That beautiful sheet of white salt attracts tourists from world over. Add to that great food, rustic music and handicrafts, Rann Utsav in Gujarat has everything going for it. What’s not to love?
Kuchh din to guzaaro Gujarat mein… Amitabh Bachchan’s deep voice resonates in your head the moment you think of making a trip to Gujarat. The state which gave us several wellknown personalities who won us our independence (namely, Mahatama Gandhi, Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel), and recently our present Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is also famed for ushering in dairy and cooperative revolution. It is the land of colourful people and rich heritage — a state where culture and progression co-exist.
I consciously planned my trip to the white salt desert or Rann of Kutch in January so it coincided with the famed annual Rann Utsav and Uttarayan (the kite festival). If many enthusiasts from across the globe flock here every year to flirt with the sky with their kites which are often dramatic, larger than life and quite colourful, others gather here to soak in the soulful music, culture and rich heritage of the region. I just happened to be one of them.
The 16-hour train journey from Mumbai to Bhuj in Kutch Express was made memorable by the people and the food. Once we reached Surat, I fed my soul with khaman dhoklas and theplas from the station. Little did I know there was more food waiting for me.
I struck a conversation with an elderly man, who was on a pilgrimage to Naliya near Bhuj. The Indian Railways has that unique quality that makes you shed your inhibitions and engage with people from different walks of life. It’s the only place where strangers open up and share the intimate details of their lifestyle — their likes, dislikes, disappointments, achievements, eccentricities and their tiffins. The wise man treated me with homemade Gujarati food.
- Area of the Greater Rann Of Kutch and Little Rann of Kutch is 30,000 km2
- Maximum temperature soars upto 50ºC
- Dattatreya temples, where the desert jackals are fed temple prasad everyday, are 400 years old
- Rann Utsav celebrates the culture of Kutch in all its glory for 3 months
The region attracts large numbers of migratory birds, most notably, the flamingos
The combination of savoury dal khicdi (a lentil and rice dish) mixed with sweet sour Gujarati kadhi made me beg for more. Then there were assorted bhajias (vegetable fritters), and a tamarind rasam chutney fusion. It was one gastronomic feast I will never forget. Once I recovered from the food assault, he recommended a dozen places to eat in Bhuj, along with some valuable shopping tips.
Before hitting Rann, I decided to head to Kala Dungar, the highest point in Kutch. Ditching the touristy traps, I relished the view of the vast sea, a place where the line between India and Pakistan blurs. The blue, brown, white landscape I saw here was one of its kind. A self-confessed border town junkie, I was fast losing patience to touch the most unique Indo-Pak border ever. Once we reached the Indira Bridge, which was a tiny speck from Kala Dungar, I was disappointed at not being able to view the Pakistan side. A flock of pigeons flew past me, as if mocking my predicament.
- Rann of Kutch was once apart of the Arabian Sea
- Greater Rann of Kutch is not to be confused with Little Rann of Kutch which is famous for wild ass and lacks a salt desert
- On dark nights, villagers have reported seeing a ball of fire in motion, known locally as Chir Batti, which changes its colour
- Dholavira, which was the part of great Indus Valley civilisation, is also nearby
- Films like D Day, Ram Leela, Lagaan, The Good Road, Refugee wereshot here
How to reach Rann of Kutch
Nearest railway station is Bhuj, which is 864 km from Mumbai and 1,139 km from Delhi
Mumbai to Bhuj
19131 Kutch Express All days (16 hrs) 22903 Bhuj AC Super fast Wed, Fri, Sun (13 hrs)
Bhuj to Mumbai
19132 Kutch Express All days (16 hrs) 22904 BDTS AC S F
Express Mon, Thu, Sat (13.50 hrs)
Delhi to Bhuj
14311 Ala Hazrat Express Thu, Fri, Sat (26.15 hrs)
Bhuj to Delhi
14312 Ala Hazrat Express Thu, Sun (26 hrs) 14322 Bareilly Express Mon, Wed, Sat (22 hrs)
The road to Rann from here was a pleasant and smooth ride, with large swathes of arid brown barren land on either side. In monsoon, the same landscape get a personality makeover as it gets flooded with water on either sides of road. Welcome to unique Banni grasslands!
I stepped on the bewildering Rann just before the sunset. It felt weird to walk on tons of salt balls crushing softly beneath my feet. The fierce breeze brought with it a distinct taste and smell of salt. Many had wandered far in the white desert and were dwarfed by the sheer size of the Rann.
By that time, the local folk artistes had started regaling the visitors with their music. I have not seen a more atmospheric venue for an open air concert. Soon, the bright orange sun decided to call it a day. It cast an orange glow over the desert before getting swallowed by the Rann. The visual drama left me agape. I waited patiently for the full moon to appear. I stood there, affixed, watching a yellow moon turn into an ethereal white ball. The Rann was again white, this time reflecting in the glory of borrowed moonlight.
IN FESTIVE MODE
The scenes of locals breaking into an impromptu garba jig, to the rustic songs of folk singers, broke the peace of the land. The Rann bathed in orange glow of a sundown is one of the few lasting memories I take back home.
Good planning goes a long way in assuring a good vacation. Here are the tips to get you on track for Rann Utsav
1) WHAT TO EAT
As soon as I arrived in Bhuj, I dug into sumptuous Gujarati breakfast at a roadside street cart, bingeing on the very satisfying freshly-fried fafda with raw papaya chutney and crisp jalebis. It was so good, I packed some for the road. You can find these at any roadside carts.
Annapurna Guest House in Bhuj claims they have the best Gujarati thali in town. I was not disappointed when I sampled one. Go with an empty stomach; the thali is huge. Insist on Undhiyo, a winter special.
2) WHAT TO SHOP
Pick up local handicrafts. They often come embellished with rich embroidery, beads and mirror work. Think wall hangings, bedsheets, toran, keychains, dolls, footwear, decorative mirrors, jackets, the works!
Buy bandhni saree for women and pathan suits for men. They come in many colours and patterns.
3) WHERE TO STAY
Gateway to Rann Resort, Dhordo, the last Indian village is indeed a gateway to Rann Of Kutch. At 4 km from the white Rann Of Kutch and at walking distance from Rann Utsav, it’s the ideal place to stay in Kutch during Rann Utsav. The urban traveler can experience living in a ‘Bhunga’, the traditional Kutchi mud houses, without compromising on comfort.
Do remember to book rooms at least a month in advance on the website. The rooms fill up real fast especially on full moon nights. You can avoid AC rooms as you don’t need one during winter.
4) WHEN TO VISIT
Any full moon night between December to January is good. February is ideal due to its crisp weather and lesser tourists. Avoid Christmas and New Year.
Choose a dark moon if you are interested in stargazing. It’s free in Rann Utsav.
HOW TO TRAVEL
I hired a cab from Bhuj to Dhordo and back for `3,500 for 2 days. The ride included a visit to Indo-Pak border, Kalu Dungar and Rann of Kutch.
Tip: Ask your cabbie to stop at the ‘Tropic of Cancer is passing from here’ sign board.
A QUICK ITINERARY
- Day 1 Reach early morning; take a direct cab to Kala Dungar. Soak in the views of Rann, India-Pakistan border and ocean from the highest point in Kutch. Drive down to Indira Bridge. You are at the India Pakistan border. Move to Rann Of Kutch in evening, spend quality time here till dark. If travelling on a full moon night, wait till moon appears.
- Day 2 Make your way to explore Bhuj. The monuments, shopping and great food will keep you busy all day.
written by– Abhinav Singh