The Rann Utsav, held over three days, is an ideal gateway to the culture and life of the Kutchis in this vast expanse of a landscape that is rugged and arid…
We are awestruck by the endless white expanse in front, shimmering under the full-moon night, as the Kutchi musicians on stage score a perfect background piece to this phenomenal natural setting. The Great Rann or the White Desert as it is called has been shaped by a mix of geological processes and is a part of Kutch district. It is believed that once the Great Rann was part of the Arabian Sea, then an uplift turned off the sea water flow but turned on the Indus River in thus making this area a freshwater lake. Then, the devastating earthquake of 1819 plugged the Indus water inlet due to the formation of “Allah Bund”, a natural dam caused by the quake. Now, it is the hand of south-west monsoon winds that strokes this masterly work by driving in sea water which on receding leaves this salt-encrusted white canvas.
Kutch lies on the western tip of Gujarat, flanked by the Thar Desert and the Arabian Sea. Conceptualised by Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, TCGL (Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited) has, in the past six years, opened up this unique region to rest of the world by organising the annual Rann Utsav .
We sign-up with TCGL, fly out of Chennai and land in Bhuj on a pleasant afternoon, the weather certainly not bad for a town on the fringes of a desert. Bhuj airport looks compact and has that typical ambience and smell of any desert-town airports, be it Timbuktu, Arizona or one of the West Asian locations A scrumptious Gujarati-thalitaking care of our hunger-pangs, we are all set for day one of the Utsav at the centre of Bhuj town.
In proud anticipation of their culture being showcased right in their hometown, locals in festive mood are milling about and scampering for seats and standing room in every conceivable space around the pretty Hamirsar Lake. As the sun sets, illuminations take over, fuses in a carnival atmosphere. Fittingly, as the Chief Minister Modi flags-off the Utsav, the bedecked floats start to roll, musicians and dancers frolic on the streets around the lake showcasing the rich colours of Kutch to the gathered and the dignitaries among who some are from abroad. As the pageantry winds to a grinding pace, well into the evening, we board TCGL arranged buses and head to Dhordo, 80 km north of Bhuj, the venue for the next two days of the Utsav.
The “Tent City” is one huge settlement that has about 400 tents and will house over 1,000 guests for the next two days. The tents offer star facilities that include AC, heater, hot water for bath and even Wi-Fi. We get hot-chai served at the tent-zipper at the strike of chilly-dawn. The tent-city in itself is self-contained and offers various facilities. Multi-dining-halls cater to the needs of such a large presence.
Our day two starts with a guided-tour to Kala Dungar, the highest point in Kutch at 462 m. The sight from such an elevation is breathtaking as the desert and the skies merge and become circuitous. With Pakistan only a few km away, this is the farthest point a civilian can get to as we see military trucks constantly roll by the tortuous roads. This hill also houses a 400-year-old temple for Dattareya and we are told that the priest here feeds the prasad to jackals after evening aarti. Our next stop is at a village named Hodka, inhabited by Meghwal community. Here, we get to see our first Bhungas, the circular grass-roofed mud huts of various communities in Kutch. They are extensively decorated both inside and outside with paintings of varying pattern and glittery mirror-work.
In the evening, camel carts line up under the full-moon night for a lumbering ride into the White Desert. For the next two hours, we are under the spell of diverse forms of Kutchi music and dance being played out on stage, leaving an ethereal bliss.
Day three offers a host of tours to choose from — Narayan Sarovar, a temple with one of the five holy lakes of the country; Koteshwar, a temple for Shiva right close to the border; Lakhpat Fort, an ancient port city; Mata No Madh, a temple for Goddess Ashapura; Indo-Pak border; Chhari Dandh, a place for birders and Dholavira, an excavated Indus valley civilisation. This writer chooses to go with the last option and endure a trip of almost 550 km on a single day, with stretches testing bone-strength and gravity. But the 4,500-year-old site more than makes up for all such niggling factors, as it offers insight into an exemplary feat of engineering and town planning of an advanced civilisation. Considering the age of the place, finding terracotta chips, beads and fossils still scattered around the site leaves an eerie feeling. A museum at the site exhibits artefacts found intact, including the widely-known Harappan oxen seal.
Outside the Utsav, with more time and resources on hand, Kutch offers a mind-blowing array of adventure and experience. Kutch has one of the largest concentrations of artisans. Keeping Bhuj as base, numerous villages that specialise in embroidery, block-printing, mirror-work, silver jewellery, pottery and so on can be explored. Myriad ethnic communities live in the district and their life-style and music would be of much interest to those with such leanings. As for wildlife, the fossil park in Dinodhar, Flamingo City near Tuga and the Wild Ass Sanctuary in the Little Rann of Kutch on the eastern part, home for the handsome wild-ass, would greatly satisfy an adventurous soul.
Bhuj is well connected by air especially from Mumbai and by rail
www.gujarattourism.com, TCGL Chennai Office 2536 6613
For independent travelling:
Visiting certain areas may require police permit, to be obtained at Bhuj
Little Rann of Kutch – Rann Riders ( 9879786006/9925236014; www.rannriders.com) at Dasada, 90 kms from Ahmedabad offer jeep safaris to the sanctuaries in addition to offering a wide range of tours and facilities at their resort