we did.
Photo of Rann of Kutch, Kutch, Gujarat, India by Harsh Vardhan
Day 3: Zainabad - Through the Little Rann of Kachchh - Adesar - Bhuj (275km) After 2 hours of entering the Rann, we finally saw a salt farm in the distance. Is this it, we asked ourselves. Varnu Wandh also seemed to be at a distance of 10 km or so from that position. As we approached the salt farm, we saw another set of tyre tracks leading to it. This was highly encouraging, but before we could celebrate our success of crossing the Rann, we saw a huge group of Khurs staring at us. It was wild ass safari time, and without giving another thought to our exit from the Rann, we left the tyre tracks and drove towards the group of Khurs. The ground was much more marshier here and scarier, but the adrenaline rush of capturing them on camera gave us the required high of taking the risk. We succeeded in getting quite close to them, all the while exclaiming at how similar they looked to Kiangs. After shooting them to our satisfaction, we returned towards our destination, Varnu Wandh. The adrenaline rush, and the excitement of sighting so many Khurs, made us lose our minds and instead of looking for the tyre tracks we were following, we headed straight towards the buildings we could see in the distance. Soon we crossed a lake to our right, carefully navigated away from it and towards what seemed like a village. We did not study the ground properly, and even if we had there was no way to tell that it was SUPER marshy. Splut, split, splat! We were royally stuck with all tyres sunk in the marshy field. We were already in 4H mode, but the car was not budging. I did not try any further and stopped the car and got out to study the extent of the damage. Mud was clinging to all the four tyres but there was still a possibility of getting traction from the edges of the tyres. The car had sunk quite a bit, and climbing back again seemed like getting into a Honda City rather than a Tata Safari. I decided to give it one more shot in the 4L mode before I took the spade out to clear the mud off the wheels to get more traction. I put on the reverse gear and the car budged just a little. I then immediately shifted to forward gear, it rocked forward, and a final quick shift to the reverse gear made the car rock backward and out of the rut! Thank God! We were out of it and on solid ground now, but I then spent the next 20 minutes scraping the mud off all the tyres with the spade we keep handy, as Aarti took photographs. Once the mud was scraped off enough to give the tyres traction, we moved on, and retraced our steps to find the tyre tracks, which we eventually did after 15 minutes of looking around. They led us to a salt farm, and we knew we'd made it! Soon we left the Rann behind, and found a tarred road, with a signboard which said that Adesar, the village on the highway, was 10 km away. We couldn't stop smiling as the thrill of having crossed the Rann had complteley overwhelmed us! What an adventure it was! We headed for Bhuj and reached by about 2:30 pm or so. We checked into Hotel KBN that we'd booked from Delhi, and after an initial scare from the outer looks of the hotel, we were glad to see that the inside was nice and clean, and the room especially was clean, bright and comfortable. After a quick lunch and a nice refreshing shower, we hit the roads of Bhuj to look for the BSF headquarters to arrange for our permit. We had the most difficult time locating it, as everyone kept pointing us in the direction of the BSF base rather than the headquarters. For the record, the BSF headquarter is located on Kodaki road near the Hamisar lake in the north-western part of the city, while the BSF base is in the southern part of the city. We finally managed to reach the sector headquarters by about 5:15 pm, a little too late to get the permit the same day, but applied for it nevertheless so that we could pick it up the next day. The permit was to visit the border post in the Greater Rann called Vigakot. Normally, Indian tourists are not required to take permits to visit the general destinations of the region and are allowed upto 'India Bridge' and 'Kala Dungar' without them. However, to go past 'India Bridge', one needs a permit from the BSF guys. As is the normal procedure, it requires an application, all details of individuals (including the driver) and the car being used to go the border post, a copy of IDs of all the individuals, and the RC of the car. We were told to pick it up the same time next evening. It had somehow been a tiring day, and we returned back to our hotel early. The plan for the next day was to get up early and head towards Lakhpat and Koteshwar so that we could be back in Bhuj by 4 pm to pick up our permit.
