I never even knew of this place until I heard Amitabh Bachan said 'Kutch nahin dekha tho kuchh nahin dekha' (if you have not seen the Rann of Kutch, you have not seen anything).
His advertisement in the land of shimmering white salt on a full moon night as he walks by Gujarati women clad in colourful lehenga made me long visit the place soon.
We had toured 12 days in Gujarat so far. After exploring the ruins of Bhuj and buying loads of handicrafts from villages around it, our journey set off to cover the last leg of the trip— Rann of Kutch.
Also Read: Handicrafts from Bhujodi, Bhuj
As we proceeded towards Kutch, the green landscape gradually transitioned into acres of barren land. Herds of cattle grazed here and there on the thorny bushes.
Men wore comfortable Peshawari salwar Kameez, and women were dressed in their traditional backless choli. I have read a couple of books on Pakistan, and the description of the Pakistani men matched with the men I saw here. Only then did it strike me that Rann shares a border with Pakistan.
After acquiring the permit at the entrance for a day's visit, we drove further into the barren lands towards Hodka.
Tip: Take a vehicle from Bhuj. It would then be very convenient to roam around Kutch. I saw a couple of backpackers trying to hitchhike from the checkpoint, but you will get to visit only Rann then and not the other nearby places.
Tip: Take a vehicle from Bhuj. Very handy to roam around Kutch. I saw a couple of backpackers trying to hitchhike a ride from the checkpoint but you will get to visit only Rann then.
Hodka is only 20 km away from Dhorda, where the tent city is put up during the Rann Utsav. Since we found that tent city was not in our budget, we opted for a stay at Hodka.
The traditional Bhunga, aka mud houses of the Kutch region, welcomed us in. I was in awe to see so much artwork and mirror work done on the walls and windows. Not just for the cottage stay, but even the houses people usually live in were embellished with colourful paintings and mirror work.
The cottage owner was also a simple guy wearing salwar kameez. He had kajal in his eyes. There were two curious Kutchi girls behind us, figuring out what two girls were doing in the desert and why they did not have any male company. I was taken aback thinking how at such a young age, the thought of marriage and the need for a male company has already been seeded in these tender minds.
There was still a lot of time before sunset, and our taxi driver insisted on seeing Kalo Dungar. Having not researched on the destination, we were game for anything unexpected that would pass our time.
Kalo Dungar means black hills. Was it the effect of small shrubs or the dark colour of sand, or just the hallucination of the name? I don't know, but the place did have a tinge of black aura.
At one point, the driver asked us to get out of the car. In the middle of nowhere, my friend and I got out of the vehicle, all bewildered! He got out too, and the car just rolled back at top speed! We were shocked to the core and screeched 'bhaiya pakadiya'!
He then dived into the car quickly, stopped it and looked at us in amusement, and exclaimed, "Do you want to see that again?"
There is a 'probable' magnetic field at that particular point in Kalo Dungar, and the car moves by itself! So we rolled down the car a couple of more times for fun, and a whole bunch of vehicles joined us in the game. A little away, a line cuts across the road with a board that reads, 'Tropic of Cancer passes through here.
Kalo Dungar is the highest point in Kutch, so you get an aerial view of the entire area. Vehicles reach up to an end, then camels go a little further up and then even further up, we have to walk up to the viewpoint.
Suddenly an army van approached, and some armed young Jawans got out and dispersed themselves all around the hill! I wondered what had gone wrong?
The fact was that since Kalo Dungar is the last point at the border, the Border Security Force has set up tents here to guard the place. Further up, we came across a temple of Dattatreya, Trimurti, a God with three faces— Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu. It is said that the temple is 400 years old. The walls are newly constructed, so it looks brand new. Standing at the viewpoint took my breath away. It offers a 360-degree view of Rann. This place made me feel like a tiny speck in the limitless cosmos.
On my left, I could see the white streaks of 'safe Rann, and on my right, I could see mountains and land stretching into the coast. In front of me was the sea, and somewhere out there was the border adjoining Pakistan. It felt like standing at the edge of the earth!
The feeling was inexplicably amazing. I would have loved to watch the sunset here, but the Rann was calling us back.
As I walked back, I saw a BSF guard sipping his tea. I asked him, "It is a sea, mountain and a salt desert all at once. It is vast enough to get lost in it. How can one cross over from another country!" He only gave a wry smile which translated to, "you ignorant girl!" and continued sipping his chai!
By 5:00 pm, we were at the salt desert and got dropped back at the gates. Some VIP cars drove further 2 km down. There are camel carts that can take you down too.
