“On a dark, silent night, I lay on the roof of a watchtower in the vast, barren, baked-and-cracked salt desert of Rann of Kutch in Gujarat on the western edge of India.”, These lines from Shivya Nath’s book, The Shooting star gave me goosebumps, and I was left, with a diverse imagination about how the salt desert appeared.
My happiness was boundless when The Western Routes announced the trip to Rann of Kutch and we landed in Bhuj. After our Bhuj exploration, we headed towards the Hodka village in Gujrat to witness the salt desert at Rann of Kutch. I remember how much I longed for the first view, and it was evening when we drove towards the salt desert. It was the time of Rann Utsav, a festival, organised every year for three months, starting in the first week of November and lasts till the mid of February. The place is crowded, especially during the full moon night.
While the White Rann, near the Great Rann of Kutch, was left as a lifeless stretch of land, the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited took the initiative of introducing, ‘White Rann Experience’, to the world in 2005. What began as a three-day festival progressively evolved into a 100-day celebration at Dhordo, a village near Rann of Kutch.
As I hopped out of the bus, the view in front of me was astonishing, the white desert spread till infinity. Amidst the crowd, I could spot a group of 4 men sitting in local Gujrathi attire and singing local lyrics, lots of camel carts and camel riders, who had decorated their camels ornate. The photographers in the group started setting their cameras for the time-lapse of sunset, few of us got busy with the selfie while the remaining people were deciding funny faces and actions for the boomerang.
The sky started to flip its colour, and the sun was all set to hide behind the clouds. With a blink, the sky was full of twinkling stars and behind us rose the glowing moon spreading its glow all over. Ah, what a magical evening it was, how could I not lose myself in the thoughts of admiring the charm of the luna.
Just before the salt desert, for a kilometre, we passed through colourful gazebos. These were the shops selling local clothes, accessories, decorative materials, footwear, various food and much more. This setup is done every year during the Rann of Kutch festival.
The tent city is altogether another city build near Rann of Kutch during Rann Utsav, with lots of luxurious facilities, activities and various packages. People who are not staying at Tent city can’t enter the city.
Our group was staying at Desert King Resort which had beautiful and spacious bhungas. Bhungas are traditional circular houses unique to the Kutch region in Gujarat. The walls of bhungas are painted, and decorated with various mirrors and other materials. Then cow dung and mud are used as the wall plaster to make them beautiful and strong. Cylindrical shaped mud walls help to protect from direct sun rays, hence it keeps the room cool.
The previous evening spent at the salt desert filled us with the cajole to visit again, so next morning we headed towards the Rann of Kutch. When people were busy capturing the sunrise, I was walking on that crackling salt barefoot. I could feel the crystals of salt cracking beneath my feet. Salt that felt brittle and cold. I was as if drifted by that white desert which, was spread till infinity with nothing around but just the clear sky above, the rising sun and chill breeze.
Many times we fail to recognise the art culture of the place we visit. Similarly, in Hodka village, we found the hidden gem, Lippan artwork. Lippan is a local art done using mud and mirror to decorate the house.
As soon as we entered their small residential area, we could see the excitement on the faces of children. They came running towards us holding decorative camel puppets, accessories, keychains, and a hope that we’ll buy their stuff. Even the women spread their sarees and blankets for us to notice.
I spoke to a 7-year-old girl who was too shy to allow me to take her photo. When I asked about their school, she with a cute smile responded, “We have a holiday today.” I bought a camel keychain from her, and she went running to her friends, to tell them.
After learning the local art, we headed to the Khavda village to meet another artistic family. Here we met Mr Abdul and his family, who are doing pottery for generations. Unfortunately, it had rained that morning, and because of the humid, Abdul could not make anything to show us. But he explained the process briefly. The mud used is brought from Rann, and they make sure there is no salt in it. He also told us that the colours used to paint are also natural, made from stones. After completing and colouring the utensils, they are kept, in the furnace for 8-9 hours.
Abdul is a hardworking and very polite person, though he could not study after class 5th, speaks wonderful English. Two rooms display the Matka, Lampshades, plates, kulhads and much more made by the Abdul, for sale.
We then head back to our resort where after dinner, along with the bonfire, a local singing program was arranged. Four of them played various instruments and explaining to us the meaning of every song added beautiful moments to treasure our trip more. The tagline of Gujarat tourism, “Kutch nahi dekha toh kutch nahi dekha”, kept playing subconsciously throughout the journey and I could not disagree with it.
The experience of being surrounded by nothing but just the salt was incredible. Have you ever thought about how walking on the salt might feel like? Have you been to that ever ending salt desert of Kutch and lost in your own thoughts, though surrounded by people but yet solitary?
Note: Since the Rann of Kutch, is spread till Pakistan, we have BSF camps at the entrance of Kutch. To enter the area, we need a permit which we get online as well.