Photo of Bhuj, Gujarat, India by Harsh Vardhan
Day 4: Bhuj – Nakhtarna – Lakphat – Koteshwar – Nakhtarna – Bhuj: 354 kms We had to begin early again on day 4 since we planned to visit Koteshwar and Lakhpat, and also return to Bhuj before sunset to collect our permit. A tasty breakfast of packed sandwiches and juice awaited us at the reception, and we were thus able to leave for Lakhpat by 7:30 am. The route follows the SH heading west from Bhuj towards the bustling town of Nakhtarna and into the vastness of Lakhpat. The highway till Nakhtarna is densely populated with villages on both sides, and thus the average speed is not very good. However, once the hustle bustle is crossed, and the zillions of speed breakers negotiated with, the countryside opens up and one can feel the proximity to the Great Rann. It took us about an hour from Bhuj to cross Nakhtarna and a short while thereafter we were staring at a huge board informing us that we were crossing the Tropic of Cancer. I am not a fan of such milestones myself, but it was fascinating to watch Aarti getting all excited. From here-on the road is quite straight, devoid of population and marred with shrubs on both sides. About 45 km or so before Lakhpat, we crossed a small village called Gaduli where the road from Koteshwar joins the SH. Past Gaduli, one rides next to the Chinkara Narayan Sarovar wildlife sanctuary all the way to Lakhpat. We reached our first destination by 10:00 am. The striking fort of Lakhpat is visible from quite a distance, and it is only from this distance that it can be captured in its entirety. Two sign-boards at the entrance describe the Lakhpat fort, but the chai-wala at the entrance spiced it up for us with his ramblings about the shooting of two movies here, Refugee and Lagaan. After a cup of hot masala chai, we head towards the Northern wall of the fort, completely unaware of the vistas beyond it. We spent a lot of time at the Northern wall of the fort, admiring the vastness of the Rann, and also trying to capture it on camera. To the west of the fort lies the Kori creek and to its North is the marshy Rann. We drove around the village inside the fort for sometime, which despite the saying on the board is not all that deserted. We also tried to venture into the Rann, but failed as the exit was guarded by BSF jawans who refused to let us through. We decided to proceed towards Koteshwar, our second destination for the day. The road to Koteshwar from Lakhpat moves south, crosses the BSF post there and is largely devoid of any human population. The road runs parallel to the Kori creek. We took a small detour towards another BSF post right next to the creek which, I think, was called Biwi ka Kua (wife’s well), only to be scolded and sent back by a Jawan. The road here too is largely straight and marred by shrubs on either side. A bit of advice – when driving on this road, be careful when you see a vehicle approaching from the opposite side, lest you want to get a paint job done on your vehicle. Soon we reached Narayan Sarovar, which mythologically is one of the five holiest lakes of the Hindus, one of the remaining four being Mansarovar. However, since the lake is easily accessible, and also possibly because Gujarat overall is a non-glamorous state when it comes to tourism, it does not get the required publicity. The temple crowd there was a major put-off for us, and we headed straight towards Koteshwar. The final approach road to Koteshwar has the Arabian Sea on both sides and is fun to drive on. The pier at Koteshwar itself is nothing to boast of, apart from being the western most point of land in India. We saw some fishermen boats, and were told by a BSF Jawan posted there that all fishermen are supposed to sport the Indian flag on their boats for identification purposes by the BSF patrol boats. The Pakistani fishermen do the same, Karachi after-all being quite close. The temple at Koteshwar also did not seem much to write home about, so we decided to give it a miss. Yes, we are horribly non-religious. It is not allowed to venture past this board, but since all sign boards in Gujarat are in Gujarati (a sign of the state not being too tourism friendly), we did not understand what was written on it, and went ahead, only to be immediately sent back by a Jawan. We did so reluctantly, wondering what possible harm it could cause if tourists did in fact go up till the pier. The only possible conclusion we could arrive at was that the Army must fear that someone might decide to jump from the pier and swim to Pakistan! The drive from Koteshwar to Gaduli went through the same wildlife sanctuary. Beautiful as it was, we did not sight any animals. The drive to Nakhtarna was boring, and the distance of about 100 km was covered in 1.5 hours. The roads, though narrow, are in pretty good shape. Lunch happened at a non-descript hotel at Nakhtarna, and despite our request for non-spicy food, there was a liberal dressing of green chillies even in Dal Tadka! We reached Bhuj by 4:30 pm, well in time to collect our permit for Vigakot from the BSF sector headquarters. As it happened with us at the DC’s office in Leh (link to old blog), we had butterflies in our stomachs due to anticipation. However, unlike Leh, major babudom happened here which irritated the hell out of Aarti (who hates bureaucratic red-tape), so much so that I had to drop her back to the hotel and come back to collect the permit. Finally, after a 2.5 hour struggle and knocking on several doors, the permit was ‘expedited’ and handed over to me at 7 pm. We’d lost another beautiful sunset, and the only saving grace was the hope that the permit would make the next day memorable. Anticipating a long day ahead, we hit the sack early, and ditched our plans to go out to look for non-veg, settling instead for our hotel’s nice vegetarian fare.