At first, I panicked, looking at four buses full of people going further down. I got an anxiety attack looking at the beeline of people walking down the ramp into the salt desert. A sea of people!
It was late December, but the weather was still a little wet. The water had not been completely drained. There is a thin layer of salt at some places, and black marshy land lies beneath it.
At some places, the crystallized salt cracks as you step on it. People were standing on the ramp and were taking the vital life decision—'Should I get my shoes wet by getting into the desert or stand here and watch!'.
God answered—" You have travelled so far; get in!"
After a lot of pushing and shoving aside, my friend and I entered the desert. It was white, and I mean 'white' white —blaring white! Everywhere there was white! As far as your eyes could see, till the place where the land kisses the sky, all was white salt desert.
I turned into a small kid and ran away from the crowd, further and further, to touch the horizon; to see if it ends at all; to see what is on the other end of this whiteness; to let the white desert engulf me; to be surrounded by nothing but the rising moon and vast empty desert.
The thin salt cracked, and my feet sunk into the marshy land. I pulled my foot out only to find it all covered in black sludge. Then I left black footprints over the salt desert. I walked and walked and walked until I heard a faint whistle. I turned back and saw a security person signalling me to come back. I didn't retreat, but neither did I move forward. I let the moment sink in calmly.
The Sun was setting on the other side, and the salt reflected the colours. I seldom take my pictures, and here I was, taking pictures after pictures of myself. It was a beautiful evening to remember.
The security guy whistled again, and this time he had moved everyone out of the desert. It must have been 6.30 pm or 7 pm by then. We walked as slowly as possible towards the ramp. We did not want to leave the place.
Now four jawans were looking at us and were waiting for us to get out of the salt desert. We stood at the multiple viewpoints available and watched the moon lit up the desert. It was a couple of days away from full moon day, but it was beautiful still.
Reluctantly, we got out of the gates late at night. We skimmed through the tent city area shops and headed to the cottage where the Kutchi meal awaited us.
I had acquired a liking for Bajra roti with jaggery and ghee. I requested bhaiya ji for ghee, and he came with a hot katori of ghee. As he poured it on my plate, it solidified midway itself! It was that cold a night!!
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Also Read: Dont miss visiting Little Rann of Kutch on your visit to Great Rann. Click here to know more.
The morning was even colder! Would you believe it?
I covered myself with a jacket and shawl and stole but no socks! What if it gets a dunk in mud again?! Gone case!
The mist had a circular formation, and as it shone over the light of the bhungas, it looked as if angels had descended to protect the bhungas.
The dawn was breaking as we entered the gates of Rann and people were already along with tripods and huge DSLR cameras at the viewpoints.
My friend and I decided to walk into the safe Rann again. It was the best thing we did! Nobody else entered the desert. I don't know why— It could be the cold, or maybe they wanted to leave quickly.
The entire desert was left entirely to us. Thank you, God, for the beautiful gift! A tinge of rosy orange was seen at the horizon, followed by which the orangish ball of Sun rose.
With the cold wind piercing our faces and feet, we felt slightly numb. I froze for some time, watching the Sun casting its magical spell in the desert.
I then suddenly realized that I didn't take any pictures! That was how mesmerized I was on listening to the sound of wind and watching the daybreak. The Sun was up, and the desert was now a bright white, challenging for the eyes to even look at it.
It was also the time that other tourists started to arrive, and we decided to leave. As I walked back, it felt like my soul was left behind, admiring the desert.
People say Rann is known for whole moon night. I say it is best to watch the splendid sunrise.
Great Rann of Kutch should be on your bucket list. Along with Rann of Kutch, you can visit Little Rann of Kutch, Mandvi, Bhuj and, if time permits, also peek into the Indus valley civilization at Dholavaria.
In terms of stays, if you want a complete package, then the tent city is best. If you do not want to splurge, stay at Hodka. Plenty of stay options are available there, and it is not too far either.
Rann is not precisely as it is seen in the advertisement. The land is wet, even mushy at places. So don't expect colourful lehenga clad ladies to perform for you or camels strutting about, or folk musicians singing away in the desert. There are other designated areas for that.
Wear proper footwear and expect it to get stained with salt.
The best time to visit the place is from October to March. Everyone heads to the Rann of Kutch during the Rann Utsav. Rann Utsav takes place from November to February.
Also, look out for the Kite festival that happens in January.
If possible, plan your visit around the full moon or just after the full moon( a fading moon is more significant than a growing one).
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