"Kuch din toh gujaria Gujarat mein... "
That's the campaign Gujarat tourism kicked off and honestly it's been working brilliantly. Maybe it's Amitabh bacchan's aura or the sheer vibrant colors of the state. Gujarat in itself is is very big and is diversified to a great extent.
The Kutch district, which is the largest district in India has it's headquarters at Bhuj. Kutch literally means a land of dry and wet. This creates a spectacle, when the wet lands start drying out they leave a major part of salts behind and the results are just brilliant
The region is totally barren and during monsoons the water levels accumulated here are well over 3 feet! The tourism board runs the utsav, from first of November every year and the extravagant affair lasts for roughly 3 months! So, what is this utsav? What is the best time to visit? How to visit? Where to stay? Well, here is the breakdown to the whole affair :
The Rann utsav is held at the tent city, which is on the brink of the white desert. Approximately 90 kms away from Bhuj. Bhuj has an airport and is well connected from other major cities too. The closest village to tent city is Dhordo (Approximately 5kms away, in fact the tent city is also a part of dhordo).
I covered the whole affair using public transport and clearly from my experience; it is not the most convenient way of commuting. As the public transport, rather the lack of it makes it a tough proposition. I had to take the Government run buses, private shared taxis, walk for approximately 7 kilometers and a lift from a truck driver. To get to the venue and back to Bhuj.
The Government run buses dropped me till the check post of Bhirandiara. As this is a remote region and shares the border with Pakistan, one needs to get the permits for the region (100 rupees per person). This is heavily controlled and patrolled by tourist friendly BSF jawans ! They were helpful throughout my adventures here. From Bhirandiara the options are really non existent to get to the white rann, there are a few government buses which do ply, but I never saw one or got any substantive information about them. The check post at Bhirandiara opens way past 10 in morning! If you are early, you can skip the permit fuss and get one at the tourist facility center near the white desert. But, make sure you ask the person sitting at the check post if they are issuing permits at the white desert itself.
1 : Tent city
2: The utsav where crafts, food bazaar and public conveyance are setup.
3: Tourist facility center, where permits are issued. BSF check post, past this point we have to use the govt run buses to get to point 4. (Approximately distance of 3 kms. Free of cost and ply every 10 minutes.)
4: Point from where one has to walk/take a camel or horse ride until point 5.
5: White Rann and the view point overlooking the endless white desert.
So, there are 4 ways in which you can be a part of this festival and the choices are :
a. Stay at the tent city.(Point 1 in map)
b. Stay in the resorts near tent city/ dhordo / gorewalli or the villages nearby.
c. Camp out near the tent city, next to the utsav. (Point 2 in map)
d. A day tour from Bhuj.
Evaluating the 4 options above is really easy :
The best option of course is to stay the tent city. Where you get luxurious tent houses, amazing spread of food, puppet shows, cultural shows, dance lessons, ride around a trike or a bike or a golf kart, go para motoring and the list goes on and on.Like I told before, the whole affair is extravagant. So are the prices, for stay at the tent city. If you are willing to shell out the money then the experience at the tent city is certainly worth it! There are perks of being at the tent city, you get a special bus service to get to the white rann in an open double decker bus (From point 1 to 4 on map), get to live the cultural experience and be a part of the utsav truly.
Here is the official site with the details : http://www.rannutsav.net/
However, if money is not a problem and there are no tents available at the tent city, choose a resort near tent city. By staying at either of these resorts, you will be put up as close as possible to the white desert and also will be able to enjoy the cultural shoes put up either at the fair or at the resorts late at night post dinner.
Here is a list of the resorts and links :
i) Toran Resort : http://www.toranresortkutch.com/
ii) Gateway to rann : http://kutchrannresort.com/
iii) White rann camp : http://whiteranncamp.com/
The least favorable option would be to stay at the resorts which are at dhordo or gorewalli. They are good 5-7 kilometers away from the utsav, charge exorbitantly, serve average food and have little or no cultural shows put up. I would personally not recommend you any of these and will ask you to happily skip this option and go through the next 2 options.
If you are a camping person, then there is good news, there are a lot of people who camp here and the camps can be put up anywhere before the BSF checkpoint.(Anywhere before point 3 on the map) There are quite a few people who pitch the tent near the lamp post of the utsav area, where there are public washrooms for convenience. This option is another good one, as you can stay back late at the utsav enjoy the activities and head back to your tents. Without the hassle of riding/driving back to the resorts which are away. If you are using public transport, then this is the only option, as you cannot get back to dhordo/gorewalli unless someone offers you a ride or you have enough energy to walk 7 kms, while braving the cold winds!
The most economic option is to have a day tour arranged from bhuj, where there are many private travel agents who run buses which take you to the utsav and drop you back at night. You could also rent out a cab which will set you back by 3000 rupees or hire an auto rickshaw (tuk tuk) for about 1500 rupees from bhuj for the round trip. Bhuj has many options to stay, from as little as 300 rupees per day.
Best time to visit the Rann :
Well, the utsav starts from November 1st. However, the truth is it isn't ideal time to visit until Mid-January!
Yes, you read that right. Why is that? The desert of course, is not desert until the water evaporates and there is anything but salt left back. Yes, it's a natural phenomenon and we cannot decide when the water will be totally evaporated and we'll have a dry piece of land. But the safe bet, is the month of January (as the temperatures are still bearable and the land goes dry, summers are way too harsh )and the perfect date would be when there is a full moon over the horizon! In the months of November and start of December the ground is still wet and water seeps in. Also, not Ideal for photography or kite flying! The water is so saline, if seeped in, will cause cuts and skin rashes.
The fair is lively, there are a lot of crafts stall put up and loads off gastronomical food available there. You can buy anything from a key chain to a quilt. All of them made by the local artisans, make sure you bargain hard and fast. But in general, the products are priced appropriately.
I hope this made your travel and stay options clearer. Once you have these sorted out, the white desert is truly magical!
Just sit down, relax and see the sun move over the horizon
While the local folklore soothes your senses in the back ground
Don't be surprised if they crack a bollywood number or get intense!
The colors just get brilliant, from plain white to oranges, you can spend hours watching this spectacle!
Sun goes down, lights come up, time to get back perhaps
But for you, the fun times are just going to get more fun!
Once you have filled up the tummy, time to empty your wallets! Shop till you drop
Soak in all the colors, food and fun!
Well, the vastness, the colors of the rann did set me back and got me thinking.
"Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” - Gustave Flaubert