Photo of Koteshwar, Gujarat, India by Harsh Vardhan
Day 5: Bhuj - Vigakot (GRK) - Kanthwandh - Kala Dungar - Dhordo - Bhuj (550km) While early mornings in Delhi are a pain, the same do not seem bothersome at all when on a holiday. However, when I say this, I speak only for myself. For Aarti, it is the opposite. Hence, at home, she is responsible for waking me up on time, and during vacations, the onus for this falls on me. So we began day 5 early again, and as the day before, left by 7:30 am with our breakfast of sandwiches packed. We’d liked the sandwiches so much the previous day that we decided to get them packed for lunch as well, since the spicy food generally available in Gujarat does not suit our stomachs. The road towards Khavda, 80 km from Bhuj, heads straight north. It is a two-landed highway, and although the tarmac was good, it was a bit bumpy, thus keeping our average speed below 80 kmph. Enroute we saw a board advertising the much heard about Rann Utsav. We’d heard of it before, but did not know exactly what it meant. It turned out to be a fair and we decided to check it out later in the evening if we had the time. Soon we reached Bhiyandiara, where one turns left for Hodka and Dhordo (where the Rann Utsav was being held). At Bhiyandiara, the Gujarat police had set up its office to issue permits to tourists venturing close to the border region. However, it was closed at the time when we reached. As we reached Khavda, we realized that the sleepy village has little to boast of apart from an intersection lined with handicraft shops, and a mention in Keki Daruwalla’s famous love story ‘Love across the Salt Desert’. From Khavda, one can turn left towards Kala Dungar and India Bridge, while right leads to a village called Kandhwandh, the end of the road. We took the road towards India Bridge. 8 kms on this road is a cut for Kala Dungar, which we crossed and carried on towards India Bridge. Upon reaching India Bridge, we were stopped, and after getting our permits checked and cameras deposited, we proceeded towards Vigakot border post. Slyly, we kept my mobile hidden and deposited everything else. This way at least we could record our GPS track in the Rann and maybe take a couple of non-sensitive shots. Now a little piece of advice for those of you who like us would venture out towards Vigakot for the sheer excitement of off-roading in the Great white Rann over a long distance – don’t do it. It will be a huge disappointment. There is no way that one can drive on the Rann, as it is marshy almost throughout the year, barring the peak summer months of May and June. The drive to Vigakot is a long haul of about 90 km from India Bridge, which goes north-west and is on a single-lane elevated tarmac, much like what is near Dholavira. Immediately after India Bridge, one crosses several ‘bets’ which are essentially islands in the white desert where a lot of the Army check-posts are located. On the last such post, the road bifurcates, one heads towards Vigakot border post, and the other longer route moves to another border post in the north-east direction. Nevertheless, the drive till Vigakot is beautiful. It of course would have been lovelier had we been able to drive on the Rann, but we enjoyed it all the same. Also, one mostly drives through ‘bets’ on the way to Vigakot, and the drive on the elevated road through the Rann is kept to a minimum, probably because of the difficulty of making roads on it. While on the Rann stretch, all one can see is the horizon on either side, but there’s always an oasis coming up, shattering the myth of being in the middle of nowhere. An hour and a half later, we finally reached the Vigakot power sub-station but there was no sign of any post, so we moved further. About a km ahead, we reached an empty check-post with a bifurcation on the road where I went to the BSF post to the right. This we thought might be the Vigakot post but since there we no one there we moved ahead. Another km down the line we saw a fence and a T-junction where tarmac went both left and right. Beyond the fence there were some white pillars, and it was then that it actually struck us that this fence separates our country from Pakistan! It was a strange feeling standing there, looking at a different country across the fence, knowing that the land and the people there are much like us, and yet completely different. We were told by a Stallion standing near the fence to go back to the BSF post, which we immediately did. There, after a little scolding (for not stopping first at the post), we were given a ‘tour’ of the post, interspersed with interesting anecdotes. After chit-chatting a bit with the officers there, we started the long haul back to Khavda, which was pretty uninteresting and unexpectedly tiring, probably because it was too hot now with the sun up. We managed to get back to Khavda by 1:30 pm, and were now a little tired. We stopped at the intersection to buy something to eat, and to ask for directions to Dholavira. Majority of the guys suggested going back to Bhuj and taking the longer route, but it was the shorter drive through the Rann that we were hoping to do. After unsuccessfully enquiring for a while about the road to Dholavira from Khavda through the Rann, and also being warned by one person on not attempting the route, we headed towards Kandhwandh, hoping that there would be a track east from there towards Dholavira through the Rann. 45 min later we reached the village Kandhwandh and spoke to a villager there about the possibility of a route ahead towards Dholavira. He was quite helpful and informed us that it is impossible to cross the Rann in any vehicle right now, but a direct route does exist to Dholavira. Even when the route is doable, it is tricky and can only be done in 4WDs. It is generally possible to cross it in the summers when the snarling heat dries up the Rann, but even then he said that he gets messages from the BSF guys one in a while to tow out stuck vehicles using his tractor. It was then that we finally realized that it would not be possible to do go to Dholavira that day, but still asked him to take us till the point where the Rann starts, and he obliged. As we reached the end of the dirt track, the sight before us was unbelievable! The Rann was spread out in its entirety, but completely covered in water. It was like a freaking lake! The little hope we’d had of still being able to do the route despite a very rational explanation by our villager friend now died. The only way of crossing this would be in a boat!
Photo of Dhordo, Gujarat, India by Harsh Vardhan
Day 5: Bhuj - Vigakot (GRK) - Kanthwandh - Kala Dungar - Dhordo - Bhuj Dejected, we headed back to Khavda. It was already 3 pm, and to optimize we decided to head towards Bhiyandiyara to get the permit for Dhordo to attend the Rann Utsav later that evening, and then catch the sunset at Kala Dungar, meet the sweetend-rice-eating-jackals there, and then finally head towards Dhordo for a cultural evening at the Rann Utsav. The permit at Bhiyandiyara took no time at all, and we were able to make it to Kala Dungar by 4 pm. Enroute we were introduced to another magnetic hill, a sibling of the one up North. Here again the optical illusion almost convinced us of the magnetic effect of a hill nearby, but a simple experiment of flowing water brought us back to the logical explanation of an optical illusion. On reaching Kala Dungar and treading up to the view point from where the Rann can apparently be seen in all its glory, we were in for a big disappointment again. A thick haze had settled around the hills, and the Rann was not visible at all. To add to the bad news, rumours were that the jackals had cancelled their sweetened-rice-eating-appointment for the evening after a heavy brunch earlier in the day. The saving grace was the purchase of a beautiful (and very reasonable priced) typical Gujarati wall hanging from the souvenir shop there which welcomes guests in our drawing room these days. Having chucked our plan of waiting for the jackals, we headed to Dhordo next to check out the much hyped Rann Utsav. We launched into a rally-driving-mode to catch sunset over the white desert near Dhordo, only to miss it by 5 odd minutes eventually. However, we were soon absorbed in the carnival-like atmosphere of the Rann Utsav. A whole city had been erected for the Utsav, and it boasted of tented accommodation for about a 1000 people, huge pavilions for displaying the history and culture of Kachchh and Gujarat, and a fair to exhibit the local art and crafts. Leave it to the Gujjus to sell, and they do a fantastic job of it, whether it be oil, pickles or tourism. After a short stroll in the exhibition tents, we bought some souvenirs at the fair, and then settled for a dinner of spicy, expensive vegetarian Gujarati buffet.
Photo of Bhuj, Gujarat, India by Harsh Vardhan
Day 6: Bhuj - Ajrakhpur - Rapar - Dholavira - Rapar - Bhuj Having had a rather tiring day 5, we were not too keen to start early the next day, and hence only left the hotel around 9. The plan for the day was to visit Dholavira and come back, which itself would take the whole day since Dholavira is a good 250 kms from Bhuj. However, Aarti had been dying to see some artisans at work and also get some shopping done, so we decided to halt first at a village called ‘Ajrakhpur’. ‘Ajrakh’ or hand-block printing is a native craft of Kachchh, and artisans practicing this craft were mostly found in village Dhamadka, some 50 kms from Bhuj. However, after the devastating earthquake in 2001, the village was almost entirely destroyed, and the government rehabilitated the Ajrakh artisans to a new village, named ‘Ajrakhpur’ after their craft. This is about 10 kms outside Bhuj on the Bhuj - Bhachau highway. As we entered the village, we stopped to ask someone about where to go to buy stuff, and he immediately pointed us to the house of Mohd. Musa. Once we reached his house, Aarti’s eyes widened to unimaginable proportions, and stayed that way for the next 1.5 hours till we left the village. He had one room full of dress material, suit pieces, sarees, and what not! Everything was pretty and colourful, and Aarti had a hard time deciding what to NOT buy! Once she did decide, Musa offered to show us his workstation, and we gladly accepted. It was indeed interesting to see the accuracy and speed with which Ajrakh artisans print material with hand blocks, and also all the different ‘natural dyes’ used, which Musa explained were made from all kinds of natural things like plants, spices, oils, etc. After a good look at the printing process and a nice photography session with the artisans, we decided that it was about time we left, or we’d have to chuck our plan of going to Dholavira. Aarti of course could have settled there, and pulling her away was indeed equivalent to torture for her. Thankfully, once we left the village, her eyes returned to normal size and her excitement on crossing the Greater Rann while going to Dholavira returned in full force! The left cut for Dholavira comes right after the Euro Multivision factory on the Bhuj - Bhachau highway, and one then comes on to a narrow but smooth single-laned road. From here, we started following the route outlined in Outlook Traveller’s Driving Holidays, and ended up taking a rather long route to R which went through several villages. We couldn’t find a place to stop for lunch, so settled instead for chips and namkeen bought from a roadside shop. Finally, around 2:30 pm, we hit the stretch of road right before Dholavira that crosses the Greater Rann. Needless to say, it was breathtaking, and the urge to drive on the vast white Rann was almost overpowering. Aarti had decided already that she wanted to explore the Rann on foot, and as soon as I parked on the side, she jumped off the car, and headed straight for the Rann. She’d hardly gone 20 feet when she realized that the Rann was indeed very, very marshy, and came dancing back, as is evident from the photograph below. Since we could not explore the Rann on foot, we decided to move on, and take some shots on our way back. We reached Dholavira around 3:30 pm after spending several minutes searching for the Harappan excavation site, which we thought was quite strange, given that it is the largest excavation of the Harappan valley civilization in India. We eventually came to the conclusion that the distance from Bhuj probably discourages people from visiting the place, and that when the road from Khavda to Dholavira is finally constructed, the place should be much better maintained. After looking at the museum where artifacts found from the excavation as well as the history was explained, the caretaker took us out to the excavation site. The elaborate water management system, and the pots, seals and jewellery of the Harappans left us amazed at the level of advancement of humans 5000 years ago! We left Dholavira around 4:30 pm, and then stopped for some shots on the Greater Rann stretch. Carefully navigating the marshy land, we set up our tripod, and took some couple shots. I also ventured out a bit to take some shots of the electricity poles which seemed curiously majestic in the otherwise barren terrain. After spending a good half an hour enjoying the beauty of the Rann and taking photographs, we set off for Bhuj. The return journey was tiring, but we were hell bent on having a non-veg meal on our last evening in Bhuj, and so went to Hotel Prince, right opposite our hotel, for dinner. Our Gujarat guide book had mentioned that it served non-veg fare as well. After an okay meal of fish and chicken, we literally dropped dead in our hotel.
Photo of Rapar, Gujarat, India by Harsh Vardhan
Day 7: Bhuj - Bhujodi - Palanpur - Abu road - Udaipur (650km) Our first experimental trip outside the Himalayas had been lovely, and we were more than sad now that the time to leave had come. The simplicity, beauty and colours of Kachchh had left us longing for more, but that only meant that there would have to be a next time. For now, it was time to head back to Delhi, and so we packed and left the hotel around 10 am. The first stop for the day was the Khavda Mesuk Bhandaar near the bus stand in Bhuj. Aarti wanted to buy some sweets for friends and family, and our guide book recommended this particular shop. It was rather difficult to locate it in the back lanes of Bhuj’s main market, but we eventually did find it, and shopped for some traditional Kachchhi sweets like Gulab Pak. Our next stop was Bhujodi, a village 8 kms from Bhuj, known for craft artisans. We stopped here in the shop of a National Award winning artisan, and Aarti shopped to her heart’s content for some beautiful (and remarkably cheap) stoles. Here too we were fortunate enough to catch an old lady weaving shawls, and she posed with a beautiful smile for Aarti (not for me though!). We then went to an NGO called Srujan’s store which too stores all of Kachchh’s different crafts, where I bought a very interesting book on Kachchh’s history, people and culture. Another addition to our coffee table books! We then pushed off around noon for our destination for the day – Udaipur. It was the 31st of December, and we’d planned to ring in the New Year in this romantic city. The expressway to Udaipur starts at Bhachau, and is excellent throughout, and the average speed never drops below 80 kmph. At Sankalpur, we crossed the Great Rann again, and it was wonderful to see it for the last time! There was a flock of flamingos bathing in a pool of water in the Rann just off the expressway, and although I tried my best to capture them on camera, they were just too far away to be captured even by the zoom lens. The expressway turns extremely beautiful as one enters Rajasthan specially between Jhadoli till Udaipur. We reached Udaipur around 8:30 pm, found our hotel with some difficulty, and then collapsed! We were booked in a hotel in the older part of the city since no other hotels were available due to the peak season and that day being New Year ’s Eve. The hotel was situated on the banks of Lake Pichola, but on the back side of the Lake Palace. Anyway, the room was very pretty with a typical Rajasthani painted ceiling and a beautiful jharokha. We freshened up a bit, relaxed some, and then went to the rooftop restaurant of the hotel for a late dinner. The view from the rooftop was excellent, with Lake Pichola visible in all its glory, and the Lake Palace and the Udai Vilas all lit up right in front of us. It was bitterly cold though, and the angeethis weren’t working one bit. Also, the food was atrocious, but the atmosphere was quite romantic, and we didn’t let the cold and the bad food spoil our mood. By the time we finished setting up the tripod and taking a few panoramic shots of the Lake Palace and around after dinner, it was nearly 12. We had expected to see fireworks, but the ones we saw were totally awesome and completely unexpected! The most beautiful fireworks were set off by the Lake Palace, the Udai Vilas, and a dozen other hotels around the lake. We happily ‘free rode’, and got some excellent views! Having welcomed 2011 with great enthusiasm, we realized how tired we really were, and were out in a jiffy as soon as we hit the sack.
Photo of Udaipur, Rajasthan, India by Harsh Vardhan
Day 8: Udaipur - Chittaurgarh - New Delhi (750km) We got up lazily the next morning on the first day of year 2011. A lousy breakfast and a lazy morning saw us leave the hotel by 11:00. Before leaving for Delhi, we decided to make a quick trip to the much heard of Sajjangarh fort (Aarti had been there earlier and remembered it to be beautiful) and spend an hour or so there. A sneak preview of the town aroused our curiosity enough to ensure that we'd definitely go back sometime. We decided to push off from there by 12:00 and after a harrowing time in Udaipur traffic reached the highway heading towards Chittaurgarh and eventually towards Delhi. A decision was made to make a quick stop at Chittaurgarh as well and see if it would be worth to visit the town again sometime. Thankfully, it too did not disappoint. I had been there before to attend a friend's wedding sometime back but it was a first visit for Aarti. A quick dash around the table-top fort in the town and a leisurely lunch later, we finally were able to leave for Delhi by 4:00pm. Kachchh had definitely left its mark on us. We had gone there expecting very little, and had come back with so much more. The region is definitely one of the most interesting in the country. It is at places as barren as Ladakh, as colorful as Rajasthan and as contrasting as Kachchh where the true essence of India can be felt. Someday, we shall return there again, this time with a better mindset and a little more knowledge of the region to experience more of Kachcch.
Photo of New Delhi, Delhi, India by Harsh Vardhan